Thursday, November 22, 2012


NaZdorovie! That means, "enjoy your meal" and not the toast when you're clinking the shots of infused vodka at Onegin, a magnificent Russian restaurant located in the heart of NYC's Greenwich Village.  Pronounced, "pa-ye'-kha-lee", the correct toast translates to "Let's get started".  Considering that Onegin creates their own infused vodkas, not to be confused with "flavored vodkas", this was said with the first of 12 to taste.
 Left to right. Cucumber mint, cherry, citrus (a combo of lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit) and horseradish (that's a gherkin on the top).  Each is a little more than an ounce.

Let me first get to the decor.  Enter, samovar to the left, samovar to the right and a 200-year-old bar made of Ukrainian birch straight ahead. Seating varies from tables with cushion chairs, booth tables with "couch" like seating equipped with pillows, and grand cushioned Russian throne chairs near the bar.

We've heard of the expression "writing on the wall" to mean, "imminent doom".  It also means, "the future is determined", which is a better way of describing your desire to dine at Onegin.  Yes, you will see writing on the walls, tables and some of the ceilings.  Eugune Onegin is the Russian novel in verse written by Alexander Pushkin and to whom the restaurant is dedicated.  Check out the ceiling in the middle (where the groups tend to dine) and you will see the likeness of Pushkin along with ornate chandeliers.

It's time to get to the food (and four more vodkas).  I made it a point to order only cold and hot appetizers, as I wanted the most in variety for tasting.  Herring Under Fur Coat Salad (shuba), consisted of layers of  chopped herring (they smoke the fish on the premises), eggs, beets, vegetables and potatoes.
Holodets is prepared with boiled beef legs. When the liquid is cooled, it becomes a gelatin substance. In this dish, chicken, vegetables and egg is added before the cooling process.  It's served with a beet horseradish and mustard made on the premises.
Russian potato salad "Olivier", is more than your average potato salad as you should expect peas, carrots, and eggs added along with pickles, red peppers and some other great flavors.
There are a few types of blinis that you will encounter with Russian cuisine.  One of them, rather "floury" and bland, looks like a small round pancake.  The other is more like a slightly sweet crepe and used here.  I combined two of the blini appetizers, one with cured wild salmon, the other with red caviar (salmon caviar).  Add some sour cream ( a must in Russian cuisine) and chopped eggs, chives and greens. 
Combine beets, cabbage, peas, carrots and gherkins for a rather flavorful Roasted Beet Salad "Vinegret".
Now we're ready for the next four shots of vodka: cranberry and red currant; strawberry; honeydew melon and tarragon; and peach and caramel. I bet you never thought that vodka could be so delicious.

One more cold one before we get to a few soups.  Chicken Liver Pate is not your mother's chopped liver.  the slices of pate are topped with a fig "confiture" served with grapes and toasted baguette.
Let's take a break in the action with a few acknowledgements.  Needless to say that the restaurant would not run as well if it weren't for General Manager Jacob Ryvkin.  However, it's Executive Chef Lovely Sandou that deserves most of the credit. Wouldn't you say?
And now we're onto a few soups.  If you've ever purchased a bottle of Borscht, beet juice and beets are the contents.  Borscht, however, can be tomato paste-based and center on a pork or beef broth.  I tend to have my borscht cold using the basic beets and adding a dollop of sour cream.  In many Russian restaurants like Onegin, you'll find that a hot borscht does not center on beets adding vegetables such as cabbage and carrots, along with small chunks of beef.  Did I tell you that sour cream is big with Russian cuisine? Kind of like the way parmesan cheese is sprinkled on Italian food.  A second soup, Russian Smokehouse Stew "Solyanka", was sampled as well.  The soup had small chunks of smoked meats along with olives, and gherkins, in a beef based broth.  A bit on the salty side.  One should take advantage of their tasty Russian breads that accompanies the meal.

It's time for the last four shots of vodka.  Left. to right.  Apricot caramel, apple-cinnamon, horseradish-beets, and one infused with cayenne pepper.  The horseradish-beet had more of a kick than the horseradish. At least I think so. I did taste the one with the cayenne pepper but there would be no way that I would shoot it down without having a shot of heavy cream to counteract it!

You have to eat if you're drinking vodka!  Dumplings and Pierogis.  There are two varieties of dumplings; Pelmini and Vareniki.  The Pelmini ilk have meat such as chicken or veal, while the Vareniki contain what would be equivalent to mashed potatoes and a thinner "shell".  Served with sour cream.  The meat Perogis are baked in their brick oven giving them a nice soft, crunchy texture. 
Onegin may not be serving tea out of the samovar but elegance reigns here.  To begin, the selection is presented in something that I have never seen before.  It sort of resembles a laptop. Opened, the bottom portion has samples encased in glass with a screw top.  Not only can you view the loose tea, you can smell the top to get the aroma.  The screen reveals the name and description of each of the teas.  Now, that's already "cool".  Teas are placed in these colorful tea pots and served in tall glasses with a spoon.  Sugar cubes, lemon, and a few other sweets accompany the tea. 

Have I mentioned desserts?  We got a multi-layer sour cream cake; apple strudel with vanilla ice cream; chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream; and halvah.  The halvah was a surprise regarding the consistency.  I'm used to having the usual soft and slightly chewy sort made by Joyva.  A creation of the chef, this one, although has the base of the common sesame seeds, contains sunflowers and pistachios, incorporated into and ice cream!  Frozen halvah!

Treat yourself to Onegin's banquet on a Friday or Saturday evening.  With a minimum of 4 people you can taste much of the menu with this multi course Russian feast (Zastoilie) while dancers are entertaining.  It's a party in itself with a price of $95 per person and well worth it.  For reservations, call 212-924-8001 and be sure to check out the website of 


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