Atmosphere: Modified fancy.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday.
Price range: Entrees at dinner, $5.90 to $9.50.
Credit cards: American Express and VISA.
Special facilities: Entryway has a long ramp preceded by two small steps so entry is somewhat difficult for patrons in wheelchairs.
Inagine our surprise! Having lunched on corned beef sandwiches, chicken soup with matzo balls and blintzes at Rich's Alley, we dropped by for dinner one evening expecting more of the same. Instead of the crowded, deli atmosphere at noon, Rich's Alley was cleared of crowds and decked out with fresh flowers and white tablecloths. The second hint that dinner was not going to be quite like lunch was the background music: Deep, growling, masculine voices were singing Russian peasant songs.
Rich's Alley may be a deli by day but it's a Russian-East European restaurant at night. There were one or two sops to the unadventurous -- scampi, $7.50, and sirloin steak, $9.50 -- but everything else on the menu sounded intriguing. Fish solynka, $4.90, promised to be a soup of sturgeon, salmon, olives, capers and lemon. And there was gordke, $7.95, a beef stew baked with potatoes, cheese, sour cream and mushrooms.
When our son, a vegetarian, couldn't find any suitable dishes, we asked whether the blintzes from the lunch menu, tacked behind the dinner menu, were available. The answer was no, that a different chef was in command. With our son knocked out of the eating sweepstakes (he had a house salad, 95 cents), we were glad a friend of ours had joined us for dinner. Now we would be able to try an adequate number of dishes.
Our friend started off with meat solynka, $3.90, a gorgeous soup made with beef, bacon, sausage, tongue, olives and capers, and topped with sour cream. The blending of flavors and seasonings was superb. Had he not been very hungry, our friend said, the soup and bread would have been enough for dinner.
My husband tried another soup, chicken with kreplach, $3.90. Kreplach are similar to won ton: rounds of fresh pasta are topped with ground meat, folded in half, pinched together and boiled. My mother makes what I think are the world's best kreplach, but the chef at Rich's Alley comes close.His dough was a bit too slick for my taste, but the filling was spicy and fine and a perfect foil for the rich soup that had sprigs of fresh dill floating in it.
The soups were very, very good, but the main courses were even better. Chebureky, $6.50, was like a giant kreplach that had been baked rather than boiled. The dough was stuffed with ground lamb, onions and parsley. The sharpness of the flavorings were set off by the mildness of the dough.
Sweet and sour beef, $7.50, was a generous chunk of very tender potted meat covered with a lovely, tomato-based sweet and barely sour sauce. Chicken eastern style, $6.90, had been pan fried to a golden, appetizing crispness and then smothered in fresh garlic and dill.
The only dish that could be classified as disappointing was the pelmene, $5.90, which were kreplach served with butter or sour cream. My husband had ordered the dish which turned out to be very similar to chicken soup with kreplach. The waitress, we thought, should have offered some advice at the ordering stage.
For dessert we shared strudel, $1.20, and bakhlava, $1.75. The strudel was not the basic flaky pastry filled with apples and nuts. A heavier hand had designed this strudel with a thicker, pie-like dough and a stuffing of mostly nuts. This is not to complain. It may have been different, but it was quite good. The pakhlava, too, came with a heavy dough and a light dousing of honey, but certainly was a tasty, sweet ending to a fine dinner.
Although Rich's Alley was far from crowded on a weekday evening -- only four other tables were occupied -- one waitness and an assistant provided painfully slow service. Part of the problem seemed to be in the kitchen where dishes made to order were being patiently assembled. On the one hand we appreciated the care with which the dishes were prepared. On the other, two hours for dinner when the kiddies are along and we've told the waitress we're in a hurry is much too long.
Our bill for four people who ate dinner and one person who at a house salad was $46.50 including tea and tax. This was not within our usual budget for a family dinner out, but we felt we got our money's worth. The food was excellent and unusual, and the setting very relaxing.