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ISO best Russian Restaurant (any borough)

Looking to do Russian or Ukrainian for Valentine's Day...authenticity and good food WAY more important than ambiance. Any recommendations would really be appreciated!!! Thanks,

--Janet (GG)

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  1. I can' t recommend a specific establishment, but the last time I was in Brighton Beach there were several great looking Russian Resaurants. I had delicious borscht and perogis on the side. There was very little English being spoken at the surrounding tables. If you scout out the area, I'm sure you'll find someplace nice.

    1. Hey, thanks...! Incidentally, what *dishes* would you recommend? (I know little more than borscht and blintzes, myself...)

      1 Reply
      1. re: gaijingirl

        I'm attaching a couple of pictures from a recent trip to the Oceanview Cafe in Brighton Beach. The food is ok but I got pissed off because it faces the street and there is no "ocean view" to be found. It's an ugly little restaurant and not good for lingering over a Valentine's meal, and the service is sullen as hell.

        The soup is a myasnaya solyanka - a really sharp, acidic, tomato-tinged clear soup with all sorts of goodies in the bottom: different kinds of sausage, black olives. This is very traditional and very good. But you have to like frankfurters, as they often appear in "mixed meat solyanka".

        There are some bliny pictured, too, with red caviar (trout, I think). These are not to be missed.

      2. Veselka on 2nd Ave., E Village---GREAT cheap Ukranian food, funky old-fashioned but hip atmosphere.

        Uncle Vanya on W. 54 St. between 8-9 Aves. for good, authentic, cheap Russian food.

        1. Further to my comments above -

          I love Anyway Cafe in the East Village - menu is here: http://www.anywaycafe.com/main.php?pa...
          It's jazzed up with a bunch of French stuff but the old standards are there and they are well-prepared: great herring plate, pelmeni are deliciously light and have better-quality fillings than what you will get on Brighton Beach.

          In the same neighbourhood: I don't really agree that there's anything special about Veselka.

          I lived in Russia for quite a while so trust me :) I've never had a stellar meal in Brighton Beach. This might be considered controversial, but much as I love the country and its cooking, Russian food just isn't that good, objectively! It's hard to get blown away by piles of pelmeni and stringy shashlyk. A little bit of French influence is a good thing, in my opinion.

          If you do go to Anyway they have the most wonderful homemade honey ginger vodka that you order by the carafe.

          4 Replies
          1. re: frenetica

            ok, I'm trusting you..do you know any Russian restaurant in NYC that serves roasted sturgeon?

            1. re: serious

              Follow-up - I was talking with a Russian friend last night who's a chef and lives in Brighton Beach and he said the absolute best pelmeni are at Cafe Glechik. He said that aside from Glechik he thinks the Russian food in Manhattan is better. I think in the 25-and-under in the Times they did Glechik a few months age, and here's another good review: http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0...

              Re: sturgeon, I've only really ever seen it smoked. I think Baryshnikov's Samovar place or the Russian Tea Room probably have fancy preparations of it but it doesn't sound like those places are what you are looking for...

              1. re: frenetica

                I've been to Glechik many times. It's VERY VERY good. -- I'm Russian though so its subjective. Once we shared a table with strangers and I don't think they liked our recommendations. (They had never had Russian before)

                The place is often packed. So expect it.

            2. re: frenetica

              this sounds like an interesting place-I am going to try it--thanks for the rec.

            3. Followup: We ended up going to Vanya's for Valentines Day - mainly because Brighton Beach was too far of a drive for a Wednesday night. It actually ended up being a bit of a disappointment...the order was blini, borscht, varniky, and golubsky (cabbage rolls) - all which ended up kind of bland and unmemorable. The service was nice - but they forgot us after we'd finished the entrees, and didn't clean the plates for about 20 minutes. The only highlight of the evening was the dessert...both the cherry dumplings (very good!) and the walnut tort, which my husband praised. It's too bad - I was looking forward to the evening. Does all Eastern European food tend towards bland? (I had a similar reaction to the food at East Village Ukrainian, earlier in the month...) Thanks...!

              5 Replies
              1. re: gaijingirl

                Re "blandness"----I'd prefer to say that most Russian food, at its best, is subtly spiced (like most Northern food: Scandinavian, Scottish, even N. Japanese). The "spices" are pretty much limited to dill, salt, black pepper, and maybe some cardamom or cinammon in baking. And because it's a northern cuisine, a lot of the basic ingredients are "winter foods"---root veggies, potatoes, sour cream, and pickled or preserved fruits and veggies. So generally you shouldn't expect piquant or hot food when you go to a Russian restaurant. Some Russian restaurants will include food from the Republic of Georgia, which is popular in Russia and filled with garlic and exotic spices and fresher ingredients----kebabs with garlic, walnut, or sour plum sauces, etc.

                1. re: CJEamadeus

                  Dear CJE -

                  Thanks for the heads up - next time around, I'll search out more Georgian food. When I went to Uncle Vanyas, I was expecting more *vibrancy* in the food, any flavor intenseness, be it hot, sweet or rich. Years, and years ago, I tried my mother's borscht and remembered it as rich, and thick and pretty darned good. Yet Vanya's was a light broth, kind of like a basic tomato soup. (Okay, maybe hers wasn't authentic.) But I do love sour and pickled tastes, so maybe Georgian is the way to go. (I wonder, does Primorsky's do Georgian...or Cafe Glechik?)

                  1. re: gaijingirl

                    Primorski is Georgian and large. Glechik is Ukrainian and small.

                  2. re: CJEamadeus

                    thanks for the explanation--I like Russian food and will seek out Georgian food-sounds good too--any suggestions????

                  3. re: gaijingirl

                    Traditional Eastern European food is/can be pretty bland, indeed. My mother's family is Polish (still in Poland) and as a kid going to visit and being served plate after plate, meal after meal of food that was various shades of grey was disheartening. The exception I've found is sausage (which can be quite garlicky and sometimes peppery) and bread (just plain good bread)...and the Eastern Europeans LOVE their mushrooms and prepare them in ways that are delicious. Ever had a pickled mushroom? Mmmm!

                    I've also heard that the food at Uncle Vanya's can be kind of hit or miss. The food is not spectacular, but I love the atmosphere at the Russian Vodka Room. And that's not to say the food is bad. It's more of a place to go and enjoy a few drinks, then realize you are hungry and order a few dishes of food (and more drinks).

                  4. Primorski's is really delicious--too bad they closed their small take out counter next door-

                    1. Primorski's looks like it's definitely my next stop...looking at the menu, the veggie selections seem to be a real plus/attraction. (I recently went vegan - with the exception that I'll allow myself to try something once, if its new and exotic.) And wow - the pickled appetizers, breads and walnut/eggplant salad look pretty darned good... Any recommendations?

                      1. just go for it--their homemade bread is great-their salads are too--although you are now a veggie--I still must remark about their shashlicks--they bring them out on a huge skewer and once I believe they were flaming--(lamb I believe) blintzes are good--try stuff that appeals to you and let me know what you think-across the street there are vendors who sell homemade danishes--get them when they are still hot from the oven--I had the strawberry one--it was devine

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: marlie202

                          Dear Marlie,

                          *Extremely* late response....but just to let you know, we did actually get to Primorsky, and really did enjoy it. I ended up going for the pickled vegetable platter (which I really enjoyed), the jonjoli salad (interesting), Lavash bread and the Kachapuri (though I'm vegan, I do allow myself to try a cheese dish...once and once only.) Too bad, because it was extremely good and filling. My husband did a cream/chicken dish for which he really loved the sauce. Just overall a really good experience - much better than our previous encounter at Uncle Vanyas. I'd love to go out to the other Brighton Beach restaurants to compare. Given that we live in the Bronx, it'll take awhile. But then, there's that eggplant rolled in walnuts that I haven't had yet... Mmmm.

                        2. Maybe not so much " Russian "
                          But the following place always satisfies me:
                          Cheburechnaya , 92-09 63rd Drive, Rego Park, Queens . 718.897.9080

                          The first Uzbek caf├ęs to appear in Queens nearly a decade ago were patterned on the Silk Road tea houses that were important institutions back home. In addition to steaming pots of green tea, the bill of fare at Rego Park's Registan and Uzbekistan Tandoori Grill (since renamed Uzbekistan Cultural Center) included heaping platters of lamb pilaf, turban-shaped loaves of bread dotted with sesame and nigella seeds, bowls of soup with delicious homemade noodles, and perhaps best of all, inexpensive meat kebabs cooked over lump charcoal.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Peter B Wolf

                            went to firebird last night - no harpist but an outstanding domestic caviar for $30. ounce and the Kobe filet was a real treat.

                            For good Ukrainian, try the Ukrainian National Home on 2nd ave between St Marks and 9th - two doors down from Veselka . Great borscht , bread, and pierohi.

                            For something completely different, the Stage Restaurant just a few blocks south on 2nd on same side - just a counter with a dozen stools but the best blintzes in the tristate.

                            Do take out and go to burp castle and snag an outside table when seasonable.

                          2. Nobody seems to be talking much about Firebird in Manhattan? It's not considered a viable heir to the RTR?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Lady Grey

                              I love it and it is really beautiful. I'm amazed no one brought it up, they've got very good prix fixes too.

                              1. re: bronwen

                                I only went for restaurant week, so maybe what I was given was the bottom of the barrel, but I thought Firebird's food was NOT good, and overpriced even on the restaurant week menu. Seemed like a huge rip-off to me.

                            2. Sorry to respond two years after the fact, but anyone who recommends Veselka, Uncle Vanya or Anyway Cafe for Russian food has no idea what they're talking about. I'm Russian, and there are many good places on Brighton Beach and Pirosmani and Primorsky, which others have mentioned, are both very good for Georgian food, but the best former Soviet bloc restaurant I've been to in this area, by far, is a place called Cafe Sim Sim on McDonald Avenue, which is actually Azerbaijani. Ask the waiters for recommendations, but some standouts were the dushbara (a type of soup with dumplings and mint), the sturgeon kebab (sounds odd, but trust me on this one!), and fried potatoes with mushrooms (I don't recall exactly what they call it on the menu, but that's the essence of it; it's simple in concept but prepared amazingly well). The atmosphere is also quite nice, with live music -- but not obnoxiously loud or tacky disco-style music -- some evenings. Once you try this, you'll never crave that watered-down Polish/Ukranian/French food of the East Village again.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Traditional Tradesman

                                Do you know the address of Cafe Sim Sim or can you tell me where it is by street on McDonald Ave? The only one I found by that name on google is Cafe Sim Sim on Ditmars Ave (maybe the same place?) thanks

                                1. re: dhs

                                  Yeah, Ditmars Avenue. It's just off McDonald Avenue. Sorry about the confusion.

                                2. re: Traditional Tradesman

                                  Could not agree with you more.... Im also russian (half georgian), and the idea of eating Veselka's food and calling it russian, is akin to eating at Umberto's in little italy and calling it Italian. Its theme-park versions of both cuisines.

                                  For the best food I go to my grandmother's. But here are some suggestions:

                                  1. There is no such thing as real "Russian" cuisine. Russia is a massive federation of many different cultures, with a ton of influence from France in the last century. There are only a handful of real Russian dishes, and even those are influenced by other cultures: Borscht (Ukrainian) Pelmeni, etc. Mostly russian cuisine is comprised of stews and soups. And most importantly - Russia's is a cuisine of poverty, so like many such cuisines, the main ingredients are cheap, and the preparation simple and built to be filling more than tasty.

                                  If you really want to try some signature dishes I'd focus on a mix of russian, georgian, and other regional cuisines: Borscht (ukrainian meat style, not cold), Ooha (russian fisherman soup - if done right, is amazing), cornish hen "Tabaka" (georgian dish - awesome, cornish hen marinated in garlic and friend under high pressure), Chahohbeeli (georgian chicken stew - similar to cacciatore, but better) Satsivi (regional bean/walnut/garlic salad), etc... I'd shy away from the very common russian "salads" - Olivier, mushroom, beet.... I love some of them, but they are all super fatty and mostly mayo whipped with some key ingredients. Most americans aren't gonna love the calorie count in these. For apps I'd instead focus on specialities like truly good Herring, smoked sturgeon, RED (not black) caviar, and marinated/pickel veggies.

                                  Lastly - the standards are very good if done well... Pelmeni are awesome if the filling is good. Lot of places use cheap meat and it tastes like bad chinese dumplings. Same idea - and its where we got it in the first place. Stews - russians make awesome beef stews (not chicken), and gill good shashliks....lamb in particular, and sturgeon.

                                  2. In terms of good places... I agree that most of the restaurants are shit. In Brighton I like Oceanside...yeah its not by the ocean, but the food is good, and its cheap. Plus the Ocean is overrated and dirty in Brighton. In act, the entire nabe is pretty much a sewer filled with low-brow russians. The soups there are awesome, they make good pelmeni (and you can buy them frozen to go). Other standout are Tatyanas - if they aren't busy and you go with a russian. You have to be very aggressive with them, and they will rip you off if not chaperoned. They make killer tabaka though, great friend potatoes, farmer salads, and their herring is amazing. Pricey...

                                  In manhattan - Vanya's is ok. its kind of a cafeteria more than anything else, not a great dinner spot. very mediocre food. Samovar is excellent but very pricey. Russian vodka room is garbage.

                                  HOpe this helps.

                                  1. re: placeholder

                                    This is excellent, smart and appreciated.