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Wine & Dining

Gut Check
Charles W. Borden

A few months ago, we questioned the results of the annual S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, which placed Varvary at #48, followed by Semifreddo and Chaika in the top 100. The crowning of Vavary, Semifreddo and Chaika as Moscow’s best provoked a heated discussion in the PASSPORT dining circle, and a personal “gut check” of the Moscow restaurant menu.

The list below contains my Moscow Top 15. How do I define a “best” restaurant? It serves “a meal prepared with the highest quality, freshest ingredients, by people who greatly care what they serve, and led by a culinary artist, whether that artist was trained in a top chef school or is a local, self-trained artisan. The meal should be served in an enjoyable, restful or at least locally interesting environment, by courteous and responsive wait-staff.”

The Supremes

The three below head the class, with sumptuous cuisine made from the freshest ingredients by a true artisan-chef, very good service, and comfortable and relaxing setting.

La Marée

La Marée owner, Tunisian Mehdi Douss, founded and runs Moscow’s leading fresh seafood business, flying in fresh fish to supply many of the city’s top restaurants. There are two La Marée in the city and one out in Zhukovka, my favorite opened just over a year ago in majestic digs on Malaya Gruzinskaya. Each La Marée has a boutique seafood market with the fresh-off-the-plane catch laid out on ice, a diner’s first stop to select gifts of the sea to be prepared whole, filleted, baked in salt, steamed, “la plancha” or with Tunisian spices. Chef Abdessatar Zitouni oversees the La Marée kitchen, serving Mediterranean and Tunisian specialties. A favorite is Zitouni’s magnificent, rich, dark ochre Bouillabaisse brimming with an assortment of Mediterranean shellfish and fish. La Marée also caters to Moscow’s sushi fanatics with fresh sashimi assortment. If I have ever had fresher or better in Moscow I surely don’t remember.

Nedalny Vostok (Not Far East)

Australian Glen Ballis is the artist in residence at Nedalny Vostok, the greatest of restaurateur Arkady Novikov’s establishments. The restaurant centerpiece is its large, open, rectangular, stainless and glass kitchen, sous-chefs hard at work on all sides. Ballis serves a creative Pan-Asian-Fusion menu with an emphasis on Kamchatka crab. Ballis is a disciplinarian, with an obsession for detail that is on display to all each night in the open kitchen. More than a few Moscow restaurants have Glen to thank for kitchen staff who have served time at Nedalny Vostok.

Ragout

The newest and most democratic of the top three is Ragout, where Ilya Shalev is the chef-artist. A Stavropol native, Shalev returned to Russia after study at Cordon Bleu, and a stint with super chef and nouvelle cuisine pioneer Alain Senderens. The food at Ragout is exquisite and wonderfully presented, service polite without hovering, setting relaxed and cheerful, and the prices astoundingly reasonable. Ragout’s menu, a single page, reflects Shalev’s creative nouvelle cuisine influence, with a few nods to Asian and Russian.

The Best of the Rest

The restaurants below consistently offer exceptional food and a delightful dining experience.

Barashka

Barashka has Moscow’s best Azeri menu in a comfortable cosmopolitan if not romantic setting. Passport’s friend, Shiraz Mamedov describes Azeri cuisine as original and diverse, using a rich assortment of herbs, vegetables, fruits, spices, meat, and fish from the Caspian area, together with the strong cheeses typical of the Caucasus and the fresh and sour milk that are used as a base for soups and sauces. Barashka shows a passion for cooking and presentation that has been sadly missing from most of the Caucasus region establishments I have visited over the years. There are now three Barashka locations.

Café Pushkin

Lodged in a faux 19th century Russian lodge, Café Pushkin has long been the obligatory yet well deserved first dinner stop for foreign business visitors to Moscow. The Pushkin update of Russian classic dishes is superb, the service very good , just the place to make your first Russian business deal...

Cantinetta Antinori

Cantinetta Antinori, a partnership between the Italian Antinori wine family and Novikov, serves a rich Tuscan menu under the stewardship of Chef Bianco Mauro. Though the food is excellent, it’s Domenico Anaclerio, the front of house who keeps the restaurant in the stratosphere of Moscow restaurants. “Domenico”, as regulars call him, represents an element all too missing from many, if not most, of the city’s dining establishments.

Carre Blanc

This is Moscow’s best French restaurant (and one of the few). Chef Eric Le Provos executes French classics, but Carre Blanc also has a small comfy bistro menu and a quiet bar.

Chicago Prime

Steak is Moscow’s new restaurant growth market, but the first mover, Goodman’s, has relegated itself to a mediocre chain. During the past year, the Starlite Diner folks opened Chicago Prime, specializing in corn-fed American beef and quickly took the lead.

Kai

This Mediterranean-Asian fine dining establishment at Swissotel is the only hotel restaurant on this list. Swissotel’s Executive Chef Jean-Michel Hardouin-Atlan conceived Kai as French-Asian fusion. Seafood dominates, but the menu is full of inviting combinations.

Kinki

This Modern Japanese restaurant in the Krylatskaya suburbs features a big, wood-fired Robata grill as its centerpiece, ensconced by a large, heavy granite sushi bar. Kinki’s seafood is some of the best in town, and Kiwi chef Aaron Stott’s creative kitchen skills are more than a match for Moscow’s two big names in creative Japanese cuisine. Kinki is well worth a trip to the outskirts.

Navarro’s

Yuri Navarro heads one of Moscow’s best (and few) chefowned restaurants with a meticulously prepared and delicately spiced Latin American and Mediterranean menu.

Night Flight

Despite the Night Flight nightclub “let’s do it tonight” reputation, the separate restaurant is the place to find elk carpaccio, grilled reindeer steak and genuine Swedish meatballs prepared by Swedish chef Michael Willuhn.

Osteria Montiroli

Massimiliano Montiroli is the master at this Italian country tavern, a cosy contrast to Moscow’s many sterile Italian restaurants. I loved the Tagliolini con gamberi e pomodorini, prepared by the master in a hollowed out wheel of Parmigiano- Reggiano: flamed, melted and stirred until creamy and then the lightly cooked pasta gently slipped in to absorb the cheese.

Tinatin

Caucasian menus are typically voluminous, but chef Maya Patsatsiya’s Georgian repertoire is more accessible with many creative updates of traditional favorites. Tinatin is also Moscow’s first fine dining restaurant to feature a well-selected list of the few very good wines that are made in Russia’s wine country along the northern Black Sea coast.

The Outlier

Varvari

The sole reason that Vavari makes this list is its Pellegrino coup. I haven’t been there; it hasn’t been in Passport’s budget yet and certainly not mine, so I withhold judgment. Anatoli Komm’s concept of a modern Russian cuisine (molecularized) is promising, and the premises inviting.

The Top Three

La Marée (two locations)
Malaya Gruzinskaya 1/23
+7 495 609 3925
Metro Barrikadnaya
Petrovka Street 28/2
+7 495 694 0930
Metro Chekhovskaya

Ragout
Bolshaya Gruzinskaya 69
+7 495 662 6458
Metro Belorusskaya

Nedalny Vostok (Not Far East)
Tverskoy Bulvar 15
Tel: +7 495 694 0641,
+7 495 694 0154
Metro Pushkinskaya

The Best of the Rest

Barashka
Ulitsa Petrovka 20/1
Tel: +7 495 625 2892
Metro Chekhovskaya,
Kuznetsky Most
Novy Arbat 21/1
Tel: +7 495 228 3731
Metro Smolenskaya
Ulitsa 1905 goda
+7 499 252 2571
Metro Krasnopresnenskaya

Café Pushkin
Tverskoy Bulvar 26A
+7 495 739 0033
Metro Pushkinskaya

Cantinetta Antinori
Denejhniy pereulok 20
+7 499 241 3771
Metro Smolenskaya

Carre Blanc
Seleznevskaya ulitsa 19/2
+7 495 258 4403
Metro Dostoevskaya

Chicago Prime
Strastnoy bulvar 8a
+7 495 988 1717
Metro Chekhovskaya

    

Kai
Swissotel Krasnye Holmy
+7 495 221 5358
Metro Paveletskaya

Kinki
Ulitsa Ocennaya 11
+7 495 781 1697
Metro Krylatskaya;

Navarro’s
Shmitovsky Proyezd 23
+7 499 259 3791
Metro Ulitsa 1905 Goda

Night Flight
Ulitsa Tverskaya 17
+7 495 629 4165
Metro Pushkinskaya

Osteria Montiroli
Bolshoi Nikitskaya 60
Metro Barrikadnaya

Tinatin
Ulitsa Plyoshchenko 58
+7 495 761 3800
Metro Smolenskaya

Varvari
Strastnoy bulvar 8a
+7 495 229 2800
Metro Chekhovskaya







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