Mari Vanna is a recent addition to West Hollywood’s beautiful restaurants. As Russian as a Faberge egg, it occupies the space that once housed the plush Bastide on Melrose Place. It's a delightful place, reminiscent of a Russian dacha in which any Chekov character would feel at home amidst multi-colored pillows, festive clutter, painted boxes, ornaments and those dolls that fit into dolls that fit into dolls. Even the bill is brought to you in a gay, red purse!
Our waiter looked like a Russian matinee idol, with black hair falling over his face. (“And I used mousse this morning!” he told us, brushing it back carelessly). A big grin.
“Where are you from?” I asked him, imagining the answer to be Kiev or Odessa or somewhere exotic like Izhevsk.
“I was born here, in California,” he said, pushing back black tresses.
I was stunned. There is nothing Californian about him. Nothing blonde or blue-eyed or surfer-like at all. He is truly misplanted. An exile in California. It was sort of exciting.
“My father is German and my mother is Spanish,” he said with a ready smile. (Surely they lied to him. He had to be adopted. I thought Bessarabia for sure.) “And as well as waiting on tables here, I also model. Mostly swimwear," he said tantalizingly. "I would love to live in England,” he added, a total non sequitur.
I thought idly that I would adopt him but instead settled for the chicken kotletki.
He then agreed to answer 10 questions.
What was your best modeling gig so far?
A group shot in Palm Springs. [He flashed a ravishing smile at the memory of it. I flashed a smile at the idea, too!] It was for a book called Lust. Right after the shoot, all the models went out and lay by the pool and sipped on mojitos. It was all very laidback and fun. My worst-ever shoot was swimwear in San Diego in the winter. I was freezing in the water ... shrinkage!” He shuddered at the thought. [So did I, but a different kind of shudder from his.]
What is your ultimate ambition?
To finish my schooling and become an attorney. Very difficult to do when one is working all the time. [Very difficult to do even once you have graduated, I thought to myself.]
The best day of your life?
The day I was offered a trip to Europe as a birthday gift!
What countries have you visited, and what was your reaction to them?
Mexico—and the only word that comes to mind when I mention Mexico is 'beaches.'” [Visions of swimsuits again!]
Italy—passionate and historical. I was in Rome. I went to France, too. I was in Paris, but everyone was so rude, I cut my trip short and left for London. Now there is a vibrant city. I fell in love with London, and it is by far my favorite place so far.
Your greatest fear?
Not accomplishing my goals and simply settling. That or being eaten alive by ants. Weird, I know.
Your favorite TV show?
White Collar. Matt Bomer is so sexy.
The best advice you have ever received?
Being comfortable is your worst enemy.
Your favorite meal?
Anything Italian. Lasagna. [He licked his lips and added another non-sequitur...] “I also like enchiladas!”
Your first kiss?
[He licked his lips again.] I was a late bloomer. I was 17 and I kissed a girl named Shanda. My mom was at work. Shanda and I ending up making out while my sister was in another room. [He smiled at the memory. I did, too. It all sounded so sweet and innocent.]
Boxers or briefs?
Always commando! [He announced it proudly.]