Team Dinosaur nearly has a nervous breakdown entering the former heart of the USSR. The major roads contain a dozen lanes, six in each direction: wide enough for the Soviets to drive tanks into Red Square. This makes for marvelous auto theatrics and atrocious driving conditions.
Luckily, Mims’s rudimentary knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet allows him to read the street signs and pilot us to our friend Alex’s apartment building, situated 10 minutes by foot from Lenin’s tomb. But you can only view his embalmed body on the weekend. We are here on a Monday morning, so Lenin is off-limits.
Instead, we eat breakfast at Alex’s local corner store. It’s a closet, claustrophobic with Russian lagers, hot dogs wrapped in pastry, and smoked pig products.
“What do you like?” I pantomime with the cashier, a woman wearing a white paper hat.
She grabs a slab of fatty pork about the size of a dictionary out of the display case. She plops it into a plastic bag unsliced. We return to Alex’s house to face a problem: “I don’t have any knives,” he says.
Using Mims’s utility tool, we slice part of the meat and fry it.
“It’s like homemade Bac-Os,” Andrew says.
Turns out Moscow is an ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan city, and it’s damn expensive. Sushi, Kobe beef, and even Sbarro ersatz Italian eateries abound—at prices reserved for three-star New York restaurants. Most on-the-go eaters stick to the hot-dog-in-pastry option that you can find in the subway stations. I sample one but find it chalky and bland.
I stop a tie-wearing businessman. In preschool-level Russian, I ask him where I can get a cheap lunch.
He motions toward a tiny, easily overlooked restaurant. Its window features a cartoon chef flipping a pancake. Inside, men in suits drink dark beer and eat stuffed, made-on-the-spot blini.
Dozens of varieties are available, but I can’t read the menu. Instead, I point at a picture of a blin overflowing with, uh, beef.
“Da?” the brown-eyed cashier asks, also pointing at the picture.
She pours batter on a circular griddle. It starts browning, she flips it, and adds cheese and what I hope is beef. It comes, like nearly everything here, with hot borscht.
The blin is gooey, satisfying beef bliss. I polish my plate in minutes. Thank you, Mr. Businessman.