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"The meat-to-rice ratio in the filling is perfect," remarked my oldest. "And that's what most people get wrong. But they're so skinny!"
"Tastes great, less filling," I shrugged.
The cozy front dining room where we were seated featured wooden furniture and simple tablecloths, but I was intrigued by the completely different decor on the other side of the room divider. The Russian Bear is actually two dining establishments in one. The front room is a charming little cafe with home-cooked Russian food -- a wonderful place to take the kids. But in the exotic-looking nightclub on the other side, I could see red velvet curtains, huge mirrors and crystal chandeliers.
1801 S. Dairy Ashford, Ste. 120
Houston, TX 77077
Category: Restaurant >
Potato and herring: $5.99
Bliny with salmon caviar: $14.99
Shashlik KGB: $13.99
Lamb shish kabob: $11.99
I fantasized a crowd of Slavic mobsters in dark suits and gypsy babes in low-cut evening gowns dancing under a spinning disco ball -- a Muscovite Moulin Rouge in a shopping center on Dairy Ashford.
The floor show begins as our entrées arrive. The first act is a guy in a gray-white Prince Valiant haircut singing along in Russian to a karaoke machine. If you have never seen this kind of Euro-pop lounge act before, you have missed a richly comic experience. The prince is joined at the mike for a duet by a zaftig woman spilling out of a clingy white off-the-shoulder dress. "She has an outie and she's wearing a thong, and I didn't want to know either one of those things," says one of my tablemates with a grimace.
People-watching and attendant comic commentary is the real entertainment at the Russian Bear nightclub. A group of senior American males seated with much younger women quickly gets labeled "the mail-order bride table." And my date speculates that the dark-haired guys in sport coats and blue jeans across the room are mafia hit men. The plush red upholstered booths furnished with privacy curtains are full of couples on illicit dates, according to another wag.
"This is just like a Russian nightclub, except more civil," observes our Russian companion. "People drink more in Russia, so there are a lot more fights."
At the table next to ours, a statuesque blonde in a low-cut dress passes around publicity stills of herself. There is much debate about whether or not her enormous breasts are natural or the work of a skilled plastic surgeon. And there's even more speculation about her large entourage. I guess that they might be in the blue movie business. Loreta, the Croatian sitting to my left, thinks they are Serbian war criminals. (Loreta is always on the lookout for Serbian war criminals.)
Our table is also doing its part to provide fodder for the gossip mill. Loreta can't resist the temptation of teasing her fellow Croat, Boris, who is wearing a black short-sleeved shirt with an open neck and a thick gold chain. "Look at Boris. This is the typical look for a Balkan man out on the town," she says. "Always with the open-necked shirt and the gold chains. Lucky for you we Balkan women find this look so attractive," she giggles. Loreta is married to Joe, an Italian-American who is looking resplendent tonight in leather pants and a shiny striped shirt imported from his native New Jersey.
When the lounge singer has taken his bow, a talented woman named Oksana presents folk dances with a male counterpart that meet with roars of approval. By the time the belly dancer takes the stage, she has no trouble whipping the room into a vodka-fueled frenzy.
At this point, you may be thinking that a quiet dinner in the calm cafe might be more to your liking. If so, come to The Russian Bear on a weeknight, or before eight on a weekend -- and congratulations on your good taste. If, on the other hand, you are a collector of bizarre dining experiences, I highly recommend the Russian nightclub dinner. Make a reservation, gather six or eight of your strangest friends, and come prepared to party.
After midnight, the crowd takes over the dance floor. Some of the more energetic young Russian girls are imitating the belly dancer's moves. The woman with the enormous bosom is being spun so crazily by her date that she seems in danger of losing control of her clothing. All eyes are riveted on her décolletage.
You don't talk about certain things in mixed company back home, Boris whispers to me. So in the Balkans, they talk in code. He nods toward the gyrating women on the dance floor and repeats, "The food at this restaurant is very good."