“One pork, one fish, two chicken, away!”
Standing at the counter, the blonde controlled the kitchen with a fierce confidence, every dish receiving his assessment and final touches before being sent out to the elite of New York. Items not up to standard were returned to the line cook with a blistering torrent of vile language and sharp instructions on how to correct the dish. Anything unacceptable was recooked from scratch, and if that caused a delay to the table, the air around the Head Chef turned blue with rage. Despite his animation and fury, the people worked around him smoothly, accepting insults with grace, seeming to feed off his energy.
Watching the service play out, Otabek Altin rested his chin on his hand and swirled the wine in his glass. The kitchen was closed, probably to spare the diners from the worst of the owner’s vocabulary, but bouts of shouting in furious Russian drifted out whenever the doors opened for the waiters. Amused by the broad scope of the owner’s insults to his scurrying staff, Otabek let his gaze wander across the clientele.
Appassionata was currently trending as the number one restaurant on the Upper West Side, and very few of the diners were B list or below. From his carefully chosen vantage point near the kitchen doors, Otabek could see two tables of A list celebrities celebrating their recent Oscar wins, and a number of very wealthy businessmen. The Russian cuisine trend had landed on New York and everyone was clamouring to take a bite. Including him, of course.
Sipping the smoky, ruby red wine that had been recommended by his waiter, Otabek glanced towards the kitchen again, catching a glimpse of blonde as a particularly loud burst of swearing reached his ears. Unlike most of the guests dining tonight, the Kazakh spoke fluent Russian and was enjoying the profanity from the owner immensely. It spoke of passion and a high standard that appealed to him, as well as reminding him a little of home. Almaty didn’t seem quite so far away when he could listen to the tones of Arabic on the streets of Brooklyn, or hear a chef screaming abuse in eloquent Russian at his staff over chicken fillets.
“What’s on your mind?”
Raising an eyebrow at his companion, Otabek indicated the sounds of the kitchen. “This place reminds me of my first job” he shrugged, “I’m fighting off war flashbacks.”
“Plisetsky’s got a fierce reputation, that’s true… for a skinny, pretty boy.”
Otabek shrugged again as their food was brought out, turning his focus to the dishes laid before them on the pristine tablecloth. “He’s the youngest Russian chef outside of Moscow to open his own restaurant. You don’t get to do that if you’re timid.”
“More importantly, he’s the youngest Russian chef to get a Michellin star ever” the jovial Canadian picked up his cutlery with a happy sigh, “and you, my stoic friend, are practically drooling… is it over the food, or the owner, I wonder?”
As their meal had been served, the man in question had ducked out of the kitchen for a moment to speak with the head waiter and Otabek had forgotten about the forkful of food half way to his mouth. Chuckling at his reaction to the sight of the tall, slender blonde, the Canadian nudged him as bright green eyes swept across the restaurant and caught sight of the pair. “Watch out, we've been spotted.”
Otabek sighed and put his fork down as the owner stalked across to their table. Even his movements were appealing, catlike and feral, as Yuri Plisetsky forced a grimace in place of a smile and directed a look of pure venom at Otabek’s dining companion.
“Leroy… I wasn’t aware you had a reservation.”
“I sneaked in under the radar” the Canadian grinned, indicating Otabek. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t accept a booking in my name, not after last time.”
Finding himself suddenly on the receiving end of the glare, Otabek curled his lip. “JJ, don’t tell me…”
“Technically he’s banned” Yuri nodded, and JJ laughed in delight at the deception. Otabek groaned and rolled his eyes.
“That’s a shame, the food looks really good. I hate to leave without trying any” he rumbled, and Yuri suddenly broke out into a savage grin of his own.
“Oh don’t worry” he said, “you can stay. Mr Leroy here is the only one that I’ll be asking to leave…”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that” Otabek said sadly, “if I let him go running off around New York without me, his wife will skin me alive.”
Yuri folded his arms over his narrow chest, tapping a foot as he appraised the Kazakh. After a tense moment he shrugged. “Fine, you can both stay… but you’re responsible for him. By which I mean, if he breaks anything or harasses any of my staff this time, you’ll be getting a bill and a lawsuit.”
Groaning, Otabek nodded and watched the blonde stalk back towards his kitchen, enjoying the way his hips moved under his apron. There was almost nothing to him, yet he moved with power and precision. Unable to stop himself from wondering what might lie under the white shirt and pants, Otabek chewed his lip until he heard JJ cackle. Then he turned his attention to the Canadian.
“What exactly did you do to get banned? This place has only been open for two months!”
“I might have had a few too many glasses of champagne with Izzy and made some comments about how cute the owner would look in cat ears. I also might have tripped and fallen through a table.”
Slapping his hand over his eyes in despair, Otabek firmly refused to entertain the thought of Yuri Plisetsky in cat ears… and a tail… maybe little whiskers drawn on those sharp cheekbones… shuddering, he turned his attention back to the meal desperately.
“If he was a cat, he’d be a tiger” he commented, and JJ’s booming laugh echoed over the sound of the busy restaurant.
“I knew it was the view that had you distracted… come on, at least focus enough to do your job!”
“I can't believe you let Leroy in here. What the hell, Victor?”
The Front of House manager chuckled as Yuri threw himself onto the couch in their shared office. “I didn't think you'd want me to throw his dining companion out.”
“What? Why not?”
“You do know who that was?”
“Obviously I do not...”
“That was Otabek Altin. As in...”
“The fiercest reviewer from the New York Times” Yuri groaned, covering his face with his hands. “I threatened him with a lawsuit.”
“Well, that should make for an interesting article.”
“It's your own fault, Yuri” the other manager of the restaurant looked up from his laptop, glancing at the blonde reproachfully. “You hate being told when there are reviewers in...”
“I know, I know! Is that why Leroy's such an ass? Because he has important friends?”
“I don't think so” Yuuri Katsuki turned back to his work, accepting a coffee from his husband with a smile.
Victor nodded, adding sugar to his own cup. “I think he's just an ass in general. For what it's worth, I suspect you'll get a good write up from Altin.”
“Service was good tonight” Yuri nodded, grimacing at the taste of his eight cup of coffee that day and adding twice as much sugar as the other two. “The new sous chef is starting to find her feet as well...”
“That's not what I meant” Victor laughed, “I think Altin was more interested in you than the food...”
“Honestly Yuri, you're so oblivious” Yuuri shook his head. “Even I noticed the way he was watching you when you were on the floor.”
Pulling his laptop towards him, Yuri stared at the spreadsheets for his stock check without seeing them, mind racing back over the evening. The reviewer had definitely been awkward when they spoke... plus, he was ridiculously attractive. “You're suggesting that the smoking hot NYT reviewer was eyeing me up?”
“Stating, not suggesting. You should drop him an email once the review comes out, maybe invite him back for a private tasting session...”
“That would be completely inappropriate.”
“Rubbish. As long as the article's already out, you can't be accused of trying to influence him.”
Yuri rolled his eyes. “Ridiculous... it's not like I ever have time to date... 17 hour work days and zero social life is the cost of being a chef, you know that.”
“He knows that too” Yuuri pointed out, “so why don't you let him decide if he can handle it?”
The Russian delicatessen was busy when Otabek arrived, but Yuri had somehow carved out a space at a table for the two of them and was projecting such a ferocious aura that none of the other customers even looked twice at the empty chair. Joining him, the reviewer raised an eyebrow at the cheap laminated menu and the dated wallpaper.
“You're wrong, you know” Yuri opened, pushing the chipped coffee pot in Otabek's direction.
“Interesting start” the Kazakh chuckled, topping up Yuri's mug. The china was old and cracked, but scrupulously clean. “Do you always begin by insulting your date?”
Lips quirking at the word 'date', Yuri shrugged. “Actually, yes. It helps to weed out the weak. But that wasn't an insult, just an observation.”
“What am I wrong about?”
“Your review said my restaurant was 'a genuine taste of Moscow'. That's not even close to the truth. This” he gestured, taking in the buzzing counter and the laughing redhead serving her regular customers, “is a real taste of Moscow. Best pirozhki in New York, if not the whole of America.”
“You're exaggerating again” the redhead weaved her way to their table, a basket of the steaming buns in her hands. “Beef on the left, cabbage on the right” she added, setting the food down and eyeing the Kazakh. “And who is this cutie?”
“Leave him alone, Mila” Yuri said, snagging his share and giving her a sour look. “What would your wife think.”
“Sara knows I flirt with all my customers” she laughed, and Otabek inclined his head politely.
“I bat for the other team” he replied smoothly, “although if those pirozhki taste as good as they smell, I might consider switching sides for a while.”
Mila laughed and patted Yuri on the head, a risky move from what Otabek had seen of the blonde. To his surprise, the taller man merely swatted her way.
“Go pester someone else, baba”.
“Shout if you want more coffee” Mila winked at Otabek then disappeared back behind her counter, immediately getting scolded by her assistant for abandoning him for so long. Yuri shot her the finger and then relaxed, watching the Kazakh take a careful bite of the hot food.
Startled by the flavours and textures in the simple looking bun, Otabek lost himself in contemplation for a long moment before noticing the blonde watching him closely. “Astonishing” he mused, and Yuri laughed in agreement.
“If she wasn't practically family, I would have stolen the recipe years ago.”
“Don't you dare” Otabek warned, “your customers don't deserve this. I don't even deserve this. This is a cultural treasure, I'm stunned they even let it out of Russia.”
“We smuggled it out” Yuri said comfortably, and Otabek laughed. “Mila and Sara moved here about five years ago. When they heard I was looking for a second location, they suggested Manhattan. They figured it would be a good market since their deli was doing so well.”
“They were right” Otabek took a cabbage bun and investigated the filling. “Russian culture and food has gained a foothold amongst the wealthy in the last few years. It's the newest fashion in rustic opulence.”
Yuri pulled a face. “Do you talk like one of your articles all the time? Or just on first dates?” Chuckling, Otabek made a gesture of apology.
“It happens sometimes when I'm talking food, sorry.” Finishing the last of his meal, he looked around. “Shall we move on? I feel guilty taking up space if I'm not eating.”
“Same” Yuri stood up and slung his leather jacket over his arm, signing for the check before the other man could protest. Following the blonde out into the warm spring sunshine, Otabek found himself watching the sway of his hips and the way his shoulders moved under his thin black tshirt. Curious as to Yuri's plans, he matched stride with him and found their route weaving towards Central Park.
“I was surprised you suggested meeting for breakfast” he admitted, “I know how it is, being a head chef... time is precious.”
“That's true” Yuri beelined for a small food cart near the steps, indicating a need for more caffeine. “I tend to be very picky who I spend it on.”
“Good to know” Otabek paid for their drinks before Yuri had a chance to find his wallet again, and the blonde pouted. It was adorable, and made his thoughts drift back to his conversation with JJ about cat ears. Shaking his head to clear it of impure thoughts, he followed Yuri to a spot on the stairs and sat down, watching the pigeons squabble over some bread crusts.
“I'm honoured. How long do you have today?”
“A few hours. I'll need to be back for afternoon prep.”
“In that case” Otabek stretched out his back, noting the way Yuri watched him, “what do you have in mind for the rest of the date?”
“That depends on how you feel about cats.”