I never ate at New York's Taras Bulba on West Broadway in SoHo. Last year Vogue called it a "great Ukrainian restaurant" and it well may be but the one I ate in in Moscow 2 weeks ago was the worst restaurant I tried during my whole time in Russia. The chain was started in 1999 in Moscow and there are 16 restaurants there, one in Kiev and one in New York. One is down the street from the Baltschug Kempinski, where I stayed, and the concierge recommended it as a good place for hearty Russian food nearby. A stone's throw from the Kremlin, how bad could it be, I figured. Maybe I should gotten the clue when we walked in and found it empty save one table of drunk German tourists, but I didn't.
The food wasn't just supremely mediocre, the bill was triple what it should have been. When I asked why there where three times more items on the bill-- in Russian of course-- than what we ordered, they explained that when you order, say, fish and potatoes and a vegetable the way it's listed on the menu, they charge you for each component, although there's certainly no indication of that on the menu. As Roland said, "thank God they didn't charge us for the dill and the salt." So not only was it a bad dinner in a creepy atmosphere with bad service, it was extremely expensive, even though you'd never think that by looking at the menu.
|This was the day I stressed out my peripheral neuropathy by walking too much|
People who want to know where to eat a good meal in Moscow have to be told the truth: St. Petersburg, just a few hours by bullet train. We tried Café Pushkin and the food was good and the service perfect, but there was literally some guy walking around dressed as Pushkin trying to interact with the diners. We were also steered towards Dr. Zhivago at the Hotel National and that was also supremely mediocre in all ways. I heard that Varvary, a molecular gastronomy place, is really good but we never made it there and the whole idea of eating stopped appealing to me after a few days in Moscow.
St. Petersburg, on the other hand, must have a tradition of good food and good service because there were plenty of good restaurants all over town. Palkin on Nevsky Prospect was perfect-- great Russian food, awesome service, fantastic ambience and good value. There's a great seafood restaurant called Russkaya Rybalka where, if you choose, you can catch your own dinner. I didn't but the dinner was really great, as well as inexpensive. There was a pretty good vegetarian-oriented place near St. Isaac's Cathedral called The Idiot and that neighborhood also boasts Dom, which isn't quite as good as Palkin but close enough, and a decent Italian restaurant, Percorso, in the Four Seasons hotel. But, to tell you the truth, the restaurants in St Petersburg are just plain as good as the ones in Moscow aren't.
Back to Korchma Taras Bulba for a moment. It purports to serve "authentic Ukrainian cuisine, prepared with the exact recipe that was handed down for centuries from generation to generation, and now from our grandparents to our grandchildren [with] a unique interior design that will make you feel like you were brought back a hundred years to a cozy Ukrainian home." Well, it was named for a fictional character invented by Gogol as a national Ukrainian hero in an 1835 historical novella that was judged by the tsarist censors as being too Ukrainian and anti-Russian enough to be revised in 1842. I saw it-- the revised story-- as a film starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis when I was a kid. Bulba is painted as a kind of Ukrainian George Washington freeing his country from the yoke of the Turks and then the Poles, while engaging in the Ukrainian national trait of persecuting the Jews.