Russia, April 7, 1999
You don't want to eat at home again??Alisar
Russian dining is always an adventure, even if your actually in the Ukraine! Last night, is a good example. As my friend John and I were looking though Kyiv's guides to nightlife, we came across two entries for Middle Eastern food. With a desire for humus and schwarma, we were off!
Finding the restaurant is always an adventure, and this night was no exception. After pulling up at the address for the first restaurant, Montania, the taxi driver declared that there was no restaurant at the address and that we really needed to go to his brother's Russian restaurant for good food. Not willing to be subjected to another deserted restaurant serving cold pelmni and greasy shashlik, we bailed from the car asap. As we looked around, we saw he was right. We were at the Ukrainian Postal Institute with not a hint of a restaurant within. We wandered around for a bit, until the dezhornia told us that the restaurant had closed and all the people had left in March.
Flat Jon just eats at home.
After that setback, we argued a moment about he merits of McDonalds, and sanity prevailed. Choice number two, Alisar was just down the street, and our adventure continued. When we entered, it was pick a door time! We were faced with three unmarked doors, two which turned out to be locked, and one that opened up into a very small, rectangular room, with one hell of a big TV set in the middle. And just our luck, it was on, blaring out a "quality" Russian-dubbed movie at top volume!
Just before I pushed the damn thing out the window, the waitress, sensing my momentary emotional outburst, thankfully hit the mute button. With the deafening silence, we sat down to order. The menu, in Ukrainian of course, was incomprehensible to me. I'm so lost here, as an illiterate Russian speaker, unable to read even the basics in Ukrainian, I had to ask the waitress to read me the menu.
She was droning on about the Russian salads, when I asked for humus. That blank look of incomprehension came over her face, zapping John with a shot of disappointment. When he asked for schwarma she look at him a moment, then exclaimed, "Oi! Shashlik!" More depression. When we got to drinks, there were out of everything, even alcohol, and only had juice. Sever depression!
The foul mood was only lifted when the first starter came. They were tasty little baked pelmni, with a zesty tartar sauce. John dove into his schwarma, and found it to be good, but chicken instead of the usual lamb. My main course, some sort of meatloaf cook like shashlik, was a dish I've had, and disliked numerous times before. I gotta remember what that is, so next time I stay away from it.
One dish I should have stayed away from was the last one. It tasted like blocks of breaded and fried cheese, but there was something more to it. After a few bites I called the waitress over and asked her what type of meat was inside. She kept saying "mzog," but I didn't have a clue what she meant. While we were playing Charades, the other waitress walked up and started pointing to her head. It took me a while, but then I realized she mean "brains." Cow brains to be exact. We had just consumed cow brains! I was instantly ill, but John, being Greek, had tasted it before, and was unmoved.
I sure was moved! I resisted the urge to run to the bathroom and chuck, but I definitely stopped eating the stuff, and I even put a napkin over the plate! I still can't believe I munched on the brain of a cow. I was a vegetarian before I came here, and now I was consuming brains! Oh, how Russia has corrupted me! Will I ever regain my morals again?
So far, John and I are alive and healthy, but I ain't going back there again. The spotty service, the near lack of Middle Eastern food, and those surprise entries have me looking for a more sedate munchies provider.
I was back in Moscow last week, and just for ya'll I checked out a new restaurant: Pancho Villa. If location was everything, then Pancho Villa would be one of the best in Moscow, for it is a great set-up right on Stari Arbat. Unfortunately for this place, prompt service and decent food count at an establishment calling itself a restaurant. Last night, some friends of mine and I went to Pancho Villa, and in the two hours it took us to get served we came up with a few comments about the place, ten (10) to be exact.
1. We wandered in, and sat down at one of the four empty tables in the back. The floor manager came up to us, after we were waiting a while for the menus, and told us the section was reserved. We fought for a bit, then waited at the bar, watching the empty section with annoyance.
2. When we finally were seated, a new mystery arose. I'm not sure who really works there, cuz the only guy we say was the overworked floor manager who kept shooing hungry diners from the reserved section all night long. I personally went and found a menu for the group, and even stole napkins from another table while we waited.
3. And did we wait! It took the staff half an hour to notice we were sitting there. Then, over an hour for them to take, then deliver our appetizers. I'm not talking main meal here, just the first course! Like I said earlier, we waited for around two hours from seating to main course service!
4. Oh, and in that time, I saw no less than five people that I knew, all expats. If your trying to stay away from the foolish foreigners, like I am these days, Pancho's is not the place to wander into!
5. Most of the others, like us, were passing the time with a steady flow of frozen drinks, but even that was annoying. I know I specifically requested a strawberry daiquiri, in Russian and English, but a lemon daiquiri was brought to the table. On top of that, the drink was weak and had chunks of ice instead of well blended ice shavings.
6. Once we did find a waiter, (why no women? They work too fast for the super-slow kitchen?), we ordered our food, and to our dismay, he tried to impress us by memorizing our order. We'd been more impressed if he'd written it down, then actually delivered the food we'd asked for!
7. Oh, and bring your own salt and pepper, cuz even though it's a Mexican restaurant, their food is bland, their only "hot sauce" is a saucer of Tabasco (no joke, it was unaltered red Tabasco!), and they do not have salt or pepper on the tables. I even went so far as to ask the floor manager (no waiter to be found), and he said it was company policy!
8. I guess ashtrays are too expensive also, cuz unlike every single other restaurant in Russia, where there are usually multiple ashtrays per table, there were none to be found, and the smoker in our group kept dropping his ash on Mr. Munn's shoes!
9. At some point, the waiter did appear, and he poured wine for the lady in our party. Well, actually it was more like a bit of wine with her cork, since there was a slick of cork particles in the glass of wine. Seems the waiters they do have broke the cork in the bottle and aren't all that capable of getting it out.
10. Also at some point, we got our food, and it was about time! We were so hungry, that even without decent sized portions for the price (around $10 a pop), seasonings worthy of a restaurant calling itself "Mexican", we ate from sheer hunger; the animal urges in us overcoming the ability to try and taste our foods.
The only good thing about the place, like I said earlier, is its location. Not so much as it is on Stari Arbat, there are much better restaurants on the street (San Marco's comes to mind), as it is close to Mickey D's, so when you escape the death by wait, you can go to a restaurant that understands the time value of money!
Ok, so in the past I've been a little harsh with my restaurant reviews, but hey! they deserve it! Luckily, this time, I've found a restaurant deserving of a good review.
After an 18-hour train and three-hour bus ride from Volgagrad, I am currently visiting my friend Matt in the city of Toglatti, where there is a restaurant called "Big Ben." But unlike the name would suggests, it serves tasty Russian food, which was fine with me since I was too hungry to deal with ultra-bland English food after the ordeal I went through to get here.
Matt warned me that we would have to ask for the food to be served fast, which scared me after my recent Pancho Villa experience, but all turned out much better. We started with salads, with his "Olivia" being so much better than the plastic salads at the produkti across the street from PwC. My salad ovishi came in two versions, the 46 ruble masla and the 42 ruble smetana, with me ordering the latter and being pleasantly surprised when the dressing was in a little pitcher on the side. That way I could regulate just how much smetana to put on it and not be faced with the usual "wet" salad often served here.
Our main courses arrived shortly after we were done with our salads, to my still-hungry stomach's joy. My sudack (what kind of fish is that in English?) and boiled potatoes was delicious, even after I gave up trying to describe and order a baked potato with the fish. Thinking about it, neither Matt, who's been here for four years, nor I who just pasted my second anniversary yesterday, have ever seen a baked potato in Russia! His "hot Big Ben" was a spicy (for Russia) stew of pork and vegetables that perfectly complemented his poured-in-a-tall-glass beer.
Oddly enough, just before we got the bill, Matt asked for the menu and wrote down the prices of the items we ordered, to check to see if we'd been overcharged. I'd never done this in Russia (or Ukraine) but Matt told me "Tiha, vot eta ne Moskva!" In the end, the bill for 388 rubles (wow! It's cheap to eat outside of Moscow!) was right, and they even gave us Wrigley's gum with the change.
If, one day, your sent to Avtovaz on assignment, or somehow wander this way on your own, I'd be willing to recommend Big Ben, on the corner of Ulitza Revoulutzi and Slivetskaya for a decent meal and free chewing gum!
Yolki Palki Po
A while back, a friend of ours sent us to a great new sidewalk cafe, Stella's, where the sidewalk seating, the banana curry, and the light-blue waiters were impressive, if not a bit pricey (especially the boys).
When she recommended another new place Wednesday, Lidia and I followed her lead again, expecting similar results. Yolki Palki Po, the Mongolian restaurant on Pushkinskaya Ploshod gave results alright! Results the second we got to the front door.
Or, I should say, the second we hit the line at the front door. Now I haven't waited in line (or been face-controlled) since an ugly incident where I bought a dozen eggs and lobbed them at the doorman, so I was a little miffed that I was stopped at the door to a cheap-o restaurant!
After I explained to the foolish woman behind the door that I was thumb-body, we were let in to what I can best describe as complete pandemonium. Of course, Lidia felt at home and immediately pushed her way past the confused (like me) and grabbed a bowl for the food. Before I could even begin to hear the instructions over the roar of the people/stove/music, she was already loping fresh horse meat in her bowl.
Slowly I realized the deal. You fill a bowl (100 rrl a pop) full of what ever you want form the fine selection of chopped meats (heart!, horse, beef, chicken, and pork), vegetables, and spices. Then you take it over to the big grill where its cooked by surly fry-guys who will douse your selection in oil (berating you for not adding more) before slapping it around a bit with tongs used on everyone else's food too.
I liked the concept, though I think Benehana does it better. First, the crowds around the raw food were annoying and I shuddered at the though of all those hands/noses/mouths waving over my meal. Then, there is a reason I go to restaurants instead of cooking myself: I have no clue how much Thyme/Cumin/Paprika to add to my bowl! A spoonful of each is definitely not recommended!
If & when you've successfully maneuvered that obstacle course, you better have exact change for the checkout girls! They may be yoga masters, sitting in the lotus position all day at the register, but you can bet that ain't got no change for that 100 rrl note! (Luzhkov's nice, new 2% tax is giving me kopeck headaches!)
Once I sat down, I thought the worst was over, and we'd be able to enjoy our meal in peace and quiet, but I was wrong. For a Mongolian restaurant, the Mexican music was very annoying, and I had to eat with my arm wrapped around my bowl and my Baltika. Why, you ask?
I tested it with my pitcher. Exactly three (3) seconds after I put it down empty, the blistering fast cleaning girls zipped it from the table. Three seconds! That's a world record! At least they waited till I finished. The rice plate and our napkins weren't so lucky. Only when I growled at one did they leave us alone for a while.
I defiantly would not recommend Yolki Palki Po for a date (it zapped my happy mood), unless you get stumbling drunk beforehand or arrive at 15:00 when there are no crowds. It is a good place to go if you have kids though, cuz if your lucky they'll be zaberayeted with your dirty dishes!