About halfway into our dinner at Nasha Rasha, a hostess wandered over to our table. She chatted briefly about the food, then offered to help us pose with Soviet-era memorabilia, including caps, guns, and jackets--a gesture that shows this restaurant's friendliness. Cartoonish portraits of Kennedy, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Ho Chin Min, Mao, and other not-so-funny figures decorate the walls beneath rows and rows of vodka. A flatscreen TV was tuned to the raging fire channel, comforting, albeit awfully cold. But the most noteworthy design elements were the giant neon star and hammer-and-sickle. Almost fifteen years after the Cold War ended, Russia has become fodder for a theme restaurant, and a fine one at that.
Like the restaurant itself, the horseradish pickles ($5) were red. Very red. Our server, dressed in a milkmaid's outfit, complete with lacy apron and kicky scarf, had cautioned us about the pickles' spice. But their brine barely puckered our lips, and definitely didn't prick our mouths. In fact, an overarching mildness ran throughout our meal.
Kutabi with greens ($12), our second appetizer, featured spinach tucked into thin buttery bread, crepe-like in consistency. It's served with tkemali sauce, a slightly tart condiment made from plums that originates in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. (When we cooed about it, the hostess brought out two containers for us to take home.) Each wedge of was simultaneously light and greasy, excellent bar food.
The Russian sushi ($21) only looked like insects. Slivers of lox dotted with cream cheese and smidgens of cucumber were rolled in a crepe, sliced, and covered with two types of caviar. "Tentacles" of uncooked spaghetti, red, naturally, rose up. Gimmicky, sure, but good too, the cool, cured fish gently buttressed by the soft crepe and heightened by the roe's pop. Here too we found the pleasurable saltiness for which Russian food is known.
We ordered the chicken Kiev ($24) because it seemed like the right thing to do. Nasha Rasha, after all, means "Our Russia," and although Kiev isn't in Russia anymore, the dish is inextricably linked to the Great Bear. A hefty chunk of garlic butter kept the chicken uber-moist inside its crinkly, pan-fried wrapping, the way massive puffy coats keep skinny things comfortable on wintry days. The buckwheat side, the texture of boiled burrs, lacked all flavor. Oh, but the chicken!
Depending on your age, you might remember a time when Russians were Ivan Drago and Colonel Strelnikov. There are no villains at Nasha Rasha, with the exception of that buckwheat and perhaps the prices, which suit the Flatiron location. It's best for: a date with comaraderie.