Fusion without the confusion
Vesna//2 Konyushennaya Ploshchad//Tel: 913 4545//Open 11 a.m. to midnight (to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday)//Menu in Russian and English//Dinner for two with alcohol: 3,670 rubles ($133)
Published: May 4, 2011 (Issue # 1654)
St. Petersburg’s dining scene is famous — or infamous — for its many fusion restaurants. Food connoisseurs tend to look down on the idea of mixing various national cuisines at random, and they have a point: Any given chef might be comfortable with either Duck a l’Orange or Peking Duck, but probably not both. Many St. Petersburg restaurants that attempt to combine completely unrelated cuisines succeed with one but fail with the other. Scanning the menu at Vesna (Spring), an elegant eatery that offers various European and Russian dishes alongside Asian staples like spring rolls, just such considerations sprang to mind. Suspicions were enhanced by the presence of a large sushi section on the menu; the sheer volume of so-so sushi in St. Petersburg gets wearing after a while.
Happily, whatever skepticism we had proved largely unfounded. On the whole, the food at Vesna lives up to the positive first impression created by its interior, which masterfully combines intimacy and a ballroom-like showiness. The latter trait comes mainly from the huge central ceiling lamp, which is in a style suggestive of the Finnish designers Alvar and Aino Aalto. The lamp hovers over a small bar; the seating areas off to the side have a cozier feel, with divans instead of chairs against the walls and a few bookshelves here and there lined with pottery and old hardbacks. (The book selection is endearingly odd: one of the thick tomes put up for display is a 19th-century German physiology book).
The subtle lighting also contributed to the sense of intimacy. Another section in the rear is done in a very different style, with black-and-white floor tiling, large candles on the walls, a fountain in the center of the room, and a view into the kitchen, which should please aspiring chefs. Thought and care have gone into every corner of the space, which also features small, lovely touches like peonies outside the front door and in the windows. The one caveat is the music playlist, which is set a shade too loud.
We decided to test the restaurant’s versatility by ordering both European and Asian dishes. As far as starters were concerned, the Asian one came out on top. The carpaccio of beef fillet with tomatoes, lettuce and curry sauce (360 rubles, $13) and the red tuna carpaccio with dried eggplants and sundried tomatoes (390 rubles, $14) were both ordinary: The beef and tuna were bland and flavorless, and though the curry sauce in the beef dish was appealing, the tuna carpaccio had no saving graces. The spring rolls with prawns and ginger vegetables and Teriyaki sauce (390 rules, $14), on the other hand, were marvelous. The rolls were crunchy but not tough, the prawns fresh and tender, and the classic combination of ginger and teriyaki proved particularly winning.
The main courses, in contrast, were all on the same (high) level. The salmon tornado baked in foil with mint, leeks and aniseed nectar (590 rubles, $21.50) was notable for the freshness of the fish, which had obviously been cooked in the herbs it was served with, and the inspired use of mint, rather than the ubiquitous dill. The Mediterranean dorada (780 rubles, $28), which came from a large selection of grilled dishes, was even better: The fish’s flavor was mild but pleasing, and was complemented perfectly by a cream sauce served on the side. Once again, its freshness was laudable, and the vinegary salad served on the side proved an effective contrast.
Our Asian main course, the fried duck breast slices with vegetables, shitake mushrooms and cashew nuts marinated in soy and honey sauce with sesame seeds (590 rubles, $21.50), was also excellent. The soy and honey sauce saturated the whole dish without turning it thick or greasy, and the meat was tender and flavorful, although some might wish the fat had been removed.
Having been so impressed by our main dishes, we couldn’t resist ordering dessert, and — predictably — we weren’t disappointed. The fruit cheesecake (250 rubles, $9) was adorned with something that should be much more common in Russia than it is: fresh berries. The truffle cake (230 rubles, $8) was smooth and suitably decadent — a wonderful end to what was, on the whole, an intensely satisfying experience.
While dubious fusion restaurants seemed to reign supreme in the ‘90s, their number has now dwindled and their quality has generally improved.
Of St. Petersburg’s many fusion restaurants, this is one of the few to justify its potpourri of cuisines: Every country that has a coastline qualifies as a supplier. Unfortunately, this does not guarantee consistency, as the food ranges from delectable to disappointing. The restaurant’s location in a ship floating on the Neva likewise has its ups and downs.
14a Prospekt Dobrolyubova [next to Birzhevoi bridge]. Tel: 986 8600
ParmaSushi offers Italian and Japanese cuisine under the same roof. It has an original, welcoming interior and absurdly fast service, but unfortunately, the heart of the restaurant falls flat. The Italian menu is a distracting conceit, while if one sticks to the Japanese side of the menu, the restaurant is simply just another decent sushi place in a sea of less expensive alternatives.
52/14 Nevsky Prospekt. Tel: 331 9090
This rooftop restaurant on the top floor of the former Vanity fashion boutique offers a fusion menu that includes Italian, Georgian and Asian cuisine. It may be overpriced, but this place is more about style than substance, with great views of the city’s skyline.
3 Kazanskaya Ulitsa. Tel: 937 6837