By Tara Mahadevan
By Ian Froeb
By Ian Froeb
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Gut Check
By Ian Froeb
By Ian Froeb
By Gut Check Guides
Less dramatic, but still pleasing, are Astoria's impeccably fresh fish entrées. Sturgeon, the fish from which caviar is harvested, has firm, white flesh and is netted in either fresh or saltwater, depending on the species. Astoria's sturgeon has a pronounced, concentrated flavor similar to that of the briny liquor inside an oyster shell. The meaty fish is cloaked in a satiny vodka cream sauce. The grouper -- a more subdued, pink-fleshed fish caught in tropical waters -- has a subtler, more nuanced taste that's a bit obscured by its heavy mantle of cream sauce, billed on the menu as a lighter-sounding "coconut broth." Each of the fish dishes is encircled by a ring of waxy fingerling potatoes, whose knobby, elongated shape resembles that of gingerroot.
Lamb kebabs were the least successful entrée we sampled. Called shashlik in the Caucasus republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, kebabs were created of necessity during the Middle Ages. With wood in short supply, less cooking time was required to skewer and grill smaller pieces of meat than to roast larger cuts. Astoria's lamb kebab was served without the promised green peppercorn sauce. In addition, the sinewy leg meat was cooked past the requested medium-rare, making the stringy flesh as tough as old leather boot straps. The chunks of lamb were inexplicably presented on a bed of ratatouille, a Provençal vegetable stew.
12949 Olive Blvd.
Creve Coeur, MO 63141
Region: Creve Coeur
Astoria has only a limited dessert selection. Dainty French confections are supplied by La Bonne Bouchée, and Devoti makes a few simple desserts in-house. None of his creations is particularly Russian, but try them anyway. On our first visit, his pecan-caramel tart was a shameless delight. It has a shallow, crumbly crust strewn with chopped and halved pecans suspended in syrupy, sticky caramel. We ordered the tart again on our next visit but were disappointed that it was overbaked, with a chewy, browned crust. Devoti's chocolate cake is an epiphany. It's a single layer baked to the consistency of a moist pound cake and slathered with a loose, creamy chocolate ganache. It's sweet but not cloying, with none of the bitterness, graininess or dryness that mar lesser chocolate cakes.
Though the kitchen can be right on the mark, it's inconsistent and seems to have trouble delivering orders at a harmonious pace. Dishes that were supposed to arrive together did not, and the interval between finishing one course and beginning the next was about a half-hour. However, these protracted waits occurred only during our first visit, on a Sunday evening when just a couple of other tables were occupied. Our server made no apologies and offered no excuses for the delays, except when the chicken Kiev was burned. Nevertheless, Astoria's servers are friendly and seem knowledgeable about this complex cuisine.
You might expect Astoria's décor to reflect Russia's imperial history or perhaps its peasant traditions. Although the room has new ruby-red carpet and chairs upholstered to match, it has no artwork, fancifully wrought lighting fixtures, attractive table settings or other embellishment to amuse the eye. An absence of adornment is sometimes intentional, creating a spare, chic space. Astoria's dining room, however, seems lackluster and monochromatic, an impression that's magnified by a long, mirrored wall. The room's most appealing feature is its dance floor, decked out with a disco ball that sends Technicolor flashes of light whirling about the room. As the last straggling diners are finishing their meals, baritone Aleksey Zykov slides behind the keyboard. He's a hulking, heavily bearded alpha male from Moscow who looks as though he has more than a passing familiarity with those pelmeni parlors back home. He soon begins pumping out Eric Clapton, Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra ditties in both Russian and English. His enthusiasm and resonant voice captivate the audience, and diners clap in time to the beat as Zykov lustily belts out the refrain of "Those Were the Days." No doubt he's thinking about those delicious dumplings.
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