December 4, 2006 | Insatiable Critic

The Russian Tea Room

        A serious chef reigns in the kitchen of the optimistically resurrected Russian Tea Room, dispatching fragrant borscht in a covered dish and luscious beef stroganoff. The power regulars who lost their lunchtime booths in the late Warner LeRoy’s 1999 $30 million rehab may never be happy here, but I love the vibrant red-and-green room with its samovars, its Christmas-all-year excess, and the fake Russian art LeRoy commissioned, saved from auction for a golf museum that was never to be. It’s no surprise that consistently lauded whisk Gary Robins can channel Russian. He wowed us at Aja with Asian fusion before morphing into a new American mode at the Biltmore Room. Still, die-hard fans of the Tea Room’s Wednesday-lunch-only pelmeni—little dumplings in chicken broth, smothered in sour cream, feathered with dill—will find his foie gras pelmeni a poor replacement, never mind how smartly flavored. Most of what we’re tasting—goat-cheese-and-wild-mushroom blinchiki, marjoram-scented quail, cocoa-dusted venison—is full of pizzazz and delicious, though expensive and meager. I feel the ghosts: Nureyev, Dalí, LeRoy himself, full of endearing exuberance, and the Russian and Polish immigrants who came in the twenties for tea with jam and cookies because that’s all they could afford. Now there is Iranian caviar at $300 for 30 grams and $45 rack of lamb and, I hope, enough sentimentalists to keep the legend alive.

150 W. 57th St. nr. 7th Ave. 212 581 7100

Cafe Fiorello