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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GOURMET'S NOTEBOOK:




Times must be changing. You walk into Moscow's most talked-about new restaurant, reach for the newspaper - and all you get is a yellow, aged piece of parchment, with the upstart title Gastronomichesky Vestnik or The Gastronomic Bulletin. In pre-Revolution script, a menu based around 18th-century Russian national cuisine is interspersed with items of news about the customs of early 19th-century St. Petersburgers and Muscovites and the rate of exchange between the kopek and the silver ruble (366 to 72).


Unhappily for a journalist, I have a penchant for old news too. I finally made it to "The Phantom Menace" last week, still haven't seen "Titanic" and first dropped into cafe Pushkin two months after the solemn opening June 4.


"Dropped in" doesn't quite do me justice. I grabbed my cloak and walking stick, hailed a horse-drawn carriage, cried "K Pushkinu" and rattled over snowbound streets to an appointment with old Eugene Onegin for Mo?t & Chandon and a roast-beef dinner, before taking in a ballet.


Well, that's the idea.


At Pushkin, "a person should cross the threshold and hallucinate," said restaurant designer Andrei Dellos in an interview with the journal Afisha.


The lengths that Dellos went to to encourage these flights of imagination beggar belief; his previous efforts with Shinok, Bochka, and even the extravagant Le Duc restaurants pale by comparison. At Pushkin you are hit with what contemporary satirist Viktor Pelevin calls the Wow factor. It may also hit you with the Why factor.


The attempts to recreate a slice of Pushkiniana are meticulously observed: You can order A? champagne, just like Onegin, to accompany Beef Stroganoff with potatoes ? la Pushkin. The waiters, dressed in gold livery, will be male, serve you with one hand behind their back and probably converse in iambic hexameters if you ask politely. And it's all so old: the London grandfather clock, the ancient heating system, the frescos and the elegant cracks that course the white windowpanes. Like rings on a severed oak tree, at Pushkin you can almost count off those 200 years one by one.


After rain dashed our hopes of eating on the roof, we were seated in a discreet corner of the second floor, opposite the grandfather clock. (The first floor is cheaper, serving as both a bar and a cafe.) Somewhat harshly, I ordered the dishes I knew I had least chance of liking, on the basis that if they came up trumps, Pushkin really was the business.


It wasn't to be: The starter of smoked eel ($11.50) with tomato was insipid and the hare eyelashes (spare ribs of hare for $24) were unexciting as only things that try too hard to be interesting can. Even the cassata-like three-layered puree of carrots, potato and spinach couldn't save it. But I was in a bad mood: There wasn't a single decent-looking bottle of wine I could order for under $40 and resorting to 50 ml of Smirnov was something of a humiliation. Like the first editions lining the restaurant's copious shelves, the vast and wide-ranging wine cellar was something of a phantom presence, to be felt but not tasted.


A more balanced overview came from the proverbial Eugene Onegin, who summoned an excellent cream of mushroom soup ($8) and an even more triumphant herb-encrusted salmon ($24.50) covered with exotic fruits for his main course.


Clearly, at this point the jury was still out on chef Andrei Makhov. Only the dessert duel, at 12 paces, could decide it. Here the tables were dramatically turned: The so far clear-thinking Onegin, seduced by coy waitering, ordered the fake pear, which turned out to be nothing more exotic than an apple in raspberry sauce, while, almost to my annoyance, I misordered and thoroughly enjoyed the multi-textured coffee parfait. 3-all, I guess.


Pushkin, 26A Tverskoi Bulvar. Tel. 229-5590. First floor open 24 hours, second floor from noon to 11:30 p.m. Metro: Pushkinskaya. All major credit cards accepted.


- Oliver Ready