By Yvo Sin.
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Walk in, waddle out – that seems to be the theme at Onegin, with its overlarge portions and rich dishes.
The six-month old West Village Russian restaurant, in the old Pizzeria Uno space, boasts comfortable seats facing the well-stocked bar, complete with their own roofs. Sit in the plush banquettes along the wall, and sink in while you indulge.
Effusively friendly service will help you navigate the menu. If you’re not familiar with Russian cuisine, no matter, as the servers, endearingly proud of their heritage, will have plenty of recommendations for you.
In fact, they may even try to talk you into ordering a dish different from what you wanted; be firm if you want what you want, but allow them to suggest the chanterelles with pan fried potatoes, as this comes served in a piping hot cast iron pan with potatoes almost impossibly crispy and mushrooms meaty to the point you may stop to check that you aren’t actually eating meat.
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The food itself is wonderful. The lardon salad is easily enough for 3-4 people to share as an appetizer, though the beet salad does not particularly stand out and is perhaps typical of any Russian restaurant. Borscht comes to the table piping hot, with sour cream and garlic bread pompushka on the side for adding as you please to the crock of soup, redolent with beets and onions. Pelmeni – your choice of chicken, veal, or “Siberian” – a mixture of beef and pork – are delightfully juicy little nuggets of joy, enhanced by the dish of sour cream on the side.
One of the real stars of the menu is the pan fried potatoes with chanterelles; listen as the server describes his childhood spent gathering wild chanterelles in the forest in Russia, then close your eyes and just feel the mushrooms cross your palate, crunchy potatoes not far behind them… and swear you’re in another place, another time.
Entrees fare no worse; the Pozharsky cutlets have a crisp exterior, while the inside reveals ground chicken and veal perfectly cooked. The beef Stroganoff prompts the server to weave another tale for you to hear, this time about the dish’s origin, but you’re already in your own world as the lush, rich cream sauce tickles your fancy and transports you to a happy place, where we all should need to eat so heavily to endure brutal winters. The creamy potatoes served with the stroganoff complement the stroganoff perfectly.
Swear you’re too full for another bite, though the server’s description of halva ice cream will perk your ears right up, and demur when he insists you get it.
Don’t be surprised when he brings you over a dish of it anyway, whispering “On the house” because you can tell he sincerely just believes you should try it.
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When you take a bite, you’re not at all unprepared when it’s just as lovely as he’s described: incredibly sesame-like, and yet creamy, cold, and the perfect lightly sweet end to your extremely rich meal.
Clutch your belly and cry uncle now; it’s time to waddle out into the cold weather and take a long walk, loosening your belt as you go. Completely sated, you are now a convert: Russian food is the way to go, and Onegin is where to go for it.
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Yvo Sin is the founder and head writer of The Feisty Foodie.