Best Russian Restaurant - 2004
When most Americans think of Russian food -- if they do at all -- they picture one of two things. They envision frozen gray latitudes, turnips and beet roots, with giant cauldrons of borscht -- that most recognizable of old Soviet cuisine -- steaming and bright, bloody purple in the pot. Or, going in the other direction, they imagine silver bowls brimming with iced caviar served with tiny gold spoons, roasting game and fresh fish, water crackers crusted with rock salt and absolute czarist luxury. Both perceptions are partially right, but both are also totally wrong. Russian food at its best and most basic -- the way it's served at Astoria -- is like the American food we ate in the '50s, full of fatty meat and potatoes swimming in butter; thick, hot soups; pickles; fried chicken and sour cream. In Astoria, a bunker-like restaurant tucked into the Russian Plaza, they're cooking pure comfort food: solyanka, potato salad, caviar and blini, stroganoff, roast chicken and lamb chops. And, as with most comfort food, while it might be very, very bad for you, it makes you feel very good inside.