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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENTRSS

© Photo Joy Neumeyr

For whom the beets toll

by Joy Neumeyer at 06/10/2011 19:46

Yornik
69 Bolshaya Gruzinskaya, 789 9250, m. Belorusskaya, www.jvcompany.ru/ernik/ Open daily noon to midnight

 

At first glance, Yornik, the restaurant recently opened by actress and television cooking personality Yulia Vysotskaya, promises a fine meal on one of Moscow’s hottest up-andcoming culinary blocks. According to Yornik’s website, she’s enlisted London chef Daniel Phippard to cook “simple yet creative” food, made with ingredients from local farms and sold at “democratic prices.”

But more than that, Yornik offers an entrée into the rarified social circle of Vysotskaya and her renowned film director husband, Andrei Konchalovsky. Yulia says that “Yornik,” an old word for a sly trickster, was named in honor of the owners’ friends; Konchalovsky’s website tells potential diners that “at the table you might meet not only its creators... but also their many friends, who are famous and talented yorniki.”

On this promise, Yornik delivers – on the night a friend and I visited, Konchalovsky entered shortly after we did and held court at a corner table for the rest of the evening. But unfortunately the gastronomic promise goes unrealized.

Vysotskaya has taken an active role in Yornik’s development; her magic dust is sprinkled everywhere, from menu items like her as-seenon-TV “grechetto” (a healthier take on risotto made from buckwheat) to tchotchkes like retro milk jugs and cookie tins. Konchalovsky oversaw the Art Deco-inspired interior design, with black-andwhite portraits of famous “yorniki” (including Vladimir Mayakovsky and a bare-chested Ernest Hemingway) on gray upholstered walls. The wood-paneled tables are elegant, and the divan under the bookcase offers comfort and prime people-watching.

But for a space supposedly suffused with domestic warmth, there’s something a little stiff about it; I had a hard time picturing Hemingway plopping down on the divan and ordering a drink (on the night of our visit the spot had yet to obtain a liquor license, which is reportedly coming in October; in the meantime, the staff accommodates wine brought from home).

The slightly stuffy vibe intensified as we realized that our definition of “democratic” differs from Vysotskaya’s: while a few vegetarian options were reasonably priced, most meat and fish-based mains were well over 1,000 rubles. Perhaps these prices, combined with the fussy interior, explained why most of our fellow dinners were over 35.

Roast chicken drumstick and breast with onion puree, pasta and cheese

© Photo / Joy Neumeyr

Roast chicken drumstick and breast with onion puree, pasta and cheese

Some menu items offer twists on Russian classics, and we ordered the beet salad. These beets arrived in hearty chunks, sprinkled with nuts, greens and goat cheese and arrayed in a sexy swirl; with a bit more cheese, it would be a stellar starter.

It might be time for Vysotskaya to give up the ghost on the “local ingredients” premise, as the crustaceans in the warm crayfish salad most likely didn’t come from the Moscow River. But the greater crime was flavor’s surrender to appearance. A deconstructed plate may be pretty, but it shouldn’t be an end unto itself; here, a whole crayfish body stripped of meat sat on ungainly pieces of too-crunchy bacon, which refused to adhere to a fork.

Our main courses were also visually stunning but missed some basics. A roast chicken drumstick brimmed  with  hearty flavor, but its breasted brethren called out for more crunchy fat. The bland onion puree and pasta with cheese beneath them were throwaways helped little by the syrupy Madeira sauce.

In our other main, a pumpkin puree paired cleanly with sea bass (again of unclear origin), and clams basked in a bright apple sauce. But technical problems couldn’t be overlooked: the fish bordered on mushy, while its accompanying root vegetables were underdone.

Having seen many comely sweets sail by our table, we went for two desserts. The semifreddo had a divine walnut flavor, with a welcome smidge of dark chocolate truffle and candied lemon. Too bad we encountered a pleasure-curdling piece of plastic inside. The cookie box turned out to be, quite literally, a retro Soviet halva box full of treats. Though the cookies were nothing special, the whimsical presentation made them hard to dislike.

Yornik’s service was generally attentive, but like the food, it got hung up on pretty details. There were certainly nice touches, like the book of Mayakovsky poetry our check arrived in, and our waiter’s inquiry as to what temperature we’d like the milk in our coffee. But overall we could’ve done with fewer flourishes and prompter service.

Yornik felt a bit like sex on Valentine’s Day: with all the great expectations and frilly lingerie, no one’s really having that great of a time. Sure, rubbing elbows with the intelligentsia was a thrill, and I would sample more of Phippard’s Russian-inspired concoctions (and perhaps a couple more plastic-free desserts). But most days, you’ll probably find me at a cheap Georgian place nearby, where pretension is out but everyone gets off.

 

Schyot, please!*

 

Beetroot salad  330

 

Crayfish salad  540

 

Chicken breast  650

 

Sea bass  1,100

 

Semifreddo  310

 

Cookie box  280


*All prices are in roubles

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