. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Otherworldly Delights With an Italian Accent

Not far from the hum and roar of Prospekt Mira, down the street from the greasy fumes of one of the city's newer McDonald's, is a slow-paced, low-key oasis of Italian civility where the television is live from Rome, the pesto is fresh and the pasta al dente.

No pretense. No contrived fanciness. Just good food at reasonable prices served with a minimum of fuss. A late evening visit last week to La Cipolla D'Oro yielded three hours of bliss and several more kilos of weight to haul home.

Unlike more than a few Moscow restaurants, where the foreign staff seem to depart soon after setting up operation, some three years after opening, La Cipolla D'Oro has at least some employees born to the cuisine. Shortly after our arrival, the manager from Rome, a young, lanky fellow with a scraggly beard, visited our table to run through the specials and pronounce the pesto worthy with a kiss of his thumb and two fingers.

And, indeed, slowly consuming the pasta dish, Gnocchi Pesto e Pomodoro, was the high point of the evening. Even before it landed on the table in a waft of enticing warmth, we could see it was something special as the pesto made of imported Dutch basil had given the haphazardly arranged gnocchi an otherworldly green color.

At $14, the gnocchi dish was priced on the low end of the pasta dishes listed in the trilingual menu which ranged up to $20 for spaghetti with seafood and included lasagna for $17. Big eaters might want to take note that the portions at La Cipolla D'Oro are not huge, but, as one dainty dining companion noted as she tucked into a plate of Grilled Lamb with Mint Sauce, "It's a more than adequate quantity." The lamb ($22) was imaginatively seasoned but the thin, small pieces were on the tough side.

Still a little hungry, we also sampled a plate of Cannelloni Ricotta e Spinaci ($18), freshly made sheets of pasta wrapped around spinach and ricotta with a light tomato sauce.

One of the hallmarks of a good Italian restaurant is the ability to serve simple food well. Perhaps the best example of that here was the Insalata Caprese ($12), a plate of sliced mozzarella and tomatoes bathed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, pepper and oregano. Prepared with absolutely fresh mozzarella, this is a dish that in a few bites aroused in our taste buds a feeling of having transcended the accreted sludge of a thousand bad meals.

This is the kind of place where each dish had enough of an individual character to warrant several visits before even the most discerning diner would become bored. The menu is broad, with seafood dishes ranging from a mixed grill seafood ($35) to a filet of seabass ($30) and an array of pizzas including anchovy pizza ($10) and "variety pizza" ($15).

Finally, near the end of our visit, as the some two dozen Italian-speaking men in varying states of hairloss gathered in the back room to watch the Italian national soccer team battle Georgians in a World Cup qualifying match, the waitress arrived with the dessert menu picturing high-quality color reproductions of ice cream.

The Tartufo Bianco ($6) looked exotic with a coffee ice cream bottom and a creamy, sugary confection on top, but what came out from the kitchen didn't resemble it at all and tasted horrible -- as though it had spent too long in the back of a hot Moscow-bound truck.

It would be a mistake, however to judge the evening by the dessert. As a fellow diner said in Russian, "Even the sun has spots."

La Cipolla D'Oro is located at 39 Gilyarovskogo Ulitsa. Hours noon to midnight daily. Tel. 281-9498. Rubles and credit cards accepted. Nearest metro: Prospekt Mira.