From Russia, with love. And lobio.

Greetings from St. Petersburg, Russia. Even though I haven’t been here in more than 35 years, it all feels familiar to me, especially the food. The one major change I can see is cars. I always maintained that private cars were the biggest discernible difference between capitalism and communism, and the feeling hasn’t changed.

One doesn’t have to stand in line for food anymore here, and there is no shortage of bread or meat in this thriving city of museums, palaces and upscale dining.

I arrived on St. Peter Line’s Princess Anastasia ( ) from Stockholm, an enormous advantage. Taking it means that you get a 72-hour visa-free visit. (If you have ever applied for a Russian visa then you understand.) The luxury of a cabin, onboard spa and sauna and Russian entertainment is a plus, too.

The smorgasbord onboard was also incredible, about the same price as a Strip buffet. Of course, it’s different, as this buffet is filled with Scandinavian dishes, since the majority of guests on the ship are either Swedish, Finnish or Russian. Those are three cuisines we don’t really have in Vegas, other than the Russian food served at Tverskaya (4826 W. Flamingo Road, 247-8766).

You start with glorious smoked salmon or spice-rubbed whitefish, plus a school of various herrings, peel-and-eat shrimp and the best seafood salads you’ll ever taste, all featuring creatures pulled from the icy waters of the Baltic Sea.

Next, is a cold buffet of meats, cheeses, composed salads, patés and fish terrine. Hot dishes follow, such as Swedish meatballs and roast pork, and then sumptuous desserts. Scandinavians rarely pile food on their plates.

Here in Russia, the food is fairly amazing now as well. I ate a Finnish meal at my hotel, the Sokos Palace Bridge, a 5-star that caters to a largely Finnish clientele. That meant creamy dill soup with chunks of salmon and whitefish, followed by reindeer steak—a combination hasn’t hit Summerlin quite yet.

But my favorite food from the former Soviet Union comes from the Republic of Georgia. The relations between the Russian Federation and the republic are frostier than the wall in a cold sauna (it’s crusted with ice), and there is an embargo on Georgian wine, water and other products in this country.

Despite all that, there are still many Georgian restaurants serving adjarski khatchapuri (cheese-bread with egg served at Forte European Tapas Bar & Bistro, 4180 S. Rainbow Blvd., 220-3876) chacobili—spicy chicken and onion stew—and lobio, kidney beans with smoked pork belly. I ate at one called Tarkhoun in a residential neighborhood. The name means “tarragon” in the Georgian language, so I feel right at home.

Stalin is gone, but his favorite foods live on in the Imperial City.

Hungry, yet?

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