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The first person to eat a potato probably had no idea what he was in for. That's a bit how I felt when I came across a bowl of these misshapen clods displayed among the fancifully decorated cakes at Three Sisters Deli, a tiny Russian shop packed with cured meats, cheeses, and dry goods. The proprietress and I didn't share a language, so all could get was the name in the notebook, shokoladnie kartofel (transliterated from the Cyrillic), or "chocolate potatoes." Inside, I was told, they contained "milk."
This is how that looks:
The cakelike interior is sweet, dense, moist—almost juicy. I was convinced there were crushed almonds involved. Friend of the Food Chain Catherine Lambrecht, who spent several years living in Soviet-era Moscow, remembers them tasting like "uncooked chocolate cookie dough filled with chopped nuts"—though nuts were rare back then and there. Another Russian-speaking Food Chain operative who contacted Three Sisters for more information was rebuffed with suspicion. So a call was placed to Arkady Kats, of the Niles Georgian bakery Bread 'n' Bowl Company.
Kats makes them occasionally, forming them from pulverized butter cookies, condensed milk, and butter, rolling them in cocoa and baking them. Some people use nuts, others don't.
"It's sweet, but not so sweet you don't want to eat it," he said. "When you eat it, it really feels like you eat potato." Come to think of it, he hinted, he might make some today if he finds the time.
Three Sisters Deli, 2854 W. Devon, 773-973-1919
Bread 'n' Bowl Company, 7239 W. Dempster, Niles, 312-388-8494