Kiev's most authentic Ukrainian dining experience is situated in a wooden houseboat docked on the Dnieper. The waitresses wear traditional Ukrainian peasant dress, ill-fitting and laced with colorful stitching, and look as if at any moment they will ditch the city and harvest what the good earth has yielded. Sitting around the table are many of Kiev's new power players—financiers, construction bosses, publishing magnates, Internet kingpins, and wildcatter Americans who arrived in the early days of the free market and who now rake in the spoils of their entrenched companies. Everyone is yelling and reaching across the table for meat—fist-sized chunks of grilled pork, chicken, and veal. The meals arrive in local crockery; and the food is savory and substantial, as is the way of the Ukrainian kitchen. In addition to the carnivore's delights, there is, of course, borscht, with thick dollops of sour cream floating on the beet broth. Also vareniki, the Ukrainian dumpling filled with potato, salmon, cherries, or meat and vegetables. And blini with black pyramids of sturgeon caviar (You can buy anything here—a Hollywood movie before its theatrical release, a military escort, pirated computer software—all are a single phone call away.) Beware the horilka, the Ukrainian national drink, which is vodka usually blended with honey and hot red pepper. It burns going down, and leaves a scalding aftertaste.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.