Red glamour is baffling. The restaurant Citizen sports a portrait of Chairman Mao, that lovable Chinese leader whose four-year orgy of state-sponsored terror, rape, cannibalism, torture and starvation, known as the "Great Leap Forward," left untold millions dead. How is it that a Warhol portrait of Mao is considered cutting-edge while a prominent mug of Trent Lott would no doubt spark protests and boycotts having nothing to do with his hairpiece? At the same time, why is it cool to craft a hip joint out of Soviet Bloc detritus? The Soviet Union, and its source of testosterone, Joseph Stalin, were the happy-go-lucky brood that gave the world the gulag, the show trial and the collective farm--state appliances for institutionalized slavery, torture and murder that choked up 100 million corpses before the 20th century bit the dust. Bottoms up! Pass the apparatchik kasha. Let's party. And they do, lining up outside the split-level Nikita in the West Village waiting to wade into the thick of quasi-red culture.
Just as a bar flaunting the glories of the Confederacy would elicit repugnance, so should one that flirts with Bolshie frills. And Nikita has them, with abundant applications of concrete, red stars stamped everywhere, constructivist "proletarian revolution" murals, televisions broadcasting Thunderball, stark and flimsy folding wooden chairs in black and servers dressed in austere uniforms featuring black leather straps across their breasts terminating in black leather bags.
And drinks with names like Crazy Ivan, Iron Kitten and Monkey in Orbit. (What, no space dog?) And vodka. The far end of the cave level of the bar is a handsome chiller case stocked with clear boutique pours.
Nikita has food, too, though other than caviar it's doubtful any Soviet Bloc-heads ever feasted on this grub, though it's possible they might have noshed on Nikita's golden beet and goat-cheese salad. Feathered with arugula and planked with petite green beans, this salad was a masterpiece, with slightly sweet and tangy pink beets loitering on the edges of a plate puffed with greens doused in horseradish vinaigrette.
White tuna carpaccio with truffles flirts with Asian fusion. Not quite paper-thin sheets of fish were paneled on a green glass plate, giving the fish a distressing aesthetic. But the lacy meat, studded with sea salt, was delicious, and a side knot of seaweed salad was fresh and crisp. The flat-iron steak with frites was a juicy oblong cut that was more stringy than tender. Yet a cap of horseradish butter primed the richness. Frites were flaccid, though.
Nikita serves the most perplexing scallops I've ever come across. The flavor isn't rich; it isn't rancid. It's simply truant. Impaled on large sticks flecked with pepper, the firm disks were coupled with an inventive black olive vinaigrette, and dunking these pale yellow disks deep in the stuff was the only way to eat them.
Those same impotent disks made an appearance on the fire-and-ice tower, a vertical tribute to the fresh seafood found on Sunday brunch buffet tables, or so it seemed. The multilevel, mostly iced pyramid consisted of juicy, rich and massive shrimp, oysters that were fishier than a Soviet treaty commitment and the top half of a giant Day-Glo orange prawn that leered at the diner like some mantis-like alien. The best part of the tower was the top level, baptized by fire. It held the iron-seared mussels, a tasty and well-seasoned scattering of hot shellfish. But the dipping sauce service was as dim-witted as a five-year plan. Cocktail sauce and rémoulade were served in vodka vials, which made dipping clumsy.
White Russian black walnut cake was remarkable: moist and firm; rich without being overly sweet; dense but light.
Nikita is hip and happening--for the Dallas moment. It's piped with that tediously slick club chug groove that's quickly evolved from "hipper than thou" to a kind of sonic expectorant. Too bad they couldn't get away with applying one of the precious few useful things to emanate from Soviet culture and flood the place with Shostakovich.
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