The trouble with the horseradish-infused vodka at Mari Vanna, a charmingly appointed Russian restaurant in the Flatiron, is that one shot just isn't enough, least of all in weather like this. They sell the acerbic stuff for $9 per, and it does what it's supposed to, effortlessly making short work of the foggy effects 100-degree New York City days can have on anyone with a pulse. But just try stopping at a single glass (sipping: recommended). The vodka is so savory and bitter a second shot inevitably follows -- and so, too, does a much more pleasant sort of fog, the kind that can lead to spirited arguments about politics, vows to read Crime and Punishment on the beach and, of course, a craving for cold borscht. They serve the latter, a clear, refreshing, royal-purple broth of julienned beets called Svekolnik ($10), along with a wide variety of Eastern European classics: beef stroganoff ($29), chicken Kiev ($27) and pierogi ($19), are each large enough to be shared, family style. The appetizers don't skimp on size, either. There are enough blinis to an order -- delightfully salty and sweet with sour cream, chopped red onion and large red roe -- to satisfy most appetites, and at $29, that seems, well, extravagant, but at least within shouting distance of reasonable. (Those feeling more sanguine about the economy might want to try the $195 version with Sturgeon Royal Collection Osetra.) The dÃ©cor -- a meticulously detailed affair that appears to have taken pre-1917 wealthy grandparents as its inspiration -- follows similar suit. The restaurant is theme-y, sure, but it isn't ostentatious enough for oligarchs, and not nearly autocratic enough to recall the days of the hammer and sickle. (That said, it's not Brighton Beach, either.) Couple the excellent food with a waitstaff that seems to have been hired as much for their unwavering commitment to service as they have for their cheekbones, and you've got a winning combination. Or maybe that's just the horseradish vodka talking.
41 E. 20th St.