Blinis, Gossip and Gogol, Snob-Style

What would Gogol eat?

The guests chewed over that question on Friday night as they sampled the pig’s tongue slivers, the blinis with caviar, the headcheese and the smoked sardines.

It was the latest salon sponsored by Snob magazine, the high-end Russian publication that seeks to create a local community of “global Russians” who like to unwind with cherry pit-infused vodka and trade gossip in the mother tongue.
The guests included conceptual artists wearing “Where’s Waldo” glasses, architects who remembered when SoHo was dangerous, and fashionable young Russian mothers enjoying a night off duty at the private dining room of Savoy restaurant on Prince Street.

“This is a whole new generation of sophisticated people looking to increase their knowledge,” said Alexandr Neratoff, a grandson of Russian immigrants. “Five years ago it would have been inconceivable to have anything like this.”

The conversation veered from Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets and the backer of the magazine, to the merits of the iPad, to the differences between the old Russian immigrants and the new — and then back, somewhat reluctantly, to the appetites of Nikolai Gogol, the 19th-century author of the phantasmagoric novel “Dead Souls.”

Or, more precisely, to Gogol’s severe gastric problems. An undiagnosed case of irritable bowel syndrome was offered as the key to understanding his writing.

“He frequently gorged to the point of discomfort,” explained Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian at Williams College who lectured the crowd of 40 on Gogol’s battles with constipation and diarrhea.
While she spoke, a sturdy man with a buzzed head poured a young woman some caraway-infused vodka. “This one is the toughest one,” he whispered.

Ms. Goldstein detailed the author’s lifelong preoccupation with his stomach and everything that passed through it. The diners shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Pass the monkfish liver!

Peter Hoffman, the chef and owner of Savoy, created the special Gogolian menu in collaboration with Ms. Goldstein. For inspiration, he said he had read the short story “The Old World Landowners,” writing down every dish mentioned.

“He goes on and on about food,” Mr. Hoffman said.

Gogol did not specifically mention most of the plates served on Friday night, but they were dreamed up with the author’s romanticized, surreal vision of 19th-century agrarian life in mind. That is how Snob’s guests ended up eating pig’s tongue with walnut sauce, sturgeon kulibiaka with a potato caper sauce, and braised rabbit with mushrooms. (“We wanted to do hare,” Mr. Hoffman said. “Hare is gamier.”)

As waiters cleared away the roasted apple dessert called Gogol-Mogol — apparently named for a legendary cantor, not the writer — Maria Genkin acknowledged that her table had not spent the meal debating the politics or metaphors of “Dead Souls.”

“It was much more SoHo than Gogol,” she said.

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