Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Muscled into a Wonderful Meal and a Memory
The place looks runs down. Deserted.
No one tends to the weathered pictures on the side of the building or shores up the leaning front porch.
No. The building is not attractive. Or welcoming. But Lonely Planet and a few other guides say this place, the Russian Samovar restaurant in Nikolaevsk, AK, has THE BEST food on the Kenai Peninsula.
So we go in.
And are met with a dizzying rainbow of stuff, of women's long dresses on hangers, four folding tables with colorful placemats (few of which match), ornate bowls, spoons, scarves, frames, pictures. The walls, floor and countertops in two rooms vibrate with Russian stuff.
And then some of this Russian stuff moves toward us. It's Nina.
Meet didactic, wacky Nina. A non-stop Russian Old Believer who runs this eatery. With authority.
She's dressed in classic Russian garb that covers her arms and sweeps the floor.
"You eat here Russian or on patio?" she inquires, loudly, her Russian accent colorful, frantic, as she whirls around. Picking things up. Putting things down. She doesn't stop moving. Or talking. The beads on her patterned headdress dance across her forehead as she moves and talks. And I have no idea what she means. Because her English is bent and twisted by her native Russian.
"You read this," she says as she passes by, jamming a plastic-covered paper in my hands. I try to read it ( a menu?), but she doesn't stop talking. And it's written in the same fractured English she speaks. "You want borscht, of course," she swirls to my left. "Two small. And you like Russian tea? You WILL like and I serve you. If you eat Russian, you talk to me and eat here ... I serve one combo. You like. For two." And on and on she talks and twirls. And, I guess, spends my money.
My brain hurts. She's still talking as she leaves the room and I scratch my head because I think I've just ordered a $60 lunch. How'd that happen?
Allen and I sit on the patio and give in to her control. Why not? It's fun. And the experience unmatched. We'd never met a woman like Nina before. She jabbers as she stirs the borscht and slices the sausage and heats up the sauerkraut and pelmenis (Siberian raviolis).
After we eat, we pay our bill (yup, $60) and before we get a chance to refuse, she dresses us up like Russian dolls and takes our picture.
We finally leave (escape?) and I realize I know a lot about Nina. Because she talks constantly. We know about her kids and grandkids still in Russia, about her arthritic knee, her disabled husband, her desire to close the eatery at the end of the season and write a movie.
Look out Hollywood. A whirlwind is headed your way.