When I first moved to NYC 7 years ago, I thought Restaurant Week was the best thing ever. Every time RW rolled around, I would get excited since it was an affordable way to sample cuisines at high end places. The experience for me was carefully orchestrated like tactical warfare - countless hours poring over the list of 100+ restaurants to seek out the "best bang for the buck" in terms of menu offerings from normally expensive restaurants like Nobu. Culling the list down to the Top 5. Gauging interest from various circles of friends and coordinating their schedules was Phase 2. Phase 3 consisted of the difficult task of booking the table, a separate battle in itself.
Was the time and effort worth it?
There were more misses than hits - let's be honest, most spots don't really care and it shows. Offerings would include a generic assortment of salad, salmon or chicken breast, and some variant of a chocolate souffle - all items that aren't even close to the standard menu. Other places would serve anemic bite-sized portions that weren't worth the $38 admission.
So last August when Ting planned a dinner during RW at The Russian Tea Room, of all places, I was both jaded and curious as I didn't know what to expect. Would it be kitschy like an FAO Schwarz that served pierogies? Or would it be a legit glamorous and old school joint that served pierogies?
In hindsight, I'm glad I went as it turned out to be one of the more entertaining dinners in recent memory. On this adventure was Jason - a Jewish film director, Ting - a flamenco dancer and editor, Saj - a wunderkind in the medical industry who enjoys dancing to Zedd in awesome colorful wigs, and Michelle - a TAFer who had a stye in her eye. Oh she's getting married tomorrow, congrats!
As Saj and I entered the lobby, our eyes took a minute to adjust to the dimly lit space that was bathed in an ethereal kremlin red light surrounded by hunter green walls dripping with gold.
The heavy use of wood throughout the restaurant bestowed an air of history, masculinity, and old school charm.
When we entered the main dining room, our mouths dropped as we sharply inhaled. It was like stepping into a banquet hall in Narnia. Dizzying arrays of colors and lights sparkled from the walls to the ceiling to create double rainbows everywhere.
The centerpiece would have to be the 10 ft tall juggling bear aquarium that slowly revolved on a pedestal.
Ensconced in the belly of the bear ice sculpture? Cute fishies.
After taking our seats, we begrudingly agreed to not ball out on the Krug+Osetra combo and opted for the $38 RW menu. Between the 5 of us, we ordered every dish to share.
The borscht was actually very flavorful and the dill added a nice touch. I haven't had too many borschts in my lifetime but I would be able to drink a bowl of this easily.
The next appetizer was a crowd favorite. Siberian style beef filled dumplings with sour cream, peas, dill and mixed mushrooms. As a puff pastry enthusiast, I was very impressed with the golden flaky pastry shell of this dish. Trust me on this, Pei.
A solid start to the meal to everyone's surprise. Especially Jason.
Have you ever had a blinchik? Me neither. Loved the pairing of goat cheese and mushrooms with sweet onions and tarty lingonberry wrapped in a crepe. What's not to love?
Unfortunately, the bar set by the appetizers was not matched by the entrees. The filet of beef was decent but slightly overcooked., the chicken was slightly dry and underseasoned, and the bland salmon was drowned in a heavy cream sauce.
After getting really full, we decided to order some tea because we assumed it'd be a great idea to order tea from a tea house. We were right.
After putting in our tea order, we filled our second stomach with a decadent chocolate pyramid and a solid rendition of a cheesecake that wasn't too dense.
While we were descending into the depths of food coma, a tray of caffeine arrived!
Most of us chose the St. Petersburg black tea - notes of citrus, red fruits and caramel that proved to be aromatic and a perfect way to end the meal.
After dinner, we had a quick photoshoot in the elevator and made it really awkward for bystanders.
And by awkward, I mean awesome.
- While the food overall wasn't bad, it wasn't mindblowing. If you do go, definitely get the borscht and the apps and skip the entrees. Get the chocolate pyramid!
- Regular menu prices are exorbitant. I'd only go during RW with a fun group. Pregaming would be a fantastic idea.
- If you haven't been, it's a unique spot you can just go to once for the ambiance. Sit there with a cup of tea and people watch.