Dining with friends – Tutto Bene (Все Нормально)
“Tutto bene, tutto bene!” Filippo says with a genuine smile that leaves you with a sense that everything is really okay—or at least it will be.
Filippo was introduced to us by Viktoria— the young, energetic art director at Tutto Bene, which is an exquisitely homely Italian restaurant located in the now booming Moscow City. Our party consisted of me (photographer and writer of poetry and short stories), a Moscow resident of one year plus from Guyana, Frode, the head of the United Nations in the Russian Federation, Tighereda, a former businesswoman who is married to the head of UNFPA in Moscow, and Miguel, a singer, actor, nightlife writer at PASSPORT Magazine and the Business Development Coordinator at International Apparel, the Moscow fashion emporium.
Upon entering Tutto Bene we were greeted by cheery, eager staff, and with a natural charm comparable to visiting friends and family. Intricate vines nicely decorating the intimate staircase complete the homely feel.
And Filippo was all part of the ambiance. If there was ever an archetypical Italian chef, a solid man with a passion for food, he would look like Filippo, the restaurant’s master chef. We chatted as my dining party placed orders. The consensus was soup, and as we settled down to wait, I wondered about what the evening’s conversations would touch on.
Filippo attempted the best Italian-English accent he could manage. “I used to be in New York for 10 years,” he mused. “It is very nice. I love it.” You could almost see the nostalgia in his eyes as he recalled his past glowingly, when Frode enquired where in New York he had worked.
Filippo: “I worked in many places— Scarlatti Restaurant on Fifth and Madison; at Cameron between Madison and Park; I worked in downtown Manhattan at Bill Borker; I was consulting for Kappa Restaurant, and got 2 stars in New York. I also worked in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Singapore.”
As he spoke I realized we were to be treated to a rare combination of cultural cuisine. Filippo had been at Tutto Bene just a year, and I was curious how he got the job.
Filippo: “It is a funny thing—I have a friend in Vietnam who is a chef at a hotel. He wrote me by email and said: ‘A friend of a friend in Moscow is looking for a great chef, would you like to go to Moscow?’ I was working in Rome and I said, ‘Okay let me talk to them.’ I came; they liked my food and so here I am!”
Just then, Miguel arrived.
We were famished and as Miguel headed to the washroom, our fingers and legs began the tapping and swinging of anxious diners. Frode was typical. I made a vain bid to read him, wanting to see him cave in to the tempting smells of food and show some weakness for a change. It never happened. He acted as if he had just eaten a cow and was waiting for dessert, while my stomach punched me with uppercuts like a heavyweight boxer.
Not a moment too soon, the soup rolled in. Now, something about soup: soup was a Sunday tradition in my family when I was growing up. Back home in Georgetown, Guyana, the Sunday soup was either Blackeye, Split peas, or, the more popular choice, cow heel soup, with cassava, plantain, eddoes, sweet potatoes and yam, boiled in the sauce of salted meat, tripe, beef and chicken, and mixed in with spices and seasoning. Well, you don’t want to live in a world without cow heel soup. It is heaven to the palate.
It was so popular, some eating houses made cow heel soup a Saturday special. None however, could compare with “German’s.” German’s is a restaurant started by two brothers, one called “German”, the other “Survivor” and their friend Mickey. Together the three made their mark with their famous cow heel soup, reigning supreme for decades. Although the founding chefs have all died, the name continues to live on.
So, with the cow heel as reference, I waited expectantly for Filippo’s soup. My first sip, or gulp, more aptly, was sensational. I was not disappointed. Filippo’s soup was right up there at the top for taste, colour and consistency. All agreed.
It turned out that Miguel had almost dined at Tutto Bene before. He related that one night he stumbled into the place, declaring he was from PASSPORT Magazine and was hungry. He got the sympathy of the staff. He also reminded Tighereda about a night at Vecher when she was left on the dance floor.
Tighereda: “Oh that guy, he was rude, you don’t run away from a lady dancing on the floor. Even though it is his place, if I dragged him to dance, he should’ve been a gentleman and finish the dance.”
Noticing Tighereda was fuming as she recalled that night, Miguel quickly switched and engaged Frode.
Frode mentioned he was expecting a visit from a Geneva-based undersecretary general.
Frode: “Undersecretary General in UN terminology is a very senior position, and this guy is the one in charge of the UN office for Sports, Peace and Development. He came today and has already left for Sochi to negotiate collaboration with the UN on the Sochi Olympics. He is a pleasant guy, previously was the executive manager of Werder Bremen—one of the top football clubs in Germany, and has been Minister of Sports in Germany.”
Miguel: “Wow nice! I have never been to Sochi, I’ve only seen photographs. Recently I saw this video of a guy who films the Sochi skyline from his window, he managed to detect at extremely slow speeds, weird oval shaped objects flying into the mountain range and some into the ocean at astronomical speeds, he estimated that the objects were moving about a kilometre per second. They went into the ocean.”
Miguel moved the conversation to juices and then to food again.
Miguel: “I think I will try the Spinael melon with white mushrooms.”
Tighereda: “No you can have that anywhere, have something Italian!”
Miguel: “Why is the menu in Russian and Italian—isn’t there an English menu?”
Mandisa: “No, but during my previous visit I was told that they will have some in English soon.”
Miguel: “They’d better have. An English- speaking ex-pat will be lost!”
Frode: “Well, of course you have to assume people know some Latin and if you know Latin, you know Italian.” As Miguel and Tighereda tried to make up their minds about the main course, Miguel announced that he was half Chilean and that Chileans liked meat and rice, while Tighereda made it “ravioli de camberi, consulso de contura.” Frode had other ideas.
Frode: “Do you know where the word carnival comes from?”
Miguel: “Carnival—like a predator fest?”
Mandisa: “Very funny.”
Frode: “No actually it means goodbye to meat; it is the festivity to introduce fasting. I guess they had to fast one month per year and February being the shortest month, that was conveniently selected.”
Tighereda: “How about filet de manso con fungi per se senor.”
Miguel: “What is that? Sounds like a fungus.”
Mandisa: “It is. Mushroom is a fungus.”
Miguel: “Now I definitely don`t want to have it.”
Miguel: “I will have the Risotto lobster. Mandy what are you having?”
Mandisa: “The Special.”
Tighereda: “I’ll have the Ravioli contra and spinach conguro salvio a polomoderi.”
Frode: “Salmon Risotto.”
Later on, the chef appeared.
Filippo: “So how is everything.”
Mandisa: “Ah, the soup was fantastic— not salty, I like that.”
Miguel: “Awesome soup!”
Filippo: “What about the Risotto? You like it?”
Frode: “Ah this is really, really good, we didn’t find it on the menu, it is a special isn’t it?
Filippo: “We now have a festival of mushrooms”
Frode: “This is really good”
Mandisa: “You know, I have eaten at more expensive restaurants in Moscow but the food was not as good as it is here. Elsewhere, either it was too salted, but here the food is perfect—so far at least. You can always tell a good restaurant by the quantity of salt in the dishes.”
Miguel suddenly discovered that there was no crab in his crab meal and did not find it this a very funny $50-a-dish joke. We would later discover Miguel’s crab was in fact embedded in the rice.
Tighereda: “I think this was a great night, I am truly satisfied with the food, everything was delicious, Frode and I were cleaning our plates with the bread! And dessert—wow!”
Miguel: “I really enjoyed this night, I will bring my mom here sometime, she’ll love it!”
Frode: “Absolutely, a very good night, pleasant company, wonderful food and it is 12:30 am.”
Mandisa: “Yes we should be going, thank you all for coming. I am really pleased with the food it was super, particularly dessert! Will definitely return again. Okay guys, here is to great friends—may we meet again.”