Grape and Grain
Vinograd//47 Ulitsa Marata//Tel: 333 4747//Menu in English and Russian//Meal for two with a cocktail, 2,900 rubles ($103)//Open midday to 1 a.m. (3.a.m. Wednesday to Saturday)
Published: June 22, 2011 (Issue # 1662)
Pan-Asian restaurants are still a rare species in St. Petersburg, although the trend is booming and blooming across the globe. The most popular ethnic cuisine locally has long been Italian — if you discard the myriads of faceless sushi bars where just about everything tastes like paper — and the trend does not look likely to change any time soon. Still, the arrival of Vinograd (Grape) cafe is a sign that the city’s dining scene is keen to pick up on the novelty of Pan-Asian cuisine, with its appealing contrasts between sweet and sour and creamy and spicy.
Vinograd’s chef blends ingredients from Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cuisine to create sophisticated exotic fare such as duck breast with raspberry and maracuja (640 rubles, $22.70), black cod with miso and ginger (890 rubles, $31.50) and udon soup with three kinds of pork (240 rubles, $8.50).
The menu is not limited to Pan-Asian fare, however. Vinograd serves up portions of international bestsellers such as Caesar salad with chicken (340 rubles, $12) or salmon (360 rubles, $12.70); salad of fresh vegetables with king prawns, grapefruit and pomelo (360 rubles, $12.70); a range of carpaccios (360 to 450 rubles, or $12.70 to $15.90); Neapolitan-style tomato soup (220 rubles, $7.80); salmon steak (480 rubles, $17) and dorada with spinach (530 rubles, $18.80).
On a Saturday afternoon, the venue was surprisingly almost deserted, with the exception of a handful of couples sharing their meals. The waitress explained that the place typically fills up in the evening, with a major attraction being the cafe’s live music program that features popular local DJs from Wednesdays through Saturdays.
The restaurant’s seating options differ greatly, from niches designed for only two diners to sleek and stylish rooms in which black and white photography adorns the walls and wrought-iron lamps are decorated with empty wine bottles.
We chose to start with the udon soup, which turned out to be a meal in itself and would easily feed two diners. The pork came in the form of fried bacon, crispy scratchings and stewed ribs. The dark salty broth had a divine aroma and deserves special praise for lacking both oily patches and a fatty taste.
The duck breast with salad, raspberries and maracuja (520 rubles, $18.50) was warm, thinly sliced and delicately cooked with a tender texture. The zest of fresh fruit provided a pleasant contrast to the salty duck, and the dish would make an excellent choice for a summer lunch or dinner when seeking to avoid heavy and filling dishes.
The tuna steak with truffle sauce (640 rubles, $22.70) left its recipient delighted. The chef was generous with the size of the portion, and the four chunky slices of steak were fresh and lightly cooked, just as requested.
In some restaurants, chefs tend to be somewhat stingy with the truffle sauce, which can at times be almost impossible to detect, or sprinkled so sparsely over the dish that one wonders if the effort was worth the trouble. At Vinograd, the sauce — rich, thick and aromatic — is served separately in a small bowl and in a quantity that was declared “fully satisfying.”
Vinograd’s dessert menu is not to be missed, as it blends classics such as tiramisu (230 rubles, $8) and cheesecake (220 rubles, $7.80) with original dishes. Cold cappuccino (150 rubles, $5.30) was served in a large cup topped with a bottomless layer of coffee mousse and vanilla ice-cream — an unbeatable summer option.
While there are currently few Pan-Asian eateries in the city and even fewer bastions of Thai cuisine, the former at least appear to be gaining popularity.
Chin Chin Cafe
In addition to gastronomic delights such as Cantonese duck, dim sum and wontons, Chin Chin boasts a drop-dead view over the Hermitage and the Neva River as well as an excellent wine list.
3 Mytninskaya Naberezhnaya. Tel: 232 1042.
King Pong Cafe
The menu at King Pong encompasses Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and Singapore cuisines, with an emphasis on spring rolls and dim sum. Ping Pong’s chef appears to have a predilection for sweet and sour, which will delight some more than others.
16 Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa. Tel: 315 8256
Mops offers authentic food prepared by native Thai chefs. The service is top-notch and the decor is modern black-and-white. The signature dish here is Bangkok duck. While the spring rolls and curries are recommended, the portions are smaller than they would be in Thailand and the spicy dishes are somewhat milder.
12 Ulitsa Rubinshteina. Tel: 572 3834.