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

 

Lexington Square Cafe

510 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 244-3663lexingtonsquarecafe.com

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It’s taken me a while to work up the courage to eat here versus my other tried and true options in the burbs, but the other day a window of opportunity opened and my daughter and I decided to step inside. Which is much nicer than one might expect from the outside looking in. In fact, one might even go so far as to say it’s impressive, with its large dining room, high ceilings, and surprisingly hip bar. The only things bringing it down are the giant, round hotel-esque counter at the entrance and the large staircase cutting through the space.

Also, a word of advice as to where to sit in the expansive dining arena. Definitely avoid the booths, because if you do sit there, you will be out of sight and out of mind, literally having to stand and flail your arms like a castaway on a deserted island just to get a waiter’s attention.And attention you will need, because the food tends to need a lot of help to get the flavor going. For example, the pizza is more of a flatbread and the flatbread is more like the crap you throw together for your kid when you are just trying to scrape by with pasta sauce, sliced cheese and a random pocket of pita bread or naan. So should you order it as an adult, you will definitely want some red pepper flakes to help overcome the nothingness.

The chicken cutlet sandwich is also pretty bland, surprisingly so for something that’s supposed to be packing Sriracha mayonnaise. So be sure to order it with a side of Sriracha to give it the oomph it was born to have. With that caveat, I can proudly say the sammie wasn’t half bad.

And last but not least, something that wasn’t half good. The apple crumbly with ice cream and a caramel drizzle simply isn’t worth the time on the treadmill. And compared to places like Truck, Fortina, Beford 234 and Village Social the Lexington Diner simply isn’t worth the space in your stomach.

2 teeth

Beehive Restaurant

30 Old Rt 22 Armonk, NY 10504 • (914) 765-0688beehive-restaurant.com

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Dear Yelpers,

Just because a restaurant has a big menu does not make it a four star restaurant. In fact, it’s more often than not means the exact opposite because they can’t focus on making anything great with so much to keep prepped, so nothing is ever fresh and thus nothing winds up good.

Beehive, at its best, is blah diner food with better decor and worse service. Cue the can of whoop-ass opening…

First, when we were seated for lunch, there were about a dozen or more empty tables, yet the hostess first tried to seat us next to the wait station. WTF? Then, the waiter brings me the special fish sandwich, about which nothing was special, and to make matters worse, he fails to even bring me the entire dish. I had to ask where the remaining sides were before he even realized. After eventually returning with the forgotten sides, he brought the fries without ketchup or mustard, and nor did he even bother to ask if I’d like any.

Then there’s the food. As I already stated, the fried fish sandwich was tasteless. A travesty if you ask me, because if I’m going to poison myself with deep fried food, the least it should be is worth it! And worse still, the sandwich was a recommendation by the waiter- shocker. But the saddest part of all was that the side of tarter sauce did nothing for the dish as it was as equally bland as the fish itself. Like placing mayo on top of oil.

So how about those fries? Even they were atrocious. Completely tasteless. No salt or seasoning of any kind, tasting like the crap you get at a diner along a desolate route somewhere in the sticks.

And then there’s my wife’s Chop Chop Cobb, which should be chop, chopped right off the menu. The “green goddess” dressing was far from god-like and even farther from green. Again, basically just a ramekin of mayo. I swear, in a blind taste test you wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the tarter sauce.

So Beehive, this is going to sting… but you flat out suck.

1 tooth

The Ultimate Mustard (packaged)

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Of all the condiments out there, no other add-on completes me like mustard. I mean, first of all, just think about how diverse it is by comparison to other condiments. You’ve got your spicy, your deli, your yellow, your Asian, your textured, your sweet, your alcoholic- It’s enough to give ketchup and mayonnaise a complex. But perhaps my favorite thing about mustard is that it’s one of the only things in the edible universe that I sincerely love, and isn’t highly caloric and fattening. In short, mustard is the Ultimate condiment. And within that Ultimate, here are a few Ultimates:

Cape Cod Cranberry Mustard

South of New England, this mustard can be a little hard to find. But it’s not like you need to go to any fancy store to buy it. Stop & Shops seem to be the best bet (perhaps because they are a New England based chain). If there’s no Stop & Shop close to you, it’s worth the road trip (or odering online). I say buy a half dozen jars because you will be plowing through them like Walking Dead plows through zombie extras. It’s spicy and sweet and tart all at the same time, turning every sandwich it touches into an event.

Maille

If you’re a texture lover like me- preferring crunchy peanut butter over smooth and lots of pulp OJ over no pulp than Maille is your mustard. A 260 year old seeded mustard, born in the old country (France), and packed with so much flavor it can do just about everything apart from folding the laundry. It’s awesome for grilling. For baked fish, for salad dressing, for making dips, on sandwiches, on burgers, on Donner and Blitzin! In fact, the only mustard that’s even close to as versatile as Maille, is Grey Poupon, which brings me to mustard number 3.

Grey Poupon

Pardon me, but if you don’t have any Grey Poupon you should take a glove and slap yourself across the face. It’s so easy to come by and so friggin’ good you almost wonder why any other mustard exists. And like Maille it’s incredibly versatile. Maybe even more so. If a mustard could win the Noble Peace Prize I feel like Grey Poupon would have a very strong case. But just one caveat, there is the smooth original and a seeded version more like Maille. Both are excellent, but head to head on the seeded side, I go Maille, whereas Maille also makes a smooth kind and head to head with Grey Poupon, I give it to the Grey.

Moutarde De Meaux, Pommery

This last one is MUCH harder to come by unless you live in France or New England where mustard is basically a substitute for religion. Fortunately you can always order it online from Amazon.com for those not favorably in geographic proximity. Double fortunately, Maille is VERY similar and much easier to find if you don’t feel like ordering online, booking a flight or driving to the Northeast. The only difference for me is that Pommery is a touch stronger and the seeds are a teeny bit smaller, making the texture slightly smoother. The packaging is also the best of the bunch, served in an old fashioned earthenware crock with a red wax seal (apparently unchanged, as is the recipe, since 1632).