My new Russian teacher mocked me today when I told her I had eaten a salad and a sandwich in a restaurant for dinner last night. It was one of those exchanges that even had my Russian had been adequate to tell her, "I don't cook because its my husband's job and he lives in Baku and I never buy groceries because it's too far and too hot to schlep them home on foot, and let's not even talk about the fourth floor walk-up," the cultural divide is too great to bridge.
Besides, Baraban (The Drum), rocks for the following reasons:
- It's across the street from my apartment;
- It's reasonably priced and an excellent value (i.e. completely satisfying dinner, with a beer, for less than $12);
- The food is tasty and a couple steps beyond basic pub fare (green bean salad with soy sauce and garlic; warm chicken salad with sesame and oranges are among my favorites);
- Excellent service. I eat there A LOT. The waitress greets (!!!) me and says "abweetchna?" which is to say "the usual," which just thrills the pants off me since there are restaurants in which I eat lunch in every day that I have to explain what I mean by "coke light." At Baraban, my "usual' is not on the menu and it's right every single time. Sometimes, I try to trick them by NOT ordering my abweetchna, and it's still right.
- They have seasonal specials, like strawberry pancakes (uh, yeah, they serve breakfast and lunch too, not that I'd know) or hot vodka and cranberries.
- I eat in there so often, the Ukrainian part-owner sat down to chat with me;
- There's no flat screen showing Fashion TV or Russian music videos. Just good music, sometimes even Hank Williams;
- It's not only expats or only Ukrainians;
- No oligarchs, no devushkas;
It's right next to the State Radio and Television building so there are a lot of journos conspiriring and complaining. Since there's a new law that requires a non-smoking area in every restaurant, one of my minor complaints has been mitigated somewhat. Also, it's a quibble that there's no outdoor seating. A cozy atmosphere in January can be a bit oppressive in July.
The Producer and I visited Baraban when we were in Kyiv in 2003, and we remembered how friendly and low key it was. It's just the kind of place Baku lacks. I was thrilled to hear it was still open, and so convenient to my front door. Yes, it's owned by a Ukrainian/Canadian couple, but that's not necessarily the reason why it's good. Some Expat-owned places are just as bad as their Ukrainian counterparts (Specifically, I'm talking about the four-hour brunch at Baboon and its living dead wait staff.).
I am only somewhat embarrassed to mention that I have eaten at Baraban three nights in a row this week.