Imagine that your little Russian grandmamma had invited you into her elegant home for dinner…then take a deep breath and behold Mari Vanna. The food is often fantastic, but it’s the moments found in the gorgeous mismatched plates, the intricate linens, the drape of the lovingly lit chandeliers, and the careful placement of every storied detail that create a journey pulled from the pages of the Russian novels that line the bookshelves and graciously welcome all who enter this humble abode.
When in Russia, you know—we started with a few Vodkas ($9), one infused with tarragon and lemon, and another honey, and ventured further with some shots of the classic Russian Standard ($9) while gleefully slurping our Oysters ($4/ea), presented on a regal bed of shaved ice, with red wine vinegar mignonette and marinated horseradish. While the meaty Malpeques whispered slightly metallic, the slenderer Kumamotos spoke of a brisk plunge into the sea.
The Cod Liver Pate ($12) was certainly good, Pirozhki ($10) not so much, but the Blinis with Red Caviar ($25) stole the show anyhow—traditional blinis, similar to a thin crepe, were lightly brushed with butter and sugar. We made short work of the juicy caviar with a dollop of crème fraiche here, some chopped egg and onion there. If the fresh Vinegret ($12) beet and vegetable salad was like a stroll through a leafy glade, then the Vegetarian Svekolnik ($10) beet soup was like a gentle dip into a cool, refreshing pond nearby.
We loved the hearty (but pricy) portion of Chicken Kiev ($25), lightly breaded and tenderly cooked. Beef Stroganoff ($27) was another story, however: although it made a grand arrival in what appeared to be a Babushka-type tea cozy, alas it was regrettably bland, with indistinguishable mushrooms, and also just too expensive.
Smetannik ($10) with strawberries is a signature dessert, but I prefer to address it as an incredibly moist, creamy cloud. If we were dreaming something out of a Russian fairy tale, which would be easy to do at Mari Vanna, such a luscious confection would be the perfect thing to float away upon.