April 17, 2005

Rah, Rah, Rasputin!

За ваше здоровье!*

Friday night we took in a singular entertainment at Rasputin Restaurant on West Broadway. I've been there a few times, but not recently. Nothing had changed, however, except that I think the portion sizes have increased.

The reason to go to Rasputin - a slightly unnerving name for a restaurant, unless you take comfort in the notion that Grigori Rasputin survived at least one attempt at poisoning - is for the ambiance. Well, the food is good, too, and they have the best vodka selection I've seen in this town, but in what other restaurant do you get to listen to the owner belting out Russian folk songs, accompanied by two staff members playing the synthesizer and the triangular balalaika?

The service is friendly, occasionally edging on pushy, as the owner patrols the restaurant between sets. We were sharing a zakuski (appetizer) of pickles when he interrupted us to tell us that the enormous pickled whole tomatoes on the plate were "the very best." Naturally, we had to try those next. They were fantastic! I also suspect there may have been some vodka in the pickling process. I wonder if they make the pickles in-house, as certainly they were unlike any commerical pickles I've ever seen, even in shops that cater to Russians and the eastern European market.

I ordered the lamb shashlik - meat cooked on a "sword" that is in fact an enormously long metal skewer. The seasoning was simple and very complementary to the lamb, whose flavour came through beautifully. The meat was not overcooked, but still retained a steady pink colour inside. The portion size was astonishing - it almost seemed as though they had managed to get an entire lamb threaded onto the skewer. The lamb was served on a rice pilaf (plov) and accompanied by a large, multi-vegetabled salad. I couldn't finish it all.

Our host, working his garrulous way around the room, serenaded the newest waitress, Marina, by singing a folk song of the same name. She seemed greatly embarrassed, but went about her duties with an only slightly red-faced dignity. The owner made a point of announcing to the entire restaurant that "Tonight, we have very special guest, famous movie star, many many movies" but couldn't seem to place the actor's name. So, he asked us. Fortunately for all, we did recognise Michael Moriarty (Law and Order's Ben Stone) and were able to supply the missing information. Our host, suave as ever, made up for this by singing "a special song, just for Mr. Moriarty." He did not, however, appear to recognize Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on Smallville) who managed to eat in peace.

The wall closest to the musicians is dominated by an enormous, heavily stylized painting of three Russian horsemen in medieval garb, clutching clubs and staring into the distance. Tatars, I would guess. The painting is carefully lit so that it can be enjoyed by the whole restaurant, and it is not the only painting of its kind - just the largest. Although, the huge, idealized painting of the Mad Monk himself looms just inside the doorway.

The music is loud enough during sets that conversation is difficult, if not impossible. Your best plan is to submit to the ambiance, enjoy the well-prepared food, and tap your toes to the catchy folk rhythms.

It was, all in all, a lovely evening.

*To your health!

No comments: