Friday, September 28, 2007

The other day, David Rief, son of the late Susan Sontag, stopped by. Susan Sontag was one of the greatest writers in America. She received many awards in many countries for working tirelessly for the rights of the oppressed. She wrote many books and had a great influence on her time. David told me that he is working on opening Susan Sontag’s foundation. The aim of the foundation is to help writers, playwrights, and particularly poets. David asked me if they could hold the first meeting of the board of the foundation at Russian Samovar. Susan Sontag was a loyal friend for many years, I loved her and she in her turn treated me well and Russian Samovar was her favorite restaurant in the city. I said to David, “Yes of course” that I would do anything to keep Susan Sontag’s memory alive.

The day before yesterday Nick Ilyin, the head of development of the Guggenheim Museum came to the restaurant and brought 8 guests, among them was the director of the Guggenheim Museum, Thomas Kranz. The other guests included the son of the pianist Vladimir Felzman. The others were Mark Slobadianik, and Sergey Gordeyev. I had already gone home but when Nick, who is a good friend, called my house, I took a cab and soon joined them in the restaurant. We talked and we toasted and we joked and drank flavored vodkas. Some concert pianist from the group played the piano and we sang a lot of different Russian songs, mostly all familiar tunes from World War II and the early 50’s.

On Saturday Nick Ilyin is bringing a big party of thirty to the VIP room of the restaurant on the second floor. Yesterday the great Russian poet representing the Leningrad tradition, Alexander Kushner read his recent works at the Russian Samovar. A lot of poetry lovers came to the restaurant to hear him read and leaned against the big table on the second floor to listen to the wonderful poetry of Alexander Kushner. After the reading there was a reception and ten people, closest to the poet were conducted to the first floor and served Russian traditional dinner. Of course, it included herring, Vinegret, eggplant caviar, sauerkraut, half sour pickles, Salo, and Pelmeni. I joined them at the table and we talked about poetry, how he in particular writes his poetry. He explained that it always comes from a poetic idea that keeps growing and growing in his mind and when it is ripe he sits down and writes the poem. There were many toasts and many flavored vodkas were tasted. Our famous musicians Sergey Pobedinsky and Valerie Zhmud came to our table and played Joseph Brodsky’s favorite song, “The Thin Ashberry”. The evening was yes another great success

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yalta International Movie Festival

Recently I was invited to Yalta for the International Movie Festival that took place there and lasted 8 days. There were many countries showing their films at the festival and a lot of representatives and actors from these countries came to Yalta. I called it the Yalta conference. We all stayed at the beautiful hotel where all the members of the original Yalta conference also stayed. After the renovation the hotel really looked impressive. The opening and closing ceremonies were held at the palace which Alexander the third built on the top of the hill from which the whole town and the sea presents a wonderful picture. The place looked like a theater scene.
There were rather many films shown at the festival but for me the most impressive was the movie “Russian Gambling” directed by Pavel Chukhrai, the son of a famous Russian cinematographer. The film is based on a play by Gogol called the gamblers. The organizers of the festival promised to bring the movie to New York for the New York Film festival. The festival will take place at the Tribeca Theater on October 12th. A lot of prominent Russian actors, all of them young representatives of contemporary Russian film makers, will attend the event. It promises to be a very exciting week for the city of New York.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Francine Du Plessy - Gray

Francine Du Plessy- Gray is a dear old friend, one of those who has been a patron of the restaurant since its inception in 1986. She is a timely remarkable woman. Her mother, Tatiana Yakovleva, was an incredible beauty. Niece of the famous Russian artist and adventurer, the young Tatiana had just escaped communist Russia and was living in Paris when she met the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky who fell madly in love with her. After Mayakovsky returned to Russia, failing to take Tatiana with him, he sent her passionate letters but the young beauty absolutely refused to love him. Mayakovsky desperately tried to get to France but the Soviet authorities would not give him a visa. Vladimir Mayakovsky realized that he might not return and might not see his love again. Disillusioned and dejected the poet committed suicide. Soon after Tatiana married a French aristocrat, Du Plessy and from this union their daughter Francine was born. Her Father Du Plessle was a pilot who was shot by the Germans at the very beginning of World War II. Soon Afterwards Tatiana Yakovleva married an √©migr√© artist Alex Lieberman with whom they brought young Francine to New York, where she grew up. At home she was called Frosia. Francine grew up in New York, married a very talented painter, Clieve Gray and lived with him all her life until his death a year ago. In the meantime Alex became the artistic director of one of the greatest publishing empire, Conde Nast. The owner of the publishing house was Sy Newhouse who became a devoted friend of the family. Francine wrote recently a wonderful book “Them” where she described her mother and stepfather, their relationship, and their life in New York society. She received the national book award for this book. Both Tatiana and Alex died several years ago.
Yesterday Francine brought to the restaurant a few friends. I joined them for a drink and they told me how they enjoyed the food and the ambience of the restaurant. Later when they were leaving I introduced them to our chef Patrick and they conversed in French for a few minutes. It turned out a good evening.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bel Kaufman

The other day Bel Kaufman came to the restaurant to celebrate her 96th birthday. I first met her in 1966 when she was visiting the Soviet Union and a mutual friend of ours who worked at the Union of the Soviet writers brought her to my lecture on Hemingway at the Institute of Foreign languages. Bel Kaufman had just published a book that immediately became a great success in America. Soon it was made into a movie which made her visibility even greater. Apart from the feet that she is an established author she is also the granddaughter of Sholom Aleichem who is considered a great author in the yidish language. Her husband Sydney is also 96 and they have been coming to the Samovar since 1986, the year the restaurant opened. Bel still takes dancing classes and invites everyone to come and celebrate her 100th birthday. An evening with her is always “happiness”. She speaks Russian flawlessly and likes to impress and fascinate everyone with the stories she tells. Later on, on the same night a group of beautiful international singers came and they performed a multitude of Italian, French and German arias. They were amazed at the skill that Alexander Izbitser, our regular musician displayed, not only knowing the music for every song or aria they sang but also at the ease that he remembered all of them. The guests of the restaurant went berserk. The singers said it was an incredible evening and hugged and kissed Alexander for his incredible accomplishments.

Singer friends

Last week was another interesting week at the Russian Samovar. A former student of Alexander Izbitser, Christina, came by with some of her singer friends. Some of her friends were from Italy while others were locals from the states. They sang classical songs by Verdi, Shuman, Schubert and other composers of 19th Century. They are regulars at the Russian Samovar and every time they come they make it an exciting night. If you are lucky you might catch them here too.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Business After-hours

Last Wednesday night via3pr and Bensonhurst Business Club held an event called the Business After-hours at the Russian Samovar Restaurant in Midtown. People from all kinds of business backgrounds attended: store owners, doctors, dentists, filmmakers, salon owners, along with representatives from Netcost Market, Lucello Jewelry Company, Imperia Vodka and Verizon. It turned out to be a fabulous little soiree at Russian Samovar’s elegant and enchanting V.I.P lounge, with guests mingling, networking, and indulging in drinks.

The point of the Business After-hours event was to help people network, and the evening’s host, Irina Shmeleva made networking fun and painless by inventing games that helped the guests relax and meet each other. In case that it didn’t work, she spent the rest of the evening introducing everyone to everyone else. There was a short speech given by Alec Teyel, HSBC bank’s Small Business Relationship Manager, who co-organized the event. Alex then introduced the guest speaker Robert Levin, the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of New York Enterprise Report Magazine, who is the publisher and the editor-in-chief of a hugely popular magazine “The New York Enterprise Report”. Robert shared some great tips on how to make small businesses grow, emphasizing how crucial networking is in the process of building and maintaining a business. All in all, it was a great night and many guests departed with a smile. We are all looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Vodka Tasting Evening

Yesterday was a wonderful July evening in Manhattan. One of the best restaurants in the city, "Russian Samovar" with the help of the public relations agency via3pr organized some Vodka-Tasting action for many well known citizens of New York as well as others, less known. To keep everyone entertained various competitions were organized centered around the most popular Russian drink- Vodka. In one game, the competitors had to taste four different flavors of vodka (cranberry, horseradish, peach, coriander) and guess the flavor of the vodka. Speed was a key factor in this contest and Oleg Sulkin, a well known journalist of the Russian newspaper Novoe Russkoe Slovo was clearly the winner. For his efforts he was awarded “Romance with a Samovar”, by Anatoly Nayman, a book written about the Russian Samovar. Other winners of the night included Dima Poyman, Arkady Milavsky, and Simon Kapilov who all received bottles of Vodka courtesy of the Kings Bay liquor store. Even though these were the winners, there were no losers, as prizes and gifts were awarded to all participants. After the contest, the contestants had to walk in a straight line and read letters off of a chart under the supervision of makeshift police officer Olga Shendrik who was wearing a very intriguing policewoman outfit. Later on, all were allowed to try the different flavored vodkas. For the invited guests a buffet table was organized and for this special night, vodka was available to all the guests.
The second half of the evening was equally entertaining as it involved the reading of poetry, some home-made, and others by well-known authors. The poetry was devoted to the Russian favorite drink vodka and other related activities. The well-acclaimed musician Sergey Pobedinsky sang and played guitar. Throughout the night guests were drinking Balinoff vodka as well as the flavored vodka and at the conclusion of the evening all guests were given mini bottles of Imperia vodka. In general the night went according to plan and was simply wonderful. All guests were overjoyed and promised to return to this great venue more often. The proud owner of "Russian Samovar", Roman Kaplan promised to arrange such parties again. At nearly midnight everyone went home with big smiles on their faces.