Italy // 58 Bolshoi Prospekt of the Petrograd Side // Tel: 900 6333 // Open noon to 11.30 p.m. //Menu in English, Russian and Italian. // Dinner for two 2,800 rubles ($100)
Published: June 8, 2011 (Issue # 1659)
The light-filled dining room of Italy, on the fourth floor of an upscale shopping center, provides an object lesson in the possibilities of mall cuisine. Restaurants in Petersburg’s older buildings can be cozy and atmospheric, but for high ceilings, open floor plans, and an expansive view, head to one of the Putin era’s glass-fronted behemoths.
It doesn’t hurt that such pristine digs house some of the city’s best kitchens. Italy serves a light, lively version of a cuisine whose Petersburg renderings can be bland and over-sauced.
At around eight on a Friday night, a friendly hostess seated our party of three immediately. Our lack of reservations stuck us in the smoking section, but great ventilation saved us from any odor.
Italy is rightfully proud of its bar, which gives pride of place to wine and cocktails. The former is on the pricey side, with bottles upwards of 1,200 rubles ($42.80). The basil julep (290 rubles, $10.35) was a truly spectacular mixed drink: Heaps of fresh herbs muddled with gin and citrus made a mild and refreshing cocktail.
A glass of house Pinot Grigio (295 rubles; $10.50) was a fine companion to our shared appetizers — bruschetta with tomato and mushroom (160 rubles; $5.70) and a beef tartar from the antipasti list (490 rubles; $17.50). The bruschetta’s sturdy crust held up beautifully beneath juicy tomatoes dressed in olive oil. A cup of mayonnaise-heavy egg salad was an odd if inoffensive garnish.
The tartar was a standout. The beef, piled to a generous stature, was exceedingly fresh, light on the tongue, and complimented by raw diced cucumbers, carrots and Dijon mustard.
From the salad list, our Caprese (a half-portion at 450 rubles; $16) was unremarkable, particularly in view of the hefty price. The buffalo mozzarella lacked body and failed to stand up to the soggy tomato and lettuce. A Margherita pizza was considerably better value for money — half a pie for 170 rubles, or $6 — and was competently done, with a thin, chewy crust and light, sweet sauce.
Italy offers a page of meat-based entrees, priced at 380 to 950 rubles ($13.60 to $34). None of these steak or fish dishes caught our attention, though, and we stuck to the pasta. Here, oddly, Italy’s kitchen disappoints. Our waitress recommended the baked gnocchi with mozzarella and tomato (320 rubles, $11.40), but this dish turned out dull and mushy. The Pesto alla Siciliana (350 rubles; $12.50) wasn’t pesto at all: Hearty tagliatelle was dressed in a watery cream of tomato sauce, topped with scant shreds of basil.
Happily, our waitress persuaded us to sample not one but three desserts. The signature tiramisu (260 rubles, $9.30), airy pear mousse (165 rubles; $5.90) and Chantilly cream (290 rubles; $10.35) were outstanding. Succulent pear and strawberry, complex chocolate accents, the lightest of frothed cream and buttery wafers baked onsite made dessert highly memorable.
While the espresso at Italia (90 rubles; $3.20) is of good quality, the Moroccan mint tea (160 rubles; $5.70) is simply a must-have: Fresh mint is steeped with star-anise and lemon for an enlivening finale. We rode the very mall-like escalator back down to earth, satisfied on the whole with our trip to Italy.
The second city center that is the stately Petrograd Side is home to a wealth of cafes and restaurants, many of which are tucked away down crumbling side streets.
This Italian restaurant located in a former cinema on the Petrograd Side manages to combine a truly excellent interior, good food and very reasonable prices.
74 Bolshoi Prospekt
Tel: 232 2282
The homey ambience at Zhelaniya, which means “wishes,” can be felt straight away: Zhelaniya is a very warm place in every sense of the word and serves commendable European cuisine.
23a Prospekt Dobrolyubova
Tel: 232 9883
This upscale Georgian eatery behind the Sytny market is elaborately decorated, with waiters in Georgian national dress and occasional folk performances. It remains on the tasteful side of kitsch, and the food is good, though perhaps not as impressive as could be expected for the prices.
10 Sytninskaya Ulitsa.
Tel: 232 9391