Moscow on the Hudson
It’s easy to appreciate vodka on its own merits. Drinking it straight up, either chilled or on the rocks, you can easily discern and appreciate each brand’s subtle but distinctive flavor profile. However, the spirit can also be transformed into a canvas upon which potable works of art are created—masterpieces formed with a palette of flavors as varied as Russian cuisine itself. These are infused vodkas—not those artificially flavored brands, but the culmination of submerging real fruits, herbs, vegetables, and spices in genuine Russian vodka and leaving them to steep over time.
While it’s easy to create infused vodkas at home, it’s much less time-consuming (and much more fun) to sample the selection at some of New York City’s finest Russian bars. There are standard flavors available wherever vodka is infused, like cranberry, cherry, or horseradish, but each establishment offers a handful of distinctive flavors as well. The Russian Vodka Room on West 52nd St., for example, offers infusions with a non-Russian twist, such as pear and caramelized walnut, blueberry and Tahitian vanilla, and red grapefruit. It also serves savory classics like one flavored with garlic, pepper, and dill.
Across the street at Russian Samovar (the former site of the famed Rat Pack hangout Jilly’s), the selections grow a little more esoteric, with herbal infusions like coriander, tarragon, and mint. Classic belly-filling and soul-warming Russian fare like beef stroganoff and chicken Kiev make a perfect follow-up to a vodka . . . or three.
For the downtown crowd, Pravda (on Lafayette St. in Soho) offers 10 infusions, among them a luscious fig vodka and a deliciously spicy chili-and-horseradish combo. The food menu is relatively Americanized, though Russian delicacies from pirozhki to lamb shashlik are also available.
And on 20th St. in the Flatiron District, Mari Vanna has perfected two intriguing honey-based infusions, one with oats and one with pepper, as well as lingonberry and even seaberry expressions. The food menu is just as intriguing, featuring delicacies like golubtsy (cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, rice, and vegetables) and chicken tabaka, pressed and roasted with a tomato-and-garlic-based Kavkazskiy sauce.