Front of House in the Stratosphere
Text and photo by Charles W. Borden
His card reads just “Domenico” and that’s how regulars greet the man who takes care of them at Cantinetta Antinori, one of the few occupants in the stratosphere of Moscow restaurants. Domenico Anaclerio represents an element all too rare in the city’s dining establishments, the face of the front of the house. At others, the owner is absent, or at best occupied with his buddies, and considers it adequate to station a statuesque, leggy blonde at the entrance, or a bevy of them at a few tables. I sat down for lunch with Domenico at CA to learn more about him and his work.
Domenico hails from Bari on the Adriatic at the back of the heel of Italy. He came to Moscow by way of work at bars and restaurants in Bari, then Montpellier, London and Amsterdam. It was in Amsterdam that he met a Russian travel consultant, who became his wife (now ex), and she brought him to Moscow. He joined the owners, restaurateur Arkady Novikov and wine importer Natalia Fomina, to open CA in 2004.
How was Bari when you were growing up?
My father was a pastry chef, and warned me to stay away from his profession. At that time it was difficult, working evenings and nights to prepare fresh goods for the next day. I got my first job selling ice cream at eight. They couldn’t pay me but the shop owner gave me free ice cream. What a great job for an eight year old! I played football and brought my friends over after a game.
Looks like you got an early start as a “host.” Later?
I was a barman and worked in some restaurants and clubs, and then opened the Reiff Music Club, an American bar/restaurant with live jazz, named after the famous jazz photographer Carole Reiff. We had some of Reiff’s black and white photos on the walls.
What was the concept behind CA?
First of all, it’s a Tuscan restaurant. You won’t find some of the usual Italian dishes on our menu. No creamy dishes like Spaghetti Carbonara, no cream at all except in desserts. Second, it’s the concept of a Cantinetta, it’s simple like home, everything made by hand. The customers are our family and they have to feel “at home” at CA.
You’ve had some special guests?
Well, each guest if special but if you mean famous, yes: Henry Kissinger for instance, Giorgio Armani, Gerard Depardieu—he wanted to see our kitchen. Condoleezza Rice was here with Foreign Minister Sergei Ivanov. That was interesting because Mr. Ivanov wanted them to sign the guest book. Every restaurant has a guest book, right? Well we didn’t have one. I looked at Sedmoi Kontinent: there was nothing we could use. So I had an idea. I said, “We have a tradition here to sign one of our beautiful plates.” Ms. Rice said that would take a special pen. I laughed, for me that would be no problem. So now we really do have such a tradition and a number of autographed plates on our wall.
You must have “difficult” guests?
The most difficult are guests who say, “I was at such and such restaurant in Italy, and I want that dish I had!” We are a Tuscan restaurant, so many common Italian dishes aren’t on our menu. But it’s hard to say no to a guest, so sometimes I might agree. But what if it’s lasagna? It takes at least four hours to make. I ask them to come back the next day, then the lasagna will be ready.
Is it difficult work?
It’s my nature. Sometimes I don’t feel like smiling, but by the time I get here I put that away. In this job it’s necessary that everyone feel at home. We have some rich guests, famous guests, but I feel I need to give attention to make sure every guest is happy.
What about Moscow: wouldn’t you like to try another city?
I like Moscow. And it’s only three hours from my family home in Bari. I like to go there at Christmas, and then some more exotic place, the places some of our Russian guests go, for New Year. I’ve had invitations to go elsewhere, Hong Kong for instance, but the air, the traffic there is worse and its 11 hours to Italy. No, I like Moscow and I like my customers.