Thursday, June 14, 2018

Eating St. Petersburg



Despite our team's (sigh) absence at World Cup 2018, there are still tons of Americans heading over to Russia for the big dance. And those people gotta eat. Now, food here is often very bland, so finding good restaurants involves a lot of trial and error. Luckily for you travelers, I have done a lot of that St. Petersburg homework for you already and can offer a heads up on some of the tastiest spots in town.

In no particular order (the places with asterisks have free wi-fi)...

MOO MOO BURGERS*

A red-blooded American really can't go wrong here. They have well-seasoned burgers (which is not always the case in Russia), are generous with the toppings and do fine sauce work. And the buns... oh my, these buttery buns. They might just be the best single piece of bread in St. Petersburg. Hell, take a couple to go to use for sandwiches later.

Where is it?

On the western edge of Sennaya Square (or Ploschad in Russian... get to know this word), which is where the blue, orange and purple metro lines all conveniently meet up.  

THE dish to get

It has to be the chili burger, which unlike most of the food in Russia, actually brings a little heat. Grabbing one of those bad boys and fries with cheese sauce and bacon should fill you up for a long while. In fact, you may need a walk afterwards.

KETCH UP BURGERS*

If Moo Moo is my #1 burger joint (and you will be surprised to see how many of these there are here now), then Ketch Up rates as the 1a. If you want more adventurous flavor profiles and proteins in a burger, then this is probably your place. They also have several tasty house-made condiments and side choices from the fryer (they are the only spot here to find waffle fries and sweet potato fries). All burgers are 30% off from 3-7 pm on weekdays.

Where is it?

There are six locations, including one at the northeast corner of the aforementioned Sennaya Square and one across from Komendantskiy Prospekt metro station (purple line), which is a 8-10 minute Uber from the stadium.

THE dish to get

Hmmm, I'll go with the lamb burger, but there are several nice options. The lady usually gets the cod and shrimp burger, and it's goooood.

SCHENGEN*

This is my favorite restaurant in town. It's fine dining dishes for TGI Friday prices in a nice atmosphere. They also have an ace bartender; this is one of the two places here that know how to make a margarita. It's probably best to make a reservation for dinner, but maybe go at lunch time instead. It should be quieter and everything on the menu is 20% off from noon to 4 pm.

Where is it?

Take the red metro line to Chernyshevskaya, and it's a short walk from there. Scroll to the bottom for a map.

THE dish to get

Ohhhh, it's so hard to chooooose. The king crab, avocado and yuzu jelly appetizer is my favorite starter, with the octopus carpaccio a close-ish second. For the main, the beef filet with carrot puree and charred green onion is money. And I'm not a big steak eater at all. And usually, I prefer a prime rib. So you know this one is good if I pick it over the duck dish with cauliflower puree and grilled nectarines.

DON GARCIA

This is the only authentic taqueria in St. Petersburg, if not all of Russia. Nothing in town comes even remotely close. The owner is a chef from Mexico who married a local girl, so.... thanks a million, Anastasia! He does everything from scratch and with love, from tortillas to sauces to several sloooow-cooked meats to homemade chorizo and even to maybe the best horchata I've ever tasted. Everything is killer, and you can get three tacos for 250 rubles (about four bucks).

Where is it?

It's a tiny, miss-it-if-you-blink joint around the corner from Komendantskiy Prospekt metro station (purple line), and yes, a quick Uber trip over from the stadium. The address is  You can click the link in the info box on their VK (basically Russian Facebook) page for a handy map.

THE dish to get

If he has it on the day you visit, the lamb barbecoa taco simply melts in your mouth. I want to go back in time to when I was a teenager just so I can eat a stack of them in one sitting. Sadly, he doesn't always have it (or it already sold out), but all the other choices are top shelf. The carnitas, chorizo and pastor forces are strong in this one.

TARTAR BAR*

If you are into the freshness and craftsmanship of quality tartares, carpaccios and the like, this is your spot. If you can slice it thin and cook it by marinade, they have it: beef, scallops, venison, mackarel, even a tomato ceviche. Throw in the entrees and a few desserts, and it's one inventive, varied menu on offer.

Where is it?

They're also a quick stroll from Chernyshevskaya (red line), but in a different direction. Here's the map.

THE dish to get

It'd be difficult for anyone to choose from their long list of tempters, but the dorado crudo with broccoli pesto is yum-yum-yummers. I do need to give a main course shout out to the veal cheek and Parmesan raviolis, though.

PELMENYA*

Of course, I gotta point you somewhere with actual food that reps the home nation. The restaurant's name is the word for Russia's own version of a dumpling. They serve those, plus the variants you'd find in Georgia, Azerbaijan and other points around the globe. You and your friends can grab a few different types, share 'em around and easily fill up  on the spread for less than 10 bucks apiece. There are even some sweet dumplings on the dessert menu.

Where is it?

They have five locations, including just off Nevskiy Prospekt near the famous Anichkov Bridge (which is a hop and a skip from the Gostiny Dvor green line station) and one on Marata Ulitsa (street) behind the Mayakovskaya station (also green line, which is the one that ends out at the stadium).

THE dish to get

I dig the (Armenian) manti with lamb and pumpkin, but there's no shortage of tasty choices.

AMARCORD*

If you find yourself craving some legit Italian eats, this is the place. It's run by Italians and everything out of the kitchen is made by Italians (including some nice desserts). They have the most authentic pasta dishes in town, hands down. And they are football-mad (duh), so you can be sure the games will always be on their flat screen.

Where is it?

It's a short walk and left turn from Vosstanya Square, which is really the central hub spot of the city. The red line stop at Vosstanya Ploschad station, which is connected underground to Mayakovskaya station (green line).

THE dish to get

The menu changes a bit, so I can't be sure any particular entree or dessert will be there at a given time. The pesto spaghetti with prawns and the spinach ricotta ravioli with burnt butter sage sauce are primo, though.

22 CM PIZZA

Just a few doors down from Amarcord sits the city's best pizzeria. They go Napoli style, use quality ingredients and have one of the few wood-fired ovens in SPB. It's a standard no-nonsense approach here, so don't expect crazy topping combinations - just damn good pizza, which never hurts.

Where is it?

They actually have three locations. There's also one less than 10 minutes on foot away from the World Cup fan festival, and another in the Pulkovo Outlet Village right near the airport.

THE dish to get

We tend to go for the pepperoni.

SCHAST'YE*

Surely, you didn't think I'd forget the desserts, did you? There are tons of pastry shops around town, but frankly I find that the Russians rely too heavily on all manners of sweet cream for "flavor" and often have cakes\pies that are much too bread-y. You won't have that problem here, folks. It's the perfect place to stop for a sweet and a coffee/nightcap drink after an English language movie at the Angleterre.

Where is it?

There are four locations (and several quick stop macaron stands in the malls around town), but you really must hit the Malaya Morskaya one to get the full effect. It has a view on St. Isaac's Cathedral and has the coolest atmosphere of all the locations. It's a short mosey from Admiralteyskaya metro station (purple line).

THE dish to get

The triple chocolate cake is evil, y'all.

CLEAN PLATES SOCIETY*

It's a cozy gastropub with some pretty creative cooking. There's a little something for everyone on the menu, including a few very tempting desserts. It's also the other place with margaritas actually worth drinking. From my experience, they always have English-speaking staff on hand.

Where is it?

Why, it's just around a corner and down the street from St. Isaac's Cathedral. So, yeah, also near the Admiralteyskaya station.

THE dish to get

Hmmm. The cod with shrimp sauce and bulgur is quite nice, but I'll go ahead and push the duck with apples, mustard sauerkraut and roasted potatoes instead.

MARKETPLACE*

Quick, quality food on a budget is not as easy to find as you'd like, what with the swarm of shawarma places (of varying cleanliness) that are allergic to seasoning and spice. They're everywhere, in buildings, malls and stands. Fortunately, Marketplace is also pretty easy to find. You can go several different ways with your meal, from fresh tossed Caesar salads to various grilled meats to fresh pasta to wok stir fries. And they have a nice fresh juice and smoothie station, to boot.

Where is it?

Well, there's 10 of them, a couple so new they don't turn up on Google Maps yet. The most convenient ones probably will be: at the Galeria, diagonally across from Mayaskovskaya station, near the Nevskiy Prospekt station and close to Vasileostrovskaya green line station (one stop from the stadium).

THE dish to get

Gosh, make your own pick in a place like this. Go nuts. But I can assure you that the chocolate caramel cake at the bar is a decent closer.


--

By the way, I mentioned one cinema with original English audio on the movies, but my faves to go in the center are the Formula Kino at the big Galeria mall next to Vosstanya Ploschad and the Rodina (you want the ones marked "суб." - click the title to see the poster), which is not far from Gostiny Dvor station. If you have free time between matches, you can check all the day's English-language or subtitle offerings around town here.





- Greg Seltzer

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Clear your schedules.

It's coming back! As sour as I was (am?) about sharing the bid, no one could be less than delighted to know that the World Cup is coming to back to America in 2026. Details are slim for now, we don't even know host cities yet. Maybe I'll handicap or pick to my preference from the 23 choices in an upcoming post. Probably the picking one. I like to choose things.

In any event, it's nice to learn that FIFA doesn't need to make every tournament these days into a money grub that either exploits a country with poor infrastructure or serves one with serious human rights issues. It'll be nice to get back to simply grubbing money.




- Greg Seltzer

Monday, June 11, 2018

Starting Over: #1

We are now about a month away from the official start of a new World Cup cycle. That means it's time for a new edition of my USMNT Clipboard, and as always we start in goal. For those new to this feature, these choices are my preferences, and not any sort of guess at how the actual coaching staff ranks each position. 

Now let's get the ball rolling...

Zack Steffen
Brad Guzan
Bill Hamid


In the frame: Tim Melia, Sean Johnson, Alex Bono


On the same day that Guzan annoyed the crap out of NYCFC, Steffen grabbed the top spot my depth chart with a fine friendly showing against France. I'd still like to see him level up with consistency and distribution, but for now he's my man to beat. We all know what we get with Guzan, and it's usually pretty good. But, sure, it would be dandy if the young'uns could pass him by over the next few years.

Then there's Hamid, who struggled badly against Ireland. That's likely because he's only had a couple starts since moving to FC Midtjylland in January. That's where he needs to beat out a keeper with great experience (as in two Superliga crowns, 41 Ligue 1 games and 23 European outings) and shore up his area command. Frankly, I'm this close to moving Melia ahead of him. The Sporting KC man may be four years older, but he certainly shows no signs of slowing his MLS Goalkeeper of the Year form anytime soon.

Johnson also isn't getting any younger, and it's pretty annoying that he hasn't seen any international action in over three years. After all, the guy has been killin' it for NYCFC for 17 months and has only conceded once in 315 USMNT minutes (including a nail-biter shutout of Costa Rica on the way to the 2013 Gold Cup crown). Meanwhile, Bono had next to nothing to do in his January debut cap, so we'll need to see more of him at some point if he wants to climb the ranks.





- Greg Seltzer

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Your USMNT Line-Up v France

Sheesh, this is probably not the day I'd have picked for the USMNT to test the 3-5-2... but with Pulisic and Saief away, sure, why not? Other than that concern over trying a brand new set that doesn't really match the fearsome opponent, I can't have any major gripes with the way it has been staffed. I'll see you on the other side with player ratings over at MLSS, and we'll also start up a new Clipboard on Monday.













- Greg Seltzer

Sunday, June 3, 2018

This Is What You Need: The Troubled Ones

Actually, one of the five teams below has risen out of the muck to dispel plenty of worries in recent weeks. The other four... well, they're still feeling desperate.

Philadelphia

When I started outlining this series, the Union had lost four of five and been shut out in six of eight. Since then, Dockal has found his place to key an offensive surge, the defense has tightened up and Philly are knocking on the playoff zone door thanks to the 3-0-1 run that preceded Saturday's admirable nine-man loss in Atlanta. They obviously don't fit in with this group anymore, but here we are. At this point, ya know what they really need most? For David Accam to start producing like David Accam. That development could act as a three-fer, because extra attention paid to the left wing would give fellow slumper C.J. Sapong added space and the Ghana attacker's speed would keep opposing defense more honest on that side of the field.

D.C. United

The capital crew are another team playing better after a rough start. The attack is now actually producing, the midfield crisis seems to have been sorted out and Wayne Rooney is well on his way to town. The back line remains the major problem here. It would be foolish to turn away any upgrade to the central and right back ranks, but the left back slot is killing them. Seeing as how they have no international slots (and thus, must acquire one to sign Rooney), it would be wise to start/continue looking around the league to deal some of that midfield depth for help in defense. 

Minnesota United

We can talk all day about the horrible rash of injuries that had demolished their attack before Quintero arrived to liven things back up. They're also missing veteran cogs in deep midfield. However, the Loons are another side that is hurting most at the back. The arrival of hometown boy Miller has helped, but this club badly needs a reliable center back to lift all defense boats (so to speak). They should have thought of this before Calvo went off for World Cup duty, because the summer window won't open for just over a month. Harsh.

Colorado

Look, it's great to have a plan and ambitions to change a club's drab style of play. The problem is the new boss doesn't quite have the personnel necessary to pull off the 3-5-2. The Rapids generally stay in games (five one-goal defeats during their current seven-game slide), so maybe they aren't that far away. Injury returns from Ford and Hairston will certainly help. However, the coach doesn't seem to trust Azira or Boateng in the important #6 role. Colorado has an DP slot available and international spots to spare. Those who win MLS Cup typically do it with a monster who can guard the defense and move the ball along cleverly. This team is dead bottom in possession (something you need to enact Hudson's plan) and third-to-last in passing percentage (something you need to be higher to enact Hudson's plan). They could use an array of things, but they aren't going anywhere in Hudson's system without a standout midfield metronome.

Montreal

Again, we could pick several different routes here. There's a decent amount of work that needs to be done - just perhaps not so much as a couple others on this list. And there's may also be more obvious. The fact is Montreal needed to replace the departed Ciman even before three defenders not nearly as good as him went down with injuries. As the required roster slots are in pocket these days, Impact fans should hope they don't still need to do that by the time all of them have returned.








- Greg Seltzer

Friday, June 1, 2018

Pond Jumpers

As you know by now, Dave Sarachan has shuffled the USMNT squad before heading overseas to visit Ireland and France. Ten come in, seven (Bono, Guido, Gooch, Horvath, Olosunde, Pulisic and Zimmerman) go out.

Before I get to how I'd like to see 'em line up against Ireland, let's quickly run through where the roster now stands (new calls in bold, those after debut caps with an asterisk):

G - Bill Hamid (FC Midtjylland), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew), William Yarbrough (Club León)

D - Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Shaq Moore* (Levante), Erik Palmer-Brown (Manchester City), Tim Parker* (New York Red Bulls), Antonee Robinson (Everton), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)

M - Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls), Joe Corona (Club América), Julian Green (Stuttgart), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Keaton Parks (Benfica), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)

A - Luca de la Torre* (Fulham), Andrija Novakovich (Reading), Rubio Rubin (Club Tijuana), Kenny Saief (Anderlecht), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)



So... lots of different ways to go with this group. It could be ripe for a 3-5-2 run on Saturday.






That could be interesting, but nah... not quite the right selection to man it. Of course, Sarachan prefers the 4-1-4-1, which also happens to fit for this camp roster. And if he sticks with that set (which is the slightly less pushy cousin of the 4-3-3), we should get our first chance to watch Adams and McKennie work side by side in the middle. I mean, he has to play them together, right?

Right?










- Greg Seltzer