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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gourmet's Notebook




It's a hard life on the arts desk. Between film openings, presentation buffets and cocktails at the embassy, your editor walks in on you and demands the return of the food column. Slightly worried about how to fill 600 words, I decided to spend. If I had enough courses, I reckoned, names could compensate where imagination or descriptive power might just fail.


Luckily, at Stella, my first port of call, the antipasti on their own could launch a thousand words if not ships. In true Italian tradition, this chic redesigned restaurant at Kuznetsky Most (previously La Stella del Pescatore) seems to follow the sensible policy that the best should come first. After all, by the time you've moved through the first two stages of an Italian meal - an appetizer and an often heavy pasta dish - the main course is always likely to be a bit of a chore, with dessert little more than an afterthought.


Our choices for starters were vitello tonnato, delicate slices of veal tenderloin under tuna mayonnaise, and carpaccio Stella, raw beef served with parmesan and mushrooms. Both were excellent and could just as easily have worked as a cold, summertime main course, especially once we'd been persuaded into a side order of the mushrooms du jour - lightly fried chanterelles, affectionately called lisichki, or little foxes, and served rather mundanely with potato pur?e.


More capacious stomachs might then have been tempted by the veal ravioli after pitstopping for the black caviar on potato snow (two ingredients that betrayed the chef's definite non-Italianness). Instead, I chose Spaghetti Stella - with a slightly watery vodka and tomato-based sauce - and watched my dining companion wax about the Tagliatelle Rucola.


The selection of pasta dishes was much shorter than you'd expect for an Italian restaurant, and, rather disappointingly, they don't make the pasta themselves. But then, perhaps to its advantage, Stella is not really as Italian as it first seems, with a menu full of miscellaneous goodies, such as smoked Norwegian salmon, caviar, and banana curry, which would be unlikely to find their way onto a Tuscan table.


Unusually for Moscow, the restaurant does a busy trade in fresh fish, generally available Tuesday to Saturday. I tried some grilled scallops for main course, which were mercifully light but bland, despite the noble efforts of the surrounding yellow peppers and snow peas. Tender veal served with the ubiquitous chanterelles drew greater praise from the other side of the table.


Defeated but content, I felt it was time to pay some attention to a delicious bottle of young Dolcetto and to the surroundings. All in all, the summer remont seems to have served Stella well. Apart from the entirely new menu and a change of personnel, it's turned into the proverbial "You could be anywhere in the world" eatery, and Soho types seem to have made it their local. Large windows open out onto the street and the tasteful orange and yellow-colored walls are decked with a particularly avant-garde photo exhibit of a washing machine. Unfortunately, you couldn't really be "anywhere" because all evening long they play the most bruising kind of Russian pop.


Prices are reasonable, with starters beginning at $5 and pastas at $8. Main courses range from $8 (the prosaically named "Beefies") to $42. The wine list quickly gets silly, but there's Chianti and cheaper Spanish options at around the $20 mark.


Incidentally, the dessert, panna cotta on a raspberry sauce, was a very tasty and considerate afterthought.


Stella, 7/5 Pushechnaya Ulitsa. Tel. 924-2058. Open: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Business lunch: 255 rubles. Metro: Kuznetsky Most. All major credit cards accepted.


- Oliver Ready