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

 

Cock & Bull

23 W 45th St. New York, NY 10036(212) 819-1900 • cockandbullnyc.com
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Before I jump right into this review, let’s take a moment to really appreciate the name. I mean really take it in. Cause the way I see it, we’re talking truckloads of confidence (or money… or both) it must’ve taken to name this place what is essentially synonymous with bullshit. A name most people wouldn’t exactly flock to as a draw. But, on the other hand, a brilliant play toward lower expectations, because if you wind up having a shitty meal or terrible service, well what did you expect? It says bullshit right on the door!

Name aside, Bullshit fashions itself quite faithfully after your typical British Pub with its dark wood walls, Guinness on draft, a healthy selection of scotch and rugby on the telly. And contrary to my theory above, the service is pretty attentive and on the ball.

In terms of food, one must first calibrate themselves in reality, after all, it is bar food, and worse still, British food. A culture known for such culinary contributions to the world as shepherd’s pie, pot pie and fish & chips. So, now going in fully calibrated I would like to start with a major shout out to the fish sliders, done “fish & chips style” with batter-fried cod on little buns with slaw and nicely seasoned wedge fries- er, I mean chips on the side. In fact, they were so good I much preferred them over the regular fries which you can also order by the basket or with a burger.

The only misses for me were the deviled eggs. As in the devil himself was missing. No heat. No spice. No seasoning. No bloody anything other than mayonnaise as far as I could tell, making them way too creamy and not all that tasty. Oh and in case you’re wondering what in the hell that dish is in the picture above, that’s bacon wrapped meatloaf ladies and gentleman. Talk about devilish.

Come drinks, the Guinness was good, poured like it should (look, I’m a poet), nice and smooth. And while the bourbon selection is a little light, the Bulleit Rye is always a crowd pleaser, so box checked on hooch.

In general a solid choice for a drink and a bite with friends before hoping on a train at Grand Central and slipping into a food coma.

3 teeth

Num Pang

21 E 12th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 255-3271 numpangnyc.com

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I’ve been going to Num Pang since they were one location in Union Square. And back then they definitely owned every last drop of these four knives. But since they’ve expanded all over the city, they have unfortunately lost a step. Granted it’s a small, baby step, but a step nonetheless.

Some of the enduring wows are the 5 spice pork belly and the hoisin meatballs. But with special sandwiches like the grilled peaches & bacon, duck, grilled salmon and meatloaf they keep things interesting.

Honorable mentions are in order for the tiger shrimp, the peppercorn catfish and brisket, which would’ve gotten more love if it wasn’t served so dry. But virtually every sandwich here rocks with its spicy, messy goodness seeping from the sides. Just don’t forget to grab some Sriracha.

On the non-sandwich front their hot & sour chicken soup is killer and their blood orange lemonade is a great accompaniment to any of the above.

Such a great option when you’re sick of the same old sandwiches, but still want a sandwich. One with a little Vietnamese/Cambodian Banh mi action.

4 teeth