Drama isn’t just limited to employment in Russia. One dinner in St Petersburg had a bit of Dr Strangelove meets Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. We were interested in a traditional style Russian meal in a contemporary setting, so the hotel concierge recommended Palkin Restaurant nearby on the Nevsky Prospekt. I had seen it referenced separately in a travel article, so the two recommendations made it worth a try. As we entered, we were completely charmed by a series of beautiful rooms with a nice combination of 19th C elegance and modern additions. Ascend a glass staircase and enter a nobleman’s drawing room. Open a heavy door to the water closet and find an ormolu washstand surrounded by frosted glass walls. Needless to say, the food and service did not disappoint.
The menu had a number of nicely prepared Russian classics such as Beef Stroganoff, Borscht, Chicken Kiev and Herring under a Fur Coat, along with some more continental offerings. I sampled the herring as a starter and the Beef Stroganoff. Wodka was offered as an accompaniment to a number of dishes, because Wodka really makes everything better. It did go well with the herring and the sorbet. Ah, the sorbet. An intermezzo made table side with liquid nitrogen. The whole scene almost felt like a Peter Sellers skit, complete with goggles and heavy-duty rubber gloves. To begin, the server flash freezes a raspberry to demonstrate the liquid nitrogen. The raspberry is then shattered and used as garnish when the sorbet is served. The picture shows him mixing the sorbet, having chilled it directly by pouring in the liquid nitrogen.
When we first sat down, we had some concern that the restaurant was too nice (read: expensive) for us. By the time we arrived in Moscow, Palkin seemed like a bargain, especially considering the great experience and floor show with liquid nitrogen adding ambiance throughout the room. Clearly, cold nitrogen beats a cold war.