by Charles J. Waggon
“Hulloh Zharlie Jekk.”
When I heard that familiar voice on the line, I suddenly forgot that I was having a Bad Japan Day. It was my old KGB nemesis, Yuri Polzhiv, in Tokyo for a spell, doing a little job on the other side of the fence from the American Club.
Yuri and I were doing the same kind of work on opposite sides of the fence years ago. But things have sure turned around, and we’re amigos now. Best part is after all them years wondering “Now how’d he do THAT?” we now get to talk shop.
Had to clue him in once, though. Told him to skip the first name when introducing hisself. Afore that he’d no idea why some guys’d fly off the handle and punch him a black eye when he’d say his name.
Anyroad, Yuri asked whyn’t we get together for dinner at this Russian place down the street from where he’s working.
“C’mon, Yuri, why’ja wanna go there? We swept all the bugs outta there years ago,” I joked.
“ALMOST all,” Yuri jibed. “Besides, that’s not place I take you. Not same any more without Chef Maria and her Russian band.”
“Not Volga? So where else they got your Russian food?”
“New place, name is Minsk. Nice food, happy, bright – they have… windows,” Yuri said cryptically. “Tuesday, nineteen hundred hours.”
When I showed up, Yuri was already there. I told him to order the chow, and meanwhile I’ll have myself a beer. Got me one of them big fat bottles of Baltika No. 3 beer (500 ml. and just ¥850). Yuri started up on shots of vodka. “Is good, you try?” he beamed.
We could’ve gotten these dinner sets for either ¥3,800 or ¥4,800 but I told Yuri to just go ahead and order the best things, family style. He went back and forth with the waitress in Russian, and when all the dust settled, we ended up getting us some great Belarus chow.
First up was the Belorussian-style Borscht (¥700), chock full of vegetables and herbs, not so beet-red as others. The familiar bright red did show up, though, when our pretty Russian waitress brought the Herring and Beetroot Salad (¥1,200). It’s a little loaf of minced herring and pickled beets with a good stiff vinegar dressing.
We kept going with the Drankiki Potato Pancakes (¥1,200) and the Stuffed Bell Pepper (¥1,300). Both of these hearty dishes were certainly home-style cooking, if your mother is from Minsk. All this great chow and Baltika beer’d already made me full, but more was on the way.
Our main dish is listed on the menu as Pancakes Filled with Meat (¥1,300), a description that did no justice to the delightful Russian-type chicken burritos that landed. What we got here are soft, thick crepes, maybe some kinda buckwheat flour in ’em, wrapped around coarsely minced chicken and vegetables, with sauce, sour cream, and oh-my-gawd were they good.
I’ll be back some time for lunch, but for the dinner Charlie Jake sez two thumbs up, and be sure to arrive hungry.
By the time we was pattin’ bellies and toothpickin’, Yuri was gettin’ the color of that beetroot salad on account of all that vodka what he drank. I peered across the room and spotted my assistant Kumiko at a table with a very tall and suave-looking young gentleman.
“Oh my gawd,” I gasped.
Yuri turned to look and his eyes bugged out. “Is my assistant!” he whispered excitedly.
“No, Yuri, my assistant. Kumiko. My secretary at General Strategics.”
“Her friend, my assistant, Ivan!” Yuri blurted, waving his hands.
Ivan and Kumiko heard all the commotion and turned around to see us. Then they both came over to our table, shocked as we were. While Yuri and I were concerned they might be trying to spy on each other, turns out they’d met a few months ago at Bernd’s Bar round the corner. Seems they often meet there for some of that good German beer what Bemd serves up.
As the two young’uns joined us at our table, Yuri thrust a glass of vodka toward Kumiko and barked, “Is good, you try?”
Little did he realize just how much Kumiko. was capable of putting away. At that point, the night was just beginning.
(Belarus home cooking)
1-4-2 Azabudai, Minato-ku, Tokyo Phone: 3586-6600
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner: 5 to 11 p.m.
Closed Sundays and holidays