Monday, July 29, 2013

ink. (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Ink Restaurant
8360 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Mon 07/29/2013, 08:30p-01:10a

It'd been a while since I last visited Ink, and I was curious to see what the restaurant was up to these days. For better or worse, I felt compelled to do it proper like I did my first time here and order the entire menu, a much more challenging proposition now due to the presence more items as well as larger portion sizes.

gin mezcal
gin [$13.00] | oro blanco, aperol, kefir lime, ipa foam, salt
mezcal [$14.00] | floc de gascogne, celery, lemon, cucumber
The bar (now run by Gabriella "Gabby" Mlynarczyk) ended up sending out every single cocktail on the menu, kicking things off with these two. The gin cocktail was pretty neat, with a salty, citrus-y blast on the attack that really tempered the booze, all while the drink decreased in intensity leading toward a short, clean finish. The mezcal, meanwhile, was rather nice as well, with the smokiness of the spirit well balanced by the contrasting sweet, sour, and cucumber-y notes present. Very subtle for a mezcal drink.

oysters [$19.00] | half dozen, mignonette ice
Oysters were really, really nice, with the sour-sweetness of the mignonette playing perfectly off of their inherent brine, making for an utterly balanced and nuanced presentation of the bivalves, replete with some textural contrast to boot.

little gems
little gems [$13.00] | burrata, anchovy cracker, lemon dressing
Here was what could be viewed as a thoroughly reworked Caesar salad. The lush, cool, creamy nature of the burrata made sense against the lettuce, while the lemon-y dressing added a bit of tartness to the fray. However, the key was the use of those anchovy crackers, which contributed an integrating salinity that really brought the dish together (while adding a lovely crunchiness in the process).

blended scotch manzanilla
blended scotch [$14.00] | toasted coconut, thai basil, cardamaro
manzanilla [$9.00] | sherry, house rhubarb soda, strawberry lambic ale
Next, we had a veritable herb garden in the form of a blended scotch cocktail, its refreshing, fragrant aromatics leading to a silky smooth booziness from the whiskey cut by the sweet spice of Cardamaro--very cool. The manzanilla was also appealing, with a sweet, soft, floral, fruity nature to it that went beautifully against the sherry--almost apple juice-y in nature.

asparagus [$12.00] | cooked in hay, goats milk ice, medjool date
Asparagus arrived cooked in hay, giving it a cool smoky, almost meaty character that just worked with the lushness of the goat's milk. Also crucial: the dates, which imparted barely enough sweetness to keep things interesting.

cuttlefish [$16.00] | melon tenderloin, jalapeno jello
The Chef is somewhat known for his cuttlefish noodles, and it's easy to see why. Texturally, they were pretty amazing, with a soft, silken consistency to them, and worked wonders as a base to the dish. The slight spice of the gelatin paired gorgeously with the sugary, succulent fruit as well, while vesicles of finger lime added pin pricks of tartness into the mix. Even better? The fantastic savory bits tossed in--overall, a symphony of subtleties.

islay scotch bourbon
islay scotch [$16.00] | ginger, yuzu, honey (chef's favorite)
bourbon [$12.00] | cocchi rouge, campari, chocolate bitters, strawberry lambic
The islay scotch is ostensibly Voltaggio's favorite drink, and I can see why. It's a riff on Sam Ross' Penicillin, but is made completely with Laphroaig, leading to a stronger, smokier character than usual, but one that's still eminently balanced by the sweet 'n' sour notes present. Sticking with the whiskey theme, the bourbon cocktail also worked, with a strong bittersweet bouquet leading to a viscous body imbued with counterbalancing fruity and tart notes, all set against an apparent background of bourbon.

hamachi [$18.00] | citrus kosho, smoked buttermilk, tomato, oaxacan cheese
There was a bit too much going on for me here. The fish of course was on point, and the contrasting thrusts of salty, sweet, creamy, tart actually worked with each other, but the combination of that and the hamachi tended to over shadow the latter.

charred avocado
charred avocado [$16.00] | dungeness crab, almond sponge, smoked oil
This was another tricky, yet effective dish, with the sweetness and brine of the crab beautifully matched with the contrasting forces of astringent char and creamy lushness in the avocado. I really appreciated the light, almost ethereal quality of the sponge, too, which served as a moderating element in the course.

la quercia berkshire ham
la quercia berkshire ham [$16.00] | beets, yogurt, nutmeg oil
Next was quite possibly the coolest presentation of sliced ham I'd ever encountered. Taken in isolation, the La Quercia was exactly what it should be: slick, fatty, nutty, and oh-so tasty. However, combining it with the creaminess of yogurt and sweetness of beets resulted in some pretty amazing flavor profiles that just made perfect sense.

beef tartare
beef tartare [$15.00] | hearts of palm, sea bean chimichurri, horseradish, rye
The beef tartar was a bit of an improvement over the previous version of the dish I'd tried. Texturally, the meat was flawless, and I liked the countervailing levity and intensity brought on by the hearts of palm and sea bean combo. However, the crux was that horseradish, which really did a fantastic job in providing a blast of heat that just tied everything together in stellar fashion. Lovely crunch and counter from those rye chips, too.

tequila vodka
tequila [$14.00] | sherry, pineapple, orgeat, lime, mole
vodka [$14.00] | watermelon, aloe vera, gentian, lemon, sweet tart rim
I rather fancied the tequila cocktail, with its wonderful sweet spice from the orgeat-mole combo that really formed a unified front with the spirit. And the vodka? I swear it tasted of Sour Patch Kids, not necessarily a bad thing mind you.

duck rillette
duck rillette [$14.00] | charred leeks, kumquats, charcoal waffle
Duck rillettes came in an untraditional presentation, but the flavor was there in spades. The depth of the duck took center stage, faultlessly paired with the smoky savor of those leeks, all while the kumquats gave up a hint of tartness. I liked the "hat" here too, which was key in providing a modicum of texture to the course, along with additional complexity of flavor.

corn [$12.00] | housemade doritos, nori, green onion
Here was a fun, novel preparation of corn. Its sweetness was keenly displayed, yet at the same time, expertly tempered by the green onion. It would've been tasty enough as-is, but the incorporation of "Doritos" is what made the dish, with the chips adding a wonderful crunch and savor to things.

potato charcoal
potato charcoal [$10.00] | housemade sour cream, black vinegar
You could almost call this a throwback to the papas arrugadas from Voltaggio's days at The Bazaar. Potatoes arrived pitch black and wonderfully salty, a great complement to the dab of sour cream in the bowl. However, what made this really special was the included spray bottle of black vinegar, which imparted a crucial piquancy to the taters that really made the dish work.

monterey squid
monterey squid [$14.00] | coconut-onion soubise, chanterelles, miso
Squid was deftly prepared, coming out supple and springy to the bite, with a delicate flavor that was augmented by the intensity of the mushrooms and miso here, all while the onion gave us a bit of countervailing astringency over a base of subtle sweetness.

white whiskey aquavit white rum
white whiskey [$12.00] | popcorn, cornmilk, lemon, liquorice bitters
aquavit [$13.00] | grüner veltliner, chamomile, honey, orange oil, bee pollen
white rum [$14.00] | banana, brown butter, curacao, lime
Our final round of cocktails was a keeper as well. The white whiskey conveyed a strong notion of booziness, set against the sweet and tangy notes present while the liquorice-laced foam served to moderate the drink. On the other hand, the aquavit was much more subtle, with a floral, soft sweetness that melded wonderfully with the spiciness inherent in the spirit. Finally, we had the white rum, which I found a little tropical-tasting in nature, yet light and easy-drinking, with a smart component in the form of that brown butter.

soft shell crab
soft shell crab [$19.00] | sea bun, miso mayo
During his stint at The Dining Room, Voltaggio put out the best version of soft shell crab I've had. Here, he shows his facility with the ingredient once more. The SSC was spot on--crispy and just bursting with briny goodness, with the miso mayo adding even more depth and complexity to the crustacean. I loved the levity imparted by the veggies here too, as well as how gnarly that bread looked.

octopus [$22.00] | ink. shells, young fennel, pimenton
Voltaggio has always had a way with octopus, and this dish was no exception. The octopod came out delightfully supple, with a lovely char and a savoriness to it that worked alongside the pleasantly firm shell pasta and zesty fennel, while the pimenton added a tinge of warmth to the dish.

halibut [$34.00] | liquid falafel, greek yogurt, sumac onions
Halibut came expertly cooked--mild, firm, and flaky, with a nice tanginess imparted by the sumac here. My favorite part, though, was that liquid falafel, which served as an excellent exclamation point to the course.

egg yolk gnocchi
egg yolk gnocchi [$15.00] | mushroom brown butter, hen of the woods
Gnocchi were creamy, rich, liquid-y, and yes, a bit eggy, a luxurious pasta that was rightly heightened by the in-your-face earthiness of the mushrooms.

lollipop kale
lollipop kale [$14.00] | crème fraiche, pig ears, togarashi
Next was a possible variation on the ubiquitous kale salad that was certainly one of the highlights of the dinner. The bright, verdant bitterness of the veggie was proudly conveyed, yet offset masterfully by the saltiness of those pig ears, all while the crème fraîche-laced broth contributed an enveloping richness that really brought all the elements together utterly cohesively.

lamb neck
lamb neck [$16.00] | fried egg, yogurt curd, potato, wild herbs
Braised lamb neck was exactly what you'd want: unabashedly, falling-apart tender, with deep, dark, ovine flavors. The meat was satisfying alone, but the crunchy "basket" and herbs were what really made it shine. And the runny egg? It pretty much makes everything better. Yum.

branzino [$33.00] | roasted cauliflower, caper, fermented grapes
Branzino was pretty divine, delicate in body, with a wonderfully saline relish and delightfully crisp, savory skin. Cauliflower served as a fitting accompaniment, but the combination of caper and grape veered toward overly piquant, stealing some of the attention away from the fish unfortunately.

lamb belly
lamb belly [$21.00] | salsify, mushroom hay, garlic ricotta
Time for more lamb, this time the vaunted belly. It came out luxurious and fatty (but not overly so), with a whisper of smokiness to it that paired swimmingly with the mushroom. Salsify served to balance out some of the heft of the meat, and there was even a bit of a citrus-y overtone in the dish that I liked.

heritage pork
heritage pork [$26.00] | cranberry beans, lardo, blackberry vinegar
The pork was a winner, coming out soft and succulent, with a delectable porcine relish to it that was further intensified by the veil of lardo draped on top. Beans, meanwhile, served to ground the dish, and I quite appreciated the sweetish tang of that vinegar as well.

1996 Dom Perignon Oenotheque
At this point, we popped a bottle of 1996 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque that one of my dining companions had graciously shared. This was, of course, the late-disgorged version of DP, and was very young tasting: tightly wound and fresh, with plenty of tart, lemon-y notes to it, along with a lively acidity and interesting saltiness even. This one should develop nicely.

beef cheeks
beef cheeks [$25.00] | turnips, onion caramel, beef threads
Beef cheeks were downright tender, gelatinous even, and chock full of bovine goodness. They were actually quite heavy taken alone, so the turnips were key in imparting a modicum of levity to the dish. Lovely crunch here from the tangles of beef threads, too.

beef short rib puffed tendon
beef short rib [$30.00] | radish noodles, puffed tendon, pho broth
The savories concluded with a superb rendition of pho. The meat itself verged on decadent, with a fantastic beefiness to it and a wonderful crust. It blended both sweet and savory flavors in a mouthwatering package that paired in commendable fashion with the aromatics of the herbs here, all while the radish contributed a counterbalancing crunch and lightness to the fray. The included tendon chips were great fun as well.

elderflower [$10.00] | greek yogurt, citrus confetti, hibiscus curd
You could almost think of our first dessert as an elevated version of shaved ice. It was completely refreshing and light, with a fantastic blend of fruity, floral flavors accented by the tanginess of that yogurt. Very nice.

mountain yam
mountain yam [$12.00] | caramelized white chocolate, popcorn, coconut
Yamaimo is well known for its mucilaginous consistency, and here that texture was proudly displayed against a backdrop of multifaceted sweetness, the caramel notes being particularly apparent. Quite cool.

apple [$10.00] | caramel, walnut, burnt wood semifreddo
I think this is probably the only item on the menu that's been here since day one, and there's a good reason for that. The dessert was as marvelous as ever, with the apple melding beautifully with the caramel while the walnut and semifreddo added opposing smoky and nutty notes to the mix. A masterful amalgam of disparate tastes and textures.

chocolate [$11.00] | coffee cake, chicory, raw milk, cream cheese frost
Last up was Ink's take on the requisite chocolate dessert, this one deftly balancing out its richness with contrasting hits of coffee, mint, and bitter notes, with the cream cheese contributing an enveloping lushness to the course.

fernet | branca, fernet vallet, vanilla, cherry heering, cola cream
Finally, we had mini versions of the fernet cocktail, an explosion of herbal, woody, minty flavors bound by the soft sweetness of vanilla, cherry, and cola. Quite delicious actually, and a fitting close to the meal.

It's been a while, but the restaurant is going as strong as ever. Initially, a lot of people probably dismissed Voltaggio as a serious chef, but I think by this point--almost two years in--he's proven himself. This place is legit, and there's even more maturity in the cooking here now, especially with the very capable Cole Dickinson at the helm as Chef de Cuisine. Ink has become sort of a quintessential LA restaurant, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the place evolves.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mari Vanna (Los Angeles, CA)

Mari Vanna Restaurant
8475 Melrose Pl, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Fri 07/26/2013, 08:30p-11:55p

Mari Vanna Exterior

We all wept (or rejoiced, conversely) when the sixth iteration of Joe Pytka's Bastide closed its doors in May 2011. With that chapter of 8475 Melrose's story sealed, we were left wondering about who would take over this seemingly cursed spot. Well, we didn't have to wait long until it was announced that Russian hospitality group Ginza Project was opening up an outpost of their Mari Vanna chainlet here. Co-Owner Tatiana Brunetti originally wanted to launch the place in May 2012, but the restaurant blew way past its projected opening and debuted just this June.

Mari Vanna Patio
The old Bastide space has been thoroughly revamped, but fortunately the patio remains.

Mari Vanna Bar/Lounge
A former dining room has been cleared to make way for a cute little bar/lounge area, which the old Bastide never had.

Mari Sunroom/Karaoke Lounge
We also have a covered "sunroom," which is adjacent the old kitchen table, now converted to a wine room-cum-karaoke lounge(!).

Mari Vanna Fireplace Room
And of course, we have the main dining room, replete with fireplace, meant to recall an archetypal, rustic Russian residence filled with trinkets, figurines, and other such Russian-y things.

Mari Vanna Menu Mari Vanna Menu Mari Vanna Specials Menu
Mari Vanna's menu features all your favorite old-school Russian classics, executed with precision. There's also a family-style tasting menu option called the Russian Table (call ahead for this), and be sure to check out the rotating list of chef's specials as well. Click for larger versions.

Mari Vanna Vodka List Mari Vanna Cocktail List
To drink, vodka, unsurprisingly, is the star of the show here. Mari Vanna features a reported 70 different bottles of the stuff, and also infuses its own vodkas in house. The resulting liquors are then used in the restaurant's vodka-centric cocktail list, and also served neat. Click for larger versions.

Bread is a key part of the Russian table, and here, a black variety was presented with sea salt, sunflower oil, chopped radishes, and green onion. The rye tended toward full-flavored, hearty, and I especially appreciated the intensity of the salt here, as well as the lightness and crunch of those radishes.

Olivier Salad
Olivier Salad [$12.00] | Mélange of Roasted Vegetables, Pickles, Hard Boiled Eggs and a Touch of Mayonnaise
Regular readers may know that I'm quite the fan of potato salad, the this high-class version was surely one of the best I've had. Think utterly balanced, with a great interplay between contrasting notes of egg, vegetable, and hammy savor, all augmented by a bit of spiciness toward the close.

Herring under a Fur Coat (Shuba)
Herring under a Fur Coat (Shuba) [$10.00] | Layers of herring, Potatoes, Carrots, Beets and Onions topped with Egg with a touch of mayonnaise
Here before us was a plate of dressed herring, or shuba (the Russian word for jacket). I don't think I've had anything quite like it, but the dish worked. The sheer fishiness of the herring was apparent, especially upon first taste, but its various accompaniments really moderated its potency, providing a blanket of cool, mild sweetness that really integrated the dish.

Chicken Kholodetz
Chicken Kholodetz [$12.00] | Chicken Aspic served with Horseradish, pickles and spicy Russian mustard
The kholodets was probably the most challenging course of the evening. The chicken itself was quite tasty, with a really appealing spice to it, but the aspic-to-meat ratio seemed off. There was just too much jelly, which didn't have much flavor on its own, and sort of overwhelmed the bird. Fortunately, the fantastically spicy mustard here did help bring things together, adding a sharp, potent jab of heat to the dish.

Fish plate
Fish plate [$19.00] | House cured Salmon, Cold Smoked Paddlefish and House Smoked Sturgeon
Next, we moved on to some housemade platters, the first featuring three types of fish. Salmon was on point: slick, fatty, and very nice with a touch of lemon-y tang. The paddlefish, meanwhile, was soft, almost pillow-y, with a lovely, forceful saltiness to it. However, the most fascinating item here was clearly the sturgeon, which I found firm and even a bit crunchy, with a growing, lingering brine.

Homemade Assorted Meat plate
Homemade Assorted Meat plate [$19.00] | Roasted Pork Loin, Chicken Roulette and Beef Filet
"Charcuterie" was also made in house. The pork was fairly benign, a bit salty here and there, but not particularly interesting. My favorite was actually the chicken roulade--cool and supple, with a wonderful hit of pepperiness. Lastly, we had the beef, which was flaky, appropriately dry, and somewhat reminiscent of the Chinese cold cuts one sometimes finds on banquet menus.

Rosolnik Soup
Rosolnik Soup [$11.00] | Chicken Barley soup with Potatoes, Onions, Carrots, pickles, Garnished with fresh dill, sour cream on the side
The rassolnik soup was delicious: hearty and home-y, with a satisfying savoriness from the chicken-root veggie combo that was deftly offset by the slight tang of those pickles. Sour cream was optional, but added an additional point of the interest to the potage.

Sunny - Seaberry Martini / Klubnichka - Strawberry Martini / Grusha - Pear Martini
Sunny - Seaberry Martini [$12.00] | House infused Seaberry Vodka, St. Germain Elder Flower, Fresh Lime Juice, Fresh Orange Juice
Klubnichka - Strawberry Martini [$12.00] | House infused Strawberry Vodka, Strawberry Puree, Fragoli, Fresh Lime Juice
Grusha - Pear Martini [$12.00] | House infused Pear Vodka, St. Germain Elder Flower, Pear Puree, Fresh Lime Juice, Splash of Sparkling Wine
Our first troika of cocktails began with the Sunny - Seaberry Martini. The astringency of the sea-buckthorn was expertly countered here, resulting in a pleasant citrus-y disposition with a hint of booziness. The Klubnichka - Strawberry Martini, on the other hand, had no traces of alcohol at all, instead coming out thick and sweet, with a very pure, unbridled strawberry essence. The Grusha - Pear Martini, finally, was even more viscous, with the brightness of the pear really coming through in the drink--not particularly complex, but delicious nonetheless.

Roasted Cornish Hen
Roasted Cornish Hen [$12.00] | Topped with garlic and served with pickled cabbage
The tsyplionok tabaka was another highlight of the meal. It was basically a perfectly roasted, spatchcocked Cornish game hen (a small chicken), simply seasoned but superb, and arriving at the table tender and succulent, with a great depth of flavor. At the same time, the pickles worked here in providing a bit of balance against the heft of that bird.

Handmade Veal Pelmeni - Russian Dumplings
Handmade Veal Pelmeni - Russian Dumplings [$16.00] | Topped with Herbs, Butter and served with Sour Cream
The pelmeni were actually sent out by mistake, but we didn't complain when they told us to just keep them at the table. I found the dumplings very straightforward, with an agreeable savoriness from the veal stuffing to go against the herb-y overtones in the dish. Pretty simple, humble, and even a bit Chinese-y in essence.

Blini With Red Caviar 50 grams
Blini With Red Caviar 50 grams [$29.00]
Seeing as how we were in a Russkiy restoran, we felt compelled to order at least one form of fish roe. The red caviar here was markedly different from the ikura one typically finds. Instead, it reminded me of the sujiko that I'd had at Shibucho, being much saltier, much more in-your-face. I actually quite liked it, especially when taken with a dab of smetana and a shard of crêpe-like blini.

Ukrainian Borscht with Pompushka
Ukrainian Borscht with Pompushka [$12.00]
The borshch, of course, was something that we just had to try given where we were. I quite liked the soup despite the preponderance of beets, finding it hearty and comforting, with its savory broth pairing swimmingly with a mix of root vegetables and a whisper of pepper. Even better, though, was the potage's traditional accompaniment of pampushky, baked little spheres of garlicky goodness.

House Infused Vodkas: Apricot, Seaberry (Oblepiha), Lingberry, Pineapple, Olives, Pepper
At this point, our server brought out complementary shots of Mari Vanna's much bandied about house-infused vodka, in the following flavors:
  • Apricot - My favorite of the bunch, with a very true-to-life apricot sweetness paired with a slightly herbaceous tinge.
  • Seaberry (Oblepiha) - Tart and astringent, with an interesting savoriness to it.
  • Lingberry - Also known as lingonberry (the IKEA staple), this was super, super sour, puckeringly so in fact.
  • Pineapple - The pineapple, meanwhile, had an almost candied sweetness to it backed by copious amount of booziness.
  • Olives - This one was akin to alcoholic olive juice, basically an olive hater's worst nightmare.
  • Pepper - Quite tasty, with bright, peppery nuances leading to a growing, creeping burn on the close.
Kalinka - Malinka Martini / Moscow Mojito / Lolita Apricot - Martini
Kalinka - Malinka Martini [$12.00] | House infused Raspberry Vodka, White Peach Puree, Fresh Lime Juice, Fresh Raspberries
Moscow Mojito [$14.00] | House infused Honey and Oats Vodka, Mint, Fresh Lime Juice, Aged Dark Rum, Splash of Sprite
Lolita Apricot - Martini [$12.00] | House infused Apricot Vodka, Vanilla Black Tea Syrup and Fresh Lemon Juice
Time for more cocktails (as if we needed more after the shots). The Kalinka - Malinka Martini came out utterly fruity (and thick), with a berry fruit laden intensity that was easy to like. Our only non-martini drink was the Moscow Mojito, which was pretty similar to the standard variation, but with a more pronounced booziness to it along with the requisite mint and citrus notes. Finally, we had the Lolita Apricot - Martini, my favorite of the threesome with its soft, balanced vanilla and coconut-y flavors.

Beef Stroganoff
Beef Stroganoff [$27.00] | Thinly Sliced Filet Mignon in a light sour cream sauce, fresh Thyme, Pickles and Potato Puree
Mari Vanna's befstroganov is the restaurant's unofficial signature dish, and it did not disappoint. The earthiness of the mushrooms here paired perfectly with the sour cream in setting the stage for the beef to shine, while the thyme served as a great accent piece. I appreciated the countering crunch of the pickles as well, and loved the mashed potatoes here, which was fantastically smooth and buttery (even Robuchon would be proud).

Chicken Kotletki
Chicken Kotletki [$19.00] | Pan Seared Chicken patties Served with potato puree
The kotletki were sort of like mini hamburger patties. Or, think of them as the best chicken nuggets you've had: utterly juicy, and pretty profound in the flavor department too. I thoroughly enjoyed 'em alone, but the creamy potatoes here definitely made sense as an accoutrement.

Assorted Pirozjki - Beef, Cabbage, or Rice, Egg and Scallion
Assorted Pirozjki - Beef, Cabbage, or Rice, Egg and Scallion [$3.00/each]
We ended the savory portion of our meal with a basket of pirozhki, basically bite-size stuffed buns that are not to be confused for pierogi. They come in three varieties at Mari Vanna, all distinguished by their shape. The beef preparation was quite nice, the filling almost stroganoff-esque in nature, with a certain tanginess to it. Cabbage, meanwhile, was more austere, unsurprisingly, while my favorite was the egg and scallion variant. Tasty overall, but a little on the dry side.

Birds Milk
Birds Milk [$12.00] | Traditional Russian Dessert, very light sponge cake covered in melted dark chocolate
Both desserts from the specials menu were sent out on the house, presumably because of some of the long waits we endured in between courses. Our first was a cake-ified version of ptichye moloko candy, which I really enjoyed. The cake itself I found light, pleasantly sweet, and nutty and nougat-y on the palate, a great foil to the rich, slightly smoky chocolate drizzled on top.

Medovik [$12.00] | Traditional Russian Honey Cake
The medovik was similarly delicious, a blast of viscous, honeyed sweetness that was beautifully tempered by the layers of cake. I seriously want to bring a whole one of these to my next birthday party.

House Infused Vodka: Pear
Finally, we enjoyed complementary shots of pear-infused vodka, a fitting, fruity conclusion to the evening.

I'd never really experienced Russian cuisine prior to this dinner, so I don't really have a sound basis for judgment here, but I can say that I quite enjoyed the meal. The food was hearty, full-flavored, straightforward in essence but somehow still very interesting at the same time, with a trace of refinement on the edge of rusticity. I think there's probably a lot of misconceptions or simply lack of awareness concerning Russian cookery around these parts, so I think a meal here could definitely help change some of our perceptions; it certainly did for me.