Translation from English

Monday, July 29, 2013

Interesting looking spot...Mari Vanna

While I was in the "Flatiron District" I noticed this interesting looking place, and people eating there seemed to be having a great time.

What can I tell you? I have no idea what Yelp reviews will say if there are any... well, it is Russian place and while some go out of their way to tell you how much they LOVE it, a couple of others are "disappointed."

So maybe you should go expecting to find a nice place but not expecting too not expect to LOVE it!

Mari Vanna

4.0 star rating
176 reviews Rating Details
Category: Russian
41 E 20th St
(between Broadway & S Park Ave)
New York, NY 10003
Neighborhood: Flatiron
(212) 777-1955
Make a Reservation
Nearest Transit Station:
23 St (4, 6, 6X)
23 St (N, R)
14 St - Union Sq (N, Q, R)
Mon-Wed, Fri-Sat 12 pm - 2 am
Thu 12 pm - 12 pm
Sun 11 am - 2 am
Accepts Credit Cards:
Price Range:
Good for Groups:
Good for Kids:
Takes Reservations:
Waiter Service:
Outdoor Seating:
Good For:
Full Bar
Noise Level:
Has TV:
Wheelchair Accessible:

Review Highlights   What's this?

  • "They have possibly the best beef stroganoff in the city." In 20 reviews
  • "I had a horseradish infused vodka shot which was excellent ($9." In 20 reviews
  • "Blinis w/beef appetizer - 5*simple yet very flavorful." In 17 reviews
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176 reviews in English

  • Review from

    This is one of those very cute, quiet unpretentious, elegant provincial Russian Tea houses that needs no introduction unless of course you want to get in the  door... in that case you actually need know someone who has actually been there before and was cool enough to get a key to the front door.  Fortunate for me I came with a wonderful friend who just so happens to speak Russian from Russia and had a key. This can be useful given the fact that this is a Russian Tea house. I have little to compare my food experience given it was my first time eating traditional food.  But for the love of Mother Russia I dove in plate first to giant bread bowl of Borshe. It was different. It was tasty and I would have consumed more if it was not for the outstanding bread I was eating like I was little orphan annie who wanted dessert.

    Definite cool points can be given for the "free drink" for ladies however I we came a little early for the offer the waitress was kind enough to oblige. Beautiful decor and a accordion playing serenade, double cool! ( I am a little geeky) The crowd will dance and sing old tunes from time to time that brings tears of joy and laughter to your eyes.

    Unfortunately our leisurely conversation was cut short by the need to turn our table over to the next reservation. i was sad to leave especially in such a hurry but the bar was packed and kind people were waiting their turn to dine so off we set.

    On the way out there was a short discussion that sounded like arguing between my friend the uptight hostess (although that could just be the way her face looks) I was handed a key with some notable reluctance and a  firm scolding "Do not lose it!". I was again a cool kid on the block.

    Have key and will drink vodka. MIssion accomplished! Who wants to join me?
  • Review from

    We chose this restuarant over another Russian restaurant based on the reviews and we were disappointed.

    Firstly, the food, though palatable, was bland and unmemorable. Maybe Russian food is supposed to be bland? I must admit, this was my first attempt at Russian cusine, so I have no basis for comparison, but neither my boyfriend nor were impressed. He got the beef stroganof and I ordered the potato dumplings - so if you go, order something else.

    Secondly, the website is a little decieving in its depiction of the interior. The back is actually the prettiest section, so request that area. Towards the front of the restaurant, there is a lot less character. It's like this: it's like they took a cute Russian grandmother's house (the back of the restuarant) and they are slowly demolishing or remodeling it (the front the the restuarant). The space in between the front and back areas, the wallpaper is literally in shreds. It adds character so as to make the place not too frilly-girly, but it really is striking how shabby chic it looks in the back compared to the front.

    Lastly, service. It was not a particularly business Saturday night and it was early (6:00pm) so the slow service was baffling to me. We had to get the bus boy to get our check.
  • Review from

    I was disappointed.  I expected a 4 or 5 star experience, and really got a 3.

    First, you have to understand why we came here.  My girlfriend and I were seeing Cinderella, and this restaurant (unbenown to our server, apparently) is a partner and you could get a glass of free wine with your ticket.  More importantly though, my girlfriend is a big believer in themes and, given the show we were seeing, the theme was princesses or royalty.  We saw another Russian restaurant - Firebird - that looked like it was a place the Czars of Russia would eat, and since the Czar was Russian royalty, we latched on to that idea.  But in the research, this place did much better than Firebird, so we came here.

    So why was I disappointed?  Firstly, the pictures make it look much classier than it is.  It's cute, there's no doubt about that. It is not a dive and it is a nice and unique restaurant, but the photos fooled us into thinking it was more than it is.  Secondly, the server convinced us we were wrong about the Cinderella partner thing.  Thank god for iphones, because we finally pulled up the show's website and she had to show it to her manager before they would agree.  To their credit, they did realize we were right and we got our wine.

    Additionally, the food just wasn't spectacular.  I got the beef stroganof and she got some perogi-like traditional Russian cuisine stuffed with spinach, I think.  She liked hers more then I liked mine.  Its not that I disliked mine, its just that it didn't really do it for me.

    Also, our server disappeared after she took our order.  We saw her come back at one point to take the order of the people next to us, but never checked on us again.  We had to send a busboy around to find her so we could get our check.

    Finally, they really cram you in.  The table next to us was practically on top of us.  We may as well have been a party of 4 instead of 2 parties of 2.  I know its NYC and they have to - if they didn't, the food would be even more expensive - but considering nothing else was great, this was just another reason to be disappointed.

    I'd probably go so far as to give it a 2 if it wasn't for the fact that my girlfriend and I were having an excellent day and we weren't going to let anything take away from that.  The sub par service mixed with mediocre food would normally be enough to bring it down another notch, but we did have a good time and I did like my food; again, I just didn't love it.

    It was something different and we probably won't get Russian again for a long time, so I'm glad we tried, but my advice would be to skip it.
  • Review from

    It had been a while since I came across a 5-star experience but Mari Vanna lived up to every single expectation and then some!

    The ambiance is great, very hip yet homey, and lively. Service was excellent but we also had one of our friends order in Russian. The food was excellent!!

    I loved the salads - chopped and fresh! The crepes and stuffed puffs were amazing, especially the one with lettuce!!
    Listed in: NYC Finds
  • Review from

    • 5 friends
    • 1 review
    7/7/2013 1 check-in here
    Only if u have it...
  • Review from

    Great spot to come with a group of friends. Beware the crowd can be obnoxious and stereotypical at times but it all clean fun and part of the Eastern European front. Good food and an amazing selection of homemade vodkas. If you want to try authentic Russian food, I would suggest going to Brooklyn. But if you want to hangout with a group of friends over some drinks, this is your place.
  • Review from

    • 131 friends
    • 111 reviews
    4/22/2013 1 check-in here

    it feels like i'm in someone's grandma's house. crochet doilies, open cupboards, window panes with lace curtains, the works! i came here on a double date and this place didn't disappoint!

    okay so when i'm very excited about something, i tend to overdo it. this is my first with russian food (unless you count caviar and vodka) and i couldn't have picked a better place to pop my cherry.

    BORSCHT: LOVE. flavorful, not too beety-y, perfectly creamy with the sour cream.
    CURED HERRING: so good! the toasts are on the coarse side but i didn't mind.
    SIBERIAN PELMENI: OMGAHHHH! pork and beef dumplings. DELISH.
    POTATO VARENIKI: HELLO. potato dumplings. onions. mushroom sauce. GET THIS.
    CHICKEN KOTLETKI: chicken patties & mash. really good.
    GOLUBTZI: stuffed cabbage. not bad but i'd take the chicken over this.
    BEEF STROGANOFF: FAVE. best dish i've had here. SO GOOD!
    MEDOVIK (DESSERT): honey layered cake. not too sweet, slightly crumbly, perfect.
    HOUSE-INFUSED VODKA: i don't discriminate vodka - i wil drink any type of vodka out there. but i have to say, their house vodkas here goes down smooth like water. i had a couple of shots and didn't even flash my After-Shot-Ugly-Face.

    our waiter was super nice and patient. i was enamored by the decor and i couldn't stop telling him how much i loved it here haha he gave us a couple of rounds of shots of their house-infused vodka! super nice.

    it got pretty pricy for our party of four. (probably because we ordered like a million things!). it came out to almost $300. i would definitely go back though - just because i really, really LOVE this place.

  • Review from

    Had Sunday brunch here recently with a friend... I've passed by several times and always said "awwwwwwww so cute" to myself because it literally looks like an oversized dollhouse that hosts fancy tea parties. Apparently on the weekends- the female staff dresses up in traditional Russian dresses/costumes- which kinda goes their whimsical theme. It all sets the tone... their ambiance is quite unique in that respect.

    They do brunch buffet style and serve unlimited mimosas. Their food was ok, I particularly enjoyed their chicken stroganoff but I just felt what they served and how they served it didn't reflect their establishment. The buffet attendant was a young man in jeans and a t-shirt which was a little strange for such a fancy schmancy place. The food like I said was ok, but really basic, no frills buffet food - russian style.

    Service was standard.  If it wasn't for their pretty, dreamy space I'd probably knock down my rating to a solid two.
  • Review from

    • 18 friends
    • 59 reviews
    My Russian friend took me there.
    We had a wonderful time!

    I love all the food. the service. the environment. (not so much the bill lol)

    I got this red soup with beet and beef. Amazing! For the main course, I got shredded beef cooked with mushroom. Its a very heavy dish. God knows how much calories's in there... I'm pretty sure you can't finish it there. It'll still tastes great the 2nd day.

    My Russian friend said that some of the things on the menu are not authentic Russian. So I would suggest you to ask someone before you order :)
  • Review from

    • 0 friends
    • 1 review
    6/23/2013 1 check-in here
    I went to Mari Vanna last Monday and everything was perfect. It was a party night and everybody around had fun. The server Katia was very attentive and food was amazing. I'm Russian and usually not a fan of Russian places in America, but this one won me over. I will definitely come back and want to try brunch! Thank you Mari Vanna for great Job!
  • Review from

    3/17/2013 26 photos
    ** 3.5 stars **

    Disclaimer: my prior experience with Russian food is limited to Russian weddings, presumably not the best setting to cultivate an opinion about a cuisine.  Short of getting a home-cooked version or heading out of the country, Mari Vanna may be a reasonable next best.

    Never on my radar, Mari Vanna is the NYC outpost of a small chain with its first location in St. Petersburg.  I felt fantastically out of place the moment I walked in; unlike homely Sheepshead Bay, this restaurant attracts a young and well-attired Eastern European set.

    Ambience is a forte here.  The color palate is a pleasing mix of creams, whites, and pale woods.  The main dining room evokes an old-fashioned Russian living room, complete with china-lined worn white armoire, elegantly shaped chairs, crystal chandeliers, and ornate framed images adorning the walls.  We sat in the convivial bar area, which maintains the theme.  A row of bar-height tables sit across from the bar, beside an enormous white bookcase, and these provide a comfortable place to dine also.

    Vodka is undoubtedly their drink of choice, offering an impressive list of house-infused versions available in two carafe sizes or shots, or flights of shots.  The flavors feature mostly fruits (e.g., pear, pomegranate, apricot, cherry, pineapple, seaberry), some vegetables (e.g., cucumber & dill, beets, pepper), and others like horseradish and honey & nuts.  While vodka alone is far from an alcohol of choice for me, if drunk for the sake of the infused flavor, I'd have to say that Mari Vanna's flavors are quite good, especially the horseradish and cucumber & dill; fresh-tasting and not artificial.

    Theirs is a menu filled with traditional Russian foods prepared and presented in more upscale fashion.  I was frankly surprised by the ubiquity of sour cream and mayonnaise in so many dishes, apparently a norm.  Setting that aside, most were reasonably well-made and good to eat.  The Olivier salad of diced vegetables was refreshing, touched with sweet from mayo and salty from bologna.  The pretty Herring Under a Fur Coat layered vegetables, eggs, and herring, a delicious mix of flavors and textures and a personal favorite.

    Salt-cured pork fatback came on a board, each piece rolled up, in two types of seasonings or none at all, served with onions, raw garlic, mustard and rye.  Sure, pure fat is delicious to eat, but are you ready?  Followed by holodetz, a gelatinous soup of beef that was cold, with a mild beef flavor, perfect with horseradish.  Refresh between all the hearty food from an order of soleniya, a dish of assorted pickled vegetables.

    Basic thin blinis, to be filled with chopped eggs, red onions, salmon roe, and sour cream.  A giant pie filled with melted mozzarella and feta (khachapuri), hot with a nice crust.  The pelmeni were very much like Northern-style Chinese boiled dumplings (and may likely share some regional origin), house-made and good; it had the best presentation of the night, arriving in a stoneware pot covered with an old-fashioned oven mitt.  Yes, surprising what may delight me.

    Entrees were less interesting.  Chicken Kiev was unmemorable, the meat dry.  Beef Stroganoff was hearty and creamy but not compelling.  Better were the potato vareniki, like ravioli, in a light but flavorful mushroom sauce.  Likewise for the very good Russian-style skillet fried potatoes and mushrooms; missed the Russian connection but it was quite tasty.

    Desserts were less heavy than expected based on the preceding meal, and with a pleasantly light hand with sugar.  The sour cream and strawberry smetannik was smooth and gently tart, lovely.  The layered Medovik cake was nutty, the honey flavor restrained.  Their Napoleon was light and not to sweet, although I've had better elsewhere.

    Russian food is interesting and I'm curious to try more, but will be mindful of dishes selected as the abundance of cream, lack of greens, and general heaviness of the food can be overwhelming.  Also surprised that subtle flavors were more common than strong ones.  Will skip entrees in favor of trying more appetizers.  Overall, an enjoyable experience elevated by ambience and accessibility; Mari Vanna turned out to be a great restaurant to be properly introduced to Russian food, and worth returning to.