Just a quick(ish) wrap-up on the places we ate in Moscow and St. Petersburg a few weeks ago. Cafe Pushkin and Molokhovets Dream got their own posts because they’re expensive, “destination dining” types of places that get written up everywhere. And this post is where I’ll quickly summarize some of the other restos to give you a sense for the dining scene. Keep in mind that I don’t speak Russian and I’m no local, but in my favor, I’m a very curious, interested outsider. (Well, and also while in Moscow, I traveled with a friend who lived in Moscow into her teens).
Bocconcino was my favorite dining-out experience in Moscow. I know – eating Italian food in Moscow sounds silly, but it’s not like Russians only want to eat Russian food when they go out. The decor is chic and warm, and the beauty of our showing up underdressed in jeans is that we got seated in a smoke-free, quiet back room instead of the more “scenester” front room. I’d read in the Moscow Times that the restaurant had a wood-burning oven and delicious pizzas, and like I said a few posts ago, after several days of eating only Russian food, I couldn’t resist the siren call of buffalo mozzarella and Mediterranean flavors. Most pizzas and pastas are 400-600 Rubles ($16-$24), so it’s not priced like your neighborhood pizzeria, but the ingredients are quality and the food is hot and fresh. Service was slow and disinterested.
Bocconcino, 7 Strasnoi Bulvar, +7 495-299-7359; closest metro: Pushkinskaya
Kvartira 44 was recommended by Helen’s Moscow friend, Masha, and I think if I could travel back in time, Kvartira would have been an introduction to Russian food as good as the one we had at Cafe Pushkin. The big advantage of Kvartira would be that it’s about five times cheaper than Cafe Pushkin. The decor of Kvartira is that of a small home library and that of Cafe Pushkin is that of a large, grand home library. So think of Kvartira 44 as Cafe Pushkin Lite. Borscht, pelmeni, blini, smoked herring – it’s all here and for the most part, it all tasted no worse than the versions we had at Pushkin.
The teas offered were varied, and getting hot water refills was easy. I highly recommend trying this place out to try classic Russian dishes in a casual, comfortable room. It’s a little bit tricky to find because the doorway is inside an archway, but it’s down Tveskaya Boulevard from Cafe Pushkin, so it’s in a nice neighborhood (i.e., don’t be dodged out by the archway entrance). The total for four appetizers, three mains and three pots of tea: 2000 roubles ($80).
Kvartira 44, 24/8 Malaya Yakimanka, +7 495-238-8234; closest metro: Tverskaya
Sword and Shield could have been *a lot* worse. I think the boys pushed us into going here. It’s a restaurant that’s close to Lubyanka, the former headquarters of the KGB, so the place was (and perhaps still is?) popular for cloak and dagger types. Sword and Shield has the drab brown colors you’d expect in a KGB office circa 1970, and all the potraits of KGB stars (including one of Putin in his black belt outfit) demand reverence. Videos of Putin in the news cycle through the TV in the corner, and that’s it by way of background noise. Don’t come here expecting kitsch that you can laugh at.
We stopped by for lunch because it’s not a far walk from Red Square, and we actually enjoyed our food. Nothing fancy. Your usual Russian dishes. The blini were especially good there, I thought. Big, fresh, eggy crepes and generous portions of smoked salmon and salmon caviar. Similar prices to those of Kvartira 44, with our tab for four appetizers, four mains and drinks totaling 500 ($20) roubles per person. Don’t miss the camouflage leaves in the bathrooms. No joke.
Sword and Shield, 7 Malaya Lubyanka Street, +7 495-621-1378; closest metro: Lubyanka
As for Dioskuriya and Fisheria – avoid at all costs. The former is a Georgian restaurant recommended in several sources (including our Lonely Planet Moscow guidebook – which I used only because it was the most up-to-date one I could find on Moscow), and when we showed up for lunch, it was empty except for a table of tourists and two tables of large men smoking, drinking and talking into their phones constantly. Our server took so long to serve us our food that after an hour of waiting around for just the hot tea to arrive, we just canceled our order and left.
The latter, Fisheria, was the site of the Fish with Congealed Cheese Incident. The crab soup wasn’t bad, though you have to pretend like the chicken broth doesn’t include huge pools of chicken fat oil on top.
In St. Petersburg, in addition to splashing out at Molokhovet’s Dream, we also ate at the Georgian-Azerbaijani restaurant, Karavan, and the Russian restaurant, Cafe Idiot, both recommended by the normally-excellent Wallpaper Guide series.
Karavan was pretty good. If I had to give a quick description of the food, I’d say think grilled meats and middle-eastern style rice and breads. The plov (rice dish with grilled lamb and dried fruits) was especially good after you added some salt, and the service was helpful and friendly. The breads tasted stale and store-bought, though. As seemed typical in many restaurants we’d tried in Moscow, the decor was pretty cheesy: at the back of Karavan is a large, paper mache camel living it up in what looks to be an oasis. Entertaining. Two appetizers, breads, beers and mains cost 1000 roubles ($80).
Cafe Idiot, named after the Dostoevsky novel, I would avoid. The only reason I can think of for why it made it into the higly-edited, style-conscious Wallpaper St. Petersburg guide is because the staff speak english and the decor is quirky and cozy (i.e., lots of antique typewriters, shelves of books – again with the books in restos! – busts of Lenin). But all the food we tried (and we tried a lot) was terrible. The fried brown bread tasted like stale oil; the pickles were soggy; the salmon blini were pre-filled with mostly sour cream and dill (where’s the salmon!?!); and the potato pelmeni took blandness to new heights, despite the “mushroom sauce” and bushels of dill. I did like my pot of berry tea, though, so if you go, perhaps go just for tea and dessert. Our tab for two was just shy of 1000 roubles ($80).