I am an extremely lucky pencil lady: my Russian boyfriend has an apartment on Brighton Beach, which means we get to spend the summer on the ocean. Besides the obvious advantage of being able to jump in the water whenever we want, Brighton Beach has a number of advantages: great food, two bookstores, and the feeling that you are partially in a different country. So when I have the day off, we usually stay in the neighborhood, for which I now have a great deal of fondness. On this particular Saturday, we started the morning with a cup of coffee on the balcony, enjoying the view seen above.
Next we headed out for a walk along Brighton Beach Avenue, the main drag, under the elevated subway tracks. I wish I could tell you what Gold Label International Food's full selection of provisions is like, but I've never actually set foot in the place. Instead, this little window is the provider of one of my favorite snacks: пирожок с капустой ("little pie with cabbage" -- it's a cabbage pastry). I think there are meat and potato options available as well, but the cabbage is the most special (possibly because Nora Ephron's "The Lost Strudel" has imprinted a perpetual desire for cabbage pastries in me).
A little further down the avenue we stop at the first bookstore of the day: RBC Video. The ground floor has a large selection of Russian film and TV on DVD, plus some music (CDs and vinyl). The upstairs is a bookstore. My own Russian is sadly lacking (I get excited when I can identify words on the awnings of shops in the neighborhood), so when we go here I take a leisurely lap around the shelves, trying to sound out authors' names.
My partner, on the other hand, being both Russian and a professor of literature, actually opens the books. On this occasion, he purchased a ten-volume edition of Chekhov, which we left with the very friendly shopkeepers to pick up later. If you can read Russian, I highly recommend visiting the upstairs. The Russian editions of the classics are really beautiful and tend to be satisfyingly completist. In fact, there's a whole section devoted to multi-volume complete works, each set wrapped carefully in cling wrap. There are other gems to be found too: Sherlock Holmes, a graphic novel version of The Master and Margarita, philosophical works with bodice-ripper covers.
A little further down the street, we popped into Saint-Petersburg, a bookstore and general Russian Things store (their website is fromrussia.com, after all). We just did a quick lap around the shop, browsing the books, this selection of banya hats:
and this giant stuffed pencil:
After these morning errands, we went back home for a quick lunch that we picked up at Gourmanoff, my all-time favorite grocery store. Then we took a walk in the other direction, towards Manhattan Beach, which is smaller and less crowded than Brighton Beach (which is in itself smaller and less crowded than Coney Island, so the next time you're planning a trip to an urban beach, keep that in mind). I saw something moving in the surf, and yelped a bit when I discovered it was a teeny tiny sea turtle:
It's hard to tell in the photo, but the turtle was about the size of a silver dollar. We spent a long time researching whether or not he was supposed to be there, since it was the middle of the day and he had no siblings in sight. Our search did not reveal any conclusive answers, but I remain pretty convinced he wasn't supposed to be there. On the other hand, he seemed to be having a great time tossing around in the surf, so I hope that he is continuing to enjoy Brooklyn's waters and will grow up to be the king of Manhattan Beach.
After this wildlife adventure, we relaxed at home for a bit, reading, writing, and enjoying this sunset:
For dinner, we went across the street to Kashkar, one of our favorite restaurants that serves Uygher food (Central Asian/Western Asian cuisine). It looks pretty unassuming from the outside, but the family-run restaurant makes DELICIOUS food, and usually has Uzbek music videos playing on the television in the background. I recommend any of the salads (one time we asked what a mysterious and tasty green item in a salad was, and received the answer, "Its name is so complicated I don't even know how to pronounce it"), the manti (dumplings, fried and steamed options), and fried lagman (noodles).
Summer at Brighton Beach is really a lovely experience, and I hope you'll check it out the next time you have a spare day in New York. If you've been, what was your favorite spot?