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More Than Meets Eye For Mari Vanna's Russian Cuisine

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Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

After a long build out and more than a few delays, Russian restaurant Mari Vanna finally got off to a gentle start on West Hollywood's Melrose Place in the iconic Bastide space. Mari Vanna has managed to produce some solid cooking along the way, giving critics a fairly positive outlook of Russian cuisine in Los Angeles. While the scene tends to teeter between oligarchical party (what with the flowing vodka) and shabby chic comfort of the space, overall the response has been on the bright side. Here now, a thorough look from top to bottom of Mari Vanna.

The No Birthday Celebration News: "I'd told the receptionist that one in our party was celebrating his birthday, and in spite of this advance mention, no attention was given. This wouldn't have been a problem, however several tables with birthdays had rec'd an entourage of staff singing and presenting dessert....As I said previously, the food was good. It was fresh and the portions were generous. If it weren't for the lack of heat and the excessive wait for our food, and the lack of concern by the staff about this, my review may have been much different, focusing on the good food." [Yelp]

The Word From KevinEats: "Salmon was on point: slick, fatty, and very nice with a touch of lemon-y tang. The paddlefish, meanwhile, was soft, almost pillow-y, with a lovely, forceful saltiness to it. However, the most fascinating item here was clearly the sturgeon, which I found firm and even a bit crunchy, with a growing, lingering brine...I'd never really experienced Russian cuisine prior to this dinner, so I don't really have a sound basis for judgment here, but I can say that I quite enjoyed the meal. The food was hearty, full-flavored, straightforward in essence but somehow still very interesting at the same time, with a trace of refinement on the edge of rusticity." [KevinEats]

The Great Service (And Complimentary Vodka Shots) News: "The service here is great. The waitresses wear traditional Russian outfits. I can't even count the number of times that the waiters came by to check on us. They're very friendly and seems to really understand the menu items. Because I was on a business dinner and we were ordering a ton of food and drinks, they gave us complementary infused vodka....and A LOT of it." [Yelp]

The 17 Flavored Vodkas News: "There are 17 infused vodkas on the menu and I begin the night with a flight of five of them: red pepper, horseradish, honey and oat, strawberry and sea berry. Sea berry is a Russian staple, its flavor profile similar to grapefruit. The sea berry vodka and I become well acquainted throughout the evening. I remain faithful to it only until I'm introduced to the crisp and alluring cucumber dill vodka that soon steals my heart, sparking a sordid love triangle." [WeHoville]

The Word from Jonathan Gold: "Mari Vanna, in an unexpected twist, presents neither abstracted Russian cooking nor standard international cooking with a Russian twist but a somewhat lightened version of Russian home cooking...If you are looking for Herring Under a Fur Coat, a molded salad of chopped herring, potatoes and grated beets that Von Bremzen calls "the sine qua non of a proletarian repast," you will find it here. If you want to rediscover the stodgy, sour-cream-laden beef stroganoff or claylike chicken Kiev of your childhood, you will find it here too, alongside pleasant braised veal stew spiked with dill; the floppy, veal-stuffed dumplings pelmeni; and potato vareniki sprinkled with shreds of fried onion." [LA Times]

The Shabby-Chic Decor News: "Perched on Melrose Avenue, the shabby-chic space has a considerable fairytale-esque outdoor area. The white wrought iron gate marks the entrance and birdhouses, flower baskets, and lanterns dangle above the cushioned wicker seating. The overall effect is reminiscent of a rural Russian garden party. Inside, there's a fireplace, a watering can fountain, and a karaoke room." [Serious Eats]

The Cute Ceramic Pot News: "To eat, we had the potato pancakes, cheese dumplings, and she had the chicken kiev and I had the lamb shank. We finished off with the Russian honey cake. Everything was delicious and had a very homey, comfort food vibe. The presentation here is also very much on point. The dumplings came in a little ceramic pot. how cute is that?? Tab came out to approx. $150 total." [Yelp]

The Word From Besha Rodell: "Go for the people-watching. This is not a loud restaurant — indeed, it aims to create an atmosphere of demure teatime. Which is all the better to observe the amazing, sculpted blondes dressed in furs and speaking Russian, nestled at their table amongst shopping bags from the nearby boutiques. L.A. is a particularly good town for ogling opulence, but I saw more diamonds of larger varieties at Mari Vanna than anywhere else in recent memory. These are ladies with purses worth more than my car and boobs that cost more than the contents of my 401(k)...If your ideal of beef Stroganoff is modeled from the Spago version, or you've enjoyed Bernhard Mairinger's rendition at BierBeisl, Mari Vanna's mild, tender beef in sour cream sauce might seem a little one-note, though the accompanying pickles add perky crunch. For the most part, entrees follow the same plot lines: mild, meaty, filling." [LA Weekly]

The Juicy Chicken Kiev News: "Love the ambiance; it's so very adorable and kitschy and the lighting is warm and inviting. Very slow service but I loved the food. Best beef stroganoff I've ever had for sure. Extremely juicy chicken kiev and the outside crust stayed crispy. Prefer the borcsht at Traktir but it's good here too. Lots of empty seats here on the patio Thurs 830." [Chowhound]

·All Good News/Bad News Coverage [~ELA~]

Mari Vanna

8475 Melrose Place, Los Angeles, CA 90069 323-655-1977

Mari Vanna

8475 Melrose Pl West Hollywood, CA 90069