Since being self-banished from my old regular spot, Trio, I’ve been impatiently waiting for Le Diplomate to start serving lunch. But a girl’s got to eat, so I’ve been making the rounds. Falling into the al fresco dining category, the 17th Street staples Agora and Pizza No. 17, which has a few interesting additions to its pizza and sandwich offerings. Try the mortadella and mozzarella sandwich. The more dubious category of child-friendly has given me so-so meals at Commissary and Tortilla Coast.
Oh how I wish Pearl Dive Oyster served lunch every day, but its genius brunch-for-lunch eggs benedict must be saved for Fridays. This has forced me to try some new places. The lunch at Edgar in the Mayflower Hotel can be tasty, but the vibe is way too business-y for us unyoked types. I much prefer the funky experience at the new Russian joint just up Connecticut Avenue, Mari Vanna. (Right now the Edgar homepage declares itself the spot for “power dining for the 21st Century” and Mari Vanna promises buy one, get one free house-infused vodka shots. Your call.)
With twinkling lights, flowery, country decor, and tiny framed pictures everywhere, this outpost of a Russian chain feels out-of-the ordinary. I’m all for any place that serves blini and caviar. Heck, I’ll even take those vodka shots. But I was actually delighted by my lunch there last week. The borsch–a thin beet soup with onions, beef, sour cream and fresh dill–is a must-order and both sandwiches on offer that day were unusual and hauntingly good. There was this light “avocado and celery” sandwich, also with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a divine parsley pesto. (Side note: I think I’d like to have a parsley garden so I could make in bulk this pesto to spoon into literally everything.) But if I could have only one, I’d probably order the “Russian-style sausage” sandwich with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a bright, sweet relish.
I realize I’m gushing now, but it really was special eating Mari Vanna’s food. I can’t wait to go for dinner to enjoy the dumplings, the pierogi, and the blini and caviar. At lunch there was no need for vodka–the drinks were still a treat. They offer a wide selection of fresh fruit and vegetable juices–I had carrot and orange–and several sophisticated-sounding lemonades. Everyone in the room had a different brightly colored drink before them.
You can add Mari Vanna to the growing list of restaurants where you can actually forget you are in D.C. Which is probably what the many Russians in the room were trying to do. I suppose when Le Dip begins serving lunch, I’ll still need a juice and celery and avocado sandwich cleanse to break up all the burgers I’ll be eating.