Welcome to Rasputin! ( Image Source)
On the topic of a visit to Brooklyn’s famous Russian hotspot, Rasputin Restaurant & Cabaret, whether you read an online review or ask people who’ve been there what to expect, what you’ll likely hear is that you are in for a real “Experience” – capital E intentional. Rasputin successfully combines an evening of multi-course fine dining with a full sensory night of entertainment that progresses from live singers to a Las Vegas Style floor show to an afterhours disco inferno. Every step of the way you can immerse yourself in an authentic slice of Russian American culture.
Pomegranate Bliss Cocktail: Drink a few of these to start the night off right! (All Photos By Anne Raso)
Upon arriving, my friend Anne and I were greeted warmly by the manager, Serge, who promptly seated us at the “best seats in the house” – one of two tables arranged at the front of a beautiful, horseshoe-shaped second floor balcony overlooking the stage, dance floor and all the diners down below. From where we sat, we felt like we were spying on a very lavish wedding feast and its accompanying reception; and though we were slightlyremoved from the immediate festivities (being seated away from the dance floor) we felt very much a part of the jubilant atmosphere permeating Rasputin on a Saturday night. It did seem apparent that many people come to Rasputin specifically to celebrate a special occasion (birthday, anniversary or whatever), or at the very least to just enjoy dining with a large group of friends. With the plentiful food served family-style on huge platters, this place is the ideal venue for a one-stop festive evening of dining and dancing.
An evening at Rasputin is as much about the entertainment as it is about the food, and while the two take place simlutaneous, let’s get to the food first. Since there were just two of us, the restaurant staff tailored one of the simpler “banquet” menus to accommodate our small party. I would recommend dining at Rasputin with a minimum party of four, because this place definitely has a “the more the merrier” vibe, which is reflected in the menu’s array of “banquet” prix fix menus ranging in price and extravagance from The Noble Banquet, which we were served ($75 pp Friday and Sunday, $100 pp Saturdays and Special Events) up to the Banquet Rasputin ($145 pp Friday and Sunday, $165 Saturdays and Special Events). Each Banquet features literally dozens of dishes including appetizers, first and second courses, entrees and desserts – so no one is leaving hungry, that is for sure. They do offer an ala carte menu, but if you really want to taste a lot of different Russian foods, as we did, you’ll get the best value by choosing one of the banquets. Drinks are another matter entirely. Anne and I cut ourselves off after two cocktails, but it is customary to order a bottle of vodka chilled on ice for the table and just let it flow freely throughout the evening.
Our first courses consisted of an array of mayonnaise-based salads such as potato salad with boiled eggs and vegetables, chicken salad studded with sliced grape tomatoes (seasoned with just a pinch cayenne pepper) and a delicious shredded crab salad served with boiled shrimp (pictured above). Of note was a delicious selection of Seared Ahi Tuna with a Sesame Seed Crust served with Creamy Wasabi Sauce that was absolutely mouthwatering. The hot foods were up next!
Yukon Gold Potatoes & Mushrooms a la Moscow were hearty and delicious.
Parisian Pierogi stuff with Mushrooms, Meat and Cheese. The flaky croissant pastry elevated these pierogis to a level above the boiled or fried variety that you’ll find at a Ukrainian diner such as Veselka.
Roasted Quail with Wild Rice: The bird was tiny but tender.
Next up: Lambchops and Chicken Kabob with Whipped Potatos. The chicken was super tender while the lamb came off the bone easily and was perfectly juicy. The fresh rings of raw onion added a kick of flavor.
A “light” dessert of mixed fresh fruit and mini, mousse filled pastries was challenging to sample because we were so stuffed from all of the delicious foods we’d already indulged in. Most of the portions could have easily fed two more people. Fortunately, our attentive waiters were happy to pack up most of our leftovers so that the feast could continue the next day.
And now, a few words about the entertainment!
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The pre-show entertainment features a variety of talented nightclub singers who take turns performing solo or in duets, accompanied by a live guitarist and backed by prerecorded rhythm tracks. The two female singers performed what might have been Russian pop dance standards (we could not understand the lyrics but everyone in the place seemed to know the songs very well) mixed with American pop favorites, and even a medley of Gypsy Kings covers which packed the dance floor with energetic couples. The music was great and we were soon swept up in a feeling of celebration. It is easy to see that Rasputin is where many Russians go not only to be reminded of their home country, but also to seriously party!
Close to Midnight, it was time for the main event! The lights went down as projections on the screen behind the stage announced that we were about to be treated to “Pure Emotions.” Pure Emotions consisted of a series of elaborately costumed and choreographed musical dance numbers, meant to interpret various emotions, such as Joy, Love and Ecstasy among others. Despite the show’s overt cheese factor (think: Chris Angel), I have to admit it was a lot of fun! The dance numbers range from a traditional Russian dance by a lone male dancer to a quartet of dancers clad in black robes and white, glow-in-the-dark Phantom of the Opera-style face masks, to a group that Anne and I nicknamed the “Russian St. Pauli Girls,” who danced an upbeat routine to Madonna’s “Respect Yourself.” One of my favorite sections of Pure Emotions was entitled Ecstasy, where a stage full of dancing gypsy girls dressed in peasant blouses and full skirts somehow managed to reveal layer upon layer of different colored fabric so that their skirts changed color from black to green to red to a floral print as they danced. The finale, Triumph, was soundtracked by an earnest cover of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” and featured actual aerial acrobatics – not as impressive as Spiderman: Turn off The Dark, but still pretty cool!
According to Michael Levitis, Vice-President of Entertainment and Marketing, and part of the family that owns the restaurant, “Rasputin is modeled after the leading Moscow cabarets and nightclubs.” We called it a night close to 2 AM with the disco dancing still in full swing, feeling that we had just experienced a little bit of Moscow’s nightlife in Brooklyn!
Rasputin is located at 2670 Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn, NY. Phone (718) 332-8111 for Reservations. Expect a well-dressed crowd and plan your wardrobe to impress!