THE DISH: Pecorino

THE DISH: Pecorino

Pecorino//7-9 Ulitsa Zhukovskogo//Tel: 275 9979 daily from noon to 11 p.m.//Menu in English and Russian//Dinner for two with alcohol 2,950 rubles ($91)

Published: June 6, 2012 (Issue # 1711)

Not up to the Italian Job

Pecorino makes a very favorable first impression: Small evergreen bushes, delicate purple flowers in window boxes and a wrought iron bench on the sidewalk outside the establishment are not only attractive, but hint at the Italian theme of the restaurant.

The interior, despite not having the cozy, authentic décor the exterior suggests, is classy and elegant in beige and white downstairs. The upstairs is a little more rustic, with a piano — which sadly is not used — in one corner, although there are musical events several nights a week at which the manager sings.

Although not a big restaurant, the atmosphere is one of cool, relaxed sophistication, with a clientele to match. There were only four other tables dining, and one of them was a reservation for a party; the spread laid out in advance for the group was rather impressive and worth remembering if planning an event.

The menu offers a comprehensive representation of classic Italian cuisine, with prices ranging from 120 rubles ($3.70) for sun-dried tomatoes, up to 700 rubles ($21.55) for jumbo shrimp. There is also a lengthy wine list of primarily Italian, Spanish and French wines; a small glass of house wine (which was, reassuringly, Italian) costs 150 rubles ($4.60). Both the red and the white were very drinkable, but the flavor of the white was somewhat diminished by the fact that it was served at room temperature. There are, alternatively, a selection of fresh juices and a very refreshing Italian lemonade (180 rubles, $5.50).

The starters — and indeed all of the courses — were brought out promptly (perhaps the waitresses had a little too much time on their hands, as we were also asked four times whether we were ready to order). The roast beef with red wine sauce (350 rubles, $10.80) was almost as finely cut as a Carpaccio, but the beef was of an excellent quality; however, it was slightly let down by the sauce, which seemed to lack its key ingredient as the red wine was barely discernible. A portion of Parma ham (380 rubles, $11.70) was enormous, but served as it was on a bed of finely sliced melon and garnished with pear, olives and basil, it was only too easy to devour with relish.

The linguini with basil and pecorino (320 rubles, $9.85) was not quite so satisfying. It looked suspiciously like it had been microwaved, with a dull glaze over the surface, and there was a significant lack of pecorino in both appearance and taste despite reassurance from the waitress that it was there. The most redeeming feature of the dish was the linguini, which was cooked perfectly al dente, in true Italian fashion. Conversely, the jumbo shrimp were delightful, and served with a homemade tartar sauce. Here the only issue was that the shrimp were delivered still in their shells, but disappointingly — and, inevitably, messily — no finger bowl was provided. This is a dish that is exactly what it claims to be and does not come with a garnish or a side dish, and it may be advisable to order one separately.

Dessert was a simple Italian affair — panna cotta (250 rubles, $7.70) and the ambiguously named “Colosseum cake” (290 rubles, $8.90). Again, both dishes had virtues as well as flaws. The panna cotta was wonderfully flavored with citrus and vanilla, but regrettably had not set, and therefore flowed out over the plate when cut. The Colosseum cake turned out to be somewhere between a cheesecake and panna cotta, and was enjoyable. Both dishes were decorated with strawberry syrup, mint, and segments of mandarin, which created the same agreeable but unremarkable presentation of the previous courses.

Pecorino is a restaurant that is, in all appearances, excellent. However, it quickly becomes apparent that in actual fact the execution of the food is not the high quality that the stylish interiors, alluring menu and charming staff lead customers to believe. After it transpired that the price of the jumbo shrimp on the menu had been a “misprint,” and that they were more expensive than advertised, it seems that perhaps the missing pecorino on the linguini was an inadvertent metaphor for the restaurant itself: Missing that special something.

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