THE DISH: Graf-in
Graf-in//4 Konnogvardeisky Boulevard//Tel. 601 0160//Open 8 a.m. to midnight Monday to Thursday//(from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. at weekends)//Menu in English and Russian//Lunch for two without alcohol 1,870 rubles ($60)
Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)
All that glitters
To the seemingly never-ending yellow building on Konnogvardeisky Boulevard that is also home to the upscale restaurants Stroganoff Steak House and Russian Vodka Room No. 1 — owned by the Svoi v Gorode restaurant group — now comes Graf-in. But the similarities between the newcomer and the established favorites end with their location.
Stroganoff Steak House, which enjoys the reputation of one of the best steakhouses — if not the best — in the city, is not cheap, and nor is its Russian twin, which attracts well-heeled tourists with its traditional Russian dishes and adjacent vodka museum, guaranteed to pull in the crowds. Yet local gourmets consistently return to the restaurants because they offer excellent food, generally accompanied by good service.
Sadly, Graf-in appears to have neither of these attributes, though that has not stopped it from boldly matching its neighbors’ prices.
The food was late and disappointing, and the portions meager. From the Thai section of the menu, vegetable soup (220 rubles, $7), was oily and ordinary, rather than spicy as promised.
Spinach cream soup (250 rubles, $8) was fresh, but the small portion disappeared in a matter of seconds, a feat made possible by the fact that it was only vaguely hot when served.
Likewise, the fact that the temperature of the vegetable lasagne with Parmesan and Mozzarella (370 rubles, $12) became distinctly cooler toward the middle of the dish set alarm bells — in the form of the pinging of a microwave — ringing in our heads. In addition, the dish contained more cheese and béchamel sauce than vegetables, making it somewhat sickly.
Duck leg with mashed potato (580 rubles, $18.50) was in fact two duck legs — though again, it was still not the most generous portion, especially in light of the price. While it was inoffensive enough, it was certainly nothing to write home about.
Worse than the food, however, was the unbelievably slow service.
The 150-ruble ($4.80) bread basket had long been devoured even before drinks were served, not to mention the appetizers, which actually had to be sought out to be sure they had not been forgotten, so long were they in coming. Most frustrating was the wait staff’s apparent reluctance to bring the bill. Graf-in offers both a breakfast menu (8 a.m. to 12 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends) and a three-course business lunch for 250 rubles ($8), but only those with the slackest of work schedules and most relaxed of bosses would be advised to take advantage of these offers on a work day.
It is less surprising than it should be that Graf-in has, in spite of all this, attracted a steady stream of clients since it opened in July. The road outside its glass-covered terrace is consistently double parked with flashy vehicles, making for an incongruous contrast with the neighboring trolleybus park.
The enclosed glass terrace is popular with well turned-out young women sinking back into the comfortable sofas and armchairs to smoke hookah pipes and drink cocktails, at any time of day — and at any time of year (fleece blankets are provided). They are perhaps enticed in by the huge peacock-adorned lamp bases that flank the terrace, or by the cavernous interior, with its chic whitewashed walls and multitude of glass lightshades, or perhaps even by the automobile fashion show outside itself. Either way, this is regrettably less a sign of deserved popularity than of yet another local eatery with more style than substance.