8.24.2010

St. Petersburg (more!)



I’ve received a few requests in the comments and via e-mail for more details about our St. Petersburg trip, including the names and addresses of restaurants and our hotel. I’m more than happy to tell you about where we happened to lay our heads and fill our stomachs while we were there. Just please keep in mind that, having only visited for a few days, I’m probably not the best person to ask if you’re looking for authoritative touring information! If you’ve lived in St. Petersburg, or visited, and you have your own tips to share, please do leave a note in the comments section.

As for us, we stayed at Hotel Vera in the Liteyny/Smolny neighborhood, just east of the so-called “historic heart” of the city. It’s a mid-range hotel, clean, air conditioned, walking distance to the center of town, and a block away from major bus lines. There are mini-refrigerators in the rooms, which come in handy if you happen to pick up a bag of homemade string cheese at the farmers’ market.



The kind people at the reception desk spoke English quite well. They answered all of our questions about how to get around, and nodded politely when, late one night, I went on for a full two minutes about the virtues of a certain standout pickled tomato before Eli dragged me off to bed. The complimentary breakfast included a selection of breads (the black bread was my daily pick), cheeses, meats, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, yogurts, packets of something that I think may have been instant strawberry-flavored oatmeal (does this ring a bell to any St. Petersburgers out there?) and, as you’ve already seen, fancy butter. Just one word of caution if you happen to stay there: That green foil-wrapped square on the dresser may look like a mint, but it’s not. It’s bug food. And it’s poison.


Every day of our trip, we ate pelmeni – soft, ravioli-like dumplings filled with all manner of things – at a variety of eateries, from the high-end to the national chain. Our favorite pelmeni, the pelmeni that I want to tell you about, were from a hole-in-the-wall place called, appropriately enough, Pelmeni Bar. They’re the ones in the photo that I showed you last time. What sets these pelmeni apart is their impossibly thin, smooth dough. Unlike the thicker-skinned versions splashed with broth instead of butter, these pelmeni just barely hold together from plate to fork to mouth; they split open as soon as they hit the teeth, and slide right down the throat. The pelmeni that we ordered were stuffed with mushrooms and creamy potatoes, and Eli said that they reminded him of chicken soup. I didn’t exactly follow, given that there was nothing remotely chicken- or soup-like on the plate, but I know enough about how he feels about chicken soup to understand that this was a compliment of the highest order. If Eli compared me to chicken soup, I’d take it. We also had an order of pickled mushrooms, but if I were you – or if I were me, there with the wisdom of future me – I’d skip them. Pelmeni Bar doesn’t have a website, at least not one that I can find by searching in English, but it’s located at Gorokhovaya ul 3 in the center of town, a block away from the Admiralty and the surrounding gardens. The phone number (though, unless you speak Russian, I can’t imagine what you might say if you called) is 570.0405. That’s a photograph of the storefront up there on the left.

The site of the ultimate pickled tomato, and the best all-around meal that we ate in St. Petersburg, was a place called Molokhovets’ Dream. The restaurant was inspired by Elena Molokhovets, the author of a 19th-century treasury of traditional Russian recipes and household advice called A Gift to Young Housewives. There are all kinds of Russian specialties on the menu, including three different types of borscht (beet soup), both hot and cold, and a variety of koulibiaca (fish-stuffed pastries). Elena Molokhovets dreamt mostly of meat, it seems, but there is more than enough vegetarian fare on the menu to cobble together a meal if you decide to go that route. With the soup course came brioches, mildly sweet, the size of small fists, and swollen with fresh cranberries. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about a mini-dessert served mid-meal. Then I sank my teeth into it, and I quickly figured out that how I felt about it was good. Cold beet soup, I am now convinced, is meant to be enjoyed between bites of a sweet-tart, cranberry-stuffed brioche.

Bushe Bakery, the one bakery that we visited in St. Petersburg, was not particularly exciting. Unless you count our run-in with that creepy pinching man, but that wasn’t exactly the kind of excitement we were after. It’s never fun writing about a disappointing bakery, and it’s especially frustrating when, according to reputable sources, the bakery is typically quite good. Perhaps we were there on an off day, or ordered the wrong things. All I know is that the jam-filled pastry was dry, and the apple strudel-like thing tasted only of sugar. We didn’t finish either one, and not because we were full. I’ve been thinking that I should have gone for the almond horn instead. An almond horn has never let me down.

There’s only one thing that I would have done differently during our stay in St. Petersburg (well, two things, if you count the almond horn): I would have eaten more blini. We had them just once, at a restaurant called Matrosskaya Tishina, on our last day in St. Petersburg. That day also happened to be Eli’s birthday, and I think birthday blini could have a real future as a cake alternative. Especially for Eli, who’s not much into cake, anyway. The blini – plump, springy pancakes the size of small saucers – arrived at the end of our meal with a bowl of jammy raspberry sauce. The blini were golden brown, crisp around the edges and, unlike most American-style pancakes that are spongy on the inside, these were almost custardy.

I should also mention that Matrosskaya Tishini, according to the guidebooks, is St. Petersbug’s best seafood restaurant. I did, indeed, eat some kind of well-prepared fish there, but it was served on a bed of kasha so unusually delicious – the grains were fat, as if in full bloom, and loaded with caramelized onions and browned mushrooms; it was light on the fork as kasha very often is not, and not at all waterlogged, as it so often is –that I’ve entirely forgotten what kind of fish it was, and what was so great about it. The décor of the place was a charming, if puzzling, combination of upscale and kitsch. There were all the trappings of fine dining, including linen napkins, candlelight, and first-rate service. But there was also an ocean soundtrack (think waves crashing, seagulls crowing, and foghorns blowing) playing over the easy-listening dinner music, a Wiggling Willy on the wall (yes, the singing fish), and restrooms built Disneyworld-style into a structure that looked like the belly of a ship.



That bag of cheese up top, and the straight-from-the-comb honey that I mentioned last time, were both procured at the Kuznechny Market, where fruit and vegetable vendors literally embrace you and, with one hand on your shoulder and the other on the small of your back, steer you over to their tables to sample slivers of peaches and tomatoes from their knives. It was the most aggressive produce pedaling I had ever encountered.



Of course, when we weren’t sleeping or eating, we were doing other things. We walked up and down Nevsky Prospect, the city’s bustling main street, and wandered, wide-eyed, through the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the one with the candy-like spires. (It’s worth the price of admission to see the stunning floor-to-ceiling mosaics on the interior walls.) We sprawled out on the grass for some people watching – and pelmeni digesting – at the Admiralty Gardens; stood frozen in Dvortsovaya Square, entranced by thoughts of revolution and bloodshed; and saturated our eyeballs with art at the magnificent Hermitage and Russian Museum. (There’s an incredible Picasso exhibition at the Hermitage right now, on loan from the Musée National Picasso in Paris. All I can say is WOW, and if you’re in St. Petersburg, go!). The days were long thanks to the late, late-setting sun, and we filled them to the brim. One day, we estimated that we had covered thirteen miles on foot since morning. That night, we tucked ourselves into a corner table at the tiny JFC Jazz Club and, over drinks we weren’t sure we had ordered, hummed along to bass lines we were sure we had heard before. A few hours later, we stepped out into the blue light of the 10 o’ clock hour, walked back to our hotel, and fell into bed as the sky went, finally, black.



+++

To review…

Sleeping:

Hotel Vera
Suvorovsky pr 25/16
Phone: 702.7206

Eating:

Bushe Bakery
Malaya Morskaya ul 7
Phone: (7.812) 764.2927

Kuznechny Market
Kuznechny per 3
Phone: (7.812) 312.4161

Matrosskaya Tishina
Ul Marata 54/34
Phone: (7.812) 764.4413

Molokhovets’ Dream
Ul Radishcheva 10
Phone: (7.812) 929.2247

Pelmeni Bar
Gorokhovaya ul 3
Phone: (7.812) 570.0405

Everything else:

The Admiralty (and surrounding gardens)
Admiralteysky proezd 1

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Nab kanala Griboedova 2a
Phone: (7.812) 315.1636

The Hermitage
Dvortsovaya nab 34
Phone: (7.812) 571.3420

JFC Jazz Club
Shpalernaya ul 33
Phone: (7.812) 272.9850

Russian Museum
Inzhenernaya ul 4
Phone: (7.812) 595.4248

13 comments:

linda said...

beautiful, fun, charming, lovely…& oh so informative!

Char said...

i would love to visit there

Maddie said...

Oh, I am so bookmarking this. Three of my good friends have studied in St. Petersburg, and their stories and pictures are enchanting.

Your words are even more so. Now I can hardly wait until my first visit!

Jess said...

Thanks, Linda!

Char, St. Petersburg is absolutely worth a visit. Maybe one day you'll see it for yourself? I hope so.

Hi, Maddie, and thanks! Wow, I'd imagine that after living in St. Petersburg for an extended period of time, your friends have all kinds of inside information! If this post can be of any help at all in planning your first visit, I'm so glad.

molly said...

Sounds dreamy. And grand. And like I probably need to get my hands on some pelmeni, pronto.

megan said...

Whoa - you guys really packed it in, both food and activities! Thanks for all of these great details -
xx
megan

Jess said...

Hi, Molly. It was! Me too about the pelmeni. I'm going to have to find myself a supplier in Boston, or learn how to make them on my own, because after the pelmeni I tasted in St. P, I don't think I'll be able to deal with the frozen ones.

You know it, Megan. And just when I thought we had told you everything about our travels... I guess there was more. But there's always more, right? xo.

Rogue Unicorn said...

That sounds/looks like such a great trip. I saw an awesome Picasso exhibit at the Prado in Madrid a few years ago- I wonder if it is the same one that you saw. It was truly amazing.

Jess said...

I wonder. I have no idea for how long the works from the Paris museum have been on loan and touring. One of the things that I loved about the exhibit was that, in addition to the many, many works by Picasso that I had never seen before, there was also a collection of photos of Picasso. I particularly enjoyed the shots of him in his studio, his works leaning against a wall. The reminder that the masterpieces all around me began with a man and a paintbrush in a room made me feel so inspired.

El said...

Great collection of places to visit. I'm bookmarking in case we ever decide to go!

Jess said...

Thanks, El! If you do go, maybe you could locate the delicious pastries, and report back. I have a feeling that you'd be up to the task. (I must admit, I feel like a bit of a failure for having missed them, somehow!)

Amanda @ easypeasyorganic said...

Lovely! Our family just visited Poland and after a taste of eastern Europe I'm very keen to try Russia :)

Jess said...

Ah, Poland! I'm kicking myself for not making it to Krakow while we were over in Berlin this summer. Next time!