A month ago, Sparks had the idea to throw a vodka tasting party and serve zakuski. Zakuski are just the Russian version of “little” nibbles, like tapas or hors d’oeuvres or ciccetti or dim sum or mezze or antipasto… every culture has a version.


He pulled together a lineup of six vodkas, which between them represented grain and potato vodkas, top shelf and bargain basement, Russian, American, Scandinavian, and French vodkas, and one flavored vodka–Stoli Blackberry. Everyone was given a vodka glass and, as we nibbled and talked, we opened one bottle after another. Grey Goose is my standard martini vodka, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my favorite of the whole lineup was Tito’s Texas Vodka, which had minimal burn and almost no taste of nail varnish remover. Everyone’s least favorite was the Stoli Blackberry.


Zakuski are supposed to cover the whole table, so we understood, so yesterday morning before the party we launched a tour of all the European specialty groceries in the area. We collected pickles, smoked fish, cured meat, cheese, black bread, and fatty condiments.


As an anthropological aside, I find it curious that this kind of service, at which all of the dishes are laid out on the table at once for people to help themselves, is called service a la francaise, whereas course-by-course waitered service is called service a la russe. Isn’t that backwards?

Lox, Danish butter, and red caviar on ice

Rye bread, basturma, salami, and homemade blinis (made from the same batter as the blintz wrappers–I pat myself on the back about that later in this post)

Sour cherry jam, sour cream, and homemade cheese blintzes. The wrappers are crepes, the very first I have ever successfully made. It turns out that letting the batter rest really is the key stop. Mix it up, then let it sit for at least half an hour before you begin to cook. If you do this, the rest of the process becomes pretty self-apparent and doable. I’m so excited about this; I want to hold a blintz breakfast instead of a pancake breakfast, now.

Pickled green tomatoes, red grape tomatoes, eggplant caviar (a spread very similar to ratatouille), vinegret (Russian potato salad, very tasty), pickled salad, and pickled cucumbers



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