Reality-Based Gastronomic Opinions
41 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
Dine date: March 14, 2012
“Opulence – I has it”. Your favorite blingey Russian oligarch Gregor knows how to flaunt his digs, as does Andrey Dellos, proprietor of midtown newie Brasserie Pushkin. And he should know what’s up – this is the third installment of the Pushkin restaurants, after Moscow and Paris. In fact, he first opened the original Moscow spot thirteen years ago to counteract the faulty notion that a “Café Pushkin” already existed there, propagated by the bogus lyrics of an old-school French crooner. But Dellos’ home turf doesn’t end with Pushkin. The expansion of his overall restaurant holdings in Mother Russia has been more active than Catherine The Great’s favorite stallions. Dellos is already set to extend even further here in NYC with a 14th Street restaurant opening this year, as well as some high-end pastry shops. The restaurant soft-opened on Sunday, March 11 and grand-opened quietly the following night. This was nearly indiscernible just a couple of days later on the 14th, corroborating the rumor that much of the staff trained for a full month before the opening. They are looking to average sixty covers per night, not including the thirty-seat private dining room on the subterranean floor.
Speaking of pastry shops, that’s the first thing you encounter when you walk through the front door at Brasserie Pushkin. French-born sweets chef Emmanuel Ryon hawks his to-go pastry wares in a large fancy dessert counter, predominantly populated by his multicolored and perfectly-formed macarons. But we’ll be checking in with you after the entrees, Monsieur Ryon… Looking past the meringues and into the dining space, it’s easy to see that Brasserie Pushkin is no standard ‘brasserie’ – this is a lavish, eight-thousand square foot, three-story palace of French-influenced Russian gastronomy, decked out in expensive chandeliers and a beautifully distressed wood-relief ceiling. It is luxurious without being tacky. Even the large wall with the repro of a Rennaisance mural – whose cherubic images literally blend seamlessly into the printed banquette and pillows fabrics beneath it – somehow manages to maintain repose and elegance. Rumor has it that Dellos, a former architect, designed the space himself. Now that’s shirking the Gregor stereotype, for all you nonbelieving pindosi.
At 8:00pm on a Wednesday night, the dining room is full and a-bustlin’. The crowd is varied. There are thirtysomething suits here. There are some bejeweled cougs. There are pretty twentyish downtowners, particularly for later seatings. There are a good amount of Russians (good sign, comrades!). This place does not have the air of a business restaurant, although transactions are being carried out. There are a few affairs in course, possibly some high-end escorts. What? It’s Midtown. This is more of a special-occasion sort of place, although not a loud birthday fest. Patrick Bateman would be out of place here, but so would Pauly D. Women would be most comfortable in a nice dress, and men could feel good with slacks/nice denim and a collar. Save those distressed Cordarounds and De Puta Madre t-shirts for the Russian Tea Room, please.
When you check your coat at the maître d’ desk, you are given a heavy gold pocketwatch with your coat number inside – slick touch. Pitstop at the bar for a selection of twenty-two vodkas, many house-infused. Once you’re seated, service is quick and attentive.
The menu, designed by executive chef Andrey Makhov and delivered by chef de cuisine Jawn Chasteen, is a fairly sizeable list: elaborate salads, Russian appetizers, pelmeni (meat dumplings), pirojki (little fried empanadas), meats and fish. Not a lot of veggie options go down in Russia.
The breadbasket is hit or miss. Among the options, the sundried tomato bun is like flaccid pizza dough, but the sourdough is crispy and fresh, albeit not served warm.
The tuna tartare ($18) first strikes you with its gorgeous presentation – a cylindrical pile of tartare on a bed of diced avocado, topped with a green horseradish foam, and encircled on the plate by trails of differently colored salts. The fish is crazy fresh and tasty, and the marriage with the avocado is texture orgasm. Some crunch and juice is delivered by the sprouts, arugula, and chopped cucumber. The whole experience is exceptional and vital.
The sturgeon galantine ($16) is excellent as well, proposing five sushi-shaped segments of aspic-poached sturgeon meat stuffed with pureed shrimp. The sturgeon is mushy (in a good way) and delicious without an overly pronounced taste or fishiness. Globs of olive tapenade give a sharp salty cut-through, and a portion of dilled cottage cheese gives a cool herby finish to each bite. A fantastic and somehow familiarly classic dish. If a dish could be described as masculine, this is a contender.
Other openers include a sea scallop and sea trout crudo with vanilla-mustard sauce and chives ($18), a beef tartare ($22) prepared tableside, and millet blinis with salmon roe, crème fraiche, eggs and chives ($29).
Hats off to the king crab salad ($24), which can be ordered as a main. If you could equate a beautiful young woman to a dish, this could be the sturgeon's soul mate. Delicate, light, bouncy, fresh. A great balance of what is crunchy with what is soft and creamy (no Darryl Hannah jokes, please). It’s plated as a pile of diced crab and papaya with a somewhat creamy grape-ginger vinaigrette. The diced cucumbers and sundried tomatoes add crunch and salt. One of the few flaws here is that the crab supply runs out before the end of the salad.
The Golubtsi ($24) are three little burritos of beef, pork and rice, rolled instead in cabbage, and cooked in a skillet. An option of a fresh tomato sauce or a creamy tomato version if presented – go with the cream, it’s much lighter and sparser than one might expect. Everything is topped with sliced red peppers and herbs. It comes off like peasant comfort food, but is much more sophisticated. The kitchen has managed to make all the disparate ingredients strike one cohesive, soft note. Nothing is out of balance or context. Very well realized.
Other entrée highlights include the whole sterlet with potato pureé, baked cherry tomatoes, and crawfish sauce ($46), the milk fed veal chops ($46), and the braised veal blintzes with crème fraiche ($21).
The champion of the dessert list is the Café Pushkin ($16). This manifests as a giant chocolate breast with gold shavings on top of it. Once your fork cuts in, it reveals multiple cold layers of chocolate, raspberry gelée, raspberry sorbet, vanilla coulis, pistachio mousse, and toasted almonds. The gelatinous chocolate outer layer is a bit disconcerting in texture, but everything else is a rich chocolate explosion with the palate-cleansing action of the raspberry components. This copious boobie would be difficult to finish between two people, so keep the dessert order to one of these choco-orbs.
Overall, Brasserie Pushkin is full of surprises. It’s not the somber and heavy feeling in the dining room that one might expect given the genre, but instead a modern and elegant experience that feels great. The massive space is beautifully conceived and flows well. The menu pleases and redefines what New Yorkers may think they know about modern and classic Russian cuisine. The Midtown location is a bit of a drag, but it doesn’t feel at all like a Midtown restaurant. This restaurant is recommended for dates, celebrations for four or less, or special romantic occasions.
Break It Down...
Don’t think to yourself “I don’t know if I’m up for Russian food tonight…”. There is something here for everyone; the quality is high and the dishes extremely accessible.
Flawless teamwork; invisible.
Can come off as slightly stuffy at first; later seatings recommended.
Fair prices for the most part; some incomprehensible exceptions in the mains; great wine list with values at every price level.
Accommodation On Walk-In
We showed up an hour earlier, which OpenTable showed as booked; still seated immediately.
Bathroom: Sanctuary Or Minefield?
Quiet; out of the way (downstairs); spacious.
Ability To Have Sex In The Bathroom
One stall in the men’s; two in the lady’s, but barriers open underneath.
Seat Height Equilibrium
Banquette seating, of which there is a ton, is 2” lower than the opposite chair.
Affect Of Staff
Friendly, formal, and beautiful; talk to you, not down at you.
Humor Of Staff
Responded well to jokey banter.
Wine Recommendation Honesty
Server admitted he was not a Riesling expert and called over the somm, who recommended the $60 option over the $85 and $110.
Quality Of Music
They go with the only genre that would work appropriately here: soft jazz.
Can get somewhat noisy, even in the alcoves and nooks; music could be a little louder.
Laaaadies! Purse Hanging Options At The Table
Seat backs could work; ass-side on the banquette could too.
Written by Eric Reithler-Barros