TALLINN - The strict moralist within me, the voice that says I deserve whatever I receive, says this: "If you go to a restaurant in the most touristy part of a city, you deserve to have a bad meal that leaves a mild nauseating aftertaste. You deserve to have a meal that reminds you of your mortality, and of the fact that the life you have lived so far is directionless and unfulfilled. You deserve this because your presence in this part of town has contributed to its cheesiness, to its steady decline from a charming cultural area into one of Europe's Disneylands. Shame on you, pathetic tourist. You deserve to have spent 171 kroons on a bad meal."
Welcome to the Vana Wiru Pub on 11 Viru Street in Tallinn. Six pm on a Saturday night and I'm by myself. ("You deserve to be by yourself.") The place is filled with 16th century kitsch, vintage maps, a bronze skyline of Tallinn's Old Town along one of the roof beams, a series of pots, pans and pitchers and an entire wall of a presumably 16th-century drawing.
I go to the bar to order my meal. ("You don't deserve a waitress. You deserve to walk up to the bar, as if it were a McDonald's." Oh shut up.) Pepper steak in beer sauce, meat seljanka, and cowboy fritters. (I'm American and I don't recall ever eating anything I would ever call cowboy fritters. They look like French fries, only fatter and more appetizing.)
Well, a basket with all utensils and four slices of bread, white and wheat, arrives. The meat seljanka isn't that bad. There's a mild tang and a fruity flavor. I wonder if it came out of a soup can.
The pepper steak, on the other hand, was among the very worst I have ever had. It was stale and tasteless. I bit right into the peppers and didn't get a damn thing. And then there was the sauce. I kept thinking of the last time I had a really good steak, at that steakhouse in Kaunas back in November. It was rich and finely cooked. I miss Kaunas.
Two stale cowboy fritters and I was done.
An American friend who has lived in Tallinn since the late 90s tells me that the restaurants on Viru Street are all uniformly bad and that none have any hope of getting any better. They serve Finnish and Swedish tourists who don't seem to mind the bad food, he says, and so the Estonian businessmen in these parts don't feel the need to give them anything good. And then there's the not universal but common truth that the first thing to go when a country gets a little bit of wealth is its good food.
Well, I suppose, just like those Swedes and Finns I deserved to have my bad meal on Viru Street. And to Vana Wiru Pub, which took my 171 kroons along with my faith in humanity, you deserve this review.