Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

gourmet's notebook

I've heard it said that the waxing and waning of one's appetite has something to do with the waxing and waning of the moon. I don't know about that, but ever since the Hale-Bopp comet appeared on the Moscow horizon I've been eating a ton. How much longer is it going to be here? I'm starting to lose buttons.

As a result of my increased intake, this week I offer not one but two dining experiences for your perusal. The theme is quantity, not quality.

First, Sunday brunch at the Marco Polo Presnya Hotel. I woke up that morning with omelettes on my mind, and that is where I made my blunder. An honest mistake. My brunch ideal is American -- pancakes, bacon, the works -- and the Presnya's brunch is Russian. This is not to say that their brunch shouldn't be Russian -- this is Russia, after all -- but one's appetite is not always bound by rationalities. All you can eat for $31 is a pretty good deal in this town, but I couldn't get over the disappointment of there being no omelette man behind the table, pan poised and eggs at the ready.

I also couldn't get over the disappointment of having to listen to a loud Russian pop trio when the clink of champagne glasses would have sufficed as background noise. My friend and I found ourselves in the very unrelaxing mode of shouting to each other until the band took a break.

Thwarted desires aside, here's what they have: lots of zakuski-type salads, all perfectly well prepared but enveloped in that quality of sameness inevitable when mayonnaise is the common denominator. My dining companion skipped them completely. I tried a few varieties and must confess that they made little impression.

The best of the main-course options, which were kept lukewarm in metal containers, was the tender curried chicken. The shashlik I found dry and overdone, which is a great pity because, as a colleague of mine pointed out, all-you-can-eat shashlik could be a real draw.

We sat near the dessert table, and dessert was the best part. I've said it before and I'll say it again: You can't miss with fresh fruit. My chocolate cake was tasty enough, and my friend had praise for her cheesecake, though she would have preferred it without raisins.

Brunches are a good test of a restaurant's service -- how long after you clear each plate will it lie on the table, reminding you of the obscene amounts you've eaten? Here the attentive Presnya staff shone. The only thing we had to ask for was an ashtray, which, as soon as we put in the request, arrived in under 15 seconds. That's fast.

Which brings me to dining venue No. 2: the new fast-food joint Johnny the Fat Boy. I wandered in on a recent weekday to check out the scene and was pleasantly surprised by the aroma of what smelled like decent pizza. Intrigued, I roped a bunch of friends into a mass sampling of Johnny's fare, and only regret that I lack the space to do justice to all their witty commentary. Pastrami seems to bring out the poet in people. The condensed version goes something like this:

We were impressed with the sandwiches, a great deal at 20,000 rubles ($3.50) each. Johnny has clued in to the classic, albeit meaningless, tradition of linking minor culinary endeavors with major cities; we tried the Chicago (pastrami) and a ham and cheese. The processed cheese got a big thumbs down, but other than that the sandwich ingredients were fresh, the cold-cut quality laudable and the bread was even toasted.

The cheeseburger one friend tried was nothing special, but I really enjoyed the pizza. The New York, (17,000 rubles) has pepperoni, fresh tomatoes and olives, for example, while, in an apparent insult, Detroit's namesake bears only cheese and costs just 12,000 rubles. I ordered the New York, but the cashier -- who was friendly and poised despite the generally hectic atmosphere behind the counter -- recommended that I change my mind because a New York wouldn't be coming out of the oven for another 15 minutes. So I tried the California (pepperoni, ham and mushrooms for 18,000 rubles) and loved the thick, doughy crust. The pepperoni tasted like real pepperoni, too, not salami in disguise.

All in all, Johnny's is a top contender in the fast-food genre. I'll be stopping by again, especially if the comet hangs around.


Brunch at the Marco Polo Presnya Hotel, at 9 Spiridonevsky Pereulok, is served Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Rubles and credit cards accepted. Metro: Pushkinskaya. Johnny the Fat Boy, at 22 Myasnitskaya Ulitsa, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Rubles accepted. Metro: Chistiye Prudy.