Where to Eat in St. Petersburg
When you think Russia, great food might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but those days are over. St. Petersburg has upped its game to offer lots of international fare, many options for vegetarians, and tasty local dishes. Much of the food took me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, reminding me of the dishes my grandparents ate – from herring and borscht (beet soup) to smoked salmon and kasha (buckwheat).
For a tasty lunch try Zoom Café. There are a number of fresh fruit juices, soups, and salads at this below street-level homey, multi-roomed café.
Just around the corner from the W Hotel and St. Isaac’s Cathedral, this cute courtyard café has an extensive menu of soups, salads, and main dishes. I devoured the potato pancakes topped with Danish creamed cheese, caviar, and melt-in-your mouth smoked salmon. It had the consistency of Japanese toro tuna – buttery, rich, and soft and a savory, salty flavor that I couldn’t get enough of. I also couldn’t resist the side of buckwheat with fried onion and carrots.
I settled in for a bowl of borscht at the Famous Idiot Café. It was nothing like the bright, stain-inducing, fuchsia-colored beet-soup my grandparents used to eat out of a jar. This was a lighter, milder version with beets, broth, a generous amount of sliced soft onions, spices, and a healthy dollop of sour cream – making it a flavorful mix tasting almost more like French Onion Soup more than the borscht I remembered.
Part of the Ginza restaurant group (which has opened up outposts in New York, London, and soon, Los Angeles), Marivanna strives to take you back to Soviet times. The décor purposely makes you feel like you are eating in someone’s home right down to the fact that you have to ring a doorbell to be welcomed in. It is a slightly, kitschy affair, with tasty homemade food.
I was fortunate enough that a local couchsurfer, Marina, took me to Marivanna’s. They cooked up tasty specialties popular in the mid-century, but perhaps made a bit more flavorful today like the Olivier (Russian) salad and stuffed cabbage.
I love that this place wasn’t in any guidebooks and I was taken here by another local friend. The name roughly translates to the mouth-watering “lard restaurant.” Makes you want to run and make a reservation, right? This Ukranian spot was decked out like a country home with white walls, wood, and its own pet mini-pig to greet you at the door. Yes, I mean a live pig in a pen.
And yes, they serve pork here, but apparently this guy is just their pet…for now. I tried some new dishes like the salad – Lesia Ukrainia, carp with buckwheat and mushrooms, and washed it down with Medovya Mayskaya, a potent honey liquer.
For a bit of rooftop glamour, another Ginza restaurant is making waves with the trendy-set of St Petersburg. Enjoy fusion food from the open kitchen while enjoying the great views toward Kazan Cathedral just off Nevsky Prospekt.
Food wasn’t exactly cheap here in St. Petersburg, but you could still buy a hot dog from a cart on the street for a mere 35 rubles…one buck. But then coffee from their local chain (a la Starbucks) was closer to $5. Overall, I was more impressed with the food than I thought I would be. Perhaps it’s my roots? Or perhaps it’s just good.