You may be wondering: “Why should I trust this stupid blog for dining recommendations? Or even a robot? Robots don’t have taste buds!!” I’ll tell you why. Because good food (and seeking out new food) is a priority in my life. And although the titles “food critic” and “food expert” are both self-proclaimed, just know that they’re well-deserved even though I’ve yet to receive any public or private recognition.
Generally speaking, the restaurant scene in St. Petersburg reflects the city itself: quirky, atmosphere-oriented, catering to niche trends rather than subgroups or any urban notion of gastronomical diversity. The following six places are only a few of the restaurants I’ve sampled, but I’ve deemed them either favorites or most note-worthy. If you’re in Peter give them a try!
The Good: I’m normally weary of vegetarian restaurants because of the possibility of finding a detached dred in my soup. But Botanika (Russian for “nerd”) is a chill cafe with comfortable sofa seats and an overwhelmingly green decor that is enhanced with the flare of local art students. They do everything from Italian, Japanese, Indian, and Russian (I don’t usually condone international menus. As the saying goes: “jack of all trades, master of none”) but they somehow manage to pull it off. There’s also an impressive and intricate dessert menu – my friend had the best oatmeal bar of his life (his words, not mine), and I had this mango-milk curd-pistachio type deal that sounds disgusting but was actually a revelation.
The Bad: I was pissed at Botanika for serving absolutely laughable portions. What am I, a goddamn hamster?
Pricing: Reasonable for hamsters.
Clientel: For people who think berets are cool.
The Good: You know right from the start that King Pong is going to be good because their logo is a Buddha-gorilla holding a ping-pong paddle. The menu features not-so-authentic dishes from around Asia: curries, stir-frys, noodles, grilled meats in acidic sauces, and even pho. The thing is, everything had flavor, a quality for food usually atypical in Russia. Their list of creative cocktails will excite you.
The Bad: Expensive cocktails.
Pricing: The lowest of the upper-tier.
Clientel: For people who want to seem exotic without actually having to eat larvae in Thailand or monkey brain in India (In Russia, after all, it’s all about the image).
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The Good: This place welcomes you with open arms and the warmth of a glowing hearth. Just try to get in first. Teplo looks like a wealthy eccentric person’s maze-like house that is probably sustained with solar energy. There’s a colorful hallway leading to every endearingly cluttered room, each area with a new décor and theme. International items are threaded together with the Russian element (hint: sour cream), and the dishes are delicate and soft on the palatte.
The Bad: Sometimes “the Russian element” does its work on flavor.
Pricing: For a drink and meal, I was surprised to get away with a $12 bill. Websites will tell you to save up for Teplo, however.
Clientel: Rich hipsters and well-to-do middle-aged folk who wear loafers and button-down shirts (this second one is basically me).
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The Good: Tandoor is the best Indian food in St. Petersburg. Probably because it’s the only Indian food in St. Petersburg. The food is true to India(n food outside of India). Be prepared to spend a lot; you won’t be sorry.
The Bad: The waitress was confused by words. And I became extremely uncomfortable and angry when she spent 15 minutes spooning the food on our plates (individually, tiny spoon by tiny spoon) as if we were challenged five-year-olds.
Pricing: Regarding Indian food in St. Pete, supply is low and demand is high. Do the math.
Clientel: Rich businessmen with weird fetishes and their fur-clad mistresses.
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The Good: Zoom does Russian food very well and I’m constantly surprised to see how they’ve mastered to marry modernity and authenticity in an individual dish and then extend this rare coexistence to the entire menu. The place is a sleek cavernous lounge that could host the most epic pillow fort. Not a bad idea, considering they have plenty of pillows. The stuffed animals will survey the perimeter. Documentation can be found here.
The Bad: Zoom doesn’t understand the concept of pricing something for what it’s worth. How could a plate of beans, carrots, and mashed potatoes cost more than the pork chops? How???
Pricing: See above. Generally expect to pay $10-$15.
Clientel: For twenty-somethings who are overly concerned with what’s “in” and just as concerned with sharing their fashionable lives on social media.
The Good: Hands down best blini (Russian crepes done savory or sweet) in the city. The décor is “old Russia”, read: a lot of lace, shiny samovars, hardwood sculptures, and brassy light fixtures. Supposedly, there’s a cat that hangs around. I didn’t see it, though, so don’t hold me to that. As with the name (translates roughly to “Small House of Blini”), you feel like you’re sitting in the dusty parlor of an ancient woman who bears remarkable culinary talents.
The Bad: If you order the blini, the prices you see are only for one. Which is annoying at best. That’s when I realized that getting you satiated is not the priority of Russian restaurants, which is strange because the goal of Russian women is to get you to explode out of fullness.
Pricing: $4 for one (unbelievably good) blin with meat. It gets cheaper from there.
Clientel: Where incredibly old women meet to “catch up” and discuss new medications.