The Rest of the Best
Charles W. Borden
Last month’s “Moscow’s Best Restaurants” article prompted some fierce comments. People have strong opinions on eating, each with his or her “best” criteria, for instance “the biggest helping for the least money.” My definition of best, as expressed in the last issue, does not depend upon how filled up I am, or who goes to a restaurant. One reader complained that “nobody goes there,” but if head-count was our criteria then McDonalds would be at the top of the list. If the selection was based upon the total value of black “elitny machiny” at 11pm then maybe Soho Rooms would top the list. The experts, like Michelin, Zagat, Gault Millau and Gambero Rosso rate best overall, and that’s what we have tried to do.
This month I add some Special Mentions, restaurants worth noting for superior ethnic cuisine, local color, or other unique features.
One perennial mystery about Moscow is the lack of authentic ethnic restaurants—a Mexican restaurant run by Mexicans or a Chinese run by Chinese. There are a few exceptions, notably Caucasian, and even a couple of Indian restaurants. In small-business-unfriendly Russia, there just aren’t any really great family run ethnic restaurants like the hundreds found in most cities small and large around the world.
There ought to be dozens of great Chinese restaurants. Druzhba, which actually has Chinese proprietors (and ample portions of MSG), is the only place that comes close. Its principal fault is the lack of the vegetarian offerings I expect at a Chinese restaurant. Even Druzhba’s tofu dish is dominated by pork, but then that’s authentic Chinese food for you.
Darbar in the Sputnik hotel has always been a personal favorite not only for the quality of the food, but for its diversity of Indian dishes on the menu from southern and northern India. There is nothing like a real Mexican restaurant in Moscow, and in my opinion there won’t be until someone brings white corn tortillas to town, and has a real Mexican chef.
Starlite Diners have long dominated for basic American, and the SD locations at Oktyabrskaya and Mayakovskaya are popular Power Breakfast spots. Beverly Hills Diner (two locations) is the newcomer its own very good variants of American classics.
Isaac Correa’s Corner Burger is tops for American Modern Urban comfort food.
No Smoking and Wifi to Boot
I recently email comment about No Smoking sections: “Having a smoking section is like having peeing area of a swimming pool.” Unfortunately, most Moscow restaurants are entirely smoking and few restaurants have no-smoking areas. Many that do relegate non-smokers to the least desirable sections of the restaurant. McDonalds and Starbucks are both completely non-smoking, serve no alcohol and have Wi-Fi.
New Age Veggie
Jagganath, long located on Kuznetsky Most, has an informal buffet of fresh Indian and Asian veggie items. A new location is now open on the garden ring near Kurskaya.
There’s a lot of pizza in town. If you like bready, thick American style (I don’t), then the Papa John’s is for you. For a more traditional thin Italian pizza, try Isaac Correa’s new Montalto or one of two Bocconccino locations.
New and Promising
Asian urban brasserie from Nedalny Vostok chef Glen Ballis, more democratic, quiet and reasonably priced than its big brother.
A new chef-owned sensation from Italian Uilliam Lamberti (see this month’s review).
Room with a View
Sky Lounge – the top of the Russian Academy of Sciences building south on Leninsky Prospekt.
O2 – the best view over the Kremlin from the Ritz Carlson
City Space –its small cocktail tables, wrapped 360 degrees around the building core, offer one of the best views of the city out the tall glass windows that wrap up from practically under the tables’ feet.
Karlson – a relative newcomer, not far from the Tretyakov. Not for acrophobes—nothing separates you from the ground below but a meter high, all glass and practically invisible barrier.
Bueno – a view of the city from the newly restored Hotel Ukraine. Check out the huge diorama of 1950s Moscow on the ground floor.
Best Place to Impress with Excess
Though it is easy to miss the door to Turandot near Puskkin Café, once through you can stop at the jewelry store to admire the $100,000+ trinkets before entering this elaborate palace (built out at cost reported from $25-75 million) for some reasonably good Asian food.
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 Brazilian extravaganza with about two dozen dancers and capoiera performers. Yar Restaurant at the Sovietski Hotel gets runner-up for its great Russian extravaganza show. Despite the fact that a remont took away some of the retro charm of Margarita Café, I still enjoy this sardine can of a place with its live nightly entertainment from conservatory musicians.
American Jerry Ruditser brought great coffee to Moscow with his Coffee Bean, which still serves Moscow’s best coffee. Forget the dishwater sold at exorbitant prices that you find at many of the city’s Starbuck’s wannabes.
Best Street Food
The Teremok street stands make blini to order with all manner of fillings: lesnoy yagoda (forest fruit), malina (raspberry), tvorog (curds). If you’re hankering for a big baked potato and a bigger selection of uniquely Russian toppings try the Kroshka Karoshka chain.