Tea has a long history in Russian culture since its introduction by the Mongolians in 1638. Regular tea supplies came in to Russia from China via camel caravan. By the time of Catherine the Great’s death in 1796, Russia was importing 3 million tons of tea from China, making the beverage accessible and affordable to all classes of Russian. Most tea in Russian culture is created with the aid of a samovar, which are prominently displayed in one of the most iconic restaurants in New York, The Russian Tea Room. Located on 57th Street the Russian Team Room was established in 1927 by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet, looking for a place to ex-pats to congregate; but ended up being a huge draw for the entertainment industry due to its proximity to Carnegie Hall. The building, just 20-feet-wide, extends all the way from West 57th to 56th Street, and has four lavish floors to entertain and delight patrons however, the Main Dining Room is where most reservations will be serviced.
For my birthday, my amazing friends from the West coast, J&G sent me a generous gift to enjoy dinner (with a plus one of my choosing) at the Russian Tea Room. After a brutal, russian-esque winter here in the Northeast, I was finally ready to claim my Russian Tea Room feast with Irish Kat as my plus one. Our gift covered the Pre-Fixe menu that is usually not offered during peak dinner times, which included a first course, main course, and desert.
First course options included traditional red borscht, buckwheat blini, tea room salad and a blinchik. Irish Kat opted for the blinchik; it is a crepe filled with mushrooms, goat cheese, onions and served with a lingonberry sauce. The lingonberry sauce, has a flavor similar to a cherry; tart but sweet, which offsets the goat cheese. I went with the bilini which is like a little pancake, which was paired with Wild Alaskan salmon roe, chopped egg, red onion and sour cream. I love salmon roe. I order it at the sushi restaurant often, and I was not disappointed in the Tea Room’s presentation.
The Main Courses offered on the Pre-fixe were Kulebiaka, Cotelette a la Kiev, Boeuf a la Stroganoff, Market Fish (which was a Branzino that evening) and Vareniki (a Russian ravioli, which that evening was stuffed with Veal Cheek).
I opted for the Kulebiaka. Kulebiaka is a traditional Russian dish. It is salmon cooked with onions and mushrooms that is wrapped in a pastry shell. Mine was served with a side of sautéed cabbage, onions, caraway seed and a light mustard sauce. The side tasted similar to a sauerkraut. The kulebiaka was amazing. the pastry was crisp, yet the salmon inside was moist and flavorful.
Irish Kat went with the Cotelette a la Kiev (aka Chicken Kiev). Although many people think that this dish originated in the Ukraine since Kiev is the capitol of the Ukraine. However according the food historians (and wikipedia), the dish was invented in the St Petersburg Merchants’ Club. Chicken Kiev is a breaded chicken breast stuffed with herb flavored butter. Irish Kat’s dish came with a side of mashed potatoes and a light mushroom sauce. The server sliced the chicken in front of us to identify that the dish was prepared properly with “a spurt of butter at the first touch of knife and fork.”
By the time we had to choose our deserts we were full from our previous courses. There were only three dessert choices, Chocolate Mouse, Cheesecake, and Tiramisu. They were both good, but not as impressive as the previous courses.
Overall it was an excellent meal. The over the top decor, extravagant art, and collection of samovars should not be missed on your next visit to NYC. And no, we did not have a tea service. We were just too full. Maybe our next trip.