Stephen Starr’s borscht-slinging Veronika is an objectively opulent restaurant. In the grand dining room, located on the second floor of the Fotografiska museum on Park Avenue South, one will encounter multi-tiered brass chandeliers, leather chairs, 20-foot ceilings, cushy blue banquettes, indulgent French and Eastern European fare from chef Robert Aikens, and good osetra caviar. Spending a lot of money here is not difficult.
But for such a posh venue, patrons can also still get in and out for a fair price, all while sampling some of Veronika’s marquee dishes, including the squirty comfort classic that is chicken Kiev. In fact, there’s such a wide range of prices that those who order frugally can save more than $100 than those who don’t. That’s prime territory for the second edition of Value Option.
The laws of Suttonomics hold that one can estimate the price of a meal using a technique known as “a la carte arithmetic”: You take the cheapest starters, mains, and desserts, and add them up along with tax and tip, then you do the same thing for the most expensive items. Chances are, your actual bill will fall somewhere in between.
Let’s start with the white hot Llama San. A four-course meal for two will cost anywhere from $184 to $223, with a range of $39 between the two extremes. Or consider Anton’s in the West Village, where a similar meal will run $126 to $188, at a reasonable $62 range. The nice thing about tight ranges like these — with prices that don’t vary too widely on fairly lean menus — is that they should allow some folks to say, “Hey, my wallet isn’t going to hurt a whole lot if I chose one dish over the other, so let me focus on what I want versus the cost.”
One can’t make that same claim with Veronika. The cheapest three-course meal for two — a salad, some borscht, celery root au poivre, chicken Kiev, and some ice cream — will run $130 after tax and tip, or $205 with two of the most affordable wines per person. But the priciest non-caviar meal — beef tartare, foie gras, filet mignon, lobster a l’americaine, and a pear dessert, would run $106 more. Add on the most expensive wine pours (excluding the high-cost outlier, a $65 glass) and you’d spend over $200 extra, or $416.
Rest assured: The cheaper dishes don’t suggest any type of second-class experience, which is a darn good thing because this is still an expensive affair even at the lower-end.
During a recent meal, celeriac au poivre — the lowest-cost vegetarian item — was more flavorful and technically proficient than a beef-based version of this dish I tried at Starr’s Pastis. The giant salt-baked root, about the size of a small cantaloupe, sits on the plate atop a pool of creamy brown sauce. Each slice of celeriac, cut with a steak knife, conveys heft and a delicate celery-apple flavor. Like a filet, the vegetable is a neutral conduit for the au poivre. It is meaty without containing meat, with intense jolts of peppercorn punch.
Chicken Kiev, the most affordable non-vegetarian main, does what it does best, which is act like a giant chicken finger. The fried boneless breast doesn’t have much poultry flavor, but that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here for the supple mouthfeel of the bird, the supreme crunch of the exterior, and the parsley butter center, which squirts its incendiary contents are least three inches above the cutlet when pierced.
You then dredge a nugget of hot, crispy flesh into the pool of turquoise-colored butter, collecting a bit of pleasantly gritty mashed potatoes along the way. For this perfect bite of wonderfully bland flavors and wickedly complex textures and aromas, you willingly burn your tongue. The cost is just $29, making it the cheapest meat entree available.
And though the prices exhibit a wide variance here, it may make sense for Veronika. A long menu caters to the museum crowd, which may be broader than that of a smaller neighborhood restaurant.
A bit of bad news: Most prime-time tables get snapped up a month out, and the restaurant has limited capacity for walk-ins. The bar is currently drinks-only. But at least when you do get in, you can eat some of the best dishes for not a whole lot of money. And here it’s worth noting that there are other options on the cheaper side of the menu too; the lamb goulash is only $32.