Eddie Pensier writes:
Well naturally, one can’t go to this legendary New York restaurant with “tea” in its very name and not order tea, right?
The Russian method of brewing and serving tea is a bit different to what we’re used to. Obviously a samovar isn’t practical for a high-traffic restaurant, but I was still a bit nonplussed to see tea bags used. You’d figure a tea room would do better. Not to mention the tea selection is pretty standard: you choose between English Breakfast, Darjeeling, Oolong, mint and chamomile. They weren’t bad, just ordinary.
The thing I like best about tea a la Russe is the fruit. Tea is sweetened and flavored with either jam or fruit compote. Here, in the background of the photo near the sweeteners, you’re given a small bowl of sour cherries in syrup. I’d probably eat crushed glass if it came with sour cherries, so given my affinity for flavored tea it was a no-brainer. The sour/sweet combination is one of my favorites, and the glass mug is a nice aesthetic touch. The dish of sable cookies was free, and they were a perfect, meltingly buttery complement. The blintzes in the foreground had a double-sour hit of cherries and tangy farmer’s cheese which caused swoons all around.
I’d not have gone there, had a friend (whose birthday we were celebrating) not confessed to a longstanding near-obsession with the place. It is every bit as gaudy and overdecorated as you’ve heard, but in a manner which appeals to me (better this than another starkly minimalist boîte with crammed-together tables, right?).
The food was delightful, frankly better than I’d anticipated given the tourist-trap reputation and wildly varying reviews, and the service was excellent (including a knowledgeable, not-pushy sommelier). I’m of the opinion that there aren’t nearly enough Russian restaurants around: I still have fond memories of the pelmeny and piroshki at the late, lamented Rush’n Express on East 86th Street. But for a special elegant meal, the RTR will impress the heck out of you. And if you’re lucky you might even score the booth where Dustin Hoffman ambushed Sydney Pollack.
Just for the heck of it, here’s a picture of some lovely blini topped with caviar.