An Early Look at Mari Vanna (Pictures)

From Russia to Dupont with love.

Young rabbit stewed in sour cream sauce and served alongside its favorite (while living): carrot pie. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

We’re calling it now: Pierogies are the new cupcake. Okay, only two Eastern European
restaurants debuted lately—another big-time opening happened last week with Serbian-themed
Ambar on Capitol Hill—but that’s two more than we’ve seen in a while. And so far, Mari Vanna
is opening with all the fanfare of
Alex Ovechkin at the Caps’ home opener (with better overall results).

The Ruskie hockey star gave the new bar-restaurant two index fingers up and a supportive tweet on one of his first nights back in town, and other celebrity
guests including
Omar Epps,
Paula Abdul,
Matt Bomer, and
David Arquette dropped by over inauguration weekend for a Creative Coalition party.

The draw: a three-level space decked out in what’s been described in various ways
as Russian grandmother-chic—and as far as the big names go, it doesn’t hurt that the
Moscow, London, and New York branches gained star endorsements.
The old-school-comfort-with-a-twist trend isn’t going anywhere; here it just takes
a more Slavic approach. You’ll find purposely peeling wallpaper, decorative lamps
and chandeliers, and the kind of tchotchkes your babushka might keep in Mother Russia,
as well as a large, hearty menu of dishes she might serve if she had a full-time kitchen
staff. Classics like borscht, beef stroganoff, and blinis with caviar fill the menu,
as well as lesser-known delicacies like a
salo plate (salt-cured pork fatback with rye toast and mustard) and “herring under a fur
coat,” which is a place you’d never want to actually find herring. Hungry guests can
tuck into dinner in the dining room, while those looking to knock back vodka and chilled
oysters can head to the festive third-floor cocktail lounge—and with 70 varieties
of infused vodkas, it will be festive—which hosts deejays and partiers getting down
under the disco ball on certain nights. Just remember, Grandma is watching.

Mari Vanna. 1141 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-783-7777.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.