Italian Country Tavern
Text by Charles Borden
Photos courtesy of Osteria Montiroli
Osteria Montiroli was high on my “new restaurants to review” list, despite the financial crisis which keeps growing larger. I called Passport publisher John Ortega to ask about Osteria for this month’s review and heard, “I’ve been there the past two nights – are you free tonight?”
It’s just a few meters in from the Garden Ring opposite Barrikadnaya, on the left side of Bolshaya Nikitskaya in a long, pale yellow, free-standing building. Osteria Montiroli is the latest from Restoranniy Sindikat, run by restaurateurs Kiril Gusov and Ivan Bronov, creators of Nabi, Bistrot, Oblomov and Beefbar. I was immediately impressed with Osteria, a kind of light, bright country cousin to Gusov’s other Italian restaurant, Bistrot, which sits like a Tuscan villa transplant above the Moscow River. I find Bistrot, though lovely with an impressive menu and excellent cuisine, a little too ‘elitny’. Osteria seems more democratic, open, with high ceilings, large windows and a light, earthy pastel palette and ample breathing room around the tables. There is a smaller, quiet second floor dining room and a terrace out back with a rollaway roof.
An osteria is a country tavern, casual and comfortable, and Montiroli hits those notes with its simple furnishings: straight-backed polished wooden chairs, marble top tables with designer placemats and homemade bread and grissini (breadsticks) coated with poppy and sesame. Massimiliano Montiroli, Osteria’s chef and namesake, came to Moscow in 1998 to open Portofino, one the city’s first Italian restaurants. He returned to Rome in 2004 to run his own restaurant until Gusev lured him back for Osteria this year.
John was stuck in traffic on the Garden Ring but called to tell us to get some favorite starters and a bottle of white Antinori Cervaro della Sala (7900r), an Umbria chardonnay with a touch of Grechetto grapes. We ordered a plate of assorted Italian salami (600r), and waited.
Traffic has been bad this fall in Moscow and two times in one week the Garden Ring cramped up both directions by late afternoon. Well, that gave us time to dawdle over the Cervaro and most of the salami before John arrived. He arrived for the pizza, Pizza al tartufo e mozzarella (650r), not really truffle but truffle oil, but an excellent thin crust Italian country, wood fired pizza, topped with extra sides of arugula (100r) and prosciutto crudo – raw ham (300r).
I ordered the Zuppa di lenticchie e calamari alle erbe (450r), a dark lentil soup with large crispy pieces of calamari, hearty and perfect with the breath of fall weather that we are now experiencing in Moscow. John asked for Insalata di polipo (650r), a delightful combination of warm potato cubes, tender octopus and cherry tomatoes.
Across the room I noticed one of the waiters preparing a pasta dish over a large wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Intrigued I asked for the same and out came the man himself, Chef Montiroli, to prepare my Tagliolini con gamberi e pomodorini, a thin, quick cooking pasta served with shrimps and tomatoes (650r). He placed some shredded parmesan in the hollowed out parmesan wheel, flamed, melted and stirred it until creamy and then slid in the lightly cooked pasta to absorb the cheese, a very impressive show and the result equally so – highly recommended.
John finished with several orders of Tagliata di Vitello (1000r) for the table, a thick, perfectly tender, roasted but medium rare veal fillet, thick sliced before serving over a plate of arugula.
I was very impressed with Osteria; its ambiance was just right for me: unostentatious, simple décor and surroundings, good staff and lovely food. Many of Moscow’s best Italian restaurants are somewhat sterile, but not so Osteria Montiroli: if not actually, one feels in Osteria the breath of a true Italian restaurant. It easily makes my list of Moscow favorites.
Osteria Montiroli also offers its own homemade sauces and other products, which decorate shelves throughout the restaurant.