During one of the legendary voyages of Sinbad, his entire crew shipwrecked and washed ashore a strange island peopled with a foreign race. The sailors' suspicions were quickly mollified, however, when the king of the island himself presented them with a feast, complete with exotic foods, vintage wines and sumptuous smells.
Half starved from their ill-fated journey, the sailors gorged themselves on the offerings. Sinbad alone did not partake in the meal. His prudence proved providential when, later that night, every man who had eaten and drank was turned into a squealing swine to be butchered for the king's next feast.
My reasons for mentioning this parable are two-fold. Firstly, it illuminates the dangers in wait for the Israelis regarding the current situation in the Middle East. It also struck me as appropriate because the topic of this review is the restaurant SINDBAD, the vernacular by which Russians know Scheherazade's classic.
While liberals within Israel and statesmen everywhere are urging Sharon to devour the proverbial banquet of the Saudi peace proposal, Sharon alone has remained aloof. With even President Bush calling on him to sate himself on peace offerings, this cannot be an easy task. Will it prove wise?
The Arabs, while perhaps less mysterious than the strangers Sinbad met, remain an unknown element, with autocratic rulers eager to blame the Jews whenever their popularity starts to sag. In other words, just when the Jews think themselves quenched with peace, they may turn to see millions of ravenous black beady eyes hungrily eyeing the remaining sliver of Israel. Sharon, to his credit, understands this.
If Sharon bit, how many foreign states would turn to feast on the Jews? Would Russia be one of them? Even as Putin is beginning to accept the reality of the collapse of Russia's empire, we see the emergence of Neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups looking to blame Jews for the empire's disillusion.
The militsia encourages these fascists, allowing them to walk the streets with impunity rather than finding ways to handle them. I no longer walk in central Moscow after dark, for fear of roaming groups of anti-Semites.
And yet, how can I but portray Russia in a positive light? Putin, like Sinbad, is an individual taking the nonconformist -- and ultimately correct -- path. I feel compelled to encourage the burgeoning post-imperial civil society in Moscow beyond my theoretical contributions. Having been part and parcel of the human rights movement in Russia in the 1970s, and having worked on legal reform issues in the 1990s through the present, I now also want to lead Russians on to enjoy their new-found political and economic freedoms.
Nowhere will you find such synergy of the market economy and the right to choose as in the restaurant industry. It did not even exist ten years ago, and now Russians can pick cuisine from anywhere in the world. So, while some would complain that they needed to arraign door-to-door transport to a restaurant because of safety concerns, I reveled in the fact that my companion and I could choose to sample ethnic food in Moscow.
Sindbad's Oriental d?cor may seem unusual at first but, as Rudyard Kipling noted, "east is east and west is west". The chef hails from the Levant and the menu is peppered with familiar Mid-Eastern dishes at prices well beneath prices I have resigned myself to paying while in Moscow.
I wonder whether the server took note of our discussion topic -- Israel -- because the food took interminably long in coming, despite the moderate volume of diners. The Beirut hummus (R120) could be served in Tel Aviv with pride. The tabbouleh (R120) was low on mint and wheat bits, while the baba ghanoush (R120) had a soiled, smoky flavor instead of tahini.
Our hot servings were fair to middling, with the lamb dolma (R170) rather limp and served without a yogurt sauce. The kibbeh balls (R180) lacked the right proportions, being too heavily breaded.