St. Petersburg/Finland report
I know St. Petersburg and Finland aren't the most popular destinations and even less popular for recommendations, but I figured I'd write up my trip to aid future travelers. We had a great time and no issues in Russia after hearing some semi horror stories. Everything went smoothly except for not getting the Cyrillic alphabet down. The first day in St. P was a stop at Pastry du Nord by the train station for a snack as we walked around then the bar Rom Baba on Marata 2 off Nevsky Prospekt. They played classic and deep tracks of 70's rock and the bartender was super friendly giving us recs for bars and record stores. They have food but we waited til later to eat at Yolki Palki which was literally next door to our hotel (the pleasant Nevsky Contour in a courtyard off Nevsky Prospekt). Maybe we were too jetlagged, we did NOT see it at all so wandered around looking for something closeby. Ended up at a Middle Eastern place and shared a salad (with salmon) and good chicken kebab. Great bread served with it too. They had houkahs, that's a big thing in St. P. On Fri. we went the wrong direction down Nevsky to go to the Hermitage, duh. So we ended up at Boulangerie Garcon further up Nevsky for excellent croissants and cream puffs. A great bakery. Capuccino and a beer at Center Café after a boat ride around the city, all in Russian tho. We ended up at Yolki Palki this nite for some tasty solyanka soup and beef stroganoff. It's a fun place with folk dancing, animals on the wall, and a buffet if you want.
We got to the Hermitage on Sat. and of course, became overwhelmed after a couple hours. I wanted to try what sounded like a good restaurant on Bolshoy Prospekt and since the bridge was closed, we sprung for a cab. And pretty sure we got totally ripped off since it cost more than the charge from the airport. Plus the rest. wasn't there so we walked into a random place for a late lunch that ended up being quite good. Split some tasty pelmini then a sausage plate with three different kinds (photo), a big pretzel, some cabbage and potatoes. It was quite tasty and I finally figured out the name, Ayvengo on Bolshoy Prospekt 32 (900 rubles w/ a beer and a water). Late that nite, we split a schwarma from a stand on Sadovaya in a strip with some bars and food places (photo). The kids working there were super sweet, from Pakistan and the bread was excellent. Best deal of the trip, 100 rubles.
On Sunday I walked around with a local and we ended up at the 2nd floor 24 hr coffee shop above the sushi place on Nevsky where he had tiramisu and I had a great plum cake and cappuccino. That nite was one of my "travel agent" dinners and rather than break the bank at Tsar (which was tempting), we walked to Ribay at 3 Kazanskaya which is kind of a steak house. Big comfortable room with a large no smoking section, random entertainment by the waiters and waitresses (kind of weird), and some interesting cocktails. I had their version of the Moscow Mule. Dinner was veal zvatny w/ mushrooms and mashed potato (photo). A. had what was listed as veal chop but was veal cutlet. Wrong choice of words but very good anyway. We started with a delicious mixed green salad w/ veal sweetbreads and split another plum dessert (not as good as earlier). Prices about 400-1300 rubles for apps and entrees. Checked out a bar down the street called Fidel with a great bartender (who spoke perfect English) and nice patrons. There are lots of bars on Dumskaya St. but they got in trouble cuz of a fight a couple weeks previous, so they were limited to beer and cider. Our last day we made sure to stop at a Teremok for some blinis, they weren't great but it seemed like the thing to do (photo). Dinner was at Khochu Kharchu at 39 Sadovaya, which was listed as Georgian food but seemed like basic Middle Eastern to me. Nice service, good bread, okay roasted vegetable app and not the most flavorful lamb kebab in the world for a fairly high price. We had to be up early so wandered back to Nevsky with a stop at one of the 24 hour cafes for some dessert to use up some extra rubles. I had the thickest hot chocolate you've ever seen, not necessarily a good thing. I was surprised at how many 24 hour restaurants there are in St. Petersburg.
Took an early train to Helsinki and met a friend at the station for breakfast where the ham & cheese quiche was fine. Took a bus to the airport for our flight to Rovaniemi, Lapland and stayed at the Hotel Santa Claus which has a nice café and restaurant. We had a group tour of the northern lights later so went out early to the City Hotel and their casual pub Bull for a beer and food. The bbq pork sandwich w/ fries was surprisingly good and they played good music there (if you like it loud), about 22€ with two beers. Didn't eat too much since we knew we'd be grilling sausages over a fire in the tee pee on our trip and thankfully, the northern lights cooperated for us. The next day we went to the Korundi art museum then got lunch at Cafe 21, they serve waffle dishes. Ours was a chicken waffle w/ salad and we got a side salad w/ feta. Dishes were about 8€ and decent. But most exciting, I realized I was in a country that served free ice water, yay! Met up later at the Paha Kurki Rockhouse, ,they play rockabilly and metal and serve Iron Maiden beer and Motorhead wine. Later was travel agent dinner #2 (this trip took a LOT of planning) at Restaurant Nili and that was the best meal of the trip. They were celebrating their 7th anniv. so we split a special 3 course menu for 34€ which included a very nice mushroom soup, stew and fillet of reindeer on creamed parsnip and a chocolate dessert w/ white choc crust. We also ordered an app of reindeer rillette along with a local beer and a sparkling cloudberry wine. Plus since it was their anniv., they brought over glasses of sparkling wine AND at the end, a glass of Murphy's with the choc. dessert. There were lots of tourists there but I didn't care, it was a very pleasant and tasty dinner. Thurs. morning we went to the Arktika Museum which was interesting and I grabbed a quick sandwich at Arlen in one of the malls and a mini donut at Arnold's across the way. Saw Arnold's in Helsinki too, decent donuts, which you don't see often in Europe.
Now we're in Helsinki and the first evening brings us to the food stands outside our Scandic Simonkenttä Hotel where they have cheese, pastries, fried chicken and more. I got a delicious apricot pie and A. got cheese and croissants to hold us over til dinner at Sea Horse which has been around since 1935. I got Finnish meatballs and he got a Swedish hash. They were both fine but no big deal, about 15€ each. I'm not sure my grüner veltliner was really a grüner. The next day we wandered around town, hit record stores and got a snack at the Hakaniemi Market. Dinner later was at Virgin Olive Oil whose club we went to later. Maybe they should stick w/ music cuz the pizza was mediocre at best. However, the side salad and cannelloni were decent and tiramisu was pretty good. Not the best service, prices about 15€. On Sat., I took a tram around town that hit a lot of sights, went to the Finnish Architecture Museum (eh), back to the food market for a good donut, then to the outdoor market by the water where a few stalls were selling delicious looking food. I got salmon paella for 8€ which was pretty darn good. Later that nite, we had drinks at Ateljee Bar on the top floor of a hotel on Yrjonkatu which I guess has great views but the space is cramped and in Oct., you can't take full advantage of the decks. Drinks are 10-15€, pricey. Dinner was at Zetor which is owned by the band the Leningrad Cowboys. They've got a tractor motif going on and Finnish dishes. I had a nice Arctic cloudberry wine and we split blinis of mushroom and two other flavors then the traditional sautéed reindeer dish w/ lingonberry and mashed potato (photo). It almost tasted like steak umms and they love to mash their potatoes to death but it was better than I'm making it sound. The place is amusing with a Finnish disco going on and people enjoying themselves. We ended up not far away at On the Rocks for a Swedish band. And thus ends the trip. Hopefully this helps a few people since these aren't "hot spots" for food recommendations.