If you haven't been to Moscow, read Anna Karenina, or missed dining at Diaghliev before it closed, nothing can really prepare you for Romanov in Studio City. You'd think people couldn't miss the building with its onion domes, high arches, and red-glass windows, especially tucked among the typical Ventura Boulevard shops, but apparently they are: Open since March, business is slooow, even after promising early reviews. When Eater went the other night, the only people in the room were the staff, our group of 'invited' journalists, and a few couples. It was a lonely castle whose royal court stayed home, which is a shame because, like an elaborate Russian novel, this restaurant demands attention: Soaring ceilings, gorgeous crystal light fixtures, gold swirls on red walls, textures, fabrics swathed everywhere. It's pure drama, dreamed up by owner Mikayel Israyelyan and designer Margaret "Peg" O'Brien. Romanov is not an everyday place, but it's definitely not something you stumble across everyday, either.
(Addendum: When we say "slooow," we mean slow in coming. While the house isn't packed yet, we're told business is picking up, especially on weekends. It's been a soft, quiet opening.)
The menu is "contemporary Russian" with American steakhouse thrown in for good measure; it's definitely not the tuna tartare, beat and goat cheese salad, and chocolate molten cake everyone else can't seem to shake these days. And we find that rather enjoyable. The borscht, Israyelyan's mother's recipe, was light and earthy. Pozharsky croquettes, a traditional Russian ground meat, breaded and deep-fried dish, were downsized to on-the-stick finger food. There were Russian dumplings, house-smoked fish, blinis, breads stuffed with mushrooms or potatoes, plus steaks and chops (the pork chop was a favorite). Our favorite of the night was the tea, which comes so strong you have to water it down and add fruit preserves for sweetener. Naturally, there's also huge selection of imported vodkas, some nice Champagnes, and lots and lots of caviar. Prices are high, but you're supposed to think you're in Moscow, one of the most expensive cities in the world. We heard something about an ice dining room on the horizon, where servers in ice skates wait on diners in coats. Gimmicky and over-the-top? Yes. But why stop with gold leaf ceilings, hand-carved chairs, and an $85,000 fireplace?