THE DISH: Mama Knows Best
Mama Luba // Ulitsa Sablinskaya, 3 // Tel. 405 8385 // Sun-Thurs: 12 p.m. to midnight //Fri-Sat: 12:00 p.m. to 2 a.m. Dinner for two with alcohol: 2,020 rubles ($64)
Published: May 15, 2013 (Issue # 1759)
Mama Luba’s inviting interior mixes the comforts of home with a healthy dose of trendiness.
Mama Luba is not your typical mama. While the name may conjure up images of a plump Italian grandmother embracing you with kisses before serving you plates of spaghetti and meatballs at a table decorated with a red and white checkered tablecloth, we were pleasantly surprised to find she was anything but.
Luba, who is young and trendy, opened her modern Italian restaurant with a twist behind the flashy shops that line Bolshoy Prospekt. Opened in early April, the area in front of the restaurant is currently a muddy wasteland, but don’t let this rather scruffy welcome put you off.
As you step into the restaurant, you are immediately taken in by the relaxed atmosphere, which can be directly attributed to the friendly young staff and carefully chosen décor — not too kitschy but also not too hip. One wall is lined with potted plants, while another displays a delightfully eclectic collection of porcelain plates. The splashes of color provided by yellow bar stools and red couches contrast tastefully with the earth tones that color the rest of the space.
Choosing to sit in the non-smoking area, we were led to a smaller, more intimate room where directly in front of us was the open kitchen — all that separated us from the kitchen staff was a high counter made from stacked, saw-cut tree logs. If a restaurant could bare its soul, it would be through an open kitchen. It’s also a strong statement to its customers, implying that the restaurant is confident enough with its food and service that it has nothing to hide.
Once seated, we turned to the cocktail menu, where among the standard list of cocktails was a selection of 10 unique cocktails specially created by the resident mixologist (and sans the usual tacky cocktail names). We settled on the vodka with strawberries and basil (220 rubles, $7) and gin with raspberries (220 rubles, $7). They arrived quite quickly in quaint shot glasses, and while they were strongly flavored, they both left a surprisingly fresh but faint berry aftertaste — demonstrating the expert touch the bartender used in creating them.
For starters, we decided on a selection of marinated vegetables (270 rubles, $8.60) and, on the recommendation of the waitress, the cauliflower cream soup (190 rubles, $6). The marinated vegetables arrived as three generously filled bowls; one with roasted tomatoes, the next with mushrooms and onions, and the last with large green olives. The cauliflower cream soup was an appealing green from the spinach that is used and tasted as divine as it looked. Topped with roasted slivered almonds, the creamy soup was smooth in texture, while the almonds complemented the rich, wholesome flavor. It’s no wonder this soup has become a popular menu choice and dare I say, will become a signature dish.
Demonstrating flexibility, the chef was happy to comply with my vegetarian companion’s requirements and prepare the Thai beef salad with the tender beef strips on a side plate (290 rubles, $9.20). The beef was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, while the salad was a simple, fresh mixture of red cabbage, thinly sliced cucumber and carrot, vermicelli noodles and a smattering of sesame seeds, splashed with a lovely light soy sauce.
The menu also includes homemade pasta and pizza, as well as a decent selection of meat dishes (such as beef stroganoff, rack of lamb and the classic hamburger) as well as a fish of the day (330 rubles, $10.50). We decided to the fish of the day — a Sea Bass — along with grilled vegetables (110 rubles, $3.50) as a side and a carafe of the restaurant’s homemade red wine (390 rubles, $12.40). Unfortunately the fish was a disappointment. Beautifully presented, the fish sat on a bed of undercooked risotto and both the rice and fish were flavorless. However, the enjoyably dry, full-flavored wine helped wash it down, and soon the fish was a distant memory.
The theatrics of an open kitchen add to the inviting atmosphere, creating an enjoyable amount of anticipation as you watch the kitchen staff effortlessly cook and carefully prepare your meal. The plating is also faultless and while I can’t stand people taking photos of their food, here it is just about warranted.
With its simple and reasonably-priced menu and wine list, Mama Luba’s strength is its commitment to quality over quantity and has the potential to quickly become a popular local hot spot. I know I’m already planning my next trip to Mama’s.