Paraphrasing the "sacramental Russian rules for drinking" from "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking," "Never drink solo, never drink without food, never stop shooting the [breeze]."
Salted cucumbers: Kolos International Food, the Ukranian family grocery in Carnegie, brings fresh salted Russian cucumbers with crunch and aroma from New York twice a month. They sometimes sell out, so call ahead. If no salted cukes, a good stand-in is a European cucumber, quartered lengthwise, and a sprinkle of sea salt. The cabbage: I brined shredded cabbage, letting it ferment two weeks on the kitchen counter with good results. Well-rinsed fresh kraut could be a substitute.
Pickles: Look for a good Eastern European-style pickle.
Bread: Both Pittsburgh Russian stores bring in breads from New York. Their sour gutsy rye and sweeter darker rye with any sturdy white bread make a great combo.
Fish: A holiday splurge: Penn Avenue Fish Company's (pennavefishcompany.com) hand-sliced salmon and smoked white fish could be the center of your zakuska table. Consider the drama of a whole white fish with its curving tail. We added pickled herring and whitefish salad. Salmon roe also is available. A friend made buckwheat crepes for our party -- folding whipped egg white into the batter to give them a little loft. They were to die for and not difficult. Both Russian stores have frozen blini.
Chicken liver mousse: The Thin Man Sandwich Shop (thinmansandwichshop.com) in the Strip prides itself on chicken liver, which is worth a trip.
Russian-style ham: Both Russian stores have mild ham, as does the S&D Polish Deli (sdpolishdeli.com) in the Strip.
Salo: Kiev and Kolos have the cured fatback.
Salad: We served Anya Bremzen's delicious beet "caviar" with walnuts and prunes. The Olivier salad should be added -- symbol of so much Soviet-era nostalgia in Ms. Von Bremzen's book. You can buy the real deal Russian mayo, "Provensal," the Olivier's defining ingredient, at Kiev.
Essential: Lots of fresh dill, hard-cooked egg, chopped purple onion, small boiled potatoes, sour cream. Stir some horseradish in your mustard, and you're set. Recipes below.