I had not been looking forward to Mari Vanna brunch. Compelled to expand my brunch horizons after the restaurant invited me to give it a try, I had it on the calendar for quite some time.
Why not, you say? Well, in previous experiences the service had been lackluster. Then, I realized it was a buffet. And, like any good Bitch, I generally loathe buffets—with the notable exceptions of buffets at the Four Seasons or in Las Vegas.
I also didn’t have time for brunch—too much work, not enough fun. But, I made the time. I lept up from my laptop and met my friend Lauren for a run followed by a late brunch. We went to Mari Vanna sweaty post-run, and opted to sit outside as to not disturb the other diners.
Located right on Connecticut Avenue, the patio is covered by a cute little awning and decorated with adorable potted plants. Mari Vanna is a bit kitschy—but in a charming way. The waitresses dress in traditional Russian dresses—printed and not unlike something your Grandmother might sew, if you were Russian.
The table is decorated with blue-and-white ceramic salt-and-pepper shakers and lace placemats. The menus are covered in bright, floral clothes—it’s fun. Normally, this sort of thing offends my sensibilities but I found it charming.
The wait staff—hostesses, waitress, and manager—are all Russian, which I loved. Our waitress was quiet and not terribly helpful. Later in the meal, she disappeared when we wanted our check and we had to track it down through the lone busboy, who was also Russian.
Brunch is $35 for an unlimited buffet, inclusive of Bloody Marys and mimosas, or $15 for children. This is definitely a spot that is kid-friendly, group-friendly, or hungry person friendly.
I also ordered a la carte blinis: the cured salmon and the blinis with stuffed mushrooms. Both were delicious—I’d prefer if Mari Vanna switched to an a la carte brunch offering.
We received our drinks—coffees and mimosas. The mimosa was good—nothing exemplary but palatable. Then, we tackled the buffet separately.
The buffet was adorable, also adorned with Russian knick knacks. It was hot and fresh—despite the fact we arrived late in the day. The fruit and salads at the buffet were fresh. I appreciated that the fruit offerings included watermelon, pineapple, and strawberries.
There were all sorts of traditional Russian salads, which were labeled clearly but difficult for us not being familiar with Russian culture.
I sampled the beet salad which was delicious, as well as the Russian salad with cucumber, tomatoes, radish, scallions, parsley and dill. There was Borscht—traditional Russian beet stew—but neither of us tried it.
The roasted chicken, cooked in garlic, pepper, parsley, and dill—was moist and flavorful. We both enjoyed it. There was also potatoes, pirogis, and tilapia.
We both tried Plov, a rice-and-lamb dish with carrots, onions, and garlic.
For dessert, Mari Vanna offers an assortment of an Russian desserts and a blini bar—you can adorn the Russian crepes with blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, or cherry preserves, as well as sour cream or condensed milk.
All in all, Mari Vanna was better than I expected—better than a buffet but just sort of average. If you like buffets or Russian food—you’ll totally be in luck, and we recommend it for both. For a picky Bitch, it was just so-so.
The Bitches say: C+. Above average for a buffet, just so-so overall. We enjoyed the immersion in Russian culture and the charming patio.
1141 Connecticut Ave. N.W.