Notes from a New York City Foodie Trip

A Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner

Our trip to New York City happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day, so I had the pleasure of getting to pick a restaurant for us to have a special date at. We practically never go out for Valentine’s Day, so this was a special treat.

There were many choices, as you can imagine. At first I made reservations at Orso, an Italian restaurant. It’s sibling restaurant, Joe Allen, is iconic in the Theater District, but they were all booked up for V-Day. I soon changed my mind and decided on Marseille, a French restaurant with a traditional menu. Mike loves French food and what’s better for Valentine’s Day? But we didn’t have that many nights in the city, and I did want to try a traditional red sauce restaurant, so I decided to make reservations at Bamonte’s instead. The centenarian restaurant, with tuxedoed waiters, did sound like an ideal place to have Valentine’s dinner, but getting there from our hotel was a pain. It would require an expensive taxi ride, and I rather spend money on food rather than transportation.


I finally decided on Russian Samovar because the pictures of the restaurant made it look very romantic – it’s a dark space, decorated with rich reds and has piano player -, and we pretty much never have Russian food here in the Bay Area. There are several Russian restaurants in San Francisco, but we seldom make the trek to the other side of the Bay.

Samovar had another allure, it was co-owned by Mikhail Baryshnikov once upon a time – the restaurant appeared in some scenes in Sex and the City, where Baryshnikov played Carrie’s boyfriend -, and the piano had been owned by him. My college roommate was a huge Baryshnikov fan, and I remember Baryshnikov fondly from White Nights. Thinking of him brought me back to the time when Mike and I first met each other. There is no better romance than young love remembered.

The choice of Russian Samovar proved fortuitous, as it ended up being half way between The Daily Show studio, where we had spent the afternoon watching a taping, and our hotel. Indeed, I had overestimated how long the taping would last so we were about an hour early for our reservation. Fortunately, they were able to sit us. Our small table near the piano might not have been the best in the house – at least judged by how apologetic the hostess was -, but it was perfectly fine for us. The ambiance was, indeed, dark and romantic and the piano music, while loud, wasn’t constant and still allowed us to carry on a conversation.

The restaurant itself is pretty small, but they have another room upstairs – a lounge, I think.

The food is described as Russian/Ukrainian. I haven’t gotten to either country in my international food project, but I did recognize some of the dishes from neighboring countries.


We started by sharing the veal pelmeni (handmade dumplings served in a light chicken broth, $19). I’m not usually a huge fan of dumplings, much less in broth, but these were absolutely delicious. The dough was soft and chewy and the filling was bursting with flavor. I was really impressed. Mike loved them as well.


I had the Duck A la Russe (crispy pan-seared duck in a plum reduction – $36) as my main dish, and I liked it very much. Duck is always a tricky dish to cook, but they did a very good job. The sauce went very well with the duck flavor, without overwhelming it.


Mike had the Karski (grilled, marinated double cuts of lamb in Georgian spices, ~$60). It was also delicious, I’d even say I liked it more than the duck. It was perfectly cooked and the spices gave it a bright flavor. The French fries were good too, though obviously the lamb was the star.

Mike had a White Russian ($18) with dinner, and I felt it was a pretty standard one – though I’m not sure if there is a way to make an actually special White Russian.

We were so full by the end of the meal, that we didn’t even think about dessert.

Mike is not a huge fun of lounge music, but I enjoyed it. At some point, a young, Russian-looking couple sitting near us – who were having Valentine’s dinner with their three kids! – stood up and danced, and it was so extremely cute.

In all, it was a perfect Valentine’s Day dinner. I chose right.

Russian Samovar
256 West 52nd Street
New York City
Monday 4pm-12:00am
Tuesday-Friday 12:00 pm -12:00am
Saturday-Sunday 12pm -1am

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