THE DISH: Du Nord 1834
Du Nord 1834//41 Ligovsky Prospekt//Tel: 578 1245//Open 24/7//Menu in Russian, English and French//Meal for two without alcohol 1,930 rubles ($59)
Published: June 21, 2012 (Issue # 1713)
Un diner presque parfait
While there are a great many confectionaries in St. Petersburg with French pretensions, few among them actually manage to create an authentic atmosphere or execute the cuisine with that effortless finesse characteristic of France. Du Nord 1834 has a long history of Francophilia: It is so named after one of the first French cafes in St. Petersburg, which was housed in the same building.
From the outset it oozes Gallic charm, from the striped awning to the wicker chairs placed around small round tables outside and the baguettes that line the windows. The only obvious difference is the location: Instead of a quaint little Parisian street, Du Nord 1834 overlooks the uproarious Ligovsky Prospekt, which rather spoils the image.
Patrons are greeted with a cheery ‘Bonjour, Madame!’ and glancing around the sumptuous yet classical interior (mirrors framed by wood paneling, velvet upholstery and a delectable counter stacked with cakes, pastries and breads) the atmosphere is understatedly — but unmistakably — French. The music playing in the background is charming, but the interior lets itself down slightly with the rather-too-authentically-French toilets, which are clean and serviceable, but could be, and should be, as pretty as the shop floor.
When questioned, the waiter happily admitted to only knowing one phrase of French, and not understanding it. However, he was very amiable and not only helpful, but showed genuine interest in our party and his job on the whole.
Du Nord 1834 seemed to improve at every step, and the menu is delightfully original yet very traditionally French, without exception. There are predictable favorites, such as frogs’ legs at 450 rubles ($13.80), or mussels and fries for 490 rubles ($15). The wine list is not cheap, with bottles ranging from 1,600 to 2,800 rubles ($49 to $85.65), and helpfully sized half-liter carafes at 400 rubles ($12.25), but the wine on offer is almost exclusively French AOC and the list also boasts port and dessert wine. Otherwise, there is a range of flavored coffees, but a lack of inspiring soft drinks.
The duck pâté with wheat toasts, two kinds of marmalade and olives (230 rubles, $7) had a beautiful, rustic presentation — the pâté was served in a small round dish covered with paper and tied with string. The description ‘marmalade’ was a bit loose, and was in fact closer to cherry and orange flavored jelly cubes, but perfectly complimented the pâté, which was chunky and succulent. The baked beet salad with goat’s cheese, red grapes and pine nuts (250 rubles, $7.70) was pleasant enough, but could have included more cheese.
The fine French fare continued with pigeon served with grilled mushrooms and snails (490 rubles, $15), which also came with the cherry and orange jellies, which melted to form a delicious — and colorful — sauce. The pigeon was slightly overcooked, but was garnished with roasted fat, which added a rich, guilty pleasure to the dish. The rabbit stew with mashed potatoes (390 rubles, $11.90) had a wholesome, subtle flavor, interspersed with pungent mushrooms.
The real test came in the dessert. In making the perfect croissant there seems to be a secret that the French are not willing to share with the rest of the world, and it is a true rarity to find one that has a patch on anything found in a French boulangerie. However, Du Nord 1834 passed the final test with flying colors. The croissant (70 rubles, $2.15) was crispy (but not glazed) on the outside, had buttery, soft layers in the center and flaked satisfyingly when devoured — in short, perfect. A less traditionally French option is the poppy seed cupcake with orange cream (80 rubles, $2.45). It was very dainty, decorated with silver balls and set on a pale orange paper to match the cream. The cake was served chilled, which was unusual but proved a pleasant change, and the orange cream was light, not overpowering the flavor of the poppy seeds.
Du Nord 1834 is a true gem for Francophiles and non-Francophiles alike. For the best French food this side of Paris at competitive prices, and perfect for a short coffee break or business lunch, it is an absolute must.