Rittenhouse Row has welcomed its newest neighbor to the block — Aleksandar Stojnic’s Restaurant Aleksandar — with a menu best described as American with Eastern European influences and touches of Asian flare.
“It was an eyeopener to see how people reacted to what my team and I created,” says Chef Montana Houston. “So much good feedback. So many people excited for our future here.”
The man responsible for that menu, Houston, brings extensive experience with stints at Zahav, the Catskills and Braddock’s Tavern in New Jersey before his first starring role fronting a restaurant at Aleksandar.
“Michael Solomonov was great to work for, and when I asked him to be my mentor, he agreed,” explains Houston.
Houston’s lineage includes a chef father with a feel for Southern comfort food, barbecue and Asian tastes. “I lost my father at an early age; making and eating food together was our meeting ground,” says Houston. “My love for food is equitable to my love for him, and what I share now with my extended family.”
The conversation between Aleksandar Stojnic and Montana Houston around Eastern European flavors started with the chef presenting a tasting with everything from his “first time” twists on pierogi, beet salads to scallops.
“Alek and his family liked what I did, and ever since, started drilling day-to-day getting things done. His mother actually came in to help us with the truth of Eastern European tastes and ideas she thought we be helpful. I picked Alek’s brain hourly as to what he wanted his restaurant to be. Talking with him – after talking with Mike Solomonov – Eastern European food, smoking things and pickling things… this was a completely new door to be opened for me.”
What Houston has made his own are dishes such as cabbage rolls with mixed mushroom, jasmine rice and Tamari sauce, and a “forest flooring” gnocchi with Pumpernickel bread “soil,” Halumi “rocks” brussels sprout leaves and burnt “ash” top leaks. “It would be as if walking along the forest floor in Poland during winter, and seeing all of these cool ingredients,” says Houston. “I wanted to pay respect to the traditions of Eastern European food while honoring my history and background.”
Authentic Baltic realness with a pop, Houston touches on the roots of his father’s Southern cooking and nods to Asian flavors with items such as Restaurant Aleksandar’s cabbage rolls.
“Being that I made and ate egg rolls with my father as far back as I can remember, I did this Balkan dish with an Asian influence of soy sauce, Hoisin, garlic and shallots and crossed two paths at once. That’s my past, elevated. That defines everything I’ll do at Restaurant Aleksander – Eastern European, tuned and tweaked.”
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