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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Eating out for Kopeks
Text Linda Lippner

Eating out in Moscow is a sobering experience. Even with a drink or two, you get the bill and immediately sober up, wondering if you brought enough cash. And if, like me, you don’t understand much Russian, the prospect of working out with the kitchen staff how many dishes you’ll have to wash is daunting — enough to make you contemplate ordering another $15 beer.

So if you don’t want to spend a month’s rent on a good dinner out, here’s what to do: find the little neighborhood holein- the-wall near the metro that somehow charges a normal price for a tasty meal.

My favorite eateries come in all shapes and sizes and strange locations. My prerequsites include a friendly staff that smiles patiently at my attempts to order in Russian. Another plus is a little something unique about the place or its food that keeps me coming back for more (say, delicious pelmeni or fresh mozzarella in a salad or cheap but good wine). Here are a few of my favorite — if slightly weird — ways to get a cheap (by Moscow standards) but excellent meal.

On a weekday night, try finding the little building in the woods of Sokolniki Park that serves the good under $10 bottle of wine to go with the veal cutlets.

Or go to Chistie Prudy and climb aboard the bar-in-a-trolley that takes you around the park while you enjoy your beer and cheap-in-price-only bar snacks.

Did you know that there is a Soviet-style restaurant on stylish Bolshaya Nikitskaya where you go up to the bar and point to any of the “blue-plate specials,” which the server will slip into the microwave and serve you along with a glass of vodka — for less than 300 rubles! Since there is no table service, you can be in and out of there fast, or linger all evening.

And, of course, during intermission at any theater or concert hall, you can imbibe the theatrical atmosphere as you ingest salami or salmon sandwiches (just buy two and smack ’em together!) plus a cup of tea or a cheap glass of local champagne at the buffet for under 300 rubles.

My favorite eating establishment, however, is a restaurant that serves a good Russian dinner with a generous helping of culture. Cafe Margarita (28 Ul. Malaya Bronnaya, tel. 299-6534) is named after the heroine of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and it is located on a street that figures prominently in the novel. Along with literary inspiration, Margarita’s also supplies entertainment: a lovely string trio plays after 9 pm, and guests are invited to provide percussion with small plastic bottles filled with dried beans. Dining there on black bread, pelmeni, and a simple salad, you can daydream in comfort and satisfaction about the pricier meals being eaten elsewhere in Moscow. (If you need some help envisioning those, see the restaurant review here!)

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