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Owner Yury Pivor hopes diners will sample Samsa , taste Tabaka , and then kick up their heels on the dance floor at this eatery on Fields Ertel Road. (Photo by G. Yek)
CINCINNATI - Each Thursday, our "Global Table" column explores the international side of Greater Cincinnati dining. Follow WCPO contributor, Grace Yek, as she talks to the chefs and owners of these dining spots about their food, culture and journey to the Tri-State.
If you’ve ever wondered what a Russian engineer’s restaurant prototype might look like, step into Oasis Grill. Just like a well-assembled engine, Oasis locks in all the necessary parts for a complete Russian dining experience: Russian fusion food, take-out, dining room, banquet area, dance floor, and a stage for live entertainment.
The restaurant offers cuisines from nations which, by and large, were once part of the Soviet Union. Hence the notation, "Russian fusion," on the menu. Owner Yury Pivor started his professional life as an engineer.
“I’ve always liked the aspect of creativity in cooking. It’s a business, but I enjoy it as a hobby as well,” he said.
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The restaurant offers cuisines from nations which, by and large, were once part of the Soviet Union. Hence the notation, "Russian fusion," on the menu.
The countries represented include Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and others. The menu identifies the country of origin of the various dishes, but these foods have crossed borders, and been adopted by more than one nation as their own.
What you can expect at Oasis Grill are distinctive flavors. Onion and garlic make their mark, as do some of the spice blends that include cumin and coriander. You'll also find evidence of bay leaf, fresh fennel, and dill running through the menu.
Plov Samarkand (pictured above), is an Uzbek favorite: It's a rice pilaf entrée prepared with lamb, beef, carrot, and spices. This simple yet satisfying dish has a light sheen of oil, subtly flavored with cooked onion.
A Russian original, Fish Moscow, showcases sturgeon, a fish the Russians claim as their own. In this dish, sturgeon filet is baked with mushrooms, potatoes, mozzarella cheese, and white sauce.
If you're in the mood for Cornish hen, the Georgian dish, Chicken Tabaka may fit the bill. Whole Cornish hen is pressed flat, and pan-fried with a garlic sauce.
Oasis Grill also serves up the well-known Beef Stroganoff. Here, this dish of Russian origin is an assembly of sliced beef, mushrooms, and sour cream--all cooked together--and served over fried potatoes.
Golubsty (pictured above), a dish of Russian and Ukrainian origin, are stuffed cabbage rolls, slowly braised until tender, and the flavors mingle. The quintessentially Russian dumplings, Plemeni, are boiled and stuffed with your choice of beef or chicken and served with butter and sour cream.
Samsa (pictured below), a Central Asian appetizer, offers freshly made puff pastry, stuffed with chopped beef, lamb, and onion. It's served with a spiced tomato-based sauce.
Perhaps the most flavorful and complex soup on the menu is Solianka. A traditional Russian soup, it combines three kinds of smoked meat in a beef broth with vegetables and spices. Shurpa, another Uzbek favorite, is a clear soup, embodying the goodness of chopped beef, potatoes, peas and other vegetables.
Oasis Grill also offers the popular Carrot Salad, that's widely available in Russia. The carrot is pickled in-house, with just enough spice to give it a nice bite.
Meet the owner
Yury Pivor, a self-professed rebel, loves running his own restaurant. (Pictured: Pivor with Chef Nasiba)
“I’ve always liked the aspect of creativity in cooking. It’s a business, but I enjoy it as a hobby as well,” Pivor said.
Make no mistake: Pivor is not a starry-eyed novice. He is a seasoned businessman with two other successful ventures under his belt. Owning a restaurant was simply an opportunity Pivor could not refuse.
“I’ve always gravitated to something where I can express myself. I’m expressing myself in this restaurant, and that gives me satisfaction, especially when people like what I do. It feels like I did something right,” Pivor said.
Pivor’s early years are a far cry from that of a restaurateur. Pivor comes from a family of engineers. Born and raised in Moscow, his mother worked on Russian aircraft, and his father designed and built high voltage power lines. Pivor, who has a love for airplanes, got a degree in mechanical engineering.
When Pivor was 21 he emigrated with his family to Cincinnati. He continued to work on airplanes, but started getting involved in business. It wasn't long before running various ventures in construction and commercial janitorial services became his career.
While Pivor acknowledges that engineering is a stable livelihood, the linear and rigid nature of the discipline did not fit his style.
“I was always good with math, physics, and chemistry, but there is no freedom," Pivor said. So, he rebelled; he got into the restaurant business instead.
Pivor bought Oasis Grill in April 2013. He is not at all deterred by the ups and downs of owning a restaurant.
“Whether I fail or not, I don’t know, but the process is more important to me than the result,” Pivor said.
Russian culture is far from monolithic. It's an enormous melting pot of Slavic, European,
Asian, and even Mediterranean influences.
According to Pivor, home cooking is often used as a benchmark to judge restaurant food. The only problem is, people have vastly different ideas about home cooking. The same plate of food at a restaurant might well elicit responses that are polar opposites. In Pivor's culture, it's perfectly normal to be vocal about every little thing you don't like.
"When I first got this restaurant, I couldn’t sleep at night. Then I realized I'd have to have a different chef for every client," Pivor said, referring to the wide range of customer expectations. "Now, if it tastes good to me, it's good."
Pivor said his team cooks everything from scratch at Oasis Grill. They bake their own bread and cakes every day.
"The only preservative we use are salt and sugar," he said. "That way, I have a chance of people recognizing this as a home style restaurant."
Another cultural hallmark is lingering over a meal. Unlike most American restaurants, turning tables at Oasis Grill may well not happen at all. Pivor explained it's not uncommon for Russian customers to arrive early for dinner, and stay until the restaurant closes.
"That’s why this restaurant is big. It's not always full, but it lets me accommodate people without turning tables," Pivor said. "We also do a lot of banquets here. Russians love banquets." He clarified that by "Russians," he means people with roots to Russian-speaking nations.
Pivor also took into account the love of dancing in Russian culture by offering a dance floor, equipped with a stage for live entertainment.
"Any kind of gathering has to have dancing, otherwise the night is not good."
By the way
Pivor plans to offer house-made ice cream when the weather gets warmer. On the menu: Sour cherry, black currant, and gooseberry. That’s just a start. When the restaurant gets its liquor license, you can also expect to find “hard” ice cream, with liquors like cherry brandy blended in.
Another addition coming soon is the hookah, a water pipe used for smoking flavored tobacco through a basin of water. The restaurant patio will be secluded for this purpose, with the addition of plenty of lush plants and greenery.
(All photos by G. Yek)
Grace Yek is a faculty member at the Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.