Red Alert: Petrossian

Red Alert! Random Eastern European dishes are invading our streets and restaurants! Should you duck and cover, or welcome the enemy?

PetrossianPetrossian, just a block south of Central Park in Midtown, is a strange beast. Contrary to what many people might think, it’s really not a Russian restaurant. It’s an “expensive ingredient” restaurant. And yet there’s a Russian connection. Kind of. Armenian, rather. Sort of.

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Red Alert: Les 400 Coups in Montreal

Red Alert! Random Eastern European dishes are invading our streets and restaurants! Should you duck and cover, or welcome the enemy?

Les 400 Coups Les 400 Coups, in Old Montreal, is one of Montreal’s best restaurants, and it specializes in local ingredients and seasonal cuisine. Red? Well, maybe this should just be an Orange Alert. None of this food is strictly Eastern European, but a few dishes certainly pinged my radar. They’re inspiring, as they’re made with ingredients typically found in Eastern Europe: trout paired with yogurt and beets, and arctic char served with sea-buckthorn and rye.

It’s been a slow time for bright, commie-red alerts, and it’s rare to see something in a restaurant of this caliber. I guess Daniel Boulud and his fellow three-Michelin-star chefs don’t often wake up thinking, “Let’s put a Beef Stroganoff on the menu today”. Or perhaps it’s just that Thomas Keller doesn’t give me a call when he adds a coulibiac to his tasting prix-fixe. So for now, let’s enjoy some French-Canadian, expertly prepared seafood…
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Restaurant Review: Taras Bulba

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Ukrainian Cuisine - Taras Bulba

Taras Bulba is a Ukrainian restaurant chain founded in 1999, with many branches in Moscow and Kiev. The SoHo outpost, however, opened much more recently (this W Broadway space was still occupied by Via dei Mille not so long ago). I actually remember eating in one of the Moscow joints on my way to or back from some Caucasian Adventure or other. Everything looked more or less the same, from the decor to the menu, with the added benefit that in Moscow they’re open 24/7 — can you remind me again which one’s supposed to be the city that never sleeps?

Time for our minute of culture. Taras Bulba, though it may sound like an insult in French, is really a novella by Nikolai Gogol, wherein a family of Zaporozhian Cossacks does Cossack things, including lots of warmongering. It was loosely adapted for film in 1962, with Yul Brynner in the title role. (Brynner was born in Vladivostok, incidentally). And korchma, the word printed on the awning and atop the menu, is not a schizophrenic owner’s second name for the restaurant; a “korchma” simply used to be a kind of tavern in Ukraine.

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Red Alert : M. Wells Steakhouse

Red Alert! Random Eastern European dishes are invading our streets and restaurants! Should you duck and cover, or welcome the enemy?

In a Red Alert almost three years ago, I featured the rather ephemeral M. Wells Diner. After closing over one of those New York lease arguments everybody talks about for a month before forgetting all about it and moving on to the next piece of food gossip, the owners opened M. Wells Dinette at PS1, and more recently, M. Wells Steakhouse, both in Long Island City.

Discussing the Steakhouse outlet, “Orange Alert” may be more appropriate, since most of the dishes I’m going to talk about are somewhat (very) loosely connected to Eastern Europe.

M. Wells Steakhouse

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Edinburgh Restaurant Report: Yellow Bench

In addition to my New York restaurant reviews, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on random Eastern European restaurants I visit during my various trips. These posts may not always have the depth of my traditional reviews, so I won’t provide any ratings. I’m also unlikely to write about a place if it’s not noteworthy in some capacity.

Yellow Bench RestaurantScotland isn’t reknowned for its Eastern European food, and it takes some dedication to find restaurants from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Glasgow has U Jarka (“Polish and European cuisine, with the good old traditions”) and Cossachok (“Scotland’s first and only authentic Russian Restaurant which represents people from former USSR in cooking, culture, and hospitality”). But if you’re in Edinburgh these days, like I was during my family holiday trip, then Yellow Bench, a Polish hole-in-the-wall in Leith, might very well be your only option.

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The Best and Worst Restaurants of 2013

I feel like I spent all my dinners out eating in Eastern European and other post-Soviet restaurants this year! As is now the tradition, here’s a summary of the places I reviewed, rated on a scale from 0 to 10, and grouped into three categories: recommended (rating > 6), not worth a special visit (rating between 5 and 6), and avoid (rating < 5). While I usually mention decor and service in my posts, only the food is being graded.

Best and Worst Restaurants - 2013

Drawing by G. Valk

2013 was the year of the Manhattan restaurants. Call me lazy, but I figured I might as well review some of the eateries closer to home before venturing too often to Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. The conclusion is that they tend to be better than their Brooklyn neighbors (with one exception that’s so blatant that it can only confirm the rule). This doesn’t really come as a surprise: a restaurant can’t hope to survive long among more discerning diners if it’s got average food and poor service, especially when there are a dozen other joints within a one-block radius. Not that Outer Borough restaurants can’t rate well — look at #1 Uzbek Palace. Continue reading

Restaurant Review: Oda House

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Georgian Cuisine - Oda HouseOda House, in Alphabet City, doesn’t follow any of the caricatural archetypes of Russian (and post-Soviet) restaurants in New York. It’s neither an oligarch den like the late Brasserie Pushkin, nor a heavy-handed theme restaurant like Nasha Rasha, nor a Brighton Beach / Sheepshead Bay mega-caberet like Baku Palace, nor a pizza-parlor-style joint like Taam Tov. Instead, it looks (and functions) like a normal East Village restaurant!

Georgian Cuisine - Oda HouseExposed brick walls, large windows, real waiters, cosmopolitan patrons… If you like going to Russian restaurants for ironic or anthropological reasons, prepare to be disappointed. Even their web site is BS-free (the only detail I found to pick on is that all the pictures of the executive chef show her in her school uniform, a rather unusual choice).

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Restaurant Review: Nasha Rasha

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

In (or very near) the Flatiron District, Nasha Rasha took over the spot of former Bazar Mediterranean Bistro, right next to another Eastern European restaurant, Café Prague. The name translates as “Our Russia”, although you’ll quickly find that Their Russia looks a lot like a parody of the USSR.

Russian Food - Nasha Rasha

Indeed, the walls are painted red and covered with Soviet flags and communism-inspired images, with neon stars and a prominent hammer and sickle. Waitresses wear Young Pioneer scarves and T-shirts with the famous не болтай propaganda image. Nasha Rasha even went a step further, and raided eBay’s military memorabilia section, so that patrons can share highly original pictures of themselves wearing Soviet hats on Instagram. To complete the decor, shelves upon shelves of brightly lit vodka bottles are mounted around the room. Hammer and sickle paradise, vodka heaven — what’s not to love? (Spoiler: everything else. The food, the service, the prices.)

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Restaurant Review: Taam Tov

A note about my restaurant reviews: New York City counts many Eastern European restaurants scattered across the five boroughs, most of them ignored by restaurant critics and diners alike. I intend to visit as many as I can and report!

Uzbek Restaurant - Taam Tov

Taam Tov, in Midtown West, is probably the only Uzbek restaurant in Manhattan. More precisely, they serve Bukharan kosher cuisine, and the name means good taste in Hebrew. It’s not in a particularly attractive location — this is one of the neighborhoods I like the least, and most people would probably agree — but getting there is a considerably faster journey than getting to Rego Park.

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