There is a good Russian restaurant in St Paul, MN called Moscow on the Hill. We went there the other night for dinner. It was a snowy night so we took advantage of their valet parking. Once inside it was warm and welcoming. The bar is big and has over 70 different vodkas on the menu, including horseradish vodka.
After settling in, our waiter asked us what we would like to drink. He was tall and spoke with an Eastern European accent so I asked for my drink in Russian. I received a blank look. I said it three times and he did not understand. It wasn’t difficult, it was the name of the Russian vodka in Russian. Russki Standart. After a minute I stopped and thought about it and it came to me I had to translate it. I have been to several Russian restaurants in the US and I never had to translate it before. I then asked for Russian Standard. He knew immediately what I wanted.
This confused me. Did he really not understand or was he just so unprepared for anybody to speak Russian, he was unable to process it? Even if he wasn’t Russian, he still should have been able to understand it. In the end it didn’t matter, I enjoyed my icy cold shot of vodka.
We went on to order our food and enjoyed the Cheboureki for an appetizer. Cheboureki is a half moon pastry filled with minced meat and deep fat fried. It is a Crimean dish that is seen throughout the Caucuses, Central Asia, and Russia. The Soviet Union included many different ethnic groups and their food became popular throughout Russia. Many foods that originated in what are now separate countries are considered “Russian.”
For the main dish I had Beef Stroganoff. Count Pavel Stroganoff came from one of the oldest noble families in Russia. He was a popular figure in French society at the turn of the century and, of course, he had a French chef. The chef came up with the idea of adding sour cream to his mustard sauce and named it after his employer. The sauce was added to thin strips of tender beef and Beef Stroganoff was born. It can be served with noodles, rice or potatoes. In Russia it is usually served with potatoes in one form or another. At Moscow on the Hill they serve it with mashed potatoes. It was excellent.
Other people at the table had Pelmeni for their main course. Pelmeni is a Siberian dish popular throughout Russia. It is a dumpling usually filled with meat. A variation called Vareniki can be filled with vegetables. I have also had Vareniki as a dessert filled with sweetened fruit. In Siberia it is said Pelmeni are made in large quantities at the beginning of winter and left outside to freeze, sometimes hanging out of high rise apartment building windows. The Siberians like mustard and vinegar on their Pelmeni but the Muscovites like lots of butter and sour cream.
Moscow on the Hill offers two versions, one with sour cream and vinegar on the side and one with mushroom sauce and cheese melted on the top. My fellow diners cleaned their plates and were very pleased with their choices.
We ended the evening sharing the Chocolate Ganache Tart. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.