Stepan Arkadyevitch was absorbed during the drive in composing the menu of the dinner.
“You like turbot, don’t you?” he said to Levin as they were arriving.
“Eh?” responded Levin. “Turbot? Yes, I’m awfully fond of turbot.”
When Levin went into the restaurant with Oblonsky, he could not help noticing a certain peculiarity of expression, as it were, a restrained radiance, about the face and whole figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch. Oblonsky took off his overcoat, and with his hat over one ear walked into the dining room, giving directions to the Tatar waiters, who were clustered about him in evening coats, bearing napkins. Bowing to right and left to the people he met, and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances, he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer of fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for his part refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt such a loathing of that Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz, and vinaigre de toilette. He made haste to move away from her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in his eyes.
“This way, your excellency, please. Your excellency won’t be disturbed here,” said a particularly pertinacious, white-headed old Tatar with immense hips and coat-tails gaping widely behind. “Walk in, your excellency,” he said to Levin; by way of showing his respect to Stepan Arkadyevitch, being attentive to his guest as well.
Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over the round table under the bronze chandelier, though it already had a table cloth on it, he pushed up velvet chairs, and came to a standstill before Stepan Arkadyevitch with a napkin and a bill of fare in his hands, awaiting his commands.
“If you prefer it, your excellency, a private room will be free directly; Prince Golistin with a lady. Fresh oysters have come in.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch became thoughtful.
“How if we were to change our program, Levin?” he said, keeping his finger on the bill of fare. And his face expressed serious hesitation. “Are the oysters good? Mind now.”
“They’re Flensburg, your excellency. We’ve no Ostend.”
“Flensburg will do, but are they fresh?”
“Only arrived yesterday.”
“Well, then, how if we were to begin with oysters, and so change the whole program? Eh?”
“It’s all the same to me. I should like cabbage soup and porridge better than anything; but of course there’s nothing like that here.”
“Porridge a la Russe, your honor would like?” said the Tatar, bending down to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child.