By Kate Appleton
January 21, 2015
Credit: © Andrew Kist / Courtesy of Ariana Restaurant

Ariana Grinblat realized a dream in opening her namesake restaurant in New York's Soho neighborhood last year. But the 28-year-old Russian American already has one successful career behind her—and would be easily recognized on the streets of Moscow. She’s a former teen pop star and six-time Russian Grammy winner. “I’ve been called the Slavic Britney Spears,” she told me over barrel-aged vodka martinis, with a laugh.

Unlike Britney, Ariana is married to a former boy-band alum, Lev Shneur, and the couple developed a friendship with gallerist and classical music proponent Louis K. Meisel (who also happens to be their landlord). While it was her idea to launch a restaurant that puts an innovative spin on Russian food, it was Meisel’s to host piano recitals. The result is Ariana restaurant’s unusual and highly satisfying Classical Music/Contemporary Cuisine series, held Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

When I attended, the featured pianist was Yoonie Han, who debuted at the Seoul Philharmonic at 13 and usually plays Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center when in town. Instead, I was one of about 20 people who got to experience an intimate half-hour performance—so close we could see her teeth when she smiled. Meisel kicked things off by noting that this is how classical music ought to be experienced and comparing the series to the salon-style gatherings popular in Gertrude Stein’s Paris day. Without further ado, we downed vodka shots, and Han played three pieces (one must always be from a Russian composer).

Then executive Chef Vitaliy Kovalev’s five-course prix fixe meal took center stage. He plays with Russian classics, serving a deconstructed beet salad (with house-made pickles, deep-fried kale, and rye bread crumbs), duck pelmeni with flash-fried cilantro, and home-cured salmon.

Up next in 2015? Ching-Yun Hu performs on January 21 and Misuzu Tanaka on January 28. The $85 per-person price includes the recital, dinner, the vodka shot, and two cocktails—a great value compared to those Carnegie Hall orchestra seats.

Kate Appleton is a Senior Digital Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter @k_appleton.