THE DISH: Arka
27 Bolshaya Konyushennaya\\Tel. 240 2496\\Open daily 9 a.m. – 6 a.m.\\Menu in Russian and English\\Dinner for two with alcohol: 2,810 rubles ($93)
Published: February 20, 2013 (Issue # 1747)
Regulars on the Petersburg restaurant scene will be familiar with a new type of hip eatery that typically becomes popular with the local young professional and “creative” class. Nobody’s quite sure whether these places are bars, restaurants or music venues — it’s all part of a cover-all-bases approach. After all, why limit yourself to being a restaurant when you can be all things to all people?
Arka Bar and Grill, which opened last summer on Bolshaya Konyushennaya Ul., falls squarely into this category. Issues of originality aside, this is no bad thing in itself, especially as Arka has a couple of extra cards up its sleeve to set it apart from the competition. The first is the originality of its layout. Entering from the street, you pass into a long narrow space with a high arched ceiling lit by spotlights. This bottleneck-like space that leads to the large dining area at the back is lined by a 13-meter long bar, and is in fact an archway that once linked the street to the building’s interior courtyard — hence the name.
The second is the creative way in which the designers have used what is already an unorthodox space. The dining area is divided into two levels and makes judicious use of exposed brickwork balanced with Scandinavian-style wood paneling, all accentuated by subtle lighting.
Chef Yevgeny Khitrov’s menu emphasizes simplicity and is focused on grilled meats, soups and salads. Vegetarians will find little on offer here, however, as even the salads allow little room for maneuver. This required one diner to make some compromises when it came to starters. As it turned out, her only real criticism of the smoked cod salad with roasted beetroot and new potatoes (360 rubles, $12) was that it was “rather Russian.”
Although the salad didn’t quite hit the mark, Arka unexpectedly raised the bar with two selections from the soup menu — both chosen at the urging of the waiter. As it happens, the inventive soups are a very good reason to eat at Arka. The cream soup with Jerusalem artichoke and smoked salmon (380 rubles, $12.60) is a twin-flavored delight, the tiny morsels of salmon providing a sharp counterpoint to the delicate notes of the melt-in-the-mouth artichoke. The delectable mushroom cappuccino soup with Borodinsky bread (360 rubles, $12) should also be an essential choice.
The seafood shashlyks of squid, scallop and prawn (340 rubles, $11.30) came on a slab of black slate, accompanied by a green chili sauce. Though perfectly grilled, the morsels of seafood were served three apiece on two miniature skewers and were disappointingly bland. Better value for money was the grilled sea bream (680 rubles, $22.50), which comes with a medley of baby corn, chili pepper and pickled onions. Arka offers novel variations on side dishes — new potatoes with mint (160 rubles, $5.30), for example — but in general the sense was that, soups apart, our choices failed to deliver on their promise. Visitors may be better advised opting for a steak (1400 rubles, $47) or a shashlyk meal for two (1100 rubles, $37). House red wine starts at 240 rubles ($8) per glass.
The service is informal, verging on eager — our waiter got ahead of himself at one point by removing a spoon from the table shortly before the soup had arrived. But in general this can only be a good thing. The question remains, however, whether Arka can be all things to all people. On this evidence, it seems like it’s a tricky balancing act to maintain.