New in Town: Moscow’s love of Italian food or steak houses

Sometimes one trend stands out in a sea-son’s openings, highlighting Moscow’s love of Italian food or steak houses. This fall, it looks like things have devolved as restaurateurs focus their energy on creating do-it-all hybrids or simply repeating previous successes. Luckily, there are a few diamonds in the rough.

Bar Duck

Bar Duck

Bar Duck is, first and foremost, a cafe bar. But it is a cafe bar on a different level, and without any of the expected theatrics. The idea behind the space is reflected in the name – the word “bardak” in Russian means something like chaos. The bar has taken the mess and skill-fully organized into a new form. A team of uncompromising and talented professionals creates a unique atmosphere, bringing together original design and interesting entertainment.

The menu is the same organized mess seen in other aspects of the bar. The brand chef, who gained experience at Jean Jacques, brings together dishes from around the world, but each has a unique element that sets it apart. For instance, the Caesar salad is completed with a fluffy brioche and quail eggs. On the week-ends, the face control and dress code here are not unwarranted.

Brix

This cozy brick eatery located on Mal. Kozikhinsky Per. is a nice little place to enjoy a quaint dinner or a fast lunch; though not quite the wine bar visitors initially hoped it would be. The menu offers a list of interesting appetizers and entrees, with the tuna salad with a poached egg (490 rubles) and the lamb shank (650 rubles) among the highlights.

The wine menu is less thrilling, with super-market brands sold with unreasonable markups. That being said, Brix does offer wine by the glass from as little as 180 rubles. The one major downside is the service, which can vary widely from day to day. While one of our reviewers had a top notch meal thanks to a knowledgeable waiter, the other’s entree never even arrived on the table.

Gyugo

French writer Victor Hugo would not likely be impressed with the up-scale eatery that shares his name (though not his humanist instincts). Gyugo (or Hugo, in English) opened on Bol. Yakimanka Ul. with hopes of drawing in customers from the French Embassy nearby but so far their neighbors remain unimpressed. The ill-conceived restaurant, which borrowed its chef from the once legendary but now closed Carre Blanc, has an interior that blends mini-mal elements with long tablecloths, dark curtains and chandeliers.

Despite the pomp and circumstance of the interior, most are reluctant to deal with the 3,000-ruble bills at Gyugo due to the hit-and-miss quality of the cuisine. While the escargot (400 rubles) is not up to Parisian standards, guests can’t go wrong with the steak. Concerts, poetry readings, culinary shows and kids entertainment are other reasons to give Gyugo a visit.

Insolito

Brand Chef Andrei Basov has something to be proud of. The first location of Insolito, which hopes to grow into a small chain, boasts everything an Italian restaurant should. From the warm service to the open kitchen, the cozy atmosphere to the excellent homemade pasta, Insolito on Pushechnaya Ul. leaves little room for complaint.

The menu is a mix of more expected fare like the chicken Caesar salad (290 rubles) and more inspired dishes. The pizzas are large and crispy but the four-cheese (550 rubles) version, tasty as it is, doesn’t stand out among the hundreds of similar pies in the capital. The homemade pumpkin ravioli (350 rubles), on the other hand, provide ample reason to return to this par-ticular Italian restaurant and not the others.

La Bottega Siciliana

La Bottega Siciliana

The team behind the long living Semifreddo and popular chain Akademiya have opened another pizza and pasta-serving venue in the center of the city. Located in the Moskva Galereya, La lhottega Siciliana offers the high-quality Italian cuisine expected of the restaurant group (and the high prices as well). Although somewhere in the middle of Semifreddo and Akademiya in terms of pricing policy, the new venture’s interior and menu manage to feel completely fresh.

The modern space is located at the back of the mall, looking out onto Ploschad Revolutsii (though some of the windows face the entrance to the metro station as opposed to the square). If the view through the picture windows isn’t captivating, focus your attention on the open kitchen where chefs toss pizzas and make fresh pastas. Brand Chef Nino Graziano created the menu, which features home-made tagliatelle with egg-plant (660 rubles) and pizzas in the 500-ruble range. The venue also has an ice cream parlor that sells the fabulous in-house gelato.

La Casa del Gaucho

Mikhail Gokhner, owner of the chain Bocconcino and restaurant Na Melnitse, opened Argentinean steak house La Casa del Gaucho in the space formerly home to Michael’s on Tverskoi Bul. Gokhner, who is one of the co-founders of the upscale chain El Gaucho, knows meat and his latest project serves interesting cuts of beef (though mostly from American and Australian cows). If you want something more obviously “Latin” than a 2,510-ruble angus steak, order the empanadas (340 rubles for two).

These little pastries come filled with your choice of meat, cheese or tomatoes. Another more obviously Argentine dish is the bean soup with bacon (380 rubles), which goes a long way to prove that Head Chef Alexei Albin, who has worked at both El Gaucho and Michael’s, knows his stuff. The interior is far more pleasant than the gray and black set-up of Gokhner’s vanity project.

Les

This relaxed coffee shop on Rozhdestvensky Bul. caters to those looking for a low-key place to relax with a strong cup of coffee and a tasty pastry. The interior is both trendy and homey, with whitewashed brick walls, maps tacked on a bulletin board, and furniture made from recycled crates. If you want something strong, order an espresso (100 rubles), but if you’d rather be on trend go for the French press (300 rubles).

Also, the press is a good way to drink coffee all afternoon if you’re visiting the cafe to work. The small selection of savory and sweet treats includes a couple of interesting options like the vegetable burrito (190 rubles) and carrot cake (220 rubles), as well as more standard Greek salads and co.

Mandarin

As you might expect from the team behind Luch and Moloko, restaurant and bar Mandarin has a grand interior dominated by black with just few warm orange lamps here and there to soften the look. The location and interior, not to mention the well-healed crowd, hint at prices as high as Mandarin’s ceilings. Surprisingly, the place delivers quite the opposite: aff’ordable and honest fare.

The Asian-influenced menu includes original dishes like the green salad with pomelo and chicken (320 rubles), which is perfectly seasoned with a slightly sweet Thai sauce and pistachios. Another dish to try is the soup-like crab-meat in chili sauce, which comes with a generous portion of seafood, for a mere 490 rubles. If you stick around for dessert, don’t miss the pumpkin pie with pear (320 rubles).

Mexican Club

The third floor of an under-occupied mall is not necessarily the best place for a restaurant, but the team behind Mexican Club hasn’t let location get in the way. Situated in the Moskva Galereya, the restaurant offers a huge selection of dishes from around the world. Though the head chef is from Guadalajara, only about 50 percent of (he dishes on the menu are Mexican. Still, you’d do better to stick to the slightly bland vegetable quesadillas (310 rubles) or more exciting beef fajitas (580 rubles) than to go for a Gaesar salad.

The drink menu includes a couple of margaritas (310 rubles for the classic version), though it doesn’t hold a candle to the creative and extensive cocktail card at CasaAgave. Tortilla chips and salsa are free, which is a step in the right direction, though for the money you may be better off dining at Moe’s.

Moe’s

The first location of American franchise Moe’s opened on Pyatnitskaya Ul. to much excitement. The Southwestern grill serves decent make-your-own Tex-Mex dishes with fresh ingredients and is a quick alternative to Chili’s, though not any better or more authentic. The vegetarian quesadilla (230 rubles) with cheddar cheese, beans, pico de gallo and guacamole (for an extra 60 rubles) is excellent – gooey filling overflows from a crisp tortilla.

The tortilla gets soggy quickly from all the leftover liquid in the vegetables, however. The take away being that, delicious as it is, Moe’s is still fast food, and still best consumed within eight minutes. Other hits of the menu are the grand steak burrito (360 rubles) and the nachos with ground beef (420 rubles). Free chips and salsa are an added bonus.

Monument

Serbian food this is not, so don’t expect to find cevapcici and kaimak on the menu at Monument. What you do get from the restaurant, which is part of a popular Serbian chain, is fresh, tasty Mediterranean food with a barely perceptible Slavic twist. A smiling hostess greets you as you enter the large restaurant on Pokrovka Ul.

The interior is decorated in fashionable shades of beige, purple, orange and black. Although none of the elements of decor exude warmth or coziness – two qualities restaurants in the capital p6de themselves on – together they create a comfortable atmosphere in which to have a long, relaxed meal. For now at least, all of the waiters are Serbian, though they speak fluent Russian. Try one of the restaurant’s enormous salads – the 520-ruble version with beef is excellent or sip coffee with dessert.

Osteria della Piazza Bianca

The small chain of casual Italian eateries that started with Osteria Numero Uno has continued to expand, opening their third and flagship restaurant in the White Square business center this fall. Osteria della Piazza Bianca has a similarly nautical interior, although worn leather and dark wood elements give this eatery a more mature feel. As at the first location, this restaurant boasts an open kitchen where customers can watch as chefs make pasta dishes and pizzas.

Happily, a new head chef has taken over the menu here, creating more appetizing dishes then those found at the Tsvetnoi Bul. and Gorky Park osterias. Here, the pizza margherita with buffalo mozzarella (590 rubles) has a crispy crust and the right balance of acidic tomato sauce and mild cheese.

Pelman

There is nothing wrong with being on trend. In fact, few things are as difficult in this mass-market age as taking a good trend and making it your own. Just ask the people behind Velman Hand Made Cafe, which hopes to recapture some of the fast food market long dominated by a series of American chains. The basement-level cafe stays away from typical fare like burgers and fries, instead opting for a Russian approach.

The restaurant serves dumplings of all kinds, specifically Russian pelmeni but also Ukrainian vareniki and Georgian khinkali, as well as tortellini, dim sum and gyodza. The hits include the Georgian ones with lamb (149 rubles) and suluguni cheese (109 rubles) and the vegetable dim sum (105 rubles). Portions are microscopic, so order a couple of dishes.

Romanov Bar

This European and Pan-Asian restaurant took over the space formerly home to upscale bar Tommy D on Dec. 7. This new restaurant is similar to the space’s former occupant in that it wants to provide more than satiating food.

A large selection of whiskey and inventive cocktails keeps guests happy into the wee hours of the morning. Promises of DJ music and live jazz round out the image, and a karaoke hall puts the final touches on the picture.

Shekhtel

Chef Alexander Rakhmatov is behind the kitchen at this elegant Tverskoi Bul. eatery, which is housed in Pyotr Smirnov’s mansion. The location, formerly occupied by the unsuccessful Marusya, is ideal.

Designers have removed the over-the-top interior details of the space’s former occupant and restored the original details first created by famed architect Fyodor Schechtel (for whom the restaurant is named). The kitchen turns out inspired dishes like kebabs made from ground crab, cod and shrimp (550 rubles), but as of yet the jury is still out on whether or not the creative cuisine works.

Spletni

Few were disappointed when Tekhnika Molodyozhi closed its doors. The large space near the Belorussky train station has been taken over by an upscale cafe-bar along the lines of Luch. Spletni, which means “gossip” in English, offers a fairly generic list of dishes including Caesar salad and beef stroganoff (750 rubles) served in unusual ways. When it comes to the bar, the situation looks up.

The venue offers creative concoctions as well as professional versions of all the classics. Brick walls, hard wood floors, a long contact bar, velvet couches, big windows, high ceilings and exposed ventilation make for a “cool” interior, but it’s still hard to tell what this place is trying to be.

Strudel

If you don’t have enough strudel in your life, there is now a cafe near Patriarshiye Prudy that is ready to cater to all your strudel needs. Whether you go for something savory like the salmon strudel (380 rubles) or the sweet jam-filled raspberry strudel (350 rubles), you won’t be disappointed. The same can’t be said of the other menu offerings.

Tarantino

While Moscow’s biggest restaurant groups are busy taking over capitals in the West, Ukraine’s eateries have decided to fill the void in Moscow. Tarantino, a popular Kiev restaurant, opened its doors on Novy Arbat this fall. The menu at Tarantino, which is named for the cult American director, is a mix of Italian and American cuisines.

The list includes burgers, pastas and pizzas with crispy crusts and lots of top-pings (prices range from 200 to 500 rubles). The wood-burning oven is one of the focal points of the interior, which was apparently inspired by “Pulp Fiction” but has more to do with Tartan than Quentin Tarantino.

Tsytsyla

Residents of the Park Pobedy area now have a Ginza Project (Georgian restaurant to call their own. Tsytsyla, which apparently means “chicken” in Georgian, is an elegant eatery decorated with subtle beige tones, striped cushions and chairs, large couches, potted trees and fun light fixtures. The restaurant offers a standart mix of Caucasian fare, with a whole page of the long menu dedicated to chicken including a flavorful, juicy chicken tabaka (463 rubles).

A large khachapuri po-megrelski is 444 rubles. For those who don’t live in the area, heading out toward Mosfilm Studios might seem like a trek. Tsytsyla makes up for the inconvenience by providing guests a large, free parking lot.

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