Mari Vanna

41 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 777-1955marivanna.ru/ny

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The name alone brings a smile to my face because it sounds a lot like marijuana. The other smile inducer is the décor, dressed like a movie set plucked right out of the 1920’s in post World War I Russia. From the chairs to the plates to the distressed walls and the copper kettle sink in the bathroom, you feel as if you’ve actually just done the Time Warp again.

It’s just a jump to the left. And then a step to the right. Sorry. Getting very sidetracked in a Rocky Horror kinda way. So back on topic, the décor somehow comes off authentic and not as gimmick, partly because it’s very well done and partly because the employees are actually Russian and I want to believe they wouldn’t dare work at a place that turned their culture into a caricature.

The food is also pretty authentic, for better or for worse, because it’s not exactly the most decadent cuisine, most dishes being born out of a need to pack on the pounds to keep warm, or out of poverty-stricken means to survive. This is excluding the caviar, of course.

Starting with the bread, it is served with a customary beet and green onion, along with coarse sea salt, which you are supposed to drag the root veggies through before eating. I took a pass and opted for the bread, because if it’s one thing Russians do well, it’s pain (2 points for the double entendre).

For starters we went with another classic, the Olivier Salad, made with roasted vegetables, bologna and mayonnaise. It was just okay, tasting more or less like potato salad, to be honest. This was then followed by the pickled herring, which was also a bit underwhelming, to be honest. I’ve had much better at some of the Kosher Delis in the city, not to mention the Romanian ones.

But the best starter- no, the best dish in totality, was by far the Borsh. So rich and hearty, the beets were like meat, and the broth like the sweet blood of Sookie Stackhouse. In other words, it’s most definitely an Ultimate.

On the other end of the spectrum, the most disappointing dish of all was the much touted Stroganoff, only offered as chicken instead of beef, which made the dish horribly bland, the chicken, rice and sauce all tasting like shades of the same. Not sure what the Yelpers are thinking on this one, but this strogan was off. So off, in fact, that I actually preferred the meat stuffed dumplings with sour cream. Nothing spectacular, but they reminded me a little bit of the Turkish dish manti, granted they are probably closer to a perogie than anything, in a good way.

The tally is mixed on this one, as you can see, but I’m leaning to the low side because of the slow service and a waiter who swooned about everything on the menu as if it were made with gold. I hate that.

2 teeth

 

No. 7 Sub

1188 Broadway New York, NY 10001(212) 532-1680 • no7sub.com

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Okay, I’ve been here about 100 times without exaggeration, so suffice it to say that I kind of like it. But to be fair, it can be very hit and miss, so here is a little guidance to help you weed out the winners from the losers…

Décor is virtually non-existent  as the place is pretty much just a counter. Service is also relatively minimal as a result. So it’s basically a grab and go dynamic. That said, the sandwiches really are something special. Such unusual combinations and creative uses of ingredients abound, like the lamb meatloaf with strawberry pico de gallo and curry, the bologna, which is very good- but insanely thick and hearty. The brussel sprouts with granny smith apples, which is nice in the summer. The broccoli, which some people swear by, but I find to be just okay. The chicken guac- which tastes like a lot like a chicken burrito in sandwich form. And, a veggie burger that tastes like a dead ringer for a Big Mac.  But while the place is capable of incredible culinary wizardry, they unfortunately mix in enough duds to make you want to cling to the tried and true, for example the eggplant parm (now a zucchini parm), voted by New York Magazine as one of the top 100 sammy’s in the city and it is truly all of that and a bag of chips. In fact, those chips make it onto the sandwich itself and that sandwich quite handily makes it makes it onto my own personal Top 20! Best eggplant parm sub I have ever had. Granted, an unusual take on the classic, so traditionalists beware. This baby has pickled jalapeños and barbeque potato chips in it. Yes, you heard correct. Chips on an egg parm. Crazy, but man does it work!

Apart from that, there has only been one other sub to reach epic status like the parm, the roast beef with garlic and mint – quite possibly roast beef’s highest achievement on this Earth.

Some sides of note would be the spicy muchim pickles and the pineapple gazpacho. Skip the moon cookies. All in all, so close to 4 knives for me, and if you stick to the winners it would easily be that, but because they are woefully inconsistent over time, I gotsta go three. “And that’s all I have to say about that.” -Forest Gump

3 teeth