King Gambrinus is the patron saint of beer, which should give you a good idea of what to expect at this Russian fish palace in Brighton Beach. Gambrinus' maritime theme extends to its menu, which is seafood-centric, to say the least: in addition to classic items like caviar, smoked salmon, herring and a wide variety of shellfish preparations, diners can choose from an extensive selection of sushi and sashimi dishes.
Diners rave about the plov, the Uzbek version of rice pilaf that contains cumin-braised lamb, carrots, sliced onions and saffron. Soups like kuksu (noodles in beef broth with sesame seeds, cabbage, dill and pickled cucumbers) are also a must-try. Feel free to BYOB, since the café doesn't serve alcohol. Plenty of windows, an inexpensive menu and friendly service make for a homey place to hang out—and a nice counterpoint to the old-school Russian joints that characterize the area.
Opened in 1934 as the Oceana Theatre and converted to a four-screen multiplex years later, the mazelike complex went on to gain two more auditoriums and another name change, to the Atlantic Oceana, before becoming the Millennium. In 2015, it finally settled into life under its current moniker, the Master Theater. Name-calling aside, the Master Theater is a vibrant concert venue where visitors sing along to performances and occasionally dance in the aisles.
Opulent doesn't begin to describe National, whose golden doors open to a regal, winding staircase. Venture inside to find banquet hall–style dining, ostentatious chandeliers and a stage with large projector screens—as if performers in Cirque du Soleil–style costumes and sequined evening gowns weren't eye-catching enough.
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Ocean-view boardwalk seating is lovely for both lunch and dinner. If you really want to do it up right, though, make a reservation for a later table downstairs; this is where the nightclub part comes in. But before booking, keep two things in mind: first, you're booking a wedding reception–like evening of communal dining and dancing, rather than just a table; second, if you want to fit in, you better dress sexy—very sexy.
Late in the morning, it's a quiet and friendly place to get coffee—or something a little stronger—as Asatiani and his colleagues meticulously arrange the tables' yellow-and-blue-stripe tablecloths and ham it up with talkative passersby. Beverage favorites here include Nemiroff for vodka and Baltika for beer. In terms of food, Asatiani recommends the restaurant's xachapuri, Georgian flatbread filled with cheese.
Take a dumpling tour of the former U.S.S.R. at this small spot, named for the signature Ukrainian noodle pouches, vareniki. The flat, slippery specimens are filled with anything from potatoes ($6.50) to pot cheese ($6.95); other good choices include the round, hand-shaped Siberian veal or chicken pelmeni ($6.50), and the fat steamed Uzbek lamb manti ($8.50).
Most large delis here excel in something particular; this one, which also includes a well-curated fresh-produce section, is the best source of cold- and hot-smoked fish, whether salmon, chubs, whitefish, or the Ur-Slavic sturgeon.
Many markets have copious buffets, but this has the tastiest food, for about $3.99 a pound. Try the smoky split- pea soup, juicy minced-meat lyulya kebab, plump golden fish cakes, and the vegetable-stuffed pickled eggplant.
Pirozhki are the quintessential Russian street food, and the stand here serves the best. Besides the proletarian fried-yeast dough pies with cabbage or meat (greasy but good, from $1 to $6), you’ll find khachapuri (Georgian cheese pastries, from $2), various strudels, and terrific Moldovan plachinda—flat, round pies with a tangy feta-and-scallions filling ($2.50).
While regulars order Caesar salad with smoked eel ($14) at this vaguely nautical-themed storefront, non-Russians should stick to the comfort foods: fluffy cheese blintzes ($6.50) or the remarkably delicate stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce ($9.50). Vodka—sold by the gram, in the best Soviet tradition—should be downed with the house-cured herring ($8), coupled with dilled roasted potatoes and wisps of red onion to cut the richness.
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Thronged with shoppers from Russia’s southern and eastern fringes, this fragrant Turkish bazaar is one of the city’s best sources for inexpensive, high-quality nuts and dried fruits. The jars of pekmez (thick grape molasses) isn’t normally seen outside Istanbul.