From Russia with Love

Mari Vanna brings home-style Russian cooking to WeHo

West Hollywood's Mari Vanna, the newest link a high-end Moscow chain, is unabashedly unafraid of kitsch. It is named for a mythological Slavic grandmother, after all.

Housed inside what was once Bastide, the restaurant's sprawling space unfolds like a Soviet-era fairytale: Shabby-chic furniture and faux-worn fixtures are decorated with more countryside tchotchkes than you can count.

But don't let the veneer fool you–Mari Vanna's small plates may be the most serious Russian food in town.

Mari Vanna's dining room (Photo by Josh Reiss)

The complimentary bread plate, loaded with dense, dark rye, is an ideal base for the fish platter ($19), a colorful layering of cured salmon, smoked paddlefish and smoked sturgeon. The classic olivier salad ($12)–a mayo-dressed composition of root vegetables, pickles, hard-boiled quail eggs and nubs of ham–tasted like potato salad with a royal pedigree.

Entrées can somtimes skew toward the bland side; sidestep the overcooked beef stroganoff and opt for chilled svekolnik ($10), a soothing beet borscht or bouncy veal pelmeni ($16), compact dumplings smothered in sour cream and herb butter.

Most of the well-heeled patrons, which included a gaggle of models in the corner the night we visited, down shots of house-infused vodka (in flavors like prune, pear and cucumber-dill) and caviar-topped blinis.

We stuck with a square of Bird's Milk ($12), a delightfully airy sponge cake covered in melted chocolate–thinking that Granny would have approved.