No one would argue that The Russian Tea Room is one of the coolest spots in town nowadays. Especially when you consider the rising popularity of ultra casual, local-seasonal restaurants, the 85-year-old institution seems almost archaic in its unchanging menu and lavishness. That being said, it’s probably hard to find a New Yorker that hasn’t at least dreamt about taking over a booth in the corner of The Russian Tea Room, ordering up rounds of 100-proof vodka and maxing out their credit card on too many tins of sevruga caviar. Those fantasies only grow during the holiday season, when The Russian Tea Room seems pulled almost directly out of a Christmas card, with its plush red banquets, green walls, and golden samovars glittering in each corner.
Happily, a brand new breakfast menu (the meal has only been offered a few times in The Russian Tea Room’s history) will afford New Yorkers the opportunity to play tourist for a day. And while $14-$42 an entrée (the high-end includes a six ounce sirloin steak and eggs, served with foie gras potato hash) may seem like a lot to spend on breakfast, we’d have to concede that it’s worth the price of admission to this iconic, holiday destination this time of year. Besides, you didn’t actually come for the food, did you?
The Russian Tea Room glows like the inside of a Faberge egg (incidentally, they have one by the hostess stand) with its first-rate collection of gilded art, impeccable table settings, and a decorated Christmas tree twinkling by the bar. All you’ll need to do to complete the festive image is order up a pot of tea. You might just feel like the long-lost princess Anastasia, spooning sour cherries into a sterling-handled glass of St. Petersburg, Earl Grey or Darjeeling.
A full menu of imported caviar is there for the ordering, but no one will look at you sideways if you decide to just stick with the eggs. It would be a shame to choose a standard frittata or bowl of steel-cut oatmeal though (this is The Russian Tea Room after all), so get into the spirit of things with specialties like Czars Eggs (soft boiled eggs topped with salmon roe, served with blini and traditional accompaniments), Oladi (Russian-style pancakes topped with sour cream and trout roe), or Russian Toast (a pan-sautéed walnut and raisin brioche topped with sweet cream).
After you’ve taken a peek at the collection of Russian nesting dolls downstairs (they’re all for sale, an early holiday present perhaps?) you’re perfectly situated to spend the rest of the afternoon doing fantastically touristy things. You can stroll through the pop-up shops in Columbus Circle, take a hansom cab ride through Central Park, or wander over to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. Because somehow, when it comes to Christmas, being terribly hip or cool doesn’t much matter.