(Exterior of Ariana)
Despite nigh a quarter century having passed since the Cold War propaganda machines ground to a halt, Americans sure still love to finger wag at Russia. But as the Ukraine territorial pissing match lingers on, BlackBook has adopted its own ambassadorial role, enthusiastically cultivating Russo – American détente in the most civilized way we know how: over blinis and multiple shots of Russian Standard.
In New York, going Russian had usually meant kitsch Anna Karenina opulence (Firebird, The Russian Tea Room), or visiting your friend Anatoly’s sweet old бабушка (that’s grandma to you Occidentals) out in Little Odessa.
But in 2009, hip St. Petersburg restaurateurs Ginza Project took over the space that housed German tavern Silver Swan (one last payback for the Siege of Leningrad, perhaps?) and opened Mari Vanna, which, despite bearing all the aesthetic hallmarks of a pre-Revolutionary aristo’s country dacha, was immediately one of the hippest scenes in town. Soon followed Onegin, which, alas, defaulted to clichéd opulence whilst also trying to maintain Downtown cool.
But 2014 has seen the Russian invasion spread East, West and South. And it must be said, for all that sinister Boris and Natasha stuff, nobody will make you feel more like family when you take a seat at one of their tables.
BlackBook has been busy raising our bодка glasses all over town and woozily shouting Pussy Riot slogans in solidarity, so that we might file this official report…which will self-destruct in exactly fifteen seconds.
It might well be called Matryoshka Riot, for all the charmingly chic knickknacks scattered lovingly about. We mostly adore it for having the foxiest expat bartenders and for the big screen blaring retro Europa pop music videos and what just might be official State TV reruns. But the crowd is as gregarious as glamorous and the traditional menu, with its hearty pirozhok and golubtzi, perfectly complements the dizzying selection of infused vodkas. Come on Model Tuesdays, when the genetically magnificent cook up their favorite dishes.
The Dish: Beef Stroganoff
The Tipple: A Shot (Or Four) Of The Horseradish Infused Vodka
The brainchild of gorgeous, multi-Grammy-winning Russian pop star Ariana Grinblat and her gregarious husband Lev, here, it’s all about tossing off the babushka and going all русский moderne. Cutting edge St. Petersburg chef Vitalii Kovalev does crawfish bisque, braised rabbit and duck pelmeni that will have you forgetting you ever went near a soggy old knish. As the Lady Grinblat herself puts it, “This is the only restaurant to have taken a contemporary approach to Russian cuisine. My idea was to showcase how beautiful, fresh and innovative it can be.” The clientele is international chic, the staff is pure love, the room all stylish minimalism, and best of all, the cocktail menu includes an “aged vodka” list.
The Dish: The Velvet Borscht or Quail Satsivi
The Tipple: The Caviar Martini with Black Caviar Frozen Lollipop
The new nightlife-destination arm of the Caviarteria retail empire, it’s tucked below a Tribeca side street for those discreet rendezvous’ with the leggy daughters of Perestroika (you know them as Russian models). Here it’s all about the Dom Perignon and nibbling on the namesake. Those on a (sort of) budget can opt for the Alaskan salmon roe; but budding oligarchs will surely splurge for the Golden Imperial or Kaluga Prime at $395 an ounce. Dramatic sheer curtains separate sexy white booths, perfect for a covert snog with the spy who’s loving you. The champagne and caviar brunch speaks for itself.
THE DISH: Um, Caviar
THE TIPPLE: Um, Champagne
In the shadow of the W-Burg Bridge, the LES’ M57 actually has Russian Tea Room lineage. But here, all the glitz is eschewed in favor of enough boho boisterousness to make you forget Bohemia is actually in the Czech Republic. The interior is a study in “better red than…well, anything.” There’s live music (proprietor Ellen Kaye is a crooner herself), cabaret, art exhibits…and a menu by chef-partner Seth Goldman that leans a little more Downtown quirky, i.e. Tashkent daikon & pomegranate salad, The Pickle Guys Pickle Plate. It’s always a “party” here, so be prepared to swear your allegiance.
THE DISH: Georgian Chicken Chakhobili
THE TIPPLE: Leyla The Sun Goddess, with orange & mint vodka, ginger, lemon and orange juice