Best Moscow Eats 2008
As Muscovites and expats alike speculate about the extent of the fallout from the Russian and global financial crises, Passport decided to create some buzz of its own by picking the Best of Moscow dining and wining. In financial hard times the institutions that have excelled in the past continue to do so, and the best cheap eats also thrive. It’s the middle-grounders and marginal producers that have trouble. In any case, those who have fed us well during the past year should be recognized for their efforts regardless of future developments.
Text Charles Borden
The sight of several millions of dollars of black Mercs and BMWs in front of dozens of expensive restaurants has been a most visible extravagance of Moscow’s good years. Perhaps a new Moscow restaurant rating system could be built by ranking the value of the vehicles in front of the top restaurants every night. However, Passport’s experience has shown that neither expense of build-out nor popularity with the new rich is an indicator of quality, and you won’t find some of today’s trendy joints on our list of bests. By best we set a high bar: a restaurant where each meal is prepared with the freshest, highest-quality ingredients by people who care what they serve; a restaurant led by a culinary artist, whether that person is the product of training at a top cooking school or a homegrown, self-taught artisan. The meal should be served in an enjoyable, restful, or at least locally interesting environment by courteous and responsive waitstaff .” While there is no restaurant in Moscow that doesn’t fall down on one or more of these points, some deserve a word for trying.
Sugar-Coated Black Cod with Ponzu Dressing at Nedalny Vostok
A big open kitchen and a great Asian menu with an emphasis on Kamchatka crab under the direction of Chef Glen Ballis is a perennial favorite. Even Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich and wife Lyudmila have dropped in unannounced for a quiet dinner.
- Semifreddo Mulinazzo
Chef Nino Graziano has created a comfortable, homey Italian inn with a menu that emphasizes seafood and Sicilian preparation. Other Moscow Italian restaurants have good food but none beats Semifreddo for Italian ambiance. Semifreddo also has the biggest Italian wine list in town.
- Café Pushkin
Situated in a faux 19th-century Russian lodge, Café Pushkin is the obligatory first dinner stop for foreign business visitors to Moscow. The Pushkin update of Russian classic dishes is superb and the service impeccable.
The over-the-top decor and cost of build out of Turandot has become a metaphor for the excesses of Russia’s new rich, but the quality and presentation of selections from the Japanese-Chinese menu are without fault and the attention to detail of design from hand-painted furniture to waitstaff costuming really is breathtaking.
- Carre Blanc
Eric Le Provos is back as chef at this French classic on the north side. Though the building and grounds appear overdue for some cosmetic work, the food is as wonderful as ever and the bistro and bar provide for a nice expat evening out.
It’s not just nostalgia for the first great Italian restaurant in Moscow that puts Mario on this list; it is still a favorite with its private summer garden and top-quality Italian food.
Yuri Navarro heads Moscow’s best (and one of its only) chef-owned restaurants. Navarro’s features a meticulously well prepared and delicately spiced Latin American and Mediterranean menu with prices that are easier on the wallet.
With a nice view overlooking the Moscow River near Park Kultury, Beefbar is a new addition to Moscow and a brand extension of the Monaco Beefbar. Beefbar is all about meat flown in direct and charred in its special high temperature producing steaks unmatched in Moscow.
Isaac Correa now has several locations in Moscow that offer his simple, New American comfort food in bright and open surroundings. The food is always pleasing and the ambiance makes for a good informal business meeting environment.
- GQ Bar
The food at GQ put it on the short-list for Top Ten but it made the final list as one of Moscow’s best places to be seen and to watch.
BEST RUSSIAN FORMAL
It was Catherine the Great who transformed the Russian table by creating a royal Franco-Russian cuisine. Many dishes, such as Chicken Kiev and Beef Stroganoff, resulted. Even the service method used in the West originated in Russia, known as Russian Service with meals served in courses. After years of neglect in Soviet times, several restaurants have revived some of the old menus and raised the quality of Russian cuisine to a high level. No restaurant has done this better than Café Pushkin, which is followed by runnerup Oblomov.
Goodman provides a good everyman’s steak and El Gaucho deserves a runner- up, but nobody does it better than newcomer Beefbar.
Tunisian Mehdi Douss built Moscow’s leading fresh seafood business, flying in a daily catch to supply many of Moscow’s leading restaurants. This probably helps make his La Maree Moscow’s number one seafood restaurant.
DEMOCRATIC STEAKS & SEAFOOD
The first Goodman got cheers from expats when it brought top-quality steaks to Moscow, but growth into a city-wide chain brought a few complaints. However, Goodman’s commitment to good steaks and burgers at mid-market prices still earns it a number one. Moscow now has two fresh seafood chains, Filimonova & Yankel and Porto Maltese, which follow closely on La Maree’s tail.
Despite its location in the Radisson Slavyanskaya hotel, sushi lovers swear that Sumosan has the city’s best and freshest sushi. But diner beware: the best comes at a price. The runners-up are Yoko and Seiji.
BEST SUSHI CHAIN
There are so many sushi bars in Moscow that the city even seems to have run out of the Japanese chef and waitress look-alikes that come from Buryatia and other Russian Asian regions. Most chains are so-so at best, but, unlike the others, Ichiban Boshi is actually Asianowned and generally clean, fresh, and fairly priced.
Both Semifreddo Mulinazzo and Mario made our Top Ten list which gives them Best Italian and Best Italian Runner-up status, but we could also add Cantinetta Antinori and Casta Diva as second runners-up.
For its pizza, service and ambiance Bocconccino, with two locations in Moscow, gets our top marks.
BEST “ELITNY” PIZZA
Casta Diva has its own pizza-prizewinning Italian chef. Don’t miss the Black Truffle Pizza.
Georgian restaurants and their owners have taken a political hit during the past few years, and the problem with import of Georgian wines has still not been solved. However, Georgian restaurants still provide the city’s favored Caucasian cooking. Genatsvale is our number one followed by Khvanchkara.
The fact that it made Moscow’s top ten indicates the level of quality at Carre Blanc and the fact that it is practically the only authentic French restaurant in town shouldn’t keep it from claiming Best French.
BEST DIM SUM & PEKING DUCK
This special category was created to recognize the results of Turandot’s enormous investment in its kitchen resources, which have not been wasted. The Peking duck is extraordinary as is the dim sum and many of its other Asian offerings.
The elegant Blue Elephant in Novinsky Passage is part of a worldwide chain of gourmet Thai restaurants. The food and service are top notch and it gets number one, unfortunately in a field of one in Moscow. Someone give us more good Thai restaurants!
One perennial mystery about Moscow is the lack of authentic ethnic restaurants — a Mexican restaurant run by Mexicans or a Chinese run by Chinese. OK, there are exceptions like Georgian and Azerbaijani and even a couple of Indian restaurants. There just aren’t any really great Chinese restaurants like those found in most cities, small and large, around the world. However, Druzhba has earned Passport’s number one vote.
BEST AFTER WORK DRINKS
The summer patio at Scandinavia and its close-in location and service makes it a perennial favorite and number one. Newcomer Kalina Bar on top of Lotte Plaza is an up-and-coming favorite.
BEST POWER BREAKFAST SPOT
Paul O’Brien’s Starlite Diners (there are now four) not only have the best real American breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in town, they have become the place for early morning business meetings. Starlite even gives you the metal shaker to refill your milkshake — an American tradition.
American Jerry Ruditser brought great coffee to Moscow, and his Coffee Bean still has the best coffee, though you may find yourself waiting in line for a while before you get your cup. Note: The branch on Tverskaya is closed.
BEST PLACE TO IMPRESS A VISITOR
Though it is easy to miss the door to Turandot, once through you can stop at the jewelry store to the left to admire the $100,000+ trinkets before entering the elaborate palace to the left .
BEST PLACE TO TAKE A BIGSHOT FIRST-TIME VISITOR
Café Pushkin — everyone wants to try real Russian food!!
BEST STREET FOOD
The Teremok street stands make blini to order with all manner of fillings — lesnaya yagoda (wild berries), malina (raspberry), tvorog (sweet cottage cheese).
BEST DINNER AND SHOW
Old Havana is a large impressive Cuban restaurant and nightspot. The food is good, but the highlight is the unbelievable three-hour extravaganza with about two dozen dancers and capoiera performers. The Yar Restaurant at the Sovietski Hotel gets runner-up for its Russian show.
BEST “LET’S DO LUNCH”
Correa’s bright and informal New American cafes have become a favorite daytime meeting venue.
BEST HOTEL DINING
The Ritz-Carlton’s Jeroboam, under the stewardship of celebrity German chef Heinz Winkler, offers his “la Cuisine Vitale” in the new building that replaced the eyesore that was the Soviet-era Intourist Hotel. The Polo Club at the Marriott Aurora runs a close second.
BEST NEW OPENINGS
Moscow Beefbar — Moscow’s first steak joint for wealthy carnivores.
Soho Rooms — Asian fusion from Executive Chef “Big Tim” Freeman that morphs into a trendy nightspot at midnight.
Casta Diva — a recent Italian addition by Andrey Dellos next to his Turandot with equal attention to design detail and excellent food with Italian executive chef and pizza chef.
BEST HOTEL LOBBY BAR
The Ritz-Carlton appears to be the expat favorite.
BEST VIEW OF THE CITY
Restaurant Baltschug offers the best upclose view of the Kremlin in luxurious surroundings. Further out, the recently renovated Sky Lounge on top of the tall Russian Academy of Sciences building provides the best city panorama.
The baked goods from French-style Volkonvosky Pekarnya-Konditerskaya near Mayakovskaya metro station is as close to Paris as Moscow is likely to get.
MOST MISSED RESTAURANT REVIEWS
The Exile’s tightly written and witty reviews and ratings of Moscow’s expat nightspots and restaurants will be sorely missed.