To Russia, For Food (…and Dancing!)

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I went to the best 30th birthday party ever imagined last week. When Craig’s friend Sasie (whose birthday it was) sent out the evite, we were wary. Here was the plan: we would all meet at Washington Square Park and there would be a bus, the bus would take us to Brighton Beach where we would party at a dinner club called National. It would cost $70 a person. It seemed pretty steep but Sasie assauged us: “Think of how much it would cost if we went to dinner and drinks? You’d end up spending that much a person anyway.” This argument worked its magic and we signed ourselves up. And boy are we glad we did!

It was a beautiful day. Craig and I traipsed through the park before the bus arrived and we bumped into the kids from The Naked Brothers Band who Craig talked to because he edited some of their videos for Nickelodeon. My favorite part? The older brother’s matter-of-fact declaration: “I’m a tween idol.”

And then the bus was there. Here’s Rob posed in front of it:

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We climbed aboard and cheered our way through the streets of Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge and on towards Brighton. It was interesting for me because my mother’s father’s mother was a Russian Jew who lived in Brighton Beach (it’s where my grandfather and his brother grew up), so in a way I felt like I was discovering my roots as we journeyed to our destination. Of course there was vodka, just to make it more authentic.

And then we were there: National (you can see the picture at the top of the post). It was hard to tell, at first, what kind of place this was. It sort of looked like a high-end strip club. But then I saw the writing on the wall:

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I knew the place had to be authentic.

And boy was it! Oh, if only you could’ve walked in with us. It was like The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Mr. Saturday Night. A large stage was illuminated in front of a dance floor and older Russians–some incredibly old (like this one woman in a wheelchair who looked 200)–ogled us as we walked by. I felt like I was at a Bar Mitzvah from 50 years ago. Here’s what I’m talking about:

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And the food! My God, the food. You know you’re in trouble when half the food’s already on the table covered in plastic wrap. Here’s the unwrapped meat:

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Here’s some kind of crab salad in a taco bowl (traditional Russian fare):

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A fish:

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The fish wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad.

Better was the smoked salmon, modeled by Craig here:

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Krisse and Josh model the “caviar” and “blinis” (in quotes, because…well, it was a fry cry from real caviar and blinis):

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We hit a point where we wondered if they were done serving food and if the dancing would start soon.

No.

Here are potatoes and mushrooms, our first hot dish:

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And these things, filled with meat:

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Ok, we thought. That must be it. And then there was this:

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I don’t remember what that was. Did I mention we were all drinking? A lot? The vodka came steadily as did the wine.

But surely the food service was over. Look, there are Russian musicians on the stage, see?

But before we could dance… chicken.

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Pretty tasty!

Ok, it’s time to dance. The band is rocking out:

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They played traditional Russian music which I captured on video:

And this Russian classic:

Here’s Craig dancing with our friend Dara:

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After a few exhausting rounds of dancing (including Hava Nagila, which took me back to my 13th year) we returned to the table eager to rest. But look! More food!

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Beef stew?

Ok surely that must be it. Surely this is the end.

Cue the waiter (and look at Krisse laugh):

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Giant platters of kabobs! Look at all that food. And so much of it went uneaten…

But the wine didn’t go undrinken:

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After all this dancing and eating, they did an outrageous floor show. First they came out in neon outfits and danced to “In The Mood.” Then there was this master of ceremonies guy who started singing music from “Cabaret.” And then he put on a woman’s outfit and did this dance:

At this point, it was difficult to tell if we were dreaming or if this was really happening. It was incredibly surreal but totally awesome because it was so surreal. In fact, it’s one of the strangest parties I’ve ever been to, which is what made it so great.

Somehow, we travelled back home. Somehow, we recovered. But for one night we celebrated Sasie’s birthday the way my ancestors celebrated birthdays back in the motherland. All I can say is Spasibo, Sasie! It was a night to remember.

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