US President Barack Obama has come to be known for his salt-of-the-earth taste in food and drink: coconut custard pie in small-town Ohio, Kumbaya beers on the White House porch, down-home "hell burgers" with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Now, if the president deigns to visit the capital of Kyrgyzstan, he'll have a chance to sample the local version of real American bar food -- surrounded by endless portraits of himself.
The Obama Bar & Grill opened in Bishkek last month to accolades from expats and locals alike:
"The chicken quesadillas and the chicken fingers were really delicious. Now I want to visit America."-- a Bishkek native, sampling these staples for the first time"Possibly the most authentic French fries in Bishkek!"-- an American expat, bereaved by two years of frylessness in the remote Central Asian country"They're trying to make a Chili's in Bishkek and doing a really good job, even by American standards."-- an American aid worker, who ate at the new restaurant three times in the first week it was open
The eatery's décor is left over from previous owners' more upscale aspirations: plush seats upholstered with black leather and patterned velour, white tablecloths, chandeliers and brocaded gold wallpaper. But the Vogue magazine covers that once adorned the walls have been replaced with framed pictures of Obama in every mood and aspect: brooding, smiling, profile, en face, in a White Sox uniform, as a cartoon graphic.
In terms of authenticity, the Obama Bar & Grill still has a ways to go. The chicken and turkey cheeseburgers aren't actually burgers but mayo-heavy sandwiches, albeit on very nice toasted buns. And the menu has some entertaining gaffes, like soft tortillas "overstaffed with supper tangy" chicken.
All in all, the dining experience -- a bit like the voting experience -- depends on expectation management. A visiting American, who contentedly munched a burger at the Bar & Grill on Halloween, said that a friend of his, upon hearing that he'd be trying out a restaurant named after Obama, thought a moment and said: "I bet it will be vaguely disappointing."