Alyonka Russian Cuisine – Boise, Idaho

Alyonka Russian Cuisine in Boise, Idaho

In the 1970s when most people still had a sense of humor and society wasn’t offended by virtually everything, Wendy’s ran a commercial humorously depicting a Soviet fashion show.  This fashion show portrayed a heavyset (calorically challenged if you insist on political correctness) Russian woman modeling day wear, evening wear and swim wear.  In each case, the attire was exactly the same–a drab wool sack with matching hat.  Only her accessories were different: a beach ball for swim wear and a flashlight for evening wear.  A Soviet ambassador appeared on television to condemn the depiction of Russian womanhood.  Before the show, he agreed to watch the commercial and reportedly fell over laughing (as did the KGB agents standing guard).  Just as his segment came on the air, he managed to regain his composure in time to put on a scowl and condemn Wendy’s depravity.  

Perhaps because of the Cold War and lack of information coming out from behind the Iron Curtain, stereotypes about life in the Soviet Union continue to persist.  The fun and interesting Russian Life blog lists seven myths about Russian cuisine: (1) It’s just meat and potatoes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, a typical Russian feast starts with a table brimming with salads made from fresh vegetables, pickled foods, cheeses and smoked fish. (2) It’s heavy. Only if you want it to be. A well-prepared Russian meal draws on a wide range of fresh dairy, fish, and garden-grown products. It can be very rich, yes, but rich does not have to equal heavy. (3) It’s fattening. Not so. Russian cuisine emphasizes whole foods, whether grain, dairy or vegetables. 

Chef-Owner Elena DeYoung on the Phone at Alyonka, a Very Charming Little Restaurant

The remaining four: (4) It’s just an excuse to drink vodka. Vodka is the national drink and for hundreds of years has been an integral part of the Russian dining experience (especially the rich array of infused vodkas), but that doesn’t mean it should be taken to excess. (5) It’s too time-consuming. Fine for the Russian Tea Room. But for my home?! Unless you decide to labor for hours over a perfect coulibiac, home-style Russian cooking doesn’t take very much time at all.  (6) It’s little more than 101 Ways to Cook Cabbage. Yes, cabbage, served fresh, preserved and cooked, has a strong supporting role on the Russian table, but it never steals the scene. (7) It doesn’t offer any good desserts. Well, the proof is in the kasha, and if you’ve ever had Guriev kasha, you know Russians love creamy deserts, airy tortes and flaky pies

The last time my Kim and I visited a Russian restaurant was in Las Vegas where we didn’t experience any of the seven myths noted in the Russian Life blog.  To the contrary, we were guided through a delightful introduction to the delicious delectations from the former Red Empire.  To my knowledge, Albuquerque has never been graced by a purely Russian restaurant.  We’ve had several restaurants (such as Aura) that serve some culinary delights common to several nations of the region, but none are exclusively Russian.  I was unable to find an estimate as to how many Russian restaurants there are across the fruited plain, but surmise there aren’t many.

This Guy Eats Everywhere

The Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives website confirms that even the most popular of all Food Network shows shares our findings: “It’s not too often we come across a 100% authentic Russian spot to dine at here in the USA.”  In an episode titled “A World of Meats” which first aired on Friday, March 31, 2023, one of those rare Russian restaurants was featured when host Guy Fieri and his crew visited Alyonka Russian Cuisine in Boise.  It was one of the few episodes of the show we missed, so it was entirely coincidental that we visited some three and a half months later.  

As with other Russian restaurants across the country, Alyonka has the challenge of perception to deal with.  Bon Apetit indicates that Russian restaurant owners in the US face bullying and shame on account of the Russian attack on the Ukraine.   Alyonka’s owner Elena DeYoung posted a heartfelt video message on Instagram: “Food is not about politics. It’s about love and friendship. Here in our restaurant, we have people from all over the world. We have Armenian (people) close to me. We have Ukrainians working shoulder to shoulder. We have Russian people – people from Belarus. And Americans too!”

Assorted Pickled Vegetables

Elena, whose nickname as a child was “Alyonka,”couldn’t have been any more gracious and kind to us.  Not surprisingly she feel in love with The Dude, our debonair dachshund.  She praised the community of Boise for its continued support of her restaurant.  In addition to being the owner and chef of Alyonka’s, she is the event coordinator for Boise’s popular Russian Food Festival, one of the reasons she’s beloved in the city.  She reciprocates the city’s affections in a very active Facebook page.  She recently posted: “We are grateful and honored to be named the Best European Restaurant in Idaho!  (Two years in a row!)”

During his visit to Alyonka, host Guy Fieri enjoyed Pelmeni dumplings and Plov, a delectable lamb dish.  Fieri Guy raved about the Pelmeni: “This is the best thing I have eaten this year.”  He was just as effusive about the Plov: “Great ingredients cooked the right way could produce the right flavor. I am digging around for the lamb; it is my favorite part.”  These are among the many appetizing comfort foods on the menu, all created from fresh ingredients and made from scratch.   The menu showcases cold and warm appetizers, entrees and some of the most unique and uniquely wonderful desserts we’ve ever had.

Beef Stroganoff with Buckwheat

Among the appetizers are several that belie any of the aforementioned myths about Russian cuisine.  We selected Assorted Pickled Vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, pattypan squash and homemade sauerkraut served with authentic Russian rye bread).   Frankly when we ordered this preprandial combo, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we do know how much we love pickled vegetables.  We were surprised that the pickling wasn’t of the lip-pursing variety.  Sometimes pickling obfuscates the flavor of vegetables.  Alyonka’s brine and spices allowed the freshness and crispness of all vegetables to shine.  Also quite luminous is the Russian rye bread with butter.  It’s a rather thin bread, but it’s earthy and tangy with that distinct sour aftertaste.  

Try as I might, it’s a challenge for me not to order beef stroganoff on the rare occasion we find it on a menu.  It’s been that way since my strapping youth hiking the rugged mountains of the Carson National Forest.  Boy Scout Troop 512 discovered (on an actual catalog) dehydrated meals that were ostensibly lighter and easier to carry than the canned alternatives.  Among those dehydrated delights was beef stroganoff.  For some reason, I was the only scout brave enough to even try it.  It’s been a lifelong love affair.  Alyonka offers three versions–one made with rice, one with noodles and one with buckwheat.   Naturally I ordered the “most authentic,” the beef stroganoff made with buckwheat.   Buckwheat isn’t solely a character in Spanky And Our Gang, it’s a rather strong grain.  Not everyone will love the flavor and texture of this grain, but I loved it.  Alyonka’s version is the best I’ve ever had.  It’s flavorful and comforting, loaded with moist hamburger, onions and mushrooms.  It’s a Russian comfort food that’s more than stew, better than any one-pot dish.   It’s Russian Nirvana.


My Kim found the name Vareniki interesting because it sounds like the name of a Siberian village named Varykino on the Academy award-winning movie Dr. Zhivago.  Vareniki, it turns out, are handmade Russian style dumplings with a potato and mushroom filling, served with butter and sour cream.  Interestingly, Varenyky are a national dish of Ukraine, but they resemble many a pierogi we’ve had.  In fact, the only real terminology is in what they’re named–pierogi in Poland and vareniki in Russia.  Ten vareniki per order are a lot to eat considering how rich each of these dumplings is.  The one thing that would improve these and cut the richness is fried onions fried to a pearlescent translucence  with crispy bacon (the way pierogi are prepared at the Red Rock Deli).  

The myth we’ll forever find most ridiculous is that Russians don’t have good desserts.  Both my Kim and I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with the Royal Poppy Seed Chocolate Ganache Cake (the hint of rum, roasted cashews over chocolate ganache, not overly sweet fluffy frosting, and super soft and moist cake layers).  It’s simply one of the very best desserts we’ve had anywhere.  It was also a complete surprise.  We though it might be good, but it crossed the line into spectacular, amazing, magnificent…name your own adjective.  It reminded me so much of the chocolate ganache we enjoyed in Europe  As someone who doesn’t like anything overly sweet (except for The Dude), this decadent dessert fit the bill.  Every layer of this moist cake was a joy to luxuriate through.  You definitely won’t want to rush through this dessert or you’ll mourn when it’s all gone.  This dessert alone is worth a trip to Idaho.

Royal Poppy Seed Chocolate Ganache Cake, One of the Very Best Desserts I’ve Ever Had

We debunked all the seven myths about Russian cuisine and have fallen in love with a cuisine that should be ranked with the world’s biggest culinary surprises.  Myths should be left to ancient Greeks and Romans.  Experiencing great food should be left to real people who enjoy dining diversity.  

Alyonka Russian Cuisine
2870 West State Street
Boise, Idaho
(208) 344-8996
Website | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 6 June 2023
COST: $$
BEST BET: Royal Poppy Seed Chocolate Ganache Cake, Beef Stroganoff, Vareniki, Assorted Pickled Vegetables
REVIEW #1336

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