Recipe: Dill Vodka
Russian Samovar in New York City’s Theater District is lively on a Sunday night. The restaurant fills, a crowd lines the bar, and a boisterous group of professional singers takes turns performing with the pianist and at their tables. Central casting couldn’t have staged it better.
Then, the bartender lines up a row of small, spirit-filled glasses as she offers the names of each: mint, horseradish, dill, vanilla, tarragon, raspberry, coriander, ginger, cranberry, apple, lemon, plum and peach. While each has a distinctive color and bouquet, all are surprisingly smooth, light and refreshing. Cranberry is the best seller.
To drink them like a Russian, owner Roman Kaplan orders a fish platter with smoked salmon, smoked sable and red caviar, and cold salad platters along with cold herring served with sliced potatoes and marinated onions. A native of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Kaplan opened Russian Samovar 21 years ago and introduced the infused vodkas in 1987. Since then, many NYC bars have followed his lead.
Kaplan points out that the current trend of flavored vodkas really is part of a long tradition of herbal tinctures. He first read about them in a Russian book, written in 1802, which discussed in detail the healing properties of herbs, roots and berries. The tinctures—dried herbs in vodka—were used to enhance sleep, digestion, energy, stamina, virility and even to prolong life.
"There’s a long history of peasants and royalty alike who have used them," says Kaplan, adding, "My philosophy is ‘almost everything in moderation.’ "
Russian Samovar is located at 256 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019; (212) 757-0168; www.RussianSamovar.com.
Linda Shockley is a New York City freelance writer.