365 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
I had heard about FireBird being the place to go for Russian cuisine. Set in a Czarist, palatial townhouse in Hells Kitchen, it was the home to various movie scenes, and with the Rents and I recently living it up with the Post-soviet party that is Nasha Rasha in Flatiron, we felt like it would bookend the experience. The thing is, Nasha Rasha was fun. FireBird was depressing.
FireBird sits on 46th Street's "Restaurant Row" and despite the thousands of people walking, eating, taking photos, and screaming at the top of their lungs over the honking taxis and construction crews, FireBird was deserted. I knew it was more expensive than its neighbors, but still. When I got there at 7pm, there were maybe five tables occupied. The restaurant is three stories tall. If it weren't for the Russian pop music, you could hear a pin drop.
Unfortunately, for me, the sound of that pin was muffled when a somewhat inebriated Russian lady led me to the bar to wait. I arrived a half hour early and had planned to read and sip infused vodka. FireBird does boast about its vodka menu, after all. Reading was difficult with the constant conversation from the next seat. "Try the honey vodka! Best in the city!" And I did. And it was fine. A little too sweet for me, but I nodded and smiled. Then, between the occasional phone call she would receive, I got to hear about all of the great celebrities who showed up to eat here. So and so, and that guy, and a rapper and the chick from Star Wars. My poor book never had a chance.
When the fam finally did arrive and we finally were seated, despite the empty dining room, we got placed at an enormous table right next to a couple out on a date. "I can't hear anything you're saying, Jon," DudeMan barked across the table. "But I heard all about this guy's trip to Europe!" I cringed. The acoustics were terrible, the table was ludicrously large for us, and I know that the poor slob on his date had to have heard that.
My family is slow-going with menus. I'll admit it. We have an unwritten rule that no one orders the same thing that anyone else orders. This way we can try as much of the food as possible. So after the waiter made three trips to the table to take our order, and we hadn't so much as picked out a wine, he got a little on edge. "Okay, it's just that some of the dishes take a while to make and the kitchen closes at 9." I looked at my watch. It was 8. The kitchen closes at 9? What kitchen in New York closes before double digit hours? I'd never heard of such a thing. But no wonder the place was a ghost town. We must have missed high tide when they stopped competing with the early bird special at Cosmo's Diner. So far, literally nothing had gone well. My only hope was that the food would be so fantastic as to make up for it all.
This was not to be. My appetizer was the Braised Pickled Pork Belly, pork belly with fois gras and cilantro and citrus chutney over a sweet wine glaze. While I liked it by and large, no one else at the table did. I think that they should have. The pork was a little tough, admittedly, but on the whole I think it worked. Bro ordered the Venigret, a cold dish of beets, potato, cabbage, and carrots which tasted like a generic beet salad. It hardly tasted bad but it also hardly tasted period. Dudeman ordered the Olivier, a mixture of cubed kielbasa, peas, potato, carrots, and sliced quail eggs in a saffron mayonnaise with toast. It looked like cole slaw. His first words were, "where's the kielbasa?" It's in there, Padre. Just go a-hunting. Little cubes of kielbasa were eventually found and DudeMan thusly did rejoice. Actually, it wasn't terrible, but as we passed the plates around the table, no one was wowed, either. Shrink tried the Pelmini, a lamb dumpling dish in a mushroom broth. This was pretty good, but the dumplings (there were two about the size o golf balls) were very dense. You'd need a knife to cut through them. It's a shame because otherwise it was quite enjoyable.
For Dinner, Dudeman ordered the Razryshennty Pike (pictured above). Pike, a subtle white fillet fish, served with spinach, capers, tomato, potato and an olive vinaigrette. The rest of the table found it too bland, but I think that this might have been the best main course of the evening. The fish was tender and flaky and paired very well with its bitter and sweet accompaniments. It wasn't drowned in sauce like Shrink's Beef Stroganoff, a dish that's the exact opposite of subtle. Beef cubes and noodles in a thick sauce made from sour cream, veal broth, mushrooms, and onion. It's like being hit in the face with a bus filled with flavor. The thing is, I've had better beef stroganoff. The beef was too tough and the noodles had been cooked for too long. As a result, the starches glued them together like glue, and they fought to be separated. I have also had better Chicken Kiev, my choice of entree. In this case, the chicken, which is typically filled with butter so that, when cut, it's like slicing through a jugular filled with liquid cholesterol. This time, it was just a scratch. And there was spinach in there. Like the stroganoff, it was fine, but I'd had better for less money. And I got more vegetables. Bro ordered what he considered to be the best dish of the night and what I considered to be the worst: the Narli Shashlik, a lamb kabob with vegetables and rice. It clearly comes from that time when the Russian empire included various Arabian cultures and it probably could have been a very tasty dish if only the lamb was more tender. Instead there was all the delicious flavor of lamb, with all the jaw-killing texture of biting through a Pink Pearl eraser.
Dudeman and I skipped dessert and stuck with coffees. Bro asked if they had any tea. The waiter said yes, and disappeared without offering any further description. He reappeared with a fancy pewter and glass teacup filled with tea. "That's Lipton," he said. He also ordered the Yablochnaya Baba, an apple pound cake, which was very very dry. Shrink ordered the Lavender Chocolate Creme Brulee, which was fine, but too sweet for my taste. She liked it though.
Our whole meal (four appetizers, four entrees, two desserts, two cocktails, a bottle of wine, a tea and two coffees, plus tax and tip) came in at just shy of $350. Two of those meals, inclusive of the desserts were from FireBird's $45 prix-fixe menu.
[ Copyright eateryROW 2012 ]
[ Copyright eateryROW 2012 ]