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Wednesday, July 21, 1999

Oodles of strudels

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 1999 at 12:00 AM

My mother used to come home from school and find the furniture draped with white sheets. On those days, her mother, Rosa, and Aunt Mulvinea were making strudel. The papery dough was laid over the sheets until the women were ready to wrap it around sweet and savory fillings. By the time I was born, my grandmother no longer made her own strudel, although she often filled our suburban refrigerator with the exotic foods of her native Hungary.

At the Fiddler, they make their own strudel dough. What a treat! We had a slice filled with sour cherries and another with apples. Sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar, the dough is paper thin and many layers thick. It is perfect.

For owner Michael Kuchersky, the Fiddler is a labor of love. Trained in hotel and restaurant management in Moscow, Kuchersky owns three other profitable restaurants. As long as the Fiddler breaks even, he is satisfied.

"I always dreamed about this," Kuchersky says. "My mother died a few years ago. She was a good cook, and for her memory, I need to do something."

From soup to dessert, nothing at the Fiddler is frozen or canned. If you order a hamburger, the meat is ground fresh. But why order hamburger when the menu is full of Eastern European delicacies rarely offered elsewhere?

Appetizers include latkes (potato pancakes), chopped liver, gefilte fish, blini (thin Russian pancakes, topped with caviar for an extra $2.25) and blintzes (blini filled with farmer’s cheese).

The gefilte fish is made from a family recipe; it is light, sweet and served with a biting horseradish. If you hate gefilte fish, it is probably because you’ve only had it from a jar. Try again.

On a hot, hot day I ordered borscht, and the server, an immigrant from Latvia, asked if I meant hot or cold. The cold borscht, which is not on the menu, comes with chopped raw cucumbers and scallions in a beet broth. Wonderful on a hot day.

The signature dish is Pozharski chicken cutlet, which dates from the days of the czar. I can still see my grandmother’s hands dipping the chicken into the egg, then pressing it into a plate of breadcrumbs and sliding it into a pan of sizzling oil. The version served at the Fiddler is lighter, with the breadcrumbs and oil bath omitted.

The stuffed cabbage is a parcel of lean ground beef and rice, served with a slightly sweet tomato sauce.

My favorite was Siberian pelimeni. When I ordered it (on that hot day), I was concerned that it would be heavy, but it was not. These dumplings are delicate, wrapped around a filling of very lean ground beef, and simply presented in a bowl with a little butter and yogurt or sour cream.

Newly opened in November, the Fiddler has that just-moved-in, post-post-modern look. Despite some faux-Chagall lithographs, the West Bloomfield eatery seems as far from Russia as it actually is.

Thursday through Sunday evenings, the Fiddler features Harry Hovakimian on the violin and Peter Levitin on the keyboard. Approval of a liquor license is expected this fall. So, close your eyes, eat the food, listen to music and the melodious accents of the waitstaff.

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