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St. Petersburg

bliniSt. Petersburg's dining scene has experienced a facelift in recent years. While Russian food tends towards meat and potatoes as well as fresh fish, simply prepared, you'll find that the quality and cafe atmosphere have improved, especially in the city's historic center. Grab a blini -- pancake with filling -- for a quick snack, or stop in one of the tempting pastry shops on Nevsky Prospekt for a sweet treat. In a Russian restaurant, you'll see a bewildering array of "salads" on the menu, many containing fish or meat; try the salad Olivier, a dish that holds a special place in Russian hearts. For something different, try Georgian cuisine, the Russian equivalent of "Southern" food.

Six Essential Tips for Dining Abroad

Stolle (Vasilievsky Ostrov, 1st Line 50 -- not too far from the Church of the Spilled Blood) is the place to get pies, either the meat or fruit variety. Disregard the cranky counter people and have a seat. Once you're done, buy another to bring back to your room for a late-night snack. They're that good.

Rossi's (Nevsky Prospekt at Mikhailovskaya, part of the Grand Hotel Europe) is a pleasant sidewalk cafe just off that busy boulevard; the food is adequate, the people-watching sublime.

The Idiot Cafe (82, Moika canal not too far from St. Isaac Square),named for the Dostoyevsky novel, is a favorite with St. Petersburg's expat and artsy crowd. It's known for its borscht and other vegetarian dishes, served in a quasi-Bohemian atmosphere in a cozy basement space. Wash it all down with a free shot of vodka. Staff speaks English.

Teplo (45 Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa, next to the Vladimir Nabokov Museum) is one of St. Petersburg's more popular restaurants. With outdoor seating and kitschy home-style decor, it reminds you of an independent cafe you might see in a major American city. The potato pancakes, which come with Buko cheese, red caviar and smoked salmon, are delicious, as is the beef stroganoff made with mushrooms and veal. Reservations recommended.

Kafe Tbilisi (10 Sytninskaya, not far from the Peter and Paul Fortress) is considered one of the best places to experience Georgian food, which is considered fashionable right now in St. Petersburg. Make sure to try the khachapuri (cheese bread) and some Georgian red wine; menus are available in English.

Sever (44 Nevsky Prospekt) is a legendary Soviet-era cake shop, where people used to line up for the brightly colored sweets. Do some drooling before you pick, although prices are reasonable enough that you might choose more than one.

The Other Side (TOS) Gastro & Refuge (1 Bolshaya Konyushnnaya) is an American version of the many British-style pubs that you can find in St. Petersburg's historic center. Meals are similar to the gastro-pub fare that find at upscale bars in the States. The St. Petersburg Times, the city's English newspaper, sometimes has pub quizzes here; there's often live music.

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