Masha & the Bear

771 Grand Street at (Humboldt Street)
Brooklyn, New York 11211
East Williamsburg
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Cuisine: Russian, Eastern European
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ Great
Cards: All major
Price: $18-$25
Hours: M-Th: 1-10PM; F: 1-11PM; Sat: 12-11PM, Sun: 12-10PM
Brunch: None
Booze: Full bar with Vodka on tap
Subway: L to Grand or Graham
Delivery: Yes
NY Times says:

In the time of Peter the Great, the czar’s chief of police trained a bear to offer visitors a cup of pepper brandy. Down it, and you were ushered in; fail, and you were mauled (or “hugged,” as one 19th-century account delicately put it). At Masha & the Bear, which opened in January in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there is no such entrance fee or ursine enforcer. But a challenge of sorts awaits on the drinks menu: horseradish vodka, infused in house. According to Vitaly Sherman, who runs the restaurant with his wife, Maria (known as Masha), Peter the Great mandated that all Russian inns keep a stash of horseradish vodka in their cellars for the rejuvenation of weary travelers. If an innkeeper did not comply, “he was executed,” Mr. Sherman said…

The chef, Anya Vasilenko from Ukraine, cleaves to tradition. Ukha, a soup purportedly beloved by Ivan the Terrible, is clear and deep, its broth a memory of salmon, sturgeon and branzino, brightened with dill and lemon. Blintzes are near-weightless kerchiefs of dough, to be folded around sour cream and red caviar. Roughly patted pelmeni come crammed with chicken or beef and pork in the Siberian style, attended by sweated onions and more sour cream…

The restaurant suggests a tavern with its dark, shiny wood-paneled walls and intermittent décor: here a row of Soviet propaganda posters, tucked just below the ceiling, there a medieval painting of St. George and the dragon. Vodka is stored in pressurized kegs to keep it pristine, avoiding constant exposure to air from opening bottles. That attention to detail doesn’t extend to the service, which is genial and unpredictable; at times, I wished the dishes I had ordered had tracking numbers. Some never arrived.

What did land on the table was unfussy and satisfying: lamb shank, the bone disrobing at the graze of a fork; Cornish hen roasted in a tapa, a kind of cast-iron skillet with a lid wielded like a brick to flatten the meat and imprison the juices. The standout was beef stroganoff, a debauch of heavy cream.