It's only been a week since I returned from an extended vacation in the culinary paradise that is America, but I've found at least one thing to be grateful for. While Moscow's aptekas are a far cry from their glory days when you could buy sleeping pills that would put an elephant down and time-release narcotics, it's still possible to buy the materials necessary to jury-rig an IV filled with all the essential vitamins and minerals you need to go about your daily business. Indeed, the inconvenience of navigating the metro at rush hour with an IV drip plugged into my arm is far preferable to eating at most of this city's restaurants.
Alas, before I had the time to set up my drip, necessity forced me to dine out. One of these times was at SHANTI, a restaurant that the Moscow Times inexplicably labeled "Moscow's first proper Vietnamese restaurant." Never mind the fact that there has since been a quality hole-in-the-wall gook cafe since time immemorial out by the Vietnamese rynok at M. Tulskaya; there is nothing "proper" about Shanti.
To start with, it's one of those DJ cafes that Muscovites can't get enough of. I even found what appeared to be an empty coke baggie on my seat, perhaps left over from some proper Vietnamese binging the night before. In fact, just about the only Vietnamese touches Shanti has are a few Buddhas as decoration and uncomfortable seating. To Shanti's credit, they clearly aren't trying hard to be authentic, and are much more interested in drawing the Afisha crowd -- one of Shanti's owners is the main restaurant reviewer at Afisha -- than serving edible food, which the Afisha crowd wouldn't appreciate anyway.
Ah, the food. I'll start with the pho bo, or should I say the faux bo. I remember eating regularly at Pho Quan in the provincial Midwestern town where I went to school. The only choice on the menu was chicken, beef, or shrimp pho, and for 5 bucks you'd get a salad bowl-sized portion chock full of fresh cilantro, rice noodles, meat, bean sprouts and a little spice. At Shanti, you get an ashtray-sized bowl of over-concentrated Magi broth with two meat turds and a noodle for R180.
The business lunch, which changes daily, mercifully allows you to reduce the number of items you get. I advise doing this less to save money (R240 as opposed to R370) than to avoid more flavorless dishes. I opted out of the "stuffed chicken wings" and a tomato, pomegranate and pineapple salad, and got the beef soup instead. This was identical to the pho bo, only without the noodle. For the entree I supposedly got salmon with oyster-ginger sauce and jasmine rice, although the only flavor it had was from the salt I dumped on it. The biz lunch also comes with a strawberry mousse dessert, which tasted like Danone yogurt with less emulsifier, corn syrup and flavor.
The rice noodles with shrimp, squid and tamarind sauce (R350) was the only redeemable dish, although it was more Thai. It's a modestly sized decent imitation of pad thai and was also on the cheap side, with entrees ranging up to R900.
Before I refill my glucose and amino acid cocktail, I should also note that watermelon here costs R130 for 150 grams, whereas my local golden-toothed Dagestani sells them for R5 a kilo. Go figure.
2/1 Myasnitsky Proyezd
M. Krasniye Vorota
Noon 'til the last customer