Stepping into the elegant Firebird in Midtown is like walking back in time to the Russian Empire. The restaurant is ornately decorated with actual historical artifacts – books, paintings, photographs – from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that take you far away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Our guided tour of the entire venue (all three stories of it) felt like a trip to a museum. To top it all off – literally – the Firebird plans on opening a rooftop space for diners in a surprisingly quiet spot, secluded from the bright lights and noise of Times Square.
The meal started with a traditional serving of caviar – our server demonstrated the preparation by pouring clarified butter onto a buckwheat pancake and topping it with caviar, red onion, chopped egg white, and chopped egg yolk. The pancake is then rolled like a blintz and eaten with a fork and knife. It made for a delicious appetizer. This was paired with their in-house drink specialty, a honey-infused vodka that is incredibly smooth and sweet. It really was like drinking a glass of honey.
We were then treated to a serving of gravlax, a plate of salmon that was cured with both salt and red beet puree, giving the fish a dramatic shade of red. Besides adding a touch of color, the beets also added a flavor to the salmon that balanced its salty qualities. The other appetizer we enjoyed was a traditional dish called Herring Under a Fur Coat. Much like the gravlax, this particular dish did not have an overbearing fish flavor – Alexa and I are both seafood lovers, but many people can find it off-putting, especially herring. The herring was served chopped with carrots, beets, potato, and egg as a single item.
As a palate cleanser, the waiter brought out a beet and root vegetable salad while we awaited our entrees. The Chicken Kiev was remarkable, deliciously breaded with mushroom kasha and cranberry compote on the side. Since it is a stuffed dish, it was an experience to cut the chicken and allow the butter to soak into the kasha. The Salmon Kulebiaka was a unique dish for me, served in a puff pastry with sorrel spinach, mushroom, cabbage, and egg, with a fennel and citrus (mostly grapefruit) slaw on top. Fennel is one of my favorite flavors, and it pairs excellently with salmon.
For dessert, we had two delightful offerings. The first was a twist on a beloved Russian candy called Ptichye Moloko, or “bird’s milk,” a soft milk soufflé topped with meringue and chocolate. The second was their rendition of Bananas Foster, prepared tableside. It is quite a sight to see: the waiter melts butter and sugar into a tantalizing caramel before cooking the bananas in it. This entire process is made exciting by the splash of orange juice and rum, resulting in a two foot-high flame. I joked that I shouldn’t get too close, lest I lose an eyebrow. Both desserts were superb.
Diners wishing to step back in time to a more refined, gilt-edged era should look no further than the Firebird, named after Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka, a now-beloved work that incited a riot in its time. Besides their food menu (currently being revised as they have just hired a new chef), they offer a rotating collection of vodkas from all over the world, based on availability.
Photos by Alexa Altman
365 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th)