It was even better than having Nicholas and Alexandra stop by for a Big Mac Combo.
Last October, on his way to sell the Facebook mojo to Russian prime minister Dmitri Medvedev, Marc Zuckerberg and wife Cindy Chan sought comfort food at the Red Square McDonald’s, one of my four favorites worldwide, just blocks from the center of Russian power and prestige.
Millie and I had discovered this bastion of young Muscovite nightlife — the largest McDonald’s in the world, and the world’s busiest restaurant — in 2007, after we’d settled in at the Courtyard by Marriott Red Square, which we’d booked with points instead of spending a fortune at the nearby Ritz Carlton.
The food on the short Aeroflot flight from St. Petersburg had been adequate; but our interminable taxi drive from one of Moscow’s subsidiary airports, through darkened villages that convinced us we were headed to the Dacha of Death, had stoked our appetites. I immediately headed out and returned with a Big Mac, fries and a Diet Coke for Millie, excited that I’d discovered the teen hangout of trendy Tverskaya.
When this restaurant opened in 1993, lines stretched down the street for days; its popularity hasn’t waned. And the Zuckerbergs’ stop at the Red Square Golden Arches wasn’t a surprise; they’d also dined at a McDonald’s in Rome on their honeymoon.
Millie vividly recalls sharing a beer and salad-bar selection at the McDonald’s at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome, but that spot has faded from my memory. My favorite Italian branch was under the great dome in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, catty-corner to the first Prada shop, which opened there in 1913.
We’d discovered that a reasonable facsimile of the chocolate cake and cappuccino we’d enjoyed at the restaurant across the way, after opera at La Scala, for 12 euros could be enjoyed at the McDonald’s for just 4.
But in October, about the time the Zuckerbergs were chowing down in Moscow, Prada copped the lease to expand its presence and forced McDonald’s out. The more things change in Milan, the less they stay the same.
The Forbidden City McDonald’s, just outside the palace walls in Beijing, was forced to move farther out after citizens and politicians outraged by a Starbuck’s inside the walls decided an American fast-food outlet was inappropriate on Tiananmen Square.
During our visit to Beijing in the 1990s, we’d told our guide that if he couldn’t find a restaurant better than the ones he’d been taking us to, he should drop us at the McDonald’s; and it was there that we witnessed a group of teenage Chinese girls singing a fractured version of Happy Birthday in the second-floor Ronald McDonald Party Room — the most popular place for birthday parties in the city.
My enamel souvenir pin from that location, with Golden Arches superimposed on the entrance to the Forbidden City, remains one of my treasured possessions. Millie knows that I crave a similar pin from the Rouen, France, McDonald’s, located in an historic half-timbered building just steps from the birthplace of 17th-century French New-World explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, where on a dreary day in December 2011we gorged on macaroons — at two for just 1 euro — that were as good as the ones we’d sampled at Ladurée in Paris for several times that price.
My favorite McDonald’s on this trip has to be the glitzy new Tokyo incarnation. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the last one I encountered on O’ahu, a Hawaiian hale-style structure between the Mormon-owned Brigham Young University Hawaii and the church’s Polynesian Cultural Center, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Unlike everything else on the 6,000 acres of land owned by the Church of Latter-day Saints in the North Coast town of La’ie, the McDonald’s and adjacent Chevron station are open on Sunday.
A brochure for the center stresses the shared family values and ethics of Mormons and the Polynesian peoples that the center exemplifies. As my mind wandered, I envisioned Mitt Romney as Emile DeBecque in community-theater productions of “South Pacific” in Massachusetts, California and the Cayman Islands, reprising such favorites as “I’m gonna wash those thoughts right outa my head,” “In a single evening, you could lose the White House,” “I’m as Mormon as decaf espresso,” and “Bloody Mary’s writin’ great big checks, on her off-shore cash account.”
Maybe I’ve overdosed on McDonald’s, or perhaps it’s the Spam on the Hale’iwa McDonald’s Local Deluxe Breakfast Platter that’s pushed me over the edge.