St. Petersbury Restaurants
When we were in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, the best food we could find was Pizza Hut. My how things have changed. And, as we were coming from Scandinavia, the food was refreshingly inexpensive. And this was all despite the fact that international economic sanctions have virtually eliminated food imports and doubled the price of foods for Russians. American visitors, however, have been spared much of this increase by the plummeting value of the ruble relative to the dollar. Surprisingly, but mercifully for us, the foreign wine supply has not been affected by the sanctions. We enjoyed many meals
Our meal began a week of Russian vodka sampling (Tsarskoe Selo was our favorite, followed by Tsarskaya Gold and Beluga Transatleyter.) Dinner consisted of a number of Russian dishes: Blini with quail egg and red caviar; Russian potato and porcini-filled dumplings with onion crumbs and sour cream; chilled beetroot borsch with beef, sorrel, radish, cucumber and quail egg; followed by grilled wild deer fillet with black rowan (similar to black currant) sauce and carrot puree; along with a bottle of red 2012 Burgundy. A very good meal indeed.
we planned to eat at the Caviar Bar at one of the city’s top-end hotel . Unfortunately, it turned out to be closed the evening for which our hotel said they made a reservation. The beautiful restaurant in the hotel, with its white glove service, was, however, able to accommodate us and serve the Oscietra Caviar that we had craved paired with two glasses of Russian Abrau-Dusso Imperial Brut sparking. After a mango sorbet palate cleanser, we had two traditional Russian entrees: Coulibac (in puff pastry) of salmon and pike perch with white wine and dill sauce; and beef stroganoff with cream sauce, beetroot and salted cucumbers on mashed potatoes. We paired the dished with a class of Spanish Chardonnay and French Haut-Medoc Bordeaux. While both dishes were pretty good, it did not quite match the atmosphere or the level of service.
At thi Russian restaurant next to the Fortress, we had two appetizers and an entrée. We began with fried nut-coated smelt and crab salad with oranges and pike caviar, followed by grilled seabass. While the smelt were just okay, the other dishes were quite good.
Bruno de la Truffe
We discovered a truffle restaurant that, given the sanctions, has to rely exclusively on somewhat less concentrated domestic truffles from the southern part of the country. This said, they still offer summer and winter and black and white truffles that are tasty and are well integrated into the three dishes that we had: tartine with summer truffles (bread toasted with truffle oil and topped with a healthy-sized layer of truffles), beef tartare with brumale truffles and parmesan cream; and our favorite, risotto with truffle and caviar. We had these with a New Zealand Pinot Noir.
One of the city’s premier Russian restaurants where we shared three dishes. After beginning with sturgeon caviar with blini and sour cream, Tom had a roasted quail salad, plus his husbandly due of half of Joyce’s chicken Kiev, stuffed with porcini mushrooms. Although we wouldn’t normally order such a blatantly “touristy”-sounding dish, we began to get curious after seeing it on three menus in a row. Although we decided to try it, it was a one of the few culinary disappointments of our St. Petersburg dining experiences: dry and with little taste. Wine began with some Russian sparkling with the caviar, followed by a bottle of Chianti Classico Reserva.
A Georgian restaurant where we sampled a credible bottle of dry but relatively fruity 2013 Georgian red (Chateau Mukhrani Shavkapito (although we have no idea which varietals these represent) to go with four Georgian dishes. We really enjoyed two of the dishes (bread and mushrooms) both of which were stuffed with a delicious, melted, Georgian cheese (again, we couldn’t communicate well enough to learn anything about the cheese). The other two dishes were less inspiring. Beef-stuffed grape leaves were dry and tasteless. The lamb in the sautéed lamb in a light meat sauce with potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and herbs was tough and flavorless.
The Kamchatka king crab with a light citrusy Volagda butter was delicious. The Black Sea shellfish (which turned out to be a whelk) with fried apricot, less so. The Muksum (a white fish we didn’t know and our server was unable to find another name we understood) with chanterelles and onion was a bit strong for our taste. We did, however, like the cherry soufflé with cherry compote. Our first exposure to Russian wine, Likuria Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay was acceptable, although certainly not exciting.
A casual Russian and Georgian restaurant where we had a quick, but satisfying lunch that began with salmon caviar with pancakes, sour cream and chives, followed by seafood dumplings on a bed of spinach and, after a long day at the Hermitage, a couple of celebratory glasses of Russian sparkling wine,
Four Seasons Lounge
We failed to make reservations one evening and got shut out of our first three choices. Rather than waiting an hour for a table, we ended up at the Four Seasons where we had grilled octopus with white beans and peppers and slow-cooked halibut with spinach, seaweed chips and anchovy paste, with a bottle of Chablis. We also heard a piano and sax combo at the bar across the hall which, henceforth, became our regular evening stop.
A small, inexpensive and very popular dumpling restaurant that offers filled dumplings ranging from small Russian meat dumplings, to Italian raviolis and Chinese dim sum. While we enjoyed the salmon and mascarpone ravioli, the pan-fried Chinese gyoza were less exciting. The restaurant also provided Tom’s first exposure to a double amber ale (He’ll stick with regular ambers).
And since we were in Russia, we had to learn a bit more about drinking like Russians. We did try a few Russian wines. These included a few pretty good Brut sparkling wines (which have been made in Russia for more than 100 years) with caviar and a few less refined still wines, including an acceptable (albeit not exciting) Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay with one of our meals. Although Tom was tempted to try a glass of Russian Cab at one of the most upscale of the restaurants at which we ate, the sommelier’s description (oaky, very little fruit and a lot of bitter tannin) led him to choose a Haut Medoc with his beef stroganoff. It also made muswonder why it was even on the restaurant’s wine list.
But wine notwithstanding, drinking in Russia means vodka. Vodka is produced in different regions, such as Siberia, Moscow and St. Petersburg, each with different styles. After a few experiments and discussions with sommeliers, we tended to lean toward smoother, St. Petersburg brands: especially Tsarskoe Selo and Illumina. Drinking Russian vodka also means drinking it in the Russian way: straight-up, right out of the freezer, in a frozen glass. No ice; no lemon peel; just straight—and ideally with snacks, such as pickled cucumbers, mushrooms and peppers. (Although Tom does enjoy pickled cucumbers and mushrooms, if not necessarily peppers, he doesn’t fully appreciate the combination and will have to work on that.)
However, Tom did appreciate, if not fully embrace the alternative Siberian, vodka-like bread wine called Polugar, a vodka-like drink that is made from distilled rye and drunken at room temperature. While it comes in more than 100 flavors, he tried only three—juniper, barley and single-malt. Of these, juniper was his favorite. Overall, however, he prefers an ice-cold St. Petersburg vodka. While Joyce tried and enjoyed the ice-cold St. Petersburg vodka, she stayed mostly with wine
We stayed at the W Hotel Voznesensky Prospect St. The location is great and within walking distance to main sites. This is a 5 star hotel so one would expect a comfortable bed, good sheets, bathrobe, slippers etc. And the W had it. Toilet has a separate room and there is a rain shower. They provide free bottled water and replenish it morning and night, which is useful as you can’t drink the water (although it is OK to use to brush your teeth). Also have tea and coffee pot in room and a scale. The room was sufficient, but no view. It also has a lot of mirrors in it and I kept bumping into one of them when I got up at night to go to the bathroom due to a strange angle in the wall. An ATM is in the basement, along with a spa, exercise room etc. It has electric plugs by the bed although we had to unplug the portable phone by the bed (there is another phone on the desk) in order to fit an adapter into the plug next to it. Good lighting in the room, especially in the bathroom. (Note: elevator is very, very, very dark as is typical at W Hotels). And, the AC works really well. Plus they leave it on during the day so that you don’t come back to a hot room (we know, this wastes electricity but it is very nice to come back to when the weather outside is hot). This is the first W hotel in Russia and the furthest one north in the world. Staff is generally helpful but didn’t seem "comfortable" with helping. Yes, they helped, but usually had to look things up. Also, when we tried to make dinner reservations one afternoon, we were told that only the concierge could make them and she was not available and to please come back later. Huh? Wifi in the room was a little slow and went up and down periodically. Although it didn’t bother us much, music plays until the early morning hours. If you are noise sensitive, you will hear the beat (we were in the 5th floor so it wasn’t as bad but we heard others on the 8th floor complaining and asking to be moved). As I always ask for a quiet room away from the elevator, that was the only noise we heard. We didn’t have breakfast but tried to eat at the restaurant one night and were told that it didn’t have any tables available. When we asked about room service, we were told the restaurant was not part of the hotel (it had a separate room service menu which we did not use as we went to the Four Seasons instead for dinner). As a nice touch, they have a friendly guy at the door in a nice W tee-shirt that gives you directions and advice each time you leave the building.