THE DISH: Little Italy
Little Italy//10 Italianskaya Ulitsa//Tel. 571 2350//Open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.//Menu in Russian and English//www.littleitalytrattoria.ru//Dinner for two with alcohol 2,470 rubles ($77)
Published: May 30, 2012 (Issue # 1710)
While Italianskaya Ulitsa certainly did not get its name from being home to a wealth of Italian restaurants and could hardly be described as the city’s Italian district, new trattoria Little Italy, which opened on the street in March, is certainly doing its best to live up to its name.
First impressions are particularly encouraging, as the restaurant — appropriately housed inside a building designed by the Italian architect Carlo Rossi in 1820 — has managed to capture that rare and powerful asset: The distinctive smell of a genuine Italian eatery. The aroma of strong, fresh coffee mingled with baking pizza and a secret blend of other tantalizing flavors spills out of the door onto the small outdoor seating area, luring in passers-by.
In the first, brightly lit room, the tables are placed close together and the Italian atmosphere is enhanced by the loud chattering of the clientele, who include some real live Italians — also an encouraging sign.
Another Italian tradition being kept alive and well at Little Italy is the emphasis on family. The good news is, if you want to take your kids out with you, the trattoria has a special children’s menu. The bad news is, if you were hoping for a night off from screaming kids, this is not the place. Italian love for bambinos plus the Russian habit of allowing them to stay up until all hours results here in boisterous children dashing between tables and shrieking at the top of their lungs long after midnight (in a city where many restaurants stop serving food at 11 p.m., Little Italy represents a very welcome new option for peckish night owls).
The interior design is a thematic mixture of Italy old and new. The latter is provided by a chic counter plated in diminutive red shiny tiles, while the former is represented by a Venetian theme, with Gothic arches, shutters and classic Venetian signs such as the ubiquitous “Per Rialto” decorating the walls, alongside figures dressed for the carnival and in plague masks. The effect is somewhat kitsch, but none the worse for being so. In a back room, chefs can be seen rolling out pizza bases in the open kitchen.
The Italian classics on offer include pizza, pasta and risotto selections, as well as a range of soups, appetizers and meat dishes. Beef Carpaccio (320 rubles, $10) contained a fairly modest portion of meat served on a bed of arugula and Parmesan flakes. The meat itself was first-rate, but the arugula was surprisingly served without any dressing. This was, perhaps, one of several oversights on our waitress’ part, as other tables appeared to be supplied with oil and vinegar.
Little Italy, as one would expect of an authentic Italian trattoria, is quite vegetarian-friendly. Caesar salad (250 rubles, $7.80) can be ordered with chicken (for an extra 70 rubles) or, as it indeed should be, without, and was faultlessly executed, with plenty of sauce and some laudably fresh, crisp lettuce.
Another classic Italian dish, lasagna (320 rubles, $10), was beautifully proportioned. It is a sad fact that in local restaurants, this dish all too often arrives with piping hot edges and a tragically lukewarm middle. This, thankfully, was certainly not the case at Little Italy. The only regret was that the portion was not a little larger. In this respect, however, the vegetarian pizza (290 rubles, $9) saved the day. Generously topped with red and green bell peppers, zucchini and mushrooms, the dough was thin and perfectly crisp — at this point in the meal, we expected nothing less — and it was of course big enough for sharing.
If there is one area in which Little Italy could up its game, it is the service. While certainly not unpleasant or unhelpful — a bottle of Valpolicella Cielo (1,100 rubles, $34) that had just begun to sour was exchanged for a new one without any difficulty — our waitress was simply rather absent much of the time when she was needed. No new silverware was brought out with the mains, nor were there any condiments or serviettes on the table. They were, however, readily available on the counter, and this is perhaps where the boisterous bambinos could come in handy for running errands — if only they could reach.