Kvartirka // 51 Nevsky Prospekt, Tel: 315 5561 // Open daily from noon to 1 a.m. // Menu in English and Russian // Dinner for two with alcohol 2,009 rubles ($67)
Published: August 13, 2010 (Issue # 1600)
With a menu comprising a wide range of traditional Russian dishes, this “Soviet” cafe on Nevsky Prospekt attempts to give visitors an experience of life in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and ’70s.
Decorated to look like a typical apartment during that era, Kvartirka (“little apartment”), attempts to recreate the atmosphere and intellectual culture once so prized at the legendary cafe Saigon, that famous gathering place once housed in the next building over that attracted the likes of Joseph Brodsky. From the black-and-white photographs on the wall to the Westerns playing in the background, the restaurant does a good job of recreating such an atmosphere, though a few quirks and ironies give the place its own unique modern flavor.
If the menu is meant to continue the Soviet theme, a simple glance at the list of appetizers — which includes crab-stuffed tomatoes and herring with marinated vegetables — makes it clear that this must have been the food of the Soviet elite, though prices are extremely democratic. There are also separate sections devoted entirely to pelmeni (Russian ravioli) and pirogi, or pies.
The more adventurous diners might select the cold starter of “Mother-in-law” tongue with green peas, followed by veal liver as the main course (though, in an additional Soviet twist, they might find, as we did, that the pike cream soup or Georgian stew are not available). For the less courageous explorers of Soviet-Russian cuisine, there are beef, fish and plenty of pork dishes.
While waiting for their order to arrive, guests may play with the dominoes present on every table while their children color in the sheets provided; many, however, will find simply examining the surroundings to be the best entertainment. In recreating the atmosphere of Soviet life, the owners have decided to spare their patrons excessive posters, slogans and flags, but the combination of elements sometimes makes for a comical effect. Over each small section of tables hangs a different antique-looking light fixture, and in the corners, ancient looking teddy bears or dolls can be spotted. A tapestry on one of the walls looks like it might have come from one of the Central Asian former Soviet republics, but the large buck at a forest pond who stared down at us from the tapestry near our table seemed a little out of his natural habitat. One thing that for sure recalls the Soviet Union, though perhaps unintentionally, is the fact that the toilets can’t handle toilet paper.
In case anyone had forgotten, the elegant presentation of the dishes is enough to remind diners that they are in the apartment of an elite party member. Although the food is delicately arranged, the size of the portions does not disappoint. The exceptionally efficient waitresses (who speak broken, though adequate, English) ensure that empty dishes do not stay on the table for more than a minute after they have been polished off. Inevitably, there is a prevalence of oil, sour cream and dill in the dishes, but it is not overdone, and, what’s more, the chef has mastered fitting combinations. Pages: