Mr. Lee’s Birthday
Mr. Lee came to Moscow’s shore with a wave of post-crisis, trendy Asian restaurants that has included Nobu, Megu and Kinki. These four establishments now vie for top Asian food honors among Russia’s new rich with veterans Nedalny Vostok, Turandot, and Soho Rooms. It is interesting to note that four of the chefs from these seven contenders hale from the Commonwealth, three from Oceania (though the significance escapes me).
Lee has a prominent floodlit entrance on Kuznetsky Most opposite the TSUM department store and just around the corner from Nobu. From street-side, and past the burly face control, it’s up a grand flight of stairs to the open dining area with its suitably understated Asian trimming and large vertical windows overlooking the street. Mr. Lee is a Novikov establishment, and his Cherdak, Lee’s Russia-themed, late-night sister club is up another floor. Mr. Lee begins its own transition to club late in the evening.
Mr. Lee’s Head Chef, Jonathon Curtis, was Moscow-seasoned at Nedalny Vostok, after prior stints in Paris, New Zealand and Australia. His Mr. Lee repertoire is presented on simple paper foldout menus, presented together with similar bar and wine lists. This month, Curtis also prepared a one-year birthday menu to celebrate. We each received a complimentary Prosecco to join the cheer.
Lee’s wine prices are surprisingly modest, with bottles starting at 1900 rubles for an Argentinean Alta Vista Malbec, and a reasonable selection of whites and reds under 3000 rubles. I found the Cervaro della Sala that I use for the Big-Onion Wine Index at 6800 rubles, a markup index of (just) 3.4, the lowest to date. We ordered a New Zealand Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2009, a PASSPORT favorite, at 2800 rubles, and stuck with it for the evening.
We quickly ordered Edamame (250r). Mr. Lee’s were unusually lightly salted and fresh tasting for this soybean snack, which normally arrives at a restaurant kitchen frozen, and are then over-boiled. For an expected table of eight, our host, publisher John Ortega, ordered a broad and diverse selection to share around the table. For starters he picked Dorado Carpaccio in Spicy Ponzu Sauce (800r), which were small and very tender slices in a delicate, fruity sauce, Eggplant in Sweet Chili Sauce (450r), a gleaming and delicious version of a traditional dish, and a delightful and light Soft Poached Egg in Sweet Soy Dressing (350r).
Of the six main courses John ordered, the Crispy Prawns with Tam Yam Sauce (800r) were easily my favorite, exquisite medium-sized shrimp in a sweet/sour Thai sauce. I also favored the spicy Chicken & Prawn Singapore Noodles (650r) and Wok Crab with Black Pepper Sauce (2300r). I could find no significant fault with any of the other main dishes: Venison with Black Pepper and Shiraz (1200r), Lemon Chicken (400r), and Sweet Sesame and Soy Pork Ribs (900r). For sides and rice we ordered Vegetable Fried Rice (400r) and Spicy Fried Green Beans (400r); nothing of note here. I managed to squeeze in a separate order of Red Lentil and Crab Meat Soup (950r), which was very tasty with wonderful chunks of fresh crab.
As we dug into the main dishes, our prominent guests joined us to help out, head chefs at three distinguished kitchens: Laura Bridge from Soho Rooms, Jean-Michel Hardouin-Atlan from Kai at the Swissotel and Elmar Basziszta from Baltschug-Kempinski.
Someone mentioned dessert, and this somehow translated into an order for what appeared to be almost everything on the menu: Thai Mango Tiramisu (300r), Raspberry Tart (900r), Orange Scented Cheesecake (300r), Peach Tart (350r), Trio of Crème Brulee: Ginger, Coconut and Passion Fruit (350r).
Dessert should have been zapreshcheno (forbidden) after the main course indulgences, but as my one of my mentors said, “There’s always room for dessert.” Well this was an orgy. Where do they find such huge perfect raspberries? The sauce on the tiramisu was luscious, and the three small crème brulees provided a delightful contrast of tastes. And then the homemade fortune cookies were delivered!
My pick for a dinner for two at Mr. Lee:
|Soft Poached Egg in Sweet Soy Dressing
|Eggplant in Sweet Chili Sauce
|Chicken & Prawn Singapore Noodles
|Crispy Prawns with Tam Yam Sauce
|Sticky Coconut Rice
|Trio of Crème Brulee
|Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (bottle)
We have now been to each of Moscow’s four New Asian cuisine contenders in the past year. By my count Mr. Lee makes a very decent showing in this crowd and I’m not sure I have a preference. But now it’s time to get back to the old timers for a recount …