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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Four Legs Good, Frog Legs Bad

The Raisky Dvor restaurant is not the gastronome's Garden of Eden that its name -- "paradise court" -- might suggest, but its creative, atypical decor can easily make you forget what arrives on your plate.

Smiling swine drinking beer on white, fluffy clouds, pigs lying on the grass gazing at the sky-blue ceiling, a menacing raven perched over the tables in a wide fishing net suspended from the ceiling -- the restaurant's eclectic decor, the menu says, is directly inspired by George Orwell's "Animal Farm." The name Raisky Dvor is a combination of the two Russian translations of the novel's title. The kitsch farm animals painted on the wall in flashy colors are more reminiscent of a school playroom than a fancy Moscow restaurant, but they make it worth the trip.

Orwell may be turning in his grave. But the idea is original, and it certainly cannot leave any diner indifferent. Unfortunately, although much effort was put into our surroundings, little was to be found in the dishes we ordered from the restaurant's selection of mostly Russian cuisine, both in terms of taste and presentation.

After waiting more than half an hour for the waiter to take our order and bring us two small Harp Lager draft beers ($4 each), we continued on the beer theme, choosing the Shrimp with Beer ($9) as one of our entrees. But the shrimps were over-cooked, difficult to shell and didn't have much flavor despite the greasy bath of garlic they had endured.

The bucolic decor, with green vines creeping onto our patio-style table, incited my dining companion to sample the Frog Legs ($10). It was the first time he had ever tried frog legs and will probably be the last, as he said they tasted "like badly fried plastic." I ventured to try them also, and my stomach regretted it the entire evening.

The Russian "Sea Bed" Julienne ($9) made up for these culinary misadventures. It was spiced to perfection, voluptuously creamy and a pleasure for the eyes, served in a beautiful scallop shell.

If you want to reduce your risks when ordering entrees, you can simply go for the salad bar ($7.90) to see what you're going to eat. It offers typical Russian salads such as salmon with mayonnaise, beet salad and marinated zucchini. The entree menu also proposes other standard Russian fare such as a cold fish assortment ($10), pirozhki ($1 each) and pelmeni ($5).

For the main course we switched to wine, the only item my dining companion could choose on his own since he didn't speak Russian and no English menus were available. But not all the wines on the list inspired confidence, he said, because some were listed without their vintage year. As he said, "You pay 324,000 rubles for a Saint-Emilion, but you don't even know if it's a good year or not." So we tried a bottle of Bordeaux Beau Rivage ($24) -- one of the less expensive bottles on the list -- which, although it arrived close to lukewarm, lived up to its reputation as a safe bet.

We decided on meat for our second course, to go with the red wine, and ordered the "Dish of the Year" ($18), lemon-marinated grilled veal, and the "Protector of Sheep" ($15), one of the several dishes whose barnyard-theme names also pay bizarre homage to "Animal Farm."

When our two dishes arrived they looked identical, served with the same frozen vegetables and cooked in the same fashion. But where my lamb was tender and juicy, my unlucky friend's veal was hard as a brick. Perhaps he should have opted for the more vividly christened "Cow-man's Battle" beef steak ($12.30), or "The Fear of Humanity" sirloin beef cooked in blood ($12.30).

From the limited dessert menu my companion chose the three-flavor ice cream with fruit salad ($5), which he expected would make up for his unsuccessful veal, but he found it had a disappointing synthetic taste.

Still, despite all its culinary misses, the garish Raisky Dvor wins points for entertainment value. Its cuisine may not make much of an impression, but its atmosphere definitely will.

Raisky Dvor is located at 8 Chistoprudny Bulvar. Tel. 928-0907. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to midnight. Parking available, rubles and Visa accepted. Nearest metro: Chistye Prudy.