Friday, July 31, 2009

A Puurrrrrfect Evening!

With unerring instinct, Jocelyn Wildenstein, a.k.a. «Catwoman» (you can google her yourself if you haven't already) promptly curled up next to the warmest man in the house.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Elusive Alaska Violinist Sighting!

Paul Rosenthal, whose violinistic pedigree reads to string players like a list of rare wines: Dorothy Delay, Ivan Galamian and Jascha Heifetz (whose unrealized American dream was that people would address him simply as «Joe»), is in town to bring the great Russian composer Sergei Taneyev to the world's ears at Bargemusic this Friday. Rosenthal, inspired by David Oistrakh's performance, was the first American to perform the Shostakovich Violin Concerto (in New York, many years ago)!

That and

his amazing capacity for the enjoyment of vodka (where does he put it, in his leg?) and literature brought him naturally enough to the Samovar last night. If you miss Rosenthal's old-fashioned violin recital program (with the elegant Doris Stevenson at the piano) on Friday, try for the chamber music program Saturday and/or Sunday, in which he will be matched up-bow staccato for up-bow staccato by the inimitable (and need we say Russian?) Mark Peskanov, the quartet rounded out by Stevenson and cellist Jeffrey Solow.

The cherry was good, but the cranberry delightful!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Six Degrees of Separation: Is It Enough?

Artist Lev Zbarsky, one of the designers of the Samovar’s dark, velvety red interior (have a look at the "Cigar Room" next time you're there), frequently can be seen at Roman’s table, just opposite the white piano. I hope Zbarsky (pictured here with Bella Akhmadulina) will forgive me for skipping over his many accomplishments and credits as an artist and a human being to tell you right away how I learned who he was. The friend I was percolating with at the Samovar gestured in his direction, saying, “See that man over there? His father embalmed Lenin.” That’s right, folks. Zbarsky’s dad invented and perfected the secret formula that has kept Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in good condition since his death in 1924, even in evacuation during World War II. The same formula, we can only assume, was applied to Stalin as well until his abrupt removal from the Mausoleum during the dismantling of the Cult of Personality. But Sergei Dovlatov has been quoted as implying that he thinks Stalin might still be in good shape even in his earthen plot behind the Mausoleum. You can read about that in this pretty interesting article by Keith Gessin about what transpired with the high-level embalming profession during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

For more on this fascinating topic you could read Zbarsky’s brother’s book. Ilya Zbarsky, who worked with his father in the Kremlin embalming lab, wrote an insider’s tell-all in the 1990s, with the help of Sam Hutchinson. The book is called Lenin’s Embalmers and is now out-of-print, but probably still in remarkably good condition.

I’m fairly certain that our Zbarsky, Felix Lev (as Anatoly Naiman points out, the only Russian with two first names), fled to this country to escape constantly being associated with his somewhat macabre family. I imagine he thought he could wipe out the memory of secret-recipe embalming fluid (however magical) with the Samovar’s exquisite home-infused vodkas. Even if this has proven impossible for F.L. Zbarsky, we can demonstrate our heart-felt solidarity with him by raising a glass at the Samovar. My friend Celeste swears by the horseradish infusion…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Table for Two?

A recent evening in the Petersburg Room at the Samovar. Someone tell me these beautiful ballerinas' names and I will give credit where credit is due!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How High Moon!

Notoriously, Russians learning English have a tough time figuring out when and where to use (or not to use) the articles “a” and “the” (handy tip for Russian readers: just do the opposite of whatever you think sounds good). However, in the case of this entry’s title, I am referring not to the lunar body that holds sway over the world at night and the Samovar in particular, but to Moon, your server at the Samovar who will make you feel as if you are his royal and truly esteemed guest and friend, deserving of the most caring, unobtrusive treatment. Because after all, don’t we go to restaurants because we want to be, if only for a moment, indulged? And isn’t the magical appearance of food and drink at your table, and the equally delightful disappearance of dirty dishes later, at the core of your restaurant experience? Really, you’ll feel that Moon will be personally disappointed if everything is not just how you would love it. I have heard him gently rebuking a customer for a too-generous tip--when was the last time that happened to you?
Like the moon in the sky, our Moon does what he does so well you might forget to notice. But if you’ve lamented that the era of fine table service has been buried in the sands of time, ask to be seated in his section when you come. All the people at the Samovar are excellent, needless to say. If Liz is working, you can fantasize that Jody Foster is waiting on you! But this and other subjects will have to be deferred to a future post. For now, How High Moon! Secret revealed here: Moon can see your aura! Ask him, if you dare, what it looks like.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In Brodsky's Corner

Here are Roman and a couple of his friends who dropped by the Samovar. They're sitting in Joseph Brodsky's designated memorial corner. From left to right: Philip Roth, Mark Strand and Roman. Behind Roman is a framed poster of a couple of lines of Brodsky's poetry that at one time adorned the interior of New York City subway cars. The lines read, "Sir, you are tough and I am tough, / but who will write whose epitaph?" Food for thought. But tastier would be a plate of herring and onions, which I am pretty sure Roth ordered (Strand astutely chose the excellent borsht). The Samovar's herring transports Roth back to his Newark, New Jersey middle-class Jewish neighborhood, the only way to get there now except by writing fiction. If you are longing for herring, order some at the Samovar. I have a herring disorder, and even I love it!