THE DISH: Tao Restaurant Bar Lounge
Tao Restaurant Bar Lounge//2 Konyushennaya Ploshchad//Tel. 983 57 57//www.taorestaurant.ru//Open Tuesday-Sunday noon to 1 a.m. (6 a.m. at weekends)//Dinner for two with alcohol 4,480 rubles ($144)
Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)
Dinner in Narnia
Stepping into Tao, the latest addition to the parade of hip, upscale eateries on Konyushennaya Ploshchad, off of the blustering streets of wintry St. Petersburg is something akin to climbing through the wardrobe and ending up in Narnia.
Upon entering the restaurant visitors find themselves in a small, dark cloakroom that is separated from the rest of the premises by heavy, black velvet curtains. This gives the establishment an air of mystery, as guests are left to dive blindly into the folds of fabric, without any idea of what awaits them on the other side. Upon surfacing, they may well feel as though they’ve landed in a James Bond movie set in some chic Asian city. A small bar is located near the door, with a DJ set up inconspicuously in the corner and glamorous couples sipping brightly colored cocktails sprinkled around the room.
The bar section is divided off from the rest of the restaurant, giving the initial appearance that the establishment is quite small. After rounding the corner, however, guests are immediately confronted with a rather spectacular series of dining rooms and a large (and slightly disproportionate) golden lion dominating the back wall. Giant turquoise clay pots are positioned in various corners, and several walls are decorated with intricately carved wooden latticework. To complete the scene, lamps are dotted throughout the room, topped with bright orange Chinese-lantern-inspired shades. The entire ensemble makes for an exotic, chic atmosphere. The clientele matches the mood perfectly. Everyone is fashionably dressed in accordance with the “smart casual” weekday dress code (“chic and fun” is required for weekend nights).
The Pan-Asian menu offers everything from foie gras with mango rolls to chicken noodle soup to Chilean sea bass. On the waiter’s recommendation, we started with the crispy duck salad (480 rubles, $15) and duck spring rolls (340 rubles, $11). The salad was adorned with pomegranate seeds and the duck in it was cooked to perfection, with a crunchy texture and a wonderful, sweet, almost cinnamon-inspired aftertaste. The spring rolls alone were rather uninspired but coupled with the sweet dipping sauce they certainly merit high praise. In typical Russian style, these appetizers were only brought once we were in the middle of our main course which consisted of ostrich fillet with Malaysian sauce (860 rubles, $28) and sea scallops with asparagus (740 rubles, $24). The ostrich fillet, very reminiscent of beef, was cooked to the perfect level of tenderness and the Malaysian sauce was thick and sweet, almost like sweet and sour sauce. Despite being marked with a single chili pepper on the menu (supposedly indicating a moderate level of spiciness), the dish lacked any sort of spice whatsoever. This was disappointing and mildly surprising since the chef, Ken Lee, is not a typical spice-averse Russian cook but a highly acclaimed master from Singapore. Nor were the sea scallops anything to write home about.
The jumbled meal of entrees and appetizers was followed by a slice of crispy chocolate cake (360 rubles, $11) and a serving of mascarpone with mango sauce and whipped cream (300 rubles, $9). The chocolate cake earned its “crispy” description from the layer of crunchy chocolate on the bottom of the slice, making for an interesting, although not unpleasant, texture. The side of homemade mango sorbet was everything sorbet should be and complimented the dessert perfectly. The mascarpone, on the other hand, was rather uninteresting, lacking any sort of distinguishing qualities.
Tao also offers an extensive wine list, although few wines are served by the glass. Prices range from 390 rubles ($12) for a standard glass of Malbec to 37,000 rubles ($1,199) for the restaurant’s most expensive red. Other spirits and cocktails are also offered.
While the food and service at Tao were both good, it seems as though patrons are paying for the atmosphere rather than the cuisine itself. This ultimately might not be such a bad deal, however, as the chic, exotic décor makes for a much-needed getaway from the cold, gray streets of St. Petersburg.