Vodka and Caviar ('natch)
Day 39: At dinner I did a stupid thing. I ordered caviar. I had just finished reading a book about caviar called Caviar, by Inga Saffron, which was mainly about how terribly and alarmingly abused sturgeon stocks in Russia have become since the fall of communism and that this ancient and fascinating creature with the most delicious roe of any fish in the world may soon become extinct in the Caspian Sea. It is a sad and painful subject to read about, but the descriptions of all that caviar left me in quite a state.
My plan was to eat at Cafe Pushkin, a good but by no means cheap restaurant not far from the hotel. After paying the hotel a hundred dollars to do what I would describe as a fairly meager load of laundry--I wasn't going to spend what few hours I had here in a Laundromat--I decided to go downmarket. The concierge recommended another spot that was cheaper than Cafe Pushkin, and that's where I found myself that night for dinner.
The place had an "Old Russia" theme to it. Wood beams spanning the ceiling, wood chairs, wood tables, and wait staff running around in peasant-style white burlap. As themes go, it would really be something, I thought, if every hour or so a Cossack or Tatar burst in, sacked the place, got drunk, and left with all the money. This never happened.
I am no caviar connoisseur, but I don't think I was served very good caviar. For one thing, it was served with a metal spoon, which is said to oxidize caviar. (Bone, toroise shell and mother of pearl are said to be preferable.) It was mushy and had a slightly sour, rancid finish and the eggs themselves had little in the way of pop or individual texture. I felt like an idiot after the first mouthful. So I followed with a shot of vodka, another wonderful substance that thankfully, is not endangered. The vodka was ice-cold, peppery and massively cockle-warming. It made me feel better, but only a little.
I learned two lessons that night. The first was: If you're going to eat caviar, don't skimp on price and do your best to eat farmed American caviar. The second was: If you do something stupid and feel stupid about having done it, drinking vodka helps.