THE DISH: Retro Active

THE DISH: Retro Active

Zig Zag // 59/92 Ulitsa Gorohovaya / Tel. 314 3400 // Daily 12 p.m.-1 a.m. // Dinner for two with alcohol: 1,630 rubles ($50.70)

Published: June 11, 2013 (Issue # 1763)

You may feel a little Peggy Olson or a tad Don Draper as you relax in the housewife-meets-hipster interior at Zig Zag. With a menu designed by New York “food expert” Natalie Cortez, the food is strong enough not to be overshadowed by the clever design, and the prices, while fully 21st century, are reasonable.

The hyped-up retro vibe is accented with details like 50s-esque tiles on the bathroom wall, retro tableware and the glass display case we kept knocking our elbows against that housed vintage-looking, owl-shaped matryoshka dolls.

Our first inclination was an order of calamari to start (250 rubles, $7.78), but the waitress informed us they were out — a disappointment, but better to be out of fresh than serve frozen. She recommended the shrimp fritters with remoulade sauce (290 rubles, $9) instead, but we took things in a different direction and opted for that American cocktail classic, deviled eggs. The hors d’oeuvre was given an interesting twist with the subtle addition of smoked salmon (170 rubles, $5.30), which we agreed was an evolutionary change for the better.

Zig Zag’s mixologist has come up with an inspired cocktail menu, featuring aperitif, “timeless classic,” “popular modern,” “long strong,” and dessert drinks. Some drinks list house-made cardamom vodka and lavender syrup among their ingredients.

The “Americano” aperitif (200 rubles, $6.20), a straightforward blend of vermouth, Campari and grapefruit juice, would seem anything but American. Perfectly highlighting the main, herbal ingredient, the glass was deep enough to last throughout the meal.

A cocktail and a burger — it could be the New York influence, but there is something undeniably satisfying about that combination. The beef burger (380 rubles, $11.80) approached the artisanal American burger in intention if not in execution, but it was a laudable attempt. Served on a seeded bun, the well-grilled patty was topped with bacon, cheddar, shallots, shredded lettuce and a tangy, mayonnaise-based sauce. While all the ingredients add up to the best of this American classic, the burger was still in firmly Russian territory, the cheddar and bacon being pale imitations of their robust, authentic selves. The burger itself was overcooked and the meat too finely ground — the usual undoing of a Russian burger’s texture.

It was also served with a small ramequin of apple chutney, a rather confusing addition that did nothing for the burger or for the French fry garnish. Called a “potato fry-pie” (180 rubles, $5.60), the waitress described the restaurant’s version of French fries as “like French fries, but really small.” She wasn’t kidding. Expecting a pile of shoestring potatoes, or perhaps a grated potato galette, half the plate was covered in tiny threads of fried potato that offered none of the satisfaction of normal fries.

We ventured to another region of burger country with the turkey burger (360 rubles, $11.19), served with Camembert, bacon, beets and pear chutney. The burger appeared to be missing the top half of the bun when the waitress brought it out, but we decided it was intentional. The extra bread wasn’t missed, as the burger itself, flecked with fresh herbs, was thick and juicy. The Camembert was scarce, though, and the beets on the sweet side when paired with the fruit chutney.

Other American nostalgia dishes on the menu include the Cobb salad with grilled chicken (340 rubles, $10.57), sweet potatoes — pureed as a side (180 rubles, $5.60) and in a pie for dessert (240 rubles, $7.46) — as well as angels’ and devils’ food cakes (250 and 290 rubles, $7.76 and $9.02).

The dessert menu also features a list of house-made sorbets and ice creams. While the dessert wine gele (210 rubles, $6.53) was intriguing, we decided to cleanse the palette with the Prosecco sorbet (120 rubles, $3.73). That ended up backfiring, as the sorbet — an utterly refreshing idea — and the swirl of meringue it was served on was a hundred times too sweet. With our mouths thoroughly coated in a sugary film, we wished we hadn’t declined the tea or coffee the waitress offered.

Going against the “Mad Men” vibe but to our general enjoyment, Zig Zag is an entirely non-smoking establishment. Besides the main dining room, there’s also a cozier lounge room in the back, and a glass-walled kids play area so mommy can enjoy her cocktails while keeping an eye on junior.

Cozy up to Zig Zag’s bar for a selection of the same beers that you might find at a pub, such as a Gaffel Kolsch (240 rubles, $7.46) from Cologne, but in a heightened atmosphere. Add to that good pours of reasonably priced wines, and Zig Zag might leave you walking out in that same formation following an after-work drink, or three.

The music deserves special mention as well — the mix of French retro pop and Motown had us tapping our feet and reaching for our phones to “Shazam” more than once.

While there are plenty of restaurants in the city with admirable interiors and thoughtful menus, Zig Zag has that punch of soul that most are lacking; A spark of life that, until you find it, you didn’t realize you missed.

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