Walking into The Russian Tea Room is like walking into a time machine. The spectacular over-the-top bright red Russian imperial decor evokes early James Bond, Cold War-era, KGB, evil empire nostalgia. When entering The Russian Tea Room on a recent visit I could barely suppress a Boris Badenov impression. I wondered whether the young coat check girl would get my reference to Rocky and Bullwinkle's arch-nemesis.
I felt the underside of the table for radio bugging devices, and gradually let down my guard when the waiter brought my vodka flight in beautiful miniature flower bud vases. The names of the vodka were unfamiliar but appropriate: Imperial and Beluga.
The impeccable service may be the result of Big Brother (or the maître d') watching, but I didn't mind as I buttered my black bread rolls and my first course arrived. Duck blinchik was a buckwheat pancake wrapped around braised duck with foie gras, frisée and endive with a blood red cherry reduction to match the walls.
The main course, the classic boeuf à la stroganoff, was a delectable truffle-scented short rib sitting in a chanterelle porcini mushroom cream sauce with housemade buckwheat noodles. For dessert, an ethereal pair of blintzes — liquid cheese and cherry, which perfectly capped my incredibly rich but comforting Mother Russian meal.
When the restaurant reopened in 2006, The New York TImes' then restaurant critic Frank Bruni, called the previous incarnation a "wheezing institution." At the time he said The Russian Tea Room didn’t "add up neatly or quite make sense," and awarded it one star. These days, the restaurant is very much alive and well. With Marc Taxiera, the former chef at Beppe, at the helm in the kitchen, I would go so far as to say that The Russian Tea Room is better red than dead. Now where did that confounded moose and squirrel go?