BRAVO!, a support group of the Washington Opera, created its own Russian tearoom on the opening night of the company's production of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" at the Kennedy Center. The group invited the cast me of Mary Jane and M.S. (Marsh) Marshall.
a, a board member of the Bravo! council, meticulously researched the theme. After studying Russian cookbooks and speaking with friends who had lived in the Soviet Union, she instructed Take Me Home caterers to cover the dining room table with a zakuski -- an assortment of hors d'oeuvres. Guests tasted Romanoff black and red caviar (set in glass bowls surrounded with cracked ice) and served on blinis cooked by Doug Shook of Take Me Home, who used his mother's Swedish blini iron. Toast points were topped with chicken livers and lingonberries. Pickled cucumbers, phyllo filled with mushrooms, piroshki and bright red beets and herring whetted appetites.
Like the servants in the opera's ballroom scenes, waiters passed trays of iced white wine and champagne.
While food was the center of discussion in the dining room, music was the focal point downstairs in the Marshalls' family room. The opera's guest conductor, Maxim Shostakovich, son of composer Dmitri Shostakovich, stood -- vodka in hand -- signing a musical score written by his father for Saul Feldman, a balalaika player who came to the party dressed in his red and black Russian costume. Folk musicians playing balalaikas and mandolins also strolled through the party.
age 1985, would be complete without vodka and Russian ,emigr,es? Ilya Levin, from Leningrad, provided flavored iced vodkas -- with raspberry, cardamom, dill, lemon and hot peppers, the last of which he dubbed his "tribute to the spirit of Texas," where he is a student working on his doctoral thesis. Levin, who also gives a course in vodka connoisseurship at the Open University, revealed his secrets:
ILYA LEVIN'S TIPS
"Vodka is very much a matter of taste. I don't recommend American Schenley, Czechoslovakian Kord and German Rimanto because you can taste and smell impurities in them. They taste like 'suchok,' cheap Soviet vodka issued for domestic consumption. I personally prefer Swedish Absolut, Russian Stolichnaya, Finnish Finlandia and American Smirnoff Number 21 or Smirnoff de Czar." Flavored vodkas include Soviet-made Tertsovka (pepper vodka), Soviet Okhotya (flavored with herbs such as mountain heather) and Aquavit (flavored with a variety of herbs).
For making flavored vodkas, Levin suggests less expensive brands like Gordon's or Popov. The minute differences in taste are drowned by the flavors of whatever you are infusing the vodkas with.
Levin suggests placing the vodka and the shot glasses in the freezer. Decant the vodka before serving to add a touch of class. Chase it with zakuski, the assorted appetizers that are an integral part of the vodka ritual.
There are dozens of ways of flavoring vodkas but the following are Levin's favorites:
Lemon vodka. Thinly peel the rind of a lemon leaving no white pith on the inside of the rind. Place it in a half-gallon of vodka with a pinch of sugar, and let it sit covered for 7 to 10 days at room temperature.
Pepper vodka. Place 20 to 30 hot peppers (Levin's favorite is jalape?no), in a liter bottle of vodka, letting the mixture sit, covered, at room temperature for one week. Add this pepper essence to a regular vodka, starting with a finger full to a bottle of vodka, adding more to taste. (It should have a kick, but not be too hot.) Add one- third of a clove of garlic, which adds body to the taste and will not make the drinker's breath smell of garlic.
Coriander vodka. coriander seeds per liter of vodka. Let sit for 7 to 10 days at room temperature. Strain and store in the freezer.
Cherry vodka.Put 12 to 20 cherrystones, washed and crushed, in a liter of vodka. Let sit 5 to 7 days. Strain and sore in the freezer.