Wednesday, April 26, 2006


April 22-25, 2006

Correa's - 2 stars
Ordynka ulitsa 40

Soup Cafe - 1 star
1-ya Brestskaya 62

Teremok - 1 star
many locations

There are, of course, many ways in which the glamour of international business travel is a far cry from the reality. One of the more mundane, though painful, is hunger.

Right now I'm flying from Moscow to Atlanta (twelve hours) with a connection to San Francisco (5 hours). If everything goes smoothly from here the door-to-door trip will be 23 hours. It's 10 pm Moscow time, and so far today I've eaten a Clif Bar and a bad old airline lunch (the kind you used to get, with a hot entree wrapped in aluminum foil, but that has been replaced on domestic flights by slightly less mediocre food you pay for). This one had a few pasta shells in a green pesto-like sauce that didn't taste at all like pesto, a tiny wilted salad with a thick, sweet "vinaigrette," a small piece of that dark and spongy bread people eat in Russia, and a small piece of cheese wrapped in aluminum foil.

So, how did I get here? John and I got up at 7 (I was actually woke up by 4 for the third straight morning because of jet lag) and left the hotel at 7.30 to get to the client by 8.10. The hotel bar/cafe was closed. We took the Metro, and making a detour for breakfast was tough because of our luggage and our inability to order in Russian from one of the carts outside the Metro stop. so it was another case of prioritizing sleep over breakfast. At 9.40 I got in a taxi for the airport (typically 30-45 minutes) and promptly spent 45 minutes covering one mile. With numerous other jams, and despite the valiant efforts of my driver, who even drove backward in traffic at one point and drove in the left lane at another, the trip took 1:45, and I got to the airport an hour before my flight. After customs, check-in, passport control, and hand-checking of all carry-ons, I barely made my flight, and there was no time to eat anything. So here I am.

Peter and I were recently commiserating about this problem. There are many reasons you end up skipping meals: "sleep over breakfast," as I always say; simply too much work to each lunch; working too late to eat before your flight; delayed flights preventing you from eating during connections; the lack of restaurants in budget hotels; airport restaurants closing at 7 pm; and the poor or nonexistent options in airports, especially for vegetarians. So the net result is that for every good meal you eat in some exotic locale, you end up skipping five or six along the way, and most of the rest are mediocre (think Denny's and Subway).

Then there are places like Moscow, where most of the food is mediocre to begin with. Yesterday during the lunch break the client took us to Correa's, in their sparkling new building complex (with the nicest conference room I've presented in in the last five years), which is supposedly one of the best restaurants in Moscow. It's an Italian restaurant, of course, and it was, well, pretty good. I had a margherita pizza that was good on top but typically undercooked on the bottom, and John had a smoked salmon and red caviar pizza that tasted like, he said, smoked salmon and red caviar. For dinner we ate at Soup, a trendy basement place open 24 hours with lots of smoke, sullen waiters, and a "soft room" with comfy chairs and sofas and a 20% markup. (They could also have called it the "date room" or the "make-out room.") On the plus side, it had an extensive English-language menu (yeah, you try reading a Cyrillic menu in a language you don't understand with virtually no cognates with English or French) of soups and lots of other things, and a handy little symbol indicating what was vegetarian. I had borscht (hot - they had cold as well), which was excellent, and pasta with spinach pesto and red peppers, which was generally edible. John had a potato-leek-mussel soup that he liked, a veal sausage that wasn't so great, and Leffe (a Belgian beer), which he liked a lot.

The other reasonably satisfying food option was blini, thin pancakes either served on a plate with toppings, or folded in wedges around a filling to eat as a sandwich. After our 4-1/2-hour meeting on Saturday afternoon (Russian consultants work a lot more even than American ones), Sergey and Svetlana from our partner took us the Teremok located in the Okhotny Ryad underground shopping mall near the Kremlin, where I had a salmon and an apple blini (those are two separate things), and John had a red caviar and a ham and cheese. Neither was spectacular, and the salmon was pretty dry, though the apple one was vaguely like a French crepe.

Other than that the food was pretty miserable, even to the point where John and I decided that TGI Friday's was one of the more promising options near our hotel. And I have never, ever eaten at a TGI Friday's in the United States.