THE DISH: Ne Grusti!
Ne Grusti!//15 Zagorodny Prospket//Tel. 713 3215//Open daily 11 a.m. to midnight//Menu in Russian and English//Lunch for two without alcohol 2,520 rubles ($84)
Published: February 6, 2013 (Issue # 1745)
A moody mouthful
“I know a place with a great eel roll by Vladimirskaya” was probably not on anyone’s tongue before the opening of Ne Grusti! And it probably still isn’t, but since the restaurant only opened in December, it may just be a matter of time. Thank goodness we ignored the recommendations of the waiter, who told us he didn’t like fish and suggested the Olivier salad and the T-bone steak.
Ne Grusti!, like so many hybridized, bastardized ethnic restaurants in the city, is not so much Japanese as Japanese-themed. The sushi menu comprises all of three rolls — California, Philadelphia and eel, though each can be ordered in “hot” and “baked” variants. Trusting the opinion of our self-proclaimed sushi-hating waiter, we went with the “hot” eel roll (400 rubles, $13.40), and were rewarded with a delightfully crispy, tempura-fried roll of eel, cucumber and a bit of mayonnaise festively colored with pink fish roe.
The waiter’s antipathy toward fish is understandable if all he has tried is the restaurant’s salmon tartare (270 rubles, $9). The bland, dubiously fresh mixture of chopped raw salmon and cabbage served with toast had to be liberally punched up with salt and lemon juice in order not to be ignored altogether. The grilled squid, (350 rubles, $11.70) served with pearl onions, a white sauce and a few red pepper flakes, was not overcooked but also lacked flavor. Like a concession from the chef, it was accompanied by a large, artistically carved lemon wedge. A better choice might be the eggplant salad with croutons (170 rubles, $5.70), a cold eggplant and tomato relish that the waiter was kind enough to bring us to sample as we contemplated the menu. (In a show of concern for table service that is still rare for Russia, the waiter was attentive throughout the meal, and bussed our table vigorously.)
Perhaps the waiter was on to something with his leaning toward the meatier dishes. The pork tenderloin with potato omelet (500 rubles, $16.70) was a winner. Chunks of pork were paired with potato gratin and a tart cherry sauce, a satisfying combination of classic, if un-Japanese, flavors.
As any Japanese-themed restaurant in St. Petersburg should do, Ne Grusti! also offers pasta dishes (about 300 rubles, $10), borsch (250 rubles, $8.30), beer snacks and a kids’ menu, which tempts little ones with dishes such as “The Goldfish” (150 rubles, $5) and “Hut on Chicken Legs” (200 rubles, $6.70).
Tempura-fried bananas (250 rubles, $8.35) capped the meal, as our first choice of meringue with raspberries was unavailable. Served with chocolate sauce, the bananas were what they promised to be, though could have done with a cold scoop of ice cream.
The drink menu at Ne Grusti! is more extensive than the food, with all the liquor you could ask for, an assortment of shots and cocktails priced around 350 rubles ($11.65) each, and three red and three white wines by the glass, going for around 250 rubles ($8.30), as well as mostly exorbitantly priced bottles. A pot of sencha Japanese green tea (150 rubles, $5) did for our Sunday lunch.
While our table was the only one occupied when we stepped in at about 1 p.m., a few more tables had filled up by the time we left. The restaurant, with its small bar and double-sided drink menu, might well be a pleasant venue for an evening drink (and an eel roll).
The restaurant’s name — Russian for “don’t be sad” — is exemplified in the décor, which, with its fringe curtains, plush heart mobiles and red wallpaper that could have come out of the boudoir of Catherine the Great, is a mix of cozy and cheesy, dance club meets love shack, complete with the ever-present flat screen TVs playing muted music videos.
Perhaps a better name for the restaurant would be, “Don’t be ambivalent!” as this was our chief emotion upon leaving Ne Grusti! A hit-and-miss menu can’t be fixed by even the most conscientious of wait staff and endearingly offbeat interior.