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Restaurant Review

Charles Borden

As I walked down 2nd Brestakaya Street from Belorusskaya station one evening, a mutely lit restaurant, full of smartly dressed young diners, beckoned from large street-side windows. The simple sign read Ragout. I’d heard good reports about Ragout, so a week later, when Joel Babb was in town from Paris, we stopped by for lunch. Ragout drew me back the next day for another lunch, and then I lured PASSPORT publisher John Ortega in for a tasting dinner.

There are so many reasons to return to Ragout; the food is exquisite and wonderfully presented, the service polite without hovering, the setting relaxed and cheerful, and the prices astoundingly reasonable.

There’s a chef-artist at work at Ragout, Ilya Shalev, a Stavropol native who emigrated with his family twenty years ago. He returned to Russia after study at Cordon Bleu, and a stint with super chef and nouvelle cuisine pioneer Alain Senderens. It was Senderens who famously gave up his three Michelin stars, closed his illustrious Lucas Carton in Paris and converted it to a relaxed urban casual, yet foodas- art venue.

Shalev apparently co-owns the Ragout with three partners, including Ekaterina Drozhdova. Ms. Drozhdova is former owner of Simple Things, a gastro-pub concept that drew a recommendation from Food and Wine. Shalev and Drozhdova are apparently Slow Food advocates.

Ragout’s menu, a single page, reflects the nouvelle cuisine influence, with a few nods to Asian and Russian. The business lunch offers a selection of Starter&Salad plus Soup at 350 roubles, or 600 roubles with an added Main Dish. I took the Sweet Beetroot, Hazelnut Puree and Beet Leaves with Walnut Dressing (250r), Moroccan Style Tomato Soup with Ginger, Honey and Cumin (250r), and Tortelloni with Corn, Truffle Essence and Thyme Sauce (350r). Despite the business lunch bargain price, the portions were full-size, not a crippled business version typical at other Moscow establishments.

I stabbed through the heap of very fresh beet leaves to the tender beets slices, being sure to pick up some of the thick hazelnut puree. Wow! The mildly spiced tomato soup was refreshing, accented with soft whole cumin and coriander seeds that provided small bursts of flavor. The handmade thick-walled, al dente tortelloni contained whole sweet corn kernels and swam in a thick bright yellow, slightly sweet corn/truffle flavored sauce. Double wow!

The wine prices stunned me; there were excellent bottles at just 900 roubles, including a favorite, Chilean Montes Sauvignon Blanc. It was clear that someone at Ragout knew their wines, and cared about price/value when putting together the wine list. Bottle prices cluster around 1500-1800 roubles, for wines that would be twice that or more on other Moscow wine lists. I don’t do wine with lunch so we settled for a simple litre of Arkhiz Caucasus mountain spring water, set on the table in a stoppered bottle at just 50 roubles.

When I returned with John Ortega, I sampled more selections: Oriental Salad with Red Cabbage, Poached Chicken and Asian Peanut Butter Dressing (450r), a sphere pressed from shredded chicken laid over a red cabbage in an Asian dressing, and topped with a generous layer of tasty peanut sauce; and Marseilles Style Fish Soup (300r), thick and spicy, served with cheese-topped, crisp bread slices and a Provencal style rouille sauce. For entrées we added Flat Veal Chop with Celeriac Puree and Caramelized Fennel (450r), the generous slice of veal pounded thin before cooking: very tender; Chicken Leg Stuffed with Chicken Breast, with Mushroom Risotto and Sauce (400r); and Green Risotto with Prawns and Coquille St. Jacques (600r), further attestations to the chef’s skills.

The desserts looked equally intriguing. I went for Steamed Pudding with Ginger and Crème Anglais (250r) — heavenly! I hope I heard correctly that the pudding will be on Shalev’s Spring menu, which should be out by the time you read this.

Ragout was packed on each visit, understandably so. At the end of the evening, John declared Ragout among the very best of Moscow’s restaurants; I certainly agree. From menu, to presentation, to taste, Shalev demonstrates remarkable care and skill. I hope Ragout’s affordable-quality formula will not be ignored by many Moscow restaurateurs who have thought that raising prices and minimizing chef costs are solutions to filling empty tables.

Here is my choice for a return dinner for two, here it is:

Borden’s Dinner for Two at Ragout

Prawn Tempura with Avocado-Ginger-Tomato Salsa with Papaya Sauce and Curry Chips 350r
Sweet Beetroot, Hazelnut Puree and Beet Leaves with Walnut Dressing 250
Tortelloni with Corn, Truffle Essence and Thyme Sauce 350r
Veal Chop with Celeriac Puree and Caramelized Fennel 450
Steamed Pudding with Ginger and Crème Anglais 250
Montes Sauvignon Blanc (750ml) 900r
Arkhiz Caucasus Mountain Spring Water (liter) 50r
Total 2600r

Bolshaya Gruzinskaya 69
+7 495 662 6458 

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