Michael Ferraro, the chef of NYC’s Delicatessen restaurant, recently traveled to St. Petersburg, where he took in as much Russian culture as possible, from caviar to ballet. Here he shares highlights from the trip.
What were some of the most unique dishes you tasted?
“I tried pike caviar for the first time. It was very similar to fish roe you would find in a sushi restaurant, but pike caviar is more flavorful with its own distinctive taste. I tried two different types of hot dogs from street vendors. One was very typical to our street dogs in New York, but not quite as good. The other was a spicy variety that looked amazing, however it lacked in the flavor department. I also had octopus that was from local waters. It had tons of flavor and a beautiful texture. The majority of the beef dishes were Australian beef. One of the chefs told me that they prefer the flavor and the quality of the Australian beef over beef raised in Russia. I also tried many different varieties of beef stroganoff. I think the most unique dish I had was a braised brisket chopped with herbs and aromatics, wrapped in cabbage and served with pickled vegetables. It reminded me of corned beef and cabbage.”
If you had to pick your favorite dish from the trip what would it be?
“The most memorable dish was from a restaurant called Caviar Bar. The name of the dish was Egg in Egg. It was soft scrambled eggs with truffle. The dish was a trio, featuring five grams of Russian beluga caviar, five grams of osetra, and five grams of salmon caviar. True Russian caviar is unobtainable in the U.S. these days. My last memory of having Russian beluga caviar was in the early 2000’s.”
Are there any hotels that you would recommend?
“We stayed at Angleterre. It was right in the historical center of St. Petersburg, across the street from St. Isaac’s Cathedral and was in walking distance from the Hermitage. There were many bars and restaurants, and the area is very tourist friendly. I also liked The Four Seasons or its tea lounge and its bar which is called Xander. The W Hotel had great rooftop bar.”
Did you have a favorite dining experience?
“All of the dining experiences were so different. Some of the more contemporary restaurants had a modern feel and décor. One of the older establishments I ate at was completely made of logs. It had the feel of a restaurant being in a large log cabin. Live music, anything from opera to classic Russian folk singing was a highlight in many of the restaurants.”
Will we see any Russian influences on the menu at Delicatessen?
“Borscht is a very common Russian dish and was seen on most menus. It seemed that each establishment had their own special touch to it. After having so many different variations of it, it inspired me to revisit this classic dish here at Delicatessen.”
What were some non-culinary highlights of the trip?
“Touring the cathedrals and the palaces of the Russian tsars was an extraordinary experience. The beautiful artwork and architecture was absolutely stunning. I also was able to experience a Russian ballet; it was a breathtaking performance. The audience was able to see the clear passion and dedication that must go into these performances that are praised throughout Russia, and influence and inspire international ballet. Spending a day at the Hermitage was also a memorable experience, being able to see priceless artwork from all over the world. Seeing sculptures from Michael Angelo and paintings from Leonardo De Vinci up close was truly a once in a lifetime experience.”
Did you embrace any local traditions?
“At almost every meal I had in Russia, with the exception of breakfast, we started with a toast of ice cold vodka. I’m not sure if this tradition will carry back home, but I’m willing to try at my next dinner party.”
Photos courtesy of Michael Ferraro