Just the name of this iconic place, situated right next to Carnegie Hall, conjures images of celebrities, artists, and politicians sharing ideas and debating issues while wining and dining in elegant surroundings for the past 80 years. Founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet, the restaurant has changed hands many times, and has been given several different purposes throughout its life. It closed in 2002 after declaring bankruptcy and, reopened in 2006.
As soon as you enter the opulent space, a field of red lavish booths greets you with the promise of a luxurious experience in a Russian salon circa the late 1800s. The waiters are dressed in black shirts closely resembling Russian peasant attire. The walls are bejeweled by elegant artwork and shiny samovars, the traditional teapots of Russia.
Our decision to visit The Russian Tea Room was not planned, and we didn't have reservations. However, when I called them already en route, they encouraged us to come and welcomed us warmly when we arrived. We had dinner a bit late so we left without visiting the gift shop or the other three floors, which I understand are as interesting as the first. I would really like to go back for brunch or lunch perhaps, and tour the entire place.
I took a deep breath of the Continental air as I sat in my extravagant booth, and promptly ordered a Chocotini while John boldly stepped out of his comfort zone and ordered a Baltika 7, beer straight from St. Petersburg. My drink offered a satisfying blend of alcohol and chocolaty sweetness, and John's beer had the distinct hint of bitterness he expected from a Lager.
We certainly got caught up in the Russian motif when ordering entrees. John had the Boeuf à la Stroganoff and I picked the Chicken Kiev. Hubby found it satisfying but wasn't blown away, and in his apathy, he paid my braised beef recipe a compliment. "Yours is better." He's a keeper.
My chicken had a lot of potential. The crust on the generous breast was light and perfectly crisp, but the flavor of the meat was slightly bland, as in the apricot jasmine rice on which it rested. Apricot is a pretty distinctive flavor, and I had difficulty finding it. The fig compote held the most promise, and it delivered, except it was cold... was it supposed to be cold? This mix of soft stewed figs and white raisins in its naturally rendered syrup is the perfect match to the juicy chicken, but it would've been much more comforting had it been warm.
The dishes were hearty and filling, and as I said, dinner was a bit later than is our habit, so we opted out of dessert. I did, however, take a cursory look at the available selections and didn't see anything that jumped out at me. No matter. I know I will be back and have another turn at their fascinating menu.
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