It took a war for Chef Sasha St. Germain to realize his dream of serving the Ukrainian food he’s loved since childhood.
Born in the Eastern European country now being battered by ongoing conflict, St. Germain remembers that dishes like pelmeni, piroshki, smoked fish and pickles were familiar favorites in his household, even after his family moved to the United States in 1991.
But until recently, promoting a Ukrainian restaurant was a bit of a hard sell.
“Unfortunately, it took a war,” St. Germain said. “People went from asking me ‘Where is that country?’ to ‘I’m so sorry.’ Well, people know where it is now.”
In late June, St. Germain launched Sashinka at Jasper’s Pub in Sebastopol. (Editor’s note: St. Germain is married to the executive director of Sonoma Family Meal, a nonprofit founded by Heather Irwin.)
From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the Ukrainian food pop-up features approachable but elevated dishes including Chicken Pelmeni (a filled pasta) with black pepper fondue and rye crumbles ($13), eggplant caviar ($9) and crisp cabbage piroshki (a pocket pie) with caramelized “everything” onion dip ($13). For under $30, you can get dinner and a beer.
Summer favorites include Korean Carrot Salat ($9) with grated carrots and sunflower seeds (yes, that’s what Ukrainians call it) and seasonal salat with cucumber, snap peas and caraway ranch dressing ($9).
Trained in fine dining, St. Germain recently moved to Sonoma County from New York, where he worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants focused on more traditional European cuisine. But casual bar dining is truly where his passion lies.
“I’ve always wanted to have a bar with really elevated cuisine. Those are the places I love to go,” he said.
That also means preparing dozens of dine-in and to-go orders from a shoebox-size bar kitchen with a toaster oven and two burners.
“Representation of (Eastern European cuisine) hasn’t always been there. I just want to show people that Eastern European food is approachable if you give it a chance,” he said.
As one of the world’s largest producers of wheat and sunflower seeds, Ukraine has native dishes that St. Germain describes as “humble.” For his menu, he uses dark bread and sunflower oils and seeds.
“We love our bread. It’s not a meal without bread,” he said. The Odesa Open-Faced Sandwich ($12) is a hearty slab of brown bread slathered with cheese, then topped by creamy egg salad. It’s richer than Warren Buffett, but a lot better-looking.
As for the restaurant’s name, St. Germain said it’s a term of endearment. “It’s what my mom calls me when she’s not mad at me.”
St. Germain still has extended family and friends in his war-torn native country, and he feels for both his homeland and Russians who have family members fighting.
“I feel for everyone losing people. There are both sides to every story, but war is never the answer,” he said.