I love to eat out because it allows me to try a rainbow of flavors. Flavors that can provide inspiration for my home-cooking. Flavors that have have come together as a product of so many chefs’ upbringing, life experiences, and journeys. It should therefore come as no surprise, that I was anxious with excitement at the prospect of trying out Slavik cuisine at the newly opened Vesna. I’ve never had Slavic cuisine, and interestingly enough, many people have never even heard of it.
Vesna offers Slavic cuisine with a contemporary twist, originating from Ukraine and Russia, but dusted with flavors that have resulted from globalization and are no longer region-specific.
The first thing I noticed as I approached the restaurant was the hostess’s dress. It was so pretty- white with colorful spring flowers (yes, such things excite me ok)! And then I noticed the same pattern on the menu, on the servers’ uniforms, lining the Chefs’ whites, and even on the china! Such consistency and attention to detail always earn a a two finger clap from me. The ambiance in general made me feel like aristocracy from St.Petersburg, but the exposed walls give it a rustic, underground feel, further validating that this would be a modern take on old classics.
We started off with some freshly baked dinner rolls and rye bread. The Russians love their bread. They have a saying that goes “porridge is our mother and bread is our father”, and this was a basket of some real soft dads. The butter that came with, was mixed with pureed dill, and I could have just had bread and butter the whole night and been a very happy camper.
Accompanying the bread was some Raspberry Mors– the welcome drink. It was essentially blended raspberries; thicker than juice but thinner than a puree. This drink is Slav tradition and was very refreshing.
We then got to try famous Olivia Salad, which was created by the french chef, Monsieur Olivia. When he came to Russia, he opened a restaurant in Moscow, creatively named…Moscow. He then created this iconic salad which is now a part of every Slav tradition. He served it with all the ingredients plated separately, side by side. It’s basically comprised of minimally seasoned chicken and egg, celery, carrots, peas and cucumbers. The Russians wanted to mix the ingredients up, and so he did, and the rest was history.
We then had the Forschmag, which was a herring spread served with grilled toast. This recipe was imported by the USSR from Israel and it had such a shockingly overpowering fishiness to it that I just couldn’t have more than one bite.
Next came the Okroshka. This was a cold soup made of laban (used as an alternative to the traditional kvas), cream, dijon mustard, cucumbers, dill, and minced meat. A cold soup sounds like an odd dish for a generally cold country, but in summers, temperatures in Ukraine reach up to 35 degrees- which is scorching hot for a country that also experiences winters in double digit negatives.
Our main courses included Salmon Pelmini (dumplings) with caviar on top. These were dry, about a couple minutes too al dente, sparsely seasoned (if at all), and sadly quite unenjoyable. The blandness was made a little better when I slathered them with the sauce from our lamb chops. The melodic live music made everything much more enjoyable though. She did some really great English covers but rocked the Ukrainian songs.
The Lamb Chops were the only dish that M truly enjoyed. He said the lamb was tender, juicy, had a mouth-watering char on it and if I may say so myself- the confit vegetables it was rested atop were beautifully flavored.
Dessert was the most decadent Honey Cake. It’s very similar to British honey cake but somehow tastes better- shocking, as I couldn’t imagine for something already perfect to be improved on. It had a faintly bitter aftertaste, but in no way was that unpleasant.
We also had a Napoleon, which was enjoyable but nothing spectacular.
Of course, I can’t have any meal without some tea, and my tea of choice that night was Mango Mint. It was very interesting; kind of like warm mango juice.
Vesna offers an interesting new flavor profile for people who prefer very subtle seasoning, and enjoy tasting more of the main ingredient itself. Will I be going back? I’m really not sure, because as much as I LOVED the decor, I don’t drink -hence the lounge is out- and I prefer my food heavily seasoned so I think it’ll take a while for me to acquire the taste for Slavic cuisine.