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Robb Report Vices

Russian Dining on the Rise

Troy Johnson

Caviar-spackled blini are currently the hottest trend in the United States. Wait. No, that’s not quite right. Russian food has never trended here in the States—unless of course you consider vodka a Russian food. There are, however, some truly exceptional Russian restaurants you should explore, all serving a side of zeitgeist this winter. 

Russian cuisine is built for the country’s soul-crushing winters, which means it is heavy on carbs, fats, tea, and, yes, lots of vodka. Nyet to fruit salads. A traditional Russian meal typically includes zakuski (appetizers such as smoked and salted fish, cold meats, and potato salad), a little caviar, soups like borscht or ukha (perch with saffron broth), and then a heavy main dish—think beef stroganoff. Restaurants are often ornate and lively, with live music, plush furniture, and a constellation of chandeliers.

When it comes to Russian restaurants in the United States that are worthy of a visit, it makes sense to begin in the city with the most Russians per capita. So our journey starts in Pikesville, Md. Surprised? So were we. There, Vernisage reigns supreme with classics that include zharkoe (a meat-based stew with potatoes or potato dumplings) and tabaka (Cornish game hen in garlic sauce).

Chicago’s classic Russian Tea Time offers the superlative stroganoff. Theirs is a hearty combination of sour cream, Madeira wine, mushrooms, onions, and dill.

In the nation’s capital, the Russia House Restaurant and Lounge may be known for its wall of more than 90 vodkas, but its fare—which includes a decadent potato-mushroom cocotte accented with cherries, Tomme de Savoie cheese, and truffled cream—is equally compelling.

On the West Coast, the banquet-style Maxim in Los Angeles hosts a party each night that masquerades as dinner, complete with live music, crystal, courtly red chairs, and duck stroganoff. Conversely, the Richmond District of San Francisco is enhanced by two standouts: the homey Red Tavern, which serves potato vareniki (a Russian potato pierogy) and a tower of blini complete with smoked salmon, roe, and sour cream; and Katia’s Russian Tea Room, which is known for its eggplant caviar and excellent beef-broth-based borscht.

And we can’t forget about New York. Manhattan is full of comrades, and while the Russian Tea Room boasts unparalleled history, the Moscow import Mari Vanna owns the moment. The restaurant feels like a Moscow garden party, with 17 infused vodkas (try the seaberry), sushki (tea bread), and its specialty dish Herring under a Fur Coat (chopped herring covered with roasted carrots, beets, potatoes, mayo, and hard-boiled eggs). For more czar-worthy treatment, try Firebird, an authentic prerevolutionary Russian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen where eating a meal is akin to dining inside a tiara. The establishment offers table-side caviar service, a knockout chicken Kiev, and beef pelmeni (Siberian dumplings).

With Mari Vanna expansions in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and beyond, it’s clear that Russian cuisine is enjoying a moment in the spotlight. We have a hunch it will stay there long after the closing ceremony wraps up in Sochi.

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