THE DISH: Seaside sustenance

THE DISH: Seaside sustenance

Vinaigrette//9 Morskaya Naberezhnaya//Tel: 355 1867//Open daily from noon till midnight//Menu in Russian and English//Lunch for two without alcohol 2,260 rubles ($78)

Published: September 14, 2011 (Issue # 1674)

This cute and quirky dacha-style restaurant stands out in the concrete jungle that is this part of town, dominated by improbably huge Soviet-era residential buildings and student hostels. Vinaigrette’s interior is very colorful and welcoming, with bright green and red walls, multi-colored curtains, modern pine tables and incredibly comfortable stone-colored armchairs. The restaurant is neatly divided into two levels; the upper floor is however rather dingy, as it lacks the light provided by the large windows downstairs.

Vinaigrette’s location right on the shore of the Gulf of Finland is not as fortunate as it may sound. Firstly, a rather long journey is required to reach it. From Primorskaya metro station, it is about a 30-minute walk, though mashrutkas can be taken from Ulitsa Odoyevskogo. Secondly, the sea breeze can be felt distinctly inside the restaurant, and rather worryingly, the walls can be heard shaking, giving the impression that the flimsy building may fall down or be blown away at any moment. Fortunately, however, cozy shawls are provided by the establishment, and our waitress assured us that heating was due to be installed on Sept. 12.

Despite the fact that the restaurant is named after a classic Russian beetroot salad, and that four types of cuisine (Russian, Italian, Uzbek and Thai) are advertised on the web site, there is a distinct lack of choice on the menu. The limited selection does, however, boast an interesting mixture of flavors to suit all taste buds, and all the dishes are very neatly presented. Furthermore, our waitress was more than happy to make recommendations.

The non-alcoholic pina colada (300 rubles, $10.40) was divine and incredibly fruity. Unfortunately, the strawberry milkshake (also 300 rubles) was rather tasteless in comparison. Milkshakes can be made from any fruit listed on the menu. Advertised as a “chef’s special,” the tomato soup with chestnuts (190 rubles, $6.60) was delectable and the pesto topping perfect, though there was unfortunately a distinct lack of chestnuts. The mixed salad with Camembert, strawberries and berry sauce (260 rubles, $9) was very interesting and certainly worth trying, though the mixture of sweet and savory may not be to everyone’s liking. Unfortunately, the balance of ingredients was not perfect: There was a definite lack of cheese and strawberries, but more than enough berry sauce, which was very rich and sickly after a while.

Sadly, the main courses were also a mixed bag. The pork in sweet and sour sauce (280 rubles, $9.70) was excellent: Lean, not too rich and accompanied with plentiful stir-fry vegetables. The egg noodles (100 rubles, $3.45) were unusually thick, but made a winning combination with the pork all the same. By contrast, the “homemade special” marbled beef Stroganoff with cep mushrooms and mashed potato (370 rubles, $12.80) turned out to be anything but special. The meat was very chewy, and, quite frankly, inedible. Our otherwise very efficient waitress had a Western style of asking “How is your food?” during every course, but when my companion complained about the beef and the waitress promised to take up the matter with the chef, it was not mentioned again. The item therefore remained on the bill, and nothing was offered in exchange.

Fortunately for those with a sweet tooth, the selection of desserts is ample, and the previous dishes are not so filling as to preclude sampling something. Another bonus is the fact that there is a 30-percent discount on all desserts when ordering them to take out. The lemon tart (190 rubles, $6.60) was truly scrumptious: The lemon flavor was not too sharp, and there was plenty of crust. The cranberry mousse (150 rubles, $5.20) was tasteless, but light and fluffy all the same. Its accompanying scoop of blackberry sorbet however, with a thin piece of shortbread neatly placed underneath, was bursting with fruity flavor and more than made up for the disappointing mousse.

Vinaigrette is pricey considering the small size of the portions, but is worth trying if you happen to be in the area. Moreover, the friendly atmosphere and cozy decor make lazing around there very tempting.

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