Relive the cinematic rapture of Pawel Pawlikowski’s ‘Cold War’ with a cozy night at Solidarity

By Angela Matano

Follow up the romance of ‘Cold War’ with Solidarity’s pierogies
Photo courtesy of Solidarity

As it turns out, greater happiness comes from experiential purchases, rather than material ones, according to psychologist Dr. Thomas Gilovich. In other words, experiencing different things in life is the thing that ends up giving your life meaning. In light of this nugget of wisdom, I recommend an evening of Polish film and food for a night to remember.

The terrific new movie “Cold War,” by Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski of the Oscar-winning “Ida,” is one of those films that resonates with you long after you have left the theater. An arresting and passionate tale set mostly in the ’50s, and filmed in stunning black-and-white, the film is inspired by Pawlikowski’s parents’ tumultuous relationship. As he puts it, his parents “were the most interesting dramatic characters I’ve ever come across.”

The story begins in Poland, oppressed by Soviet rule. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) is a musicologist, collecting old folk songs in the countryside to play with a music and dance group that tours all over Europe. When Zula (Joanna Kulig) comes to audition for the group, an immediate spark ignites, setting both characters on a rollercoaster ride that neither can manage to get off of.

The push and pull of the young couple in “Cold War” mirror and digress from the politics of the time. While Pawlikowski doesn’t spend too much time on communism and its constraints, I really felt the effects of the controlling apparatchik (or government officials) always watching. On the other hand, the film does something quite interesting with the reality of exile. The main characters exchange fame and recognition in Poland for a more banal life in liberal Paris, but their newfound freedoms are not quite as exhilarating as one might think. In both the foreground and background stories, nothing turns out to be quite what it was imagined to be.

The absolute perfect restaurant to pair with “Cold War” has to be Solidarity, the Polish restaurant in Santa Monica formerly known as Warszawa. In the same spot on Lincoln Boulevard since 1979, the space exudes Old World charm without a hint of kitsch. Chef/owner Elina O’Lague hails from Krakow and the menu reflects her heritage. After one bite of the house-made cheese and potato pierogies, I felt like I had stepped into the world of “Cold War.”

With its name stenciled in red on the front, the restaurant’s façade seems to nod to communism but also the 1980s Polish labor movement for which it was renamed in recent years. The inside — carved from rooms in an old beach house — exudes comfort and warmth, perfect for a date or a family dinner. There is also a patio strung with lights that brings to mind a German biergarten. All in all, it’s kind of like your grandma’s house, but better. (Step inside Solidarity’s hidden speakeasy, and you’ll know what I mean.)

Cozy and hearty, the food at Solidarity is perfect for winter — or the closest thing we Angelenos have to it anyway. The potato plackis resemble potato latkes — crisp and satisfying — and can be topped with sour cream or apple compote. Traditional dishes, like beef stroganoff and chicken paprikash hit all the right notes of salty, well-spiced and rich, with generous portions for the hungry.

If you would rather err on the lighter side, the cold borscht is scrumptious and trendier than ever with beets on every menu in town. There is also a beet salad here, garnished with goat cheese and mint. The Solidarity salad comes with carrots, apples and sauerkraut for a little kick.

In addition to the fantastic food, the eatery offers a full bar, with a great variety of specialty cocktails. The Warsaw Mule, a twist on the Russian classic, comes served in the traditional copper mug and is filled with Żubrówka, a Polish vodka flavored with a tincture of bison grass, lemon, ginger beer and rosemary.

Oh, to find yourself sated on cinematic passion, beets, dumplings and herbaceous alcohol! Now that’s happiness.

Solidarity can be found at 1414 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. Call (310) 393-8831 or visit solidarityla.com for reservations.

“Cold War” is playing at the Laemmle Royal (11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.). For showtimes, call (310) 478-3836 or visit laemmle.com

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