We went to check out Cafe St. Petersburg in its new Newton location this thursday. Considering the fact that they reopened only a few weeks ago, they were really full for a weekday night, so we were glad we made a reservation. The good news is that they food is really good and exactly the same as in the old location. The bad news is that service was non-existent and the room was terribly noisy.
First about the food. I've heard a lot of disappointing reviews about their food from my American friends (including Chowhounds). I think the reason for their disappointment is St. Petersburgs entrees. I agree -- they are mediocre and way more expensive than this kind of food should be. After trying them once, we learned to stay away from them and stick with zakuski (Russian tapas), soups, blinchiki with sweet cheese and, of course, cranberry vodka. This time we shared our favorite -- meat zakuski for two. It included a chicken breast that was butterflied and stuffed with sautéed shredded carrots, raisins, and nuts -- a great combination of sweet and savory; a Georgian dish of chicken in creamy walnut cilantro sauce -- I can eat that sauce with a spoon, it's so good; very creamy chicken liver pate; meat terrine in aspic with horseradish sauce; and basturma -- smoked beef. A herring appetizer was really lovely -- nice fat slices of herring salted just right. And the pickled mushrooms were garlicy and tangy. Borsch tasted particularly good on a cold winter night. Blinchiki with sweet cheese were crispy and not overly sweet -- almost as good as my Mom's :)
The prices are a bit higher than at the old location. The meat zakuski were $20 -- quite reasonable considering the fact that they included 5 dishes. Herring, mushrooms, borsch, and blinchiki were $5-6 each. Since we stuck to appetizers and soups, we got to try a ton of dishes and leave with a reasonably low bill.
Now about the service... It was always polite, but ridiculously slow and at times non-existent. It took about 5 minutes to find a host so that we can get seated. Then it took another 15 minutes to place our order. Even though we ordered many small cold dishes and told them that they can bring stuff out as ready, we waited what seemed like ages for the first dish to come out. The potatoes for herring arrived after the herring was long gone. Bread was stale, though refilled regularly. 2 tables next to us with large parties who ordered entrees were paying for dearly for this mistake. The entrees came out one at a time with 10-15 minute gaps in between. By the time we wanted to ask for the check, we couldn't find our waiter. After a long wait, we had to get up from our table and try to notify whatever staff we could find that we'd like our check.
But there is hope. On the way out, I heard another party complain about the service to the manager. He said that they didn't expect to be completely full on a weeknight so shortly after opening. He sounded honestly apologetic about the lack of service and was promising that they'll get their act together.
Another downside of the new location is that it's extremely noisy. The room is large with too many hard surfaces. Add to that couple of large parties and talking becomes a real challenge.
I miss the old location.