Text Charles W. Borden
Photos Sergei Koshkin
Carre Blanc has the distinction of being Moscow’s only real, and, not only for that reason, greatest French restaurant. The dearth of French restaurants in Moscow is surprising, given the city’s vibrant restaurant culture and the country’s historical relationship with France. After all, French was practically the official language of the Russian aristocracy, and Russia was the largest export market for Champagne in the 19th century.
When it opened in 2001, Carre Blanc was a leader of the trend toward chic restaurants with rich, expat chef-driven cuisine, and today it is a survivor in an increasingly competitive market. Owners include expats Bruce Gardner and Martin Achatz. Chef Eric Le Provos (above), who was on hand for the opening, recently returned after a spell at another Moscow restaurant.
Carre Blanc is located about 500 meters east of Novoslobodskaya Ulitsa and about a kilometer north of the Garden Ring. In addition to a large and luxurious formal dining area, the restaurant has a separate bar and bistro, which draws a late-night crowd. In summer, there is a spacious terrace behind the building.
The menu boldly displays each French entry with Russian and English translation underneath, and it was refreshing to see the strictly traditional selection without today’s faddish fusion or sushi and sashimi. Not even a Caesar salad. Starters include ingredients such as duck breast, foie gras, cèpe and morel mushrooms, and truffles. There are five each of the fish and meat entrees, and a good selection of items for the grill (priced in rubles per 100 grams). The restaurant is known for its large wine list, dominated by French, of course.
I tried the Crème de Châtaignes aux Cèpes (490r), a nutty bronze and creamy chestnut soup with white cèpe mushrooms and truffle oil. For a starter, I selected the Poêlée de Saint-Jacques, Risotto de Cèpes Sauce Safron (780r), plump pan-fried scallops presented on a tender and perfectly cooked white risotto with cèpe mushrooms surrounded by a deep-colored, creamy saffron sauce. My main course was Magret de Canard Rôti, Bâtons de Rhubarbe et Compotée d’Oignons et Pomme (930r), roasted and very tender duck breast, nicely contrasted with the sharp rhubarb, apples, and onion, over which it was served (goes well with a red Côte du Rhone wine). As for desserts — well, there are a dozen delights, such as Delicious Dacquoise Cake with banana candied in spices, apricot sorbet and chocolate tuile (450r).
We finished the evening in the crowded Bistro Le P’tit Carre. This enclave, which serves breakfast on the weekends, has an extensive selection of bistro items — salad of seasonal vegetables (310r), goat cheese salad (420r), onion soup gratiné (230r), Croque Monsieur (360r), and beef tartare Carré Blanc (480r).
In my opinion, Carre Blanc is one of Moscow’s top ten, with something to offer those seeking haute cuisine, a social bistro meal and drink, or weekend brunch.