Time to savor Russian cuisine

At New York Palace in Bolton Hill, ambience includes a formal staff

April 25, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

DINNER at New York Palace is more of an event than a meal. So don't cross the threshold of this Franco-Russian eatery in a Bolton Hill high-rise expecting to grab a light bite in an hour.

The heavy, opulent fare requires serious digesting time, a fact not lost on the very formal staff. With much more time than normal elapsing between our courses (three), it took us almost three hours to finish dinner on a recent weekend night - and no rounds of vodka were involved.

What sets this restaurant apart from others I've reviewed has more to do with ambience than cuisine, for New York Palace serves as a vibrant social club for thousands of people here from the former Soviet Union - Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and the like.

A large group of people speaking Russian was wrapping up a baby shower when we arrived. By the time we left, two large parties of stylish young Russians had gathered around long tables laden with the beginnings of a full-scale banquet straight out of Doctor Zhivago.

Diners who stick around late in the evening can hit the dance floor, if they like, and boogie the night away to provocative, loud Russian videos shown on a wide-screen television. Those who prefer a mellower scene can sit in the bar - a few paces from the dining room.

As popular as the restaurant is with Russian emigres, non-Russians can have a good time here, too. Two of the restaurant's owners, Mike and Ina Tabakman, gleefully greeted us at the door and monitored our progress as each new plate of food arrived.

And the food was pretty tasty.

Appetizers included a luscious dough "basket" of escargot in a lightly flavored anise butter sauce. Normally, a $15.95 appetizer would make me blanch, but there were more than enough snails inside the basket to warrant the charge. The borscht Kiev was as fine as the beloved Russian cabbage standard gets; it was prepared Ukrainian-style with potatoes, dill and garlic. Three piping-hot, mildly spiced meat pierogi that were served on the side played well against the salty soup.

One of my companions ordered chicken Kiev to compare it to the dish she had come to know well while working in New York's famous Russian Tea Room. The key to the dish's success, she explained, would be whether juices spurted out of the stuffed chicken breast when it was pierced by a knife. Sure enough, there was a powerful squirt, and the dish turned out to be very good. The chicken breast was tender, stuffed with a rich parsley-butter-mushroom sauce, then deep-fried to greaseless perfection.

We had two fish entrees, a roasted salmon fillet served over mashed potatoes and accompanied by asparagus, and sturgeon Smirnoff. The salmon dish was fine; the sturgeon wasn't. The fishy taste of the sturgeon overwhelmed the delicate sauce made primarily of Smirnoff vodka, basil and cream.

After such a bacchanal, we barely had room for any of the small, pretty, ice-cream-filled French pastries from Patisserie Poupon.

OK, we had room for three or four or six. Then we wobbled onto the dance floor in hopes of burning the feast off.

New York Palace

Where: 1111 Park Ave.

Open: For dinner Fridays and Saturdays and on Sundays for brunch and dinner by request

Prices: Appetizers $5 to $15.95; entrees $12.75 to $22.95

Credit cards: MC, V

Call: 410-462-1662

Food: * * *

Service: * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * *

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