THE DISH: Easy Does It
Nihao // 78 Nevsky Prospekt // Tel. 612 8501 // Open 11am-3am, 6am on weekends // Dinner for two with alcohol: 1,382 rubles ($43.90)
Published: May 22, 2013 (Issue # 1760)
Nihao’s calm interior and excellent food makes it an especially good spot to relax.
Other than a huge greasy breakfast, nothing tames a hangover quite like a dim sum brunch. The combination of sweet, salty and sour cuts through the fog of a muzzy head while providing a boatload of calories in easy to manage, bite-sized bits.
After a night spent celebrating the pan-European love fest that is Eurovision, and without a proper breakfast anywhere in sight, we headed to Nihao, the latest entry on Nevsky Prospekt’s ever-expanding list of Asian eateries.
Meaning “hello” in Chinese, Nihao was as welcoming as its name suggests. Greeted with a smile and gently guided to one of the tables with a view of the street, we fell appreciatively into the blissfully comfortable chairs. The subtly decorated, earth-toned dining rooms, with a splash of color provided by a wall of outsized bird-covered wallpaper, was perfectly calm on a Sunday afternoon. An eclectic mix of Chinese, Country-Western and electronic jazz covered the subdued buzz of nearby diners.
Having already decided that dim sum was what was wanted, we passed by options like crispy ham hock and shredded pork ear salad as being a bit more than our fragile state would allow, and set about choosing a selection of the classic small dishes that are found in Chinatowns around the world.
It didn’t take long before a friendly waitress was at our side, her genuine smile helping smooth away the jagged edges of our frazzled nerves. We quickly ordered an assortment of small pates, much to the delight of the waitress, whose eyes began to bulge in mock horror by the time we got to our final selection.
Drinks arrived quickly after that, and while the restaurant was out of the unfiltered wheat beer that tempted one of us, it was easily replaced by a large glass of Heineken on tap (180 rubles, $5.72) and a fresh lemon juice (150 rubles, $4.47). As if hearing our thoughts about possibly being presented with a tall glass of pure lemon juice strong enough to strip the enamel from our teeth, the waitress dutifully appeared to ask how we would like it prepared, and then brought out a deliciously astringent, fresh lemonade that was neither too tart nor too sweet.
The dishes soon began arriving from the kitchen in quick succession and before long we were trying to find room on the table for the various steamer baskets and plates of filled buns.
First out of the gate was an order of crystal shrimp dumplings (298 rubles, $9.47). Looking like nothing so much as a quartet of miniature jellyfish, their translucent skin allowed the pinks and greens of the filling to peek through, beckoning us to dive in. The dumplings required a bit of work to free from the paper doily that lined the steamer basket, but were so tender and flavorful that it was only a minor detail that we ended up eating a bit of paper along with the perfectly cooked shrimp.
Next to arrive was a plate of pan-fried pork dumplings (180 rubles, $5.72) and steamed buns filled with beef (158 rubles, $5). The generous portion of dumplings sat like golden coins on a long plate and gave off a warming scent of ginger even before they made it into our mouths. The filling was tender and spiked with green onions to sharpen the mellow flavor of the pork.
The buns, however, were only average. The best that can be said of them is that the spongy dough would act as a filling and inexpensive way to stave off the last stages of starvation.
Having forgotten by this point what else we had ordered, we were surprised when the smiling waitress delivered a plate of sesame cakes filled with pork (118 rubles, $3.75) and an order of pork dumplings topped with caviar (298 rubles, $9.47).
The sesame cakes were one of the hits of the day, with a tender crumbling pastry that was filled with a slippery tangle of red onion and bits of steamed pork and topped with a crunchy coating of nutty sesame seeds. The pork dumplings were also surprisingly tasty, and while the red and black Tobiko caviar they were topped with would normally indicate a seafood filling, the egg-colored dough encased a perfectly cooked morsel of pork that was delightfully smoky.
By this point dessert was out of the question, although tempting in its array of traditional Asian sweets, with more European offerings presented as a separate listing. We pulled ourselves out of the chairs with some difficulty, taking a card as we went because the waitress had informed us that Nihao delivers. Had we known that beforehand we might have chosen to stay in and nurse our hangovers in private. But in the end we were glad that we had made the effort and were rewarded with such a pleasant and soothing dining experience.