Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Long-awaited Russian restaurant Mari Vanna officially opened in Los Angeles last week. With locations already in New York and Washington D.C., Mari Vanna's Los Angeles branch is setting itself apart with distinctive menu differences. House-infused vodkas, such as pepper, seaberry, and horseradish are a hallmark of the Mari Vanna restaurants. But unique to the Los Angeles location is house-infused tequila, which includes flavors like red pepper, pineapple and mixed berry.
Food-wise, "we try to cater to a more vegetarian and vegan-orientated crowd in Los Angeles," said partner Tatiana Brunetti. "All the chefs at every location are from Russia. They are trained to know how to duplicate recipes using local ingredients." New dishes include Braised Veal with Homemade Noodles ($21) and Svekolnik ($10), a chilled borscht soup with sour cream and diced vegetables, plus desserts like a Napoleon Cake ($10) and Kislitsa ($10), chilled slices of orange-zested cream sprinkled with caramelized nuts.
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.