Привет comrades! Welcome to a special bday edition of Mastication Monologues! Today I will be talking about a restaurant that I had walked past about a million times, but I vowed to one day dine there. Thankfully, my 25th birthday provided a perfect excuse to finally try out the Russian Tea Time Restaurant located at 77 East Adams Street Chicago, IL 60603. It is located in a very convenient part of the city and is well-connected with subways and buses.
Now I am a sucker for Russian history since it is filled with so many characters like Peter the Great who was 6’8″ and somehow disguised himself as a common laborer while traveling through different Western European countries to learn new skills, like shipbuilding, in order to modernize Russia. However, I am not here to give a history lesson, so time to move onto the food. Upon sitting down, we were greeted by our waiter who was quite pushy in regard to ordering appetizers and drinks. Not only was the decor fitting for a Russian tea room, but the service was up to Soviet standards. The waiter’s brusque behavior aside, we did enjoy the complimentary dark rye bread and small salad. The bread was as dark as ebony and possessed a bold, savory flavor thanks to the caraway and spices in the dough. As for the salad, the greens were fresh, and the dressing was a very sweet vinaigrette that enhanced the lettuce, chard, cabbage, and tomatoes. Naturally, our waiter was back and quadruple checking to see if we were ready to order, so I got down to business and ordered the Shashlik with chicken.
Now, most people would be intimidated by the sound of something as foreign as Shashlik, but it is quite a simple dish. All it consists of is large, boneless chunks of chicken skewered and roasted over a fire while being rubbed down with a simple marinade that can vary from chef to chef. With my dish, the chicken was served on a fluffy white bed of rice pilaf and accompanied with a miniature mound of carrot salad and tomato sauce. Even though I was a bit bummed out that the chicken was not served to me on the skewers (lawsuits can take the fun out of certain things), I was still blown away at how tasty it was. The chicken pieces had a homemade flavor to them because each bite had a bit of a charred aftertaste, and my favorite part was the occasional citrus note that would sneak onto my palate like some sort of KGB operative making a dead drop of deliciousness. Plus, there were grilled onion sprigs on top of the chicken like small, flavorful, wispy clouds hanging about the Ural mountain peaks. As for the rice pilaf, I was indifferent to it, but it was enhanced by the tomato sauce that was slightly spicy and chock full o’ Uzbek goodness. When I saw the carrot salad, I wasn’t sure what to expect since it just looked like an orange mini-haystack hanging out next to the gigantic serving of meat and starch on my plate. However, it was the most interesting part of the meal because although the carrots were soaked in a semi-sweet dressing, they still managed to maintain their crunchiness. This switch in textures only enhanced my meal, and surprisingly the typical overpowering taste of the carrots was not overwhelming thanks to the sugary dressing. Once I finished all of this food, I braced myself for an after dinner treat that would only seem normal in a Russian restaurant: a vodka flight.
Since we were in a Russian restaurant, I naturally would not waste my money on a mixed drink or a beer, so I was happy to see that Russian Tea Time embraced and promoted probably the most important and celebrated drink in Russian and Slavic history. They have three different types of flights which consist of three 1 ounce shots, and they are all themed. I ordered the Molotov Cocktail flight which contained honey-pepper, Absolut pepper, and horseradish vodka. My friend got the house flight which had lime, caraway, and black currant vodka. The waiter also brought some black rye and pickles to chase the vodka and drink in the traditional Russian fashion that includes smelling the bread, offering a toast, and pounding the shot. Out of my shots, the worst one was the horseradish one because it combined two quite potent flavors in one shot. The horseradish burned my sinuses and the vodka burned on the way down…definitely a shot reserved for the only the staunchest of revolutionaries. Thankfully they gave us plenty of bread and pickles to combat the alcohol equivalent of a Kalashnikov round to my mouth. As for the house flight, I enjoyed the lime vodka the most while the caraway just tasted terrible. I think that they should keep the caraway just in the bread and not the liquor. Funny enough at the end of meal, my waiter asked me if I was Russian or Ukrainian, and I told him I was Polish. Immediately, he went from being a semi-jerk to quite friendly, and after a couple of Polish phrases, he bid us goodnight. I still don’t think it made up for his service where he was trying to hustle us all night.
So if you’re looking to try some new food or just want to warm up with some tea or vodka, come on down to Russian Tea Time. You’ll see that Russian food has more to offer than just potatoes, fish, and vodka, and it’s actually so filling and tasty that it can make you dance better than the late, “great” former Russian president Boris Yeltsin (R.I.P.). Na zdorovye!