THE DISH: Le Cristal

THE DISH: Le Cristal

Le Cristal//92 Naberezhnaya Martynova//Tel. 948 7007// in Russian, Italian and English//Open from midday until the last customer leaves//Lunch for two without alcohol 2,260 rubles ($75)

Published: June 13, 2012 (Issue # 1712)

Tuscan terrace

A slow, leisurely Saturday lunch on a sunlit terrace by the water — isn’t that what most St. Petersburgers, deprived of sun and overwhelmed by months of bone-chilling winds, long for most of the year? The location alone is more than enough to justify a trip to Le Cristal, one of the city’s most glamorous and relaxed venues. Located next to the yacht club on Krestovsky Island, the restaurant even offers “how to get there” instructions for those arriving by yachts, rather than by car.

Le Cristal had high expectations to meet and outdid itself, offering much more than simply a nice view. Considered one of the city’s most enjoyable terrace dining options — with sliding glass walls that transform into doors and large, soft chunky sofas — Le Cristal can be found nestled into the serene, quiet end of Krestovsky Island, just steps from the Srednaya Nevka river, with a view over the blossoming Yelagin Island park.

The restaurant boasts a new menu from Italian chef Filippo Licata, who enjoys the favor of the crème de la crème of European bohemians and politicians alike. Licata, a favorite with fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana and pop singer Mylene Farmer, joined the restaurant in March.

The chef, who has worked in London’s Cipriani (now known as C London) and Brussels’ Michelin-starred Bruneau, has created a menu that blends Mediterranean and European culinary traditions. Tuscan dishes comprise the core of the menu.

Glamour is key to Le Cristal, which regularly hosts parties and hipster gigs.

The crowd here is fashionable, laid-back and has money to spare. During the course of lunch, at least two millionaire newsmakers were spotted. Incidentally, both of them spent more time pacing back and forth along the terrace talking on the phone than at the table, but this was no reflection on the chef’s efforts.

Partying and dining at Le Cristal is about being a glamour girl.

Athletic muscular young men accompanied by seriously tanned ladies wearing ultra-mini skirts were in abundance. The presence of our party — a pair of women in their mid-thirties dressed in demure maxis — provided a bit of a visual contrast to most of the clientele, but did not elicit the slightest sign of a sneer, a situation encountered at nine out of ten glamorous venues in St. Petersburg.

A first quick scan of the menu suggested that the fare is light and healthy, and the dining experience that followed proved the guess right. The orange and fennel salad (210 rubles, $7) that kicked off the meal consisted of a dozen peeled orange slices resting on a weightless heap of shaved fennel soaked in olive oil. A handful of marinated olive halves provided a contrast to the zesty orange. The other appetizer — scallop, avocado and grapefruit salad (320 rubles, $10.60) — was even more flavorful than the first, and was declared a success. The scallops were meaty, fresh and juicy, the arugula crisp, the avocado creamy, and the whole combination proved utterly indulgent.

Licata likes his ingredients thin, on the brink of transparent, chooses olive oil over complicated spicy sauces and does not fool his clients by over-seasoning his dishes. Everything sampled was an intelligent alliance of flavor and texture.

The main courses include a tempting range of pastas and risottos, costing between 290 and 990 rubles ($9.60 to $33) as well as Catalan-style shellfish (1,550 rubles, $51) and tuna tagliata with a mixed salad (590 rubles, $19.60). The most expensive item on the menu is cacciucco lobster soup (2,900 rubles, $96.60), which is always cooked by Licata himself.

It was difficult to select just one risotto from the menu and after a moment of indecision, the pear and Taleggio cheese (350 rubles, $11.60) won out over the strawberry and Prosecco risotto (350 rubles, $11.60). It was perhaps the most calorie-charged item on the list and the aromatic dish was appreciated to the full. Taleggio was added generously, to the effect of a sauce. The other entrée, saffron and Grana Padano risotto (350 rubles, $11.60), was equally satisfying, with the emphasis on the saffron.

Le Cristal’s beach area is now open, where diners can call ahead and book themselves a brightly-colored pillow or hammock chair from which to enjoy a relaxing meal.

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