Since I was travelling in New York on Valentine’s Day, Logan and I had a belated celebration at Mari Vanna in Dupont Circle a few days after I returned. We had heard from a few friends that Mari Vanna boasted very authentic Russian food and an ambiance that would rank high on my scale of approval. With those two opinions up in the air, this was a surefire bet to please us both. How could we not?
Mari Vanna was the coziest, most adorable atmosphere one could have ever procured. If Anthropologie were commissioned to design a Russian restaurant, this would be it. Dangling, white chandeliers contrasted with exposed brick and antiqued furniture to fill the room with an easy brightness, and all my favorite decorative highlights of florally patterned linens, stark-white doilies, and bohemian china gave me a sense that this might actually be someone’s comfy home as a restaurant-in-disguise.
We were seated by one of the windows, intimately excluded from the spirited, cozy crowd that night filling nearly every seat in the main dining room and upstairs. The jovial man on an accordion hopped around periodically, stopping everyone mid-conversation to add even more to the vibe. Loved it.
With a massive selection of house-made vodkas, I knew I had to sample a sip of something at Mari Vanna, and went for the grusha. A potent cocktail featuring pear-infused vodka made in house, mixed with elderflower liqueur (amongst a few other things I can no longer recall) and served with Prosecco, it is safe to say I was heavily tipsy after about half of this refreshing bad boy. Very nice. I’d definitely order this again!
My addiction to the bread basket at dinner is real and it is rough, so when the bread arrived, my heart began to race with all of the emotions in my carb-loving body. Radishes, green onion, sunflower oil, salt? Where is the butter? What is a girl to do with all of these things? I texted Karel, my Siberian-tiger of a bestie, who advised us to add some salt and green onion with each bite. Actually, this proved extremely yummy, and bonus points for not feeling as terrible about myself as I usually do with my generous smears of butter.
We ordered the meat blinis ($15), traditional pan-fried Russian roll-ups featuring ground beef and a side of sour cream. Like mini Russian burritos, the blinis were really freakin’ tasty and I was sad to see them all disappear so quickly but a hungry gal’s gotta do what a hungry gal’s gotta do. Bai. Up next was a precious pot of Siberian pelmini ($17), traditional, hand-made Russian dumplings filled with seasoned ground meats and veggies, made in an extremely laborious process. A nice little fact I just learned after perusing the internets on Russian cuisine: the meat-filled pelmini are not to be confused with vareniki, which are the veggie counterpart. Anyway, as a dumpling aficionado I was pleased with these adorable little bites, some with a bigger kick of dill than the others, and all without a doubt dipped in sour cream.
Knowing we couldn’t survive off of small plates and small plates alone, we also ordered the black cod entree ($25) to share. The salty crispiness of the skin contrasting with the buttery smoothness of the meat is done really well here, and the kicks of balsamic and olive oil are excellent accent notes to this delicate fish. I also really liked the grilled tomato that came alongside.
No meal is complete without dessert, so we shared the most traditional Russian dessert recommended to us by the staff, the medovik ($10), a honey cake topped with a lovely, powdered-sugar bumblebee. One of the most popular cakes in Russia, it alternates thin, delicate layers of honey cake and a sour-cream like filling. Super delicious, but extra rich. I’m talking so rich and hearty that after a full blown meal, it only took a few bites of this and I was all set.
If I’m ranking just the scene which is unparalleled with it’s gorgeous decor and upbeat ambiance, I’ve gotta have it. And if I’m ranking it as solely a special occasion, I’d say that I loved my experience here. However, in the broader scheme of of the meal and when considering my return, I’ve decided that I just liked it. While it was delicious in all aspects, I will say that I was a little put off by it’s final price tag at three of three $$$, that didn’t quite match my expectations based on what was consumed. But, while I might not necessarily splurge on a full shebang of a meal again, I’m certainly returning for drinks and small plates (ie. DFD. Dumplings for Days).
Pro tip: Definitely order some vodka, and check out the super cool vintage toilets that extend to the ceilings in the bathrooms. Random pro tip, but definitely cool.
1141 Connecticut Avenue NW