Khachapuri: More First of May adventures in Moscow

This afternoon, we left the hotel and decided to wander toward Pushkin Café, with its hot chocolate and Nathalie fame. We never made it. We wandered into some sort of children’s shopping center with kids’ activities and just started walking.

We walked the park around the Kremlin, toured the World War II monument (and even watched an Asian tourist hog the monument as we tried to take pictures and my favorite, watched the soldier on guard whistle at folks who sat on the walls), and went for coffee.

In one of the pedestrian tunnels that connects to the underground/metro, I did some shopping. I bought water, a plastic bangle bracelet in leopard for a work colleague, and a small piece of bread with sauce and cheese that tasted a lot like Elios pizza.

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In our travels, we saw some Lenin and Stalin impersonators in full military dress and a tsar. There were also opportunities to wave the Soviet flag.

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But, by far, the real excitement happened in the evening. M had some trouble decided what he wanted for dinner. He had his guidebook (a French tour book on Moscow) and I had mine (a DK book on all of Russia). We read back and forth until he asked about Georgian cuisine and I had a place listed in mine called Khachapuri. He was all over it.

But for some reason, the listing didn’t have a map coordinate under the name. So, we entered the address into google maps. And the directions came up in Russian. And no matter what we did, we couldn’t get the anglicized names to read the map in the guidebook. So M read the names out loud and I marked the map. But some of the streets were too small to be on the map in the guidebook. I copied those (Yes, in cyrillic letters) into my notebook. And off we went.

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With M sounding out the street names and my notes, we found the place with no problem. I have linked to their web site: http://www.hacha.ru/en/menu/6/

I had an incredible pumpkin soup with smoked cheese on it.
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M ordered an herb khachapuri, but didn’t get the traditional one with raw egg on top. So that saddened him a tad, but I think his mandarin lemonade may have compensated. They made lemonade and put large pieces of orange in it. Very delightful.

This man came in and played accordion in front of us, including “Yesterday,” yes, as in the Beatles tune.

Then my dinner came. On that web site, it’s the third row down. First item. Baturi-style beef cooked in Georgian candori spice. Now I had told M that the soup was so good I wanted to eat a bowl every day for the rest of my life. The beef came out in this delicate paper wrapped, and the spices were both exotic and familiar. The beef was perfectly cooked and I cut it with a butter knife. There was roasted garlic and roasted onion on the side. I devoured the garlic. The food was so good I also tried the onion. AND I HATE ONION. It was fairly edible. But I just don’t like onions.

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M and I both knew we wanted to eat here again. So we made a reservation for tomorrow night. I actually mourned the end of my meal, because despite the fact that I was happy and satiated I didn’t want it to end.

We couldn’t believe our bill. Less than 1600 rubles. Or about $30.

There was a downpour on the way home. I ended up hanging my shoes and jeans on the heated towel rack. I can’t stop thinking about that meal.

Traveling via the Food on my Plate

One of my newspaper bosses, my favorite newsroom personality ever, liked to bet on horses at the racetrack or play some cards in Vegas. He said he gave himself a budget, and since he didn’t smoke or go to the movies or play video games or have an expensive car, that this was his hobby.

I have a similar past-time that overwhelms me with guilt sometimes. I love to go out to eat. It’s my stress relief. I also love to cook, so you think I’d spend more on groceries and less on restaurants.

I’ve tried. I’ve cut the landline, canceled the Internet, lowered the thermostat, only bought meat on clearance and cat food when on sale. I can run a lean household. But I can’t resist the allure of a family meal in a fun restaurant.

Twice this week I was reminded why. A great meal is a lot like a mini-vacation. Without jet lag or clogged ears or piles of dirty laundry or traveler’s diarrhea.

And sometimes, you’re a mile away from home.

Like this penne with vodka sauce:

 

We all have that neighborhood restaurant we’ve been meaning to try. For me, it was George’s Pizzeria. I never really noticed it until my daughter moved from the elementary school to the intermediate school.  We finally checked it out and were impressed by the prices, the quality of the food, and the efficient but understated soft sell of the staff as they met our needs.

Once we left, I couldn’t stop thinking about trying their penne with vodka sauce. So, I returned this week after a long pre-Easter day in retail. 

You notice things the second time to visit a restaurant. I anticipated this and looked forward to discovering some nuances to this small, plain pizzeria. It was unexpectedly busy for the before-dinner hour. My daughter and I ordered drinks. We watched the hustle and bustle and customers came, some stayed and some picked up their food and left.

After a few minutes, a staff member ran to us. “Did anyone take your food order?”

No. He apologized so genuinely and honestly I didn’t mind because the atmosphere was like hanging out in someone’s kitchen. My daughter adores calimari. I ordered her an appetizer. I ordered my pasta, which is a $10 dish, asking if they could add chicken and broccoli.

It was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. The broccoli was fresh, not frozen. The chicken was real, not processed. (And they put so much in there I kept joking that I couldn’t find the noodles.) The sauce was smooth and no one ingredient overpowered. The texture was creamy but amazingly light.

My daughter devoured the calimari, despite the fact that it was the “hoops” kind and not the baby squid shape that she prefers. I enjoy calimari, but I still can’t bring myself to eat anything breaded in its original full-size form and shape.

My husband joined us late, so my daughter and I had dessert. I asked for coffee and they brought it in a New Orleans mug from the French coffee market. The Francophile in me was tickled.

 

When I went to pay the bill, they asked if I wanted more coffee. I declined as I do need to sleep eventually. They offered to prepare some “to go” since they had brewed me a fresh pot!

We were there two hours. I chatted with my family and enjoyed three courses. It was the most at ease I’d felt in a long time. It was the same feeling I get when my traveling companion and I find a special restaurant overseas. Like vacation.

I had a similar experience today. I finally visited Full of Crêpe in South Bethlehem. I had some delightful concoction of Brie, ham, and raspberry jam. Soooo good. 

 

It was like being in Paris. Except the staff was helpful. And crêpe was served in a restaurant not on the street. We shared a dessert crêpe.

 

The crêpes came in a fancy cardboard sleeve with perforations so you could eat in without having it flop all over. Each time you ate more, you tore down the sleeve. I couldn’t get the hang of it. I took the sleeve off and ate out of the tissue paper. Like Paris. Except I didn’t drip cheese all over myself.