Smetana. Caviar. Blini.
We were there just at the right time. Almost. I flew out of Moscow just as Maslenitsa was beginning. Butter festival or Pancake Festival, Russia's version of a Fat Tuesday - the chance for Orthodox Christians to get their dairy in before you have to give it all up for 40 days of lent culminating in the celebration of Easter when they are allowed to get their dairy, meat, alcohol and booty calls on once again.
Chefs like Elmar Basziszta at the Baltschug Kempinski were gearing up for Maslenitsa with "Blini Menus", traditional blini recipes like blinis served with caviar and smetana, an ultra-thick and luxurious kind of sour cream or quark, and more creative variations like buckwheat blini with pan-friend scallops, baked beetroot and truffle vinaigrette, beef consummé with pancake julienne, lamb loin wrapped in garlic-rosemary blinis on grilled bell peppers, blinis rolled with smoked salmon, cream cheese and spinach or topped with forest mushroom ragout.
Basziszta claims that most Russians prefer to stick to the classics. They like traditional dishes served in traditional style, he insists. But the Kempinski caters to an international crowd and the chef reveled in the opportunity to experiment.
For those who didn't make it to the Kempinski due to prior commitments or constrained budgets, there were other ways to get a pancake fix that were less abusive on the pocketbook. Teremok, the popular fast food-style chain and blini specialist also expanded its menu to include a variety of classic and holiday blinis to go. We may have missed the blini stands set up around the Kremlin the following week, but thanks to Chef Basziszta and Teremok, we definitely got our fill of Maslenitsa in Moscow.