THE DISH: Putanesca

THE DISH: Putanesca

Putanesca//6 Ulitsa Belinskogo//Tel: 8 911 922 3380//Open from noon to the last customer//Menu in Russian only (English menu is planned)//Dinner for two with alcohol 2,310 rubles ($77)

Published: November 14, 2012 (Issue # 1735)

Italian cool

As temperatures drop and days grow shorter, a change is sometimes needed to offset the inevitability of nature. To brighten the mood, the city changes its look with festive decorations, some update their wardrobes, and others sign up for a haircut or dance class.

The owners of the restaurant formerly known simply as Belinskogo 6 have decided that they too needed a change, and have redesigned their Spanish-themed tapas bar into a sleek new eatery, moving further east to take much of their fare — and a new name, Putanesca — from Italy.

The kitchen and bar only opened last week (an English-language menu is yet to be printed, and final touches are still being put to the interior), but it already looks and tastes like a worthy successor to the popular tapas bar that came before it.

The owners have recruited interior designer Mikhail Orlov for the facelift, the brains behind the appearance of eateries including Beluga, Sky Terrace and a number of Ginza Project venues. Orlov has retained the cozy and intimate atmosphere of Belinskogo 6 with low ceilings, warm tones and ambient lighting, while adding a touch of sophistication and chic.

Pop-art posters are scattered throughout, and a poster for Fellini’s “8 1/2” looks particularly welcoming when seen through the large but unimposing street windows. The modern feel imparted by stylish low red couches and glossy white enamel arches gives way to a pleasant groove: The room for smokers is flanked by a book case and a partitioned wall filled by suspended wine bottles and a glass-cubed lower section that changes coolly between blue and purple backlighting.

The relaxed no-frills atmosphere of its predecessor remains, as do reasonable prices for well-prepared European dishes. Don’t expect white tablecloths or pedantry — utensils come in a basket, and waiters wear jeans and checkered shirts, but the service is as European as the surroundings.

While the restaurant is no gourmet dining experience, nor does it purport to be, the food did its job in pleasing taste buds and stomachs, while exciting conversation in an original and groovy interior.

The starters were well prepared and substantial in size. The baked mussels in Parmesan (380 rubles, $12.60) were far from being the “catch of the day,” but were a good catch from the appetizers list, being pleasantly cheesy and tender and hardly warranting complaint from a non-seafood themed restaurant in Russia’s northern capital. Much the same can be said of the carpaccio of salmon (350 rubles, $11.60), which was nicely complemented by a drizzling of olive oil and capers. However, the fresh bread for 90 rubles ($3) proved to be an uninspired offer: A simple bun served with butter, more reminiscent of American diner fare than a modern Italian offering.

Thankfully, betrayal of the Italian culinary tradition was not complete, as the linguine Putanesca (320 rubles, $10.60) was cooked al dente, with a fresh tantalizing tomato sauce including capers, olives and basil, topped off by slices of tuna cooked just enough to leave the delicate flesh smooth, though again, the fish did not create the impression of having been freshly caught.

The penne alla norma with eggplant (290 rubles, $9.60) was equally well cooked, with the vegetable cut wafer-thin and retaining its firmness, though the strong smoky flavor may not suit everyone’s palate.

Apart from the mostly Italian themed appetizers, salads, soups, pasta and risotto, European entrees are also on offer, such as lamb ragout and ribeye steak, as well as the surprising addition of a wok section to the menu.

Dessert offerings are equally diverse, but the strawberry flambé with ice cream doused in Sambuca (350 rubles, $12.60) is surely the most exotic, and a certain winning end to a pleasant meal.

While the kitchen might not take the claim of being the best on restaurant-laden Ulitsa Belinskogo, the laid-back and cool European atmosphere of Putanesca is top-notch, offering a relaxed alternative to the formalism of its neighbors: A very welcome change indeed.

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