The International Writers Magazine: Moscow 1980's:
Note: Prices change as Dollars v Rubles fluctuate.
Eating High On the Hog In and Around Moscow
David Russell on a memorable journey to the USSR
The Slaviansky Bazaar
Dinner at Moscow’s Slaviansky Bazaar was packed with dollar paying tourists.
Rightly so, if you had dollars it was a major bargain beginning with two
appetizers. Number one was Dabs of Black and Orange Caviar, Sour Cream and
real Pancakes. Number two, bits of Salami, Pork, Fish, Potato Salad and a
glass of non-vintage Champagne. The main course was semi-familiar; a plate
piled with Potted Beef, French Fries and a Cooked Onion. Ice Cream with a
Hot Beverage finished dinner. While we ate entertainment was continuous; a
singing Tenor, three dancing girls, a Magician, a lady juggling bowling pins and
a singer all backed by two Balalaikas, a Guitar and Accordion. The tab was
5300 Rubles. For a state worker, four month’s salary. The Bazaar, I believe
has moved to Vitebisk in 1929 and now has large festivals associated with the
The Moscow Radio Tower Restaurant
Lunch at Moscow’s 4000’ Ostankinp Radio – Television tower, with its
rotating roof Restaurant provided a continuing change of view. A U.S.
Passport and a dollar got us into the elevator for a ride to the top.
The Restaurant’s fixed price lunch the day we were there was Apple Juice, 3
dabs of Caviar, a Roll and Butter, bits of fish and meat as an appetizer,
plus a main dish of nicely prepared Crab Meat ala Thermador. The menu
describes it’s seasoning as Shallots, White Wine, Taragon, Bechamel,
Mustard, Salt, Pepper and Butter. If that wasn’t a sufficient filling of
food, next came a plate Chicken legs and wings, fried in a Potato Batter.
Delicious. For dessert it was Ice Cream and a hot beverage. Feeling guilty
for all the carrying the waitress did, we left a two-dollar tip which
brought smiles as we left.
For the weekend, we hired a car and driver for a drive past the ring roads
to a number of stops we wanted to make. First was in Vladimer, where we
stopped for lunch at the In-tourist hotel. The fixed menu had Soup, a Hard
Boiled Egg, a Blini with a dab of Caviar, Beef Cutlets and Potatoes, and
Apple Fritters for dessert. Out the door, tip included, cost for 3 equaled
Our reason for stopping in Vladimer was to visit the famed, two block square
Cathedral Saint Denis, which was more worthy for its choral performance than
the Cathedral. Continuing, we headed for Suzdahl, where we had pre-booked
reservations at the Suzdal hotel. Cost for my wife and I was $30.00,
including dinner and breakfast. Our driver cost a lot less. Suzdal’s tourist
attractions were centuries old Grey wood houses, buildings and churches
which we visited the next morning.
Our dinner had a “mystery” beginning with a dish we thought the complete
meal; a Boiled Egg, 2 Slices of Beef, Potato and a small cabbage Salad. But,
to our surprise, that was the appetizer. The main course turned out to be a
nicely turned Grilled Salmon with more Potatoes, a whole Tomato and Cucumber
Slices. With that came a cup of Coffee and a bottle of Water. Since the
hotel turned lights off at 10, it was an early night. And an early up, with
a breakfast reservation for 7:15.
Unfortunately the lady who checked us in the night before neglected to add
our names to the breakfast list. Though the dining room was empty and we
obviously had stayed at the hotel, we were “Nyet!”. So, down the hall we
went to the “People’s” Cafeteria where Porridge, a Boiled Egg, Toast and
Beverage cost about a quarter each.
In the old town, the great wooden buildings included a Windmill with a
working Water Wheel. Hundreds of years old, it looked as if it could turn
forever. We also visited the Church and a typical house. From a woman guide
we bought a picture taking pass for about 10 cents.
At Noon, lunch was at a restaurant where we pre-booked a reservation that
morning. But, as Yogi Berra said, it was Déjà Vu all over again. No
admission permitted until the lady who made our reservation arrived and
recognized us. A lesson: in Russia always reserve in advance and make sure
they know your face.
Lunch was a delicious bargain, though a strange combination. Dry Meat, a
whole Tomato with mustard dressing. Bread with Orange Caviar and Butter.
Meat and Noodle Soup. A ground Sausage Patty with hot sauce, Kasha and
Onions. Evaporated milk ice cream with Flaked Chocolate was the sweet. Add
Hot Beverages and our cost equaled 50 cents US each.
From there we took the straight road to Palekh, home of Painted Boxes, our
ultimate destination. Their Museum featured hand made wooden boxes more than
a 100 years old which were an interesting contrast to new boxes; many
resembling the older ones. Skills hadn’t changed much with time. Tradition
Next stop, the beautiful 4 level Palekh Cathedral with Gilt Framed Portraits
from ceiling to floor. For a church art lover, a full day, maybe two to see
them all. When we’d had our fill, we moved on. Our plan was to visit the
home of a box making master but when we arrived his house was locked.
Looking for the factory that turned out the boxes, we learned there was
none; box-making was a home business for Palekhis. Invited into an apartment
where the husband was in New York on a selling trip (the wife made the
boxes) she showed us beautiful samples including a one inch by two inch
gorgeous hand painted mini box asking $150.00 US for it. Too much for us,
so smiling we said Thank You and left.
Nearby we spotted a shop where women were putting new material in their
window. In the store we found two Wooden Carved Statues we loved for a
hundred and 25 dollars less than the apartment lady asked. Now that was a
bargain, worth the visit.
A Moscow Nyet-Nyet
Back in Moscow, our dinner reservation was at the restaurant Dragna, which
we learned was dedicated to the memory of the infamous Al Capone.
Immediately we learned why when the Maitre ‘D out of the blue announced a
“sudden” $10.00 per head cover charge for their fixed price no menu dinner.
It reminded me of a Naples Mafia Restaurant. Mutually agreed, we left.
The nearby Bako Café, was a wonderful alternative with a Cheese, Tongue,
Parsley & Dill salad for an appetizer and for the main course Lamb Chops,
Kasha and a vegetable. To that, we added a bottle of Georgian Brandy and
water. No coffee or dessert was available - but our more than filling dinner
totaled less than $10.00. Dragna, take that!
Italy in Moscow
The “Tres Mon” restaurant was actually a joke because the owner who came
from New Jersey, told us to him, "Tres Mon” meant “Me, Myself and I”.
Actually, we could have been in Milan, because the food was so Northern
Italian. The waiters and waitresses who took our order in English should
have taken it in Italian. Our bill, however, was in dollars. But, with a
fine Italian Chianti for C, with a shared platter of delicious veal and
pasta al dente with a fresh tomato and mushroom sauce, which I washed down
with an icy Polish Beer, you heard no complaints.
Where The Mafia Eats
For our farewell dinner, “Arcadia” was the pick. When we arrived it was
packed with big spenders. So they added a small table for us which gave us a
partial stage view of a fine pianist, a violinist and singer.
Dinner started with the good stuff, Black Caviar on a plate with Cheese
Blintzes. While we were munching, a waiter brought a large bowl with Tomato,
Lettuce, Radish and Cucumber which passed for a small salad.
Claryce ordered the Chicken Kiev and since I’d had enough Chicken to last a
lifetime, I had a Veal Chop. Claryce said ‘UMM, ‘umm, which meant
“delicious” and my lightly breaded chop was moist and tender with a true
veal taste. Since that was our farewell dinner, we splurged on a Spanish
Cava. Add Ice Cream, Coffee, and tip, our total feast nicked us for $12.00
each. Next morning, we were out at 4:30 and at Sheremetyevo International
Airport a half hour later. At the packed terminal, our passport whisked us
past long lines of locals right to the gate. A half hour later, as we were
belting in, the pilot announced someone from the Middle East, without a Visa
for Frankfurt, had not been permitted to board but his bags had. Rightfully
refusing to take off until they were removed, we sat for 20 minutes till the
pilot announced they’d been taken off and so did we, saying “Do Avidanja”,
to our Russian adventure. The celebrity on board, stuck in the middle seat
of a three across row was former US politician Gary Hart.
Lufthansa’s Breakfast had obviously been prepared by a Russian Chef. In
coach, it was an Orange Juice container, packaged Bread with a tad of Jam
and a piece of White Cake with Coffee or Tea. No excuses given, no excuses
Business Class had been sold out from Frankfurt to LA, so unable to upgrade,
we did manage aisle seats across from each other in a 2/3’s full Coach
section. A half hour after take off we were offered two cold, bold Bloody
Unlike the first leg where breakfast had been totally uninteresting, the
Frankfurt to Los Angeles lunch was quite a contrast, having obviously been
prepared with thought and care in a German kitchen. Out came trays with Fish
or Beef or if you chose to eat “German Style” Veal or Pork Schnitzel with
Spargle, the White Springtime Asparagus, and a mound of spicy “hot” Potato
Salad. C had the Pork and I, the veal. Plus a full bodied German dark Beer.
The films worked, the music tracks sounded wonderful on their new, improved
earphones and the reading lights lit. This was easily the most comfortable
flight we’d ever had sitting in coach.
Around 4 PM, another drink trolley passed, which for Claryce meant a glass
of a fruity German Mosel and for me, a Beefeater Martini with Olives,
prelude to an unusual airline dinner choice of Vegetarian Chow Mein, with
Fried Shrimp and Pickled Mushrooms. As I said earlier, this LH flight was
first class, even in coach. A wonderful way to wing our way home.
© David Russell October 2010