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During my recent meal at Mari Vanna in Dupont, I ingested a couple of things I definitely did not want (beef and salmon…yeah) and was robbed of items that I actually did want (mushroom blinis and eggplant rolls). Mistaken identity, miscommunications, mayhem…it was almost Shakespearean. With a menu so clearly marked with vegetarian items, how did this happen? Funny you should ask.

We dropped in on a recent Saturday night and were invited to dine at the bar where there was plenty of space. I was excited – the decor was adorably grandma chic with vintage chandeliers and flower-printed seat cushions, interesting flavored vodkas like honey and oats abounded, and our bartender/server seemed enthusiastic and friendly.

For a Russian restaurant, there are a surprising  number of vegetarian dishes, mostly based on mushrooms and potatoes but also some featuring eggplant and beets. We ordered borscht and eggplant rolls to start, then I chose mushroom blinis as my entree.

Oddly, my companion’s entree arrived first along with the borscht. We dug into the steaming soup and I quickly realized that I’d made a mistake: the cold borscht is vegetarian but the hot borscht has beef. My bad, I explained to the server, and he offered to put in an order of the the veggie version.

In the mean time, a plate of eggplant rolls went to the diners seated next to us.  They had ordered a good 20 minutes after us so I was a bit suspicious. I mentioned to the server that we were still waiting for this appetizer (keep in mind that one of our entrees had already appeared). What happened next was this: 1) he asked our neighbors if they had ordered eggplant rolls 2) they said no but had started eating them anyway 3) we proceeded to wait the entire rest of the meal for our order of rolls. Spoiler: they never arrived.

Okay, so now what I assumed to be my borscht had arrived. It was cold and pink, as expected. But definitely not vegetarian. “I’m so sorry!” said our server. “That’s the okroshka with salmon, not cold borscht! I don’t speak Russian so sometimes I confuse the orders”. He graciously took it away and I graciously went back to waiting while pretending I hadn’t put fish in my mouth.

Next arrived my mushroom blini plate. By now I was wary of anything that was placed in front of me so I checked with the server that these were, indeed, filled with mushrooms. Completely inexplicably, his response was to take my plate, put it under the noses of the party next to us, and ask if they had ordered them. More confusion ensued before I finally got the plate back. Starving at this point, I dug in and was eating when the vegetarian borscht arrived. I  moved the blinis over to make space, and the server TOOK MY PARTIALLY-EATEN PLATE AWAY. Two feet away from us, he didn’t hear my and my companion’s loud protestations. It was right then, as I watched my blinis get stacked on a pile of dirty dishes and then disappear, that all my patience and cheer disappeared as well.

Mushroom blinis

Mushroom blinis

The long-awaited cold borscht did not improve my mood. Just because a soup is cold doesn’t mean it can’t have previously been slow-cooked to develop flavor. No such luck here – the beets and broth were as dull in flavor as they were bright in color.

Vegetarian borscht

Vegetarian borscht

With no rolls in sight and no hope for redeeming the meal, we cut our losses, asked for our check, and headed off to find some ice cream.

Walking away, I realized that the worst part of the whole experience was the lack of acknowledgement from the staff that anything had gone wrong. The beef mix-up was my mistake, and okay, sometimes servers take plates away prematurely. But there was no apology for the dish that never arrived, no offer to throw in dessert or take something off of the bill for making a vegetarian bite into salmon. It’s a shame because the infused vodkas are well done and the ambiance is unique (I didn’t even mention the charming accordion player that came out mid-meal). Normally in this situation, with a pleasant atmosphere and cocktails but not-so-nice food and service, I’d say skip the seated dinner and grab a table at the bar. Except we already tried that.

1141 Connecticut Ave NW
(202) 783-7777

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