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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

Restaurant Review

Independence from Irrelevant Alternatives
Charles Borden

Luce is situated in the new office building across from the entrance to the Sheraton Hotel, the prominent street-level entrance unmistakable, emblazoned with a large, bright sun-star logo. Billed as a wine bar, urban café and open since last April, Luce only recently appeared on our radar screen. The inviting door opens into one large, hospitable dining area, with a long, dark, heavy wood bar along the back. The night we visited, a DJ was warming up in the corner—Luce transforms into a comfortable club as the night wears on. But during dinner the DJ provided a relaxing and restrained mix.

Luce is part of the Novikov portfolio, in partnership with the owner of Vesna on Novy Arbat, Alexander Geraskin. We understood that Frescobaldi, the winemaking giant of Italy’s Chianti region, also contributed to the enterprise. The Luce logo and name come from a superpremium wine that Frescobaldi developed with California’s Robert Mondavi in the 1990s, which lead to a quality revolution at the winery and a break with tradition. Luce is a blend of the traditional Chianti region Sangiovese grape with non-traditional Merlot.

Young and fresh-faced chef Alexander Ibragimov manages the kitchen. Alexander is a veteran of several venerable Moscow establishments: Bolshoi, Noa, Adriatica and Mario. Luce has its own pastry kitchen, from which we later sampled Ibragimov’s wares.

The Luce menu spans the globe opening with a page of sashimi and sushi, then two pages dedicated to European starters, salads and soups, a page of pasta and pizza, followed by a couple of pages of fish, meat and sides. There is a full page of desserts and pastries, most made in the Luce kitchen. We, as usual, sampled the entire range starting with a California Roll (650 rubles) and a Sakura Roll (600 rubles). I know you wonder, “why a California Roll, where’s the creativity in that, every sushi restaurant on the planet serves one.” Well, it’s for just that reason, it a baseline, an experimental control. Luce passed, in Moscow’s upper quartile, if not higher.

For starters, we chose Tuna Tartar with Avocado (600 rubles), Fried Artichokes with Mint (750 rubles), Green Asparagus with Eggs Florentine, Parmesan Cheese and Truffle Oil (630 rubles), and Warm Octopus Salad with Kenyan Beans and Baby Tomatoes (550 rubles). As accompaniment, we asked for a Focaccia with Rosemary (100 rubles). The starters were good, but the asparagus was a standout, delightful large succulent steamed spears nicely complemented by the egg, hollandaise sauce and Parmesan.

After the focaccia, a pizza was tempting but we decided to broaden our menu sample. For dinner I ordered Risotto with Scallops and Cepes (650 roubles) and a side of Fried Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins (460 rubles). John Ortega ordered the Spaghetti Vongole (950 rubles), a very generous serving of pasta in a butter herb sauce and a dozen or so of the medium sized clams. We were impressed with both taste and presentation of our selections.

Despite the Frescobaldi connection, Luce’s wine list was quite global and well crafted, with wines we don’t often see on lists. I was also impressed that the Antinori Cervaro della Sala that I use as a markup index was just 6480 rubles (a markup index of 3.2). Compare that with the Cervaro price at Tverbul, our other review this month, 8500 rubles, almost US$ 70 higher than Luce. I tried a glass of New Zealand Mount Nelson Sauvignon Blanc at 450 rubles—a wonderful wine. After guests arrived we started through an expensive trio of Chardonnays—California Stag’s Leap Karia 2006 (5,040 rubles), Australian Dalwhinnie 2008 (4,800 rubles) and Chilean Alpha Montes (3,450 rubles).

Alexander sent us off with a plate of assorted sweets, homemade in the Luce kitchen. These were expertly crafted and absolutely delightful. Luce has a handsome display of desserts available for takeout.

For my next meal at Luce, here is my pick for two to share:

Focaccia with rosemary 100r
Green Asparagus with eggs Florentine 630r
Tagliatelle with shrimp and courgettes 600r
Chicken cutlets with cepe cream sauce 400r
Total food 1,730r
Wine - Mount Nelson Sauvignon Blanc (4 glasses) 1,800r
Total 3,530r

Tverskaya Yamskaya 21
+7 495 797 6308

We were please to sample Luce—it’s an excellent addition at the northern end of Tverskaya, with an excellent and up-and-coming chef. On impulse, I did a Wiki search on Luce. My favorite result was Luce’s choice axiom from probability theory, defined as “independence from irrelevant alternatives,” perhaps an appropriate marketing slogan.

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