Tomato and Onion Seduction

As spring settles in, many restaurants along our street (Noviy Arbat) and others, set up their outdoor seating. Some restaurants go for a canopy hanging over simple tables and chairs, others have a full blown construction site outside their front door and produce gorgeous decks with heating lamps, blankets, exotic flower pots, etc. Regardless, I love outdoor seating. It is one of my favorite things about sunny and warm weather.

We went to the restaurant Ristoran Barashka on Noviy Arbat – we had gone there before in the winter. I was seduced by their new outdoor seating area (this happens often) and insisted that we go there immediately. Their menu has typical ‘restaurant in Russia’ items like shashlik and borsht, etc. They also have lots of stuff with lamb (obvi – barashka is lamb) like these amazing cabbage leaves (golubtsi) stuffed with lamb meat. This time I opted for rabbit kotleti (which are like oversized Russian meatballs). My husband had chicken shashlik. Both were delicious.

A table across the seating area had ordered a salad of tomatoes and grilled onions. I eyed it as soon as the waiter put it down in front of them. My vision when looking at things that are far away is not that great. I really should wear my glasses or contacts more, but I can spot pretty looking food from great distances (also pretty tablecloths, sales at Sur La Table, and giraffe print stuff). Anyway, I was mesmerized. The colors of the salad were gorgeous – bright tomato-y red and onion-y purple jumping off the white plate. I could only imagine how simple, light and amazing it tasted. Along with mushrooms and potatoes, I love onions (just not raw). Already too stuffed from our own meal I vowed right then and there to make this dish at home. It was dramatic, but very important. I kept staring at the table. They probably thought I was nuts. But it was just about the tomatoes and onions and not them. I wonder if that makes it weirder?

If anything I would just say I’m American. Which is my excuse for all awkward moments abroad. Before, I used to think this was a bad thing. Americans are loud, obnoxious and ridiculous, right? At least that’s what we were told they thought. And you could tell by their attitude that they did. So you never wanted to admit you were American. Then people loved Americans and we all had celebrity status when traveling…and now we just meddle in everything, I guess (my knowledge of politics and history certainly doesn’t help the ‘Americans are stupid’ stereotype) so they don’t like us again.

But as the guy at the table to the right of us was self-righteously barking orders at everyone and the women to the left of us were scowling at everything, including the innocent pepper shaker, I couldn’t help thinking how nice we Americans are. Now, as a former waitress of many years, maybe I am an exception, but a restaurant really has to mess up a lot for me to get super angry or annoyed. I understand that things can happen at the worst times and I understand the stress that a server might feel when something is taking too long in the kitchen or they forgot to leave out pickles, or you forgot to bring someone’s water, or someone ordered something that the kitchen, unbeknownst to you, JUST ran out of. Or you accidentally swiped the same card twice on a split bill. Or the server coming in after you just called out and you have to stay. Great servers make mistakes and really good restaurants can have an off night. It’s life.

Anyway, that night (I can’t remember if it was night or day because it stays so light out until about 10pm) happened to be a bad night for that particular restaurant. The weather was nice and we were enjoying the sunshine as the world passed us by on Noviy Arbat so I was already in a fabulous mood. I could wait all day for my meal. It certainly felt like I did. But I was happy doing so. Smiling, being pleasant with the servers, enjoying the moment. It gave Andrei extra time to check out Twitter and sports scores on his iPhone – so we were both set.

The people around us though should have just taken a raincheck and stayed home. Guy on our left was really peeved that the hookah specialist hadn’t come up to him for 20 minutes. I wouldn’t come up to him either since he was yapping on his cell phone for that entire 20min and wouldn’t stop if any restaurant person approached him. Then he felt he had waited too long to get his hookah. Then they couldn’t bring the beer fast enough. Then he could only pay with cash (and he wanted to pay with credit card) and I was ready for my beatiful outdoor setting to come crashing down on our heads. Not only does he have to complain to them like crazy, he gets back on his cell phone to tell his friend about it. And he is loud and it is incredibly irritating.

Snippy girls on our left just couldn’t be happy about anything. Probably not about their failed facelifts either.

I’m not saying all Russians are like this. Just maybe most in Moscow. And there are certainly things here that Russia could teach America.

But in that moment I was proud to be an American. Gracious, friendly, and understanding.

The following night I re-created the tomato onion salad and it turned out great. The flavor combination of the tart tomatoes and the sweet (and in some places a little charred) onions just really hit the spot. It was really simple to make too.

I tossed sliced red onions (I later used white, which also worked well, but I think red is better) in some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of brown sugar. Then I spread them out on a lined sheet pan. I put them in a very hot oven and just kept track of them, so they wouldn’t burn. Somewhere in there I gave them a turn so they could roast a bit on the other side. While they were roasting I cut up some plum tomatoes (the ones here importated from Holland are so good!! I normally don’t prefer plum tomatoes. Early girls from California would also be amazing probably) and sprinkled them with salt to let them sit and release their flavors. Once the onions were done I added them to the tomatoes and tossed with a tiny bit more olive oil, salt and pepper. And that’s it. Such a simple dish that is so rich in flavors!

With the salad I served my very quick spaghetti alfredo. Basically I cook the pasta as per usual. Then I drain it, reserving some of the liquid and put it back on very low heat. Add a bit of butter, cream, and parm cheese and mix. Cracked pepper on top adds a lovely touch.

I also prepared some simple and tender chicken thighs to go with the rest of the meal. I seasoned the chicken thighs, seared them on a frying pan and them put them into a pot with simmering broth  until they are done (maybe about 20min? – they stay pretty tender so even if you go over you’ll be fine). I normally like to add some fresh herbs to the pot and maybe some white wine. I didn’t have either, but I had some leftover lemons so I sliced those and through them in. It really added some depth to the flavor.

We didn’t eat it outside but it was a very pleasant, light and airy dish. And no one complained that they had to wait a little to eat it.

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2 Comments to “Tomato and Onion Seduction”

  1. YUM!!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE tomato and onion salad — but I never tried it with the grilled red onions — sounds like something I will be doing in the near future! I would add a touch of green to the color scheme and maybe sprinkle the salad with some fresh chopped parsley……….?

  2. This does sound delicious. Next time the grill goes on, I’m making this salad!

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