Den of Dionysus
Anima Enoteka//15 Suvorovsky Prospekt//Tel: 702 7021//Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.//Menu in Russian//Dinner for two with wine 3510 rubles ($126)
Published: April 27, 2011 (Issue # 1653)
Russia’s wine-drinking culture is not, to put it mildly, the country’s strongest alcoholic tradition. For centuries, vodka was the national tipple, though several years ago, sales of beer overtook those of vodka. Wine traditions in Russia and the Soviet Union were generally limited to Soviet champagne, and in the absence of a national viniculture, sweet wines from Moldova and Georgia were the favorites in Russia, until they were banned in 2006 amid a series of diplomatic spats between the countries, allegedly for failing to conform to health and safety standards.
Drinking foreign wine in Russian restaurants is not really the norm, which is unsurprising, considering that a bottle of plonk that the average Frenchman would buy only to cook with for three euros is guaranteed to set you back at least 1,000 rubles ($36) here.
The disadvantaged wine culture is nevertheless slowly growing, as evidenced by the local phenomenon of the enoteca — a type of wine store originating in Italy that allows visitors or tourists to taste wines at a reasonable fee and possibly to buy them, and that sometimes serves food. Following the fledgling local tradition set by Gusto and Grand Cru wine bar now comes Anima Enoteka.
The latest addition to the enoteca scene has a slightly unlikely location just off Suvorovsky Prospekt. Anima has set up shop in the former premises of a fur shop, and where once the eerily empty eyes of stuffed foxes stared out from the windows, bottles of wine are now arranged.
Inside the compact premises, the entrance is given over to the store part, which houses a broad selection of wines from all over the world, comprising a collection the size of which is rarely seen in Russia. The attraction of the enoteca concept is that guests can select a wine and enjoy it over a meal for an additional 20 percent of its price — as opposed to 200 or 300 percent of the shop price as in most restaurants, Anima’s wait staff are quick to point out.
In another continental twist, Anima is that rare thing in Russia — a non-smoking restaurant.
The interior, which looks somewhat cold and unappealing from the outside, is in fact far more agreeable from the inside itself. Oak shelves housing wines line the walls from floor to ceiling, while the deceptively comfortable black plastic armchairs, lime-green newspaper bins and stools in the shape of giant corks ooze Italian design. (The waiter confirmed that all of the furniture was custom-made in Italy.)
From the restaurant’s pride — its wine menu — a bottle of Chablis La Pierrelee 2008, priced at 1,500 rubles ($54) was everything it ought to be, and was complemented beautifully by a bowl of devilishly tangy marinated artichokes in olive oil — a compliment from the chef — and some truly superb warm ciabatta that the restaurant buys half-baked and finishes baking on site.
Of the appetizers, the tomato soup (190 rubles, $6.80) was so fresh that it didn’t seem to consist of anything other than blended tomatoes and copious amounts of basil, which those who like a bit of zest or garlic in their soup may find a little disappointing.
In the salad of warm rabbit liver (250 rubles, $9), tender pieces of liver lay atop a bed of fresh spinach leaves and parsley, dotted with fine slices of chilli pepper, creating an original and very successful combination.
The mushroom risotto (350 rubles, $12.60) had a rich, creamy sauce and the ceps were firm, giving the dish just the right consistency.
The beef steak (890 rubles, $32) resembled black pudding when it was served, due to the fact it had been stewed in Barolo wine. It was served on what appeared to be mashed potato, but in fact transpired to be celery puree. The latter would certainly not be to everybody’s taste, but deserves recognition for innovation, at least, and did not detract from the meat itself, which was cooked to perfection.
Anima offers only two choices of dessert — tiramisu and panna cotta — and as elsewhere in the menu, limited selection seems to correspond directly to quality. The tiramisu — a bargain at 150 rubles ($5.40) — was light and not at all sickly, despite the enormous portion, with the creamy part delightfully offset by crunchy, bitter chips of fresh coffee beans.
Despite having been praised widely by local critics since opening at the very end of last year, Anima appears to stand empty a lot of the time, perhaps due to its location outside the city’s hubs of social activity. This is a shame, in view of how much the restaurant has to commend it, though it may well find itself busier as word spreads of this winning wine bar.
In Vino Veritas
Wine may not have such a prominent position in the history of Russian alcohol traditions, but this is changing, giving rise to a new kind of restaurant where the emphasis is as much on the wine as the food, which tends to be upscale European/Mediterranean fare.
Grand Cru Wine Bar
Grand Cru boasts molecular gastronomy such as shrimp carpaccio and bouillabaisse-cappucino, as well as a wine store with vintages from all over the world. The portion sizes may disappoint some, but the food and wine will not.
52 Nab. Reki Fontanki
Tel: 363 2511
Gusto’s selling point is its enoteca system that allows guests to sample by the glass fine wines that are usually only available by the bottle, and its wine list, which is one of the largest in the city. Vintages can be soaked up with a selection of Italian dishes.
1a Ulitsa Degtyarnaya
Tel: 941 1744
This upscale wine bar and Italian restaurant has been a favorite with the city’s glamour-pusses since it opened seven years ago. Its popularity exceeds its size, so booking ahead is recommended.
5 Ulitsa Belinskogo
Tel: 273 4904