Great Eateries for Less than $30
Maybe it`s the end of the month; maybe youaybe it’s the end of the month; maybe you don’t want to go somewhere ‘fancy’. Maybe your wallet is very thin; maybe that is the usual condition of your wallet; or maybe you just don’t want to spend very much. You are in luck, my friends, because the mean old restaurant critic is starting a series on inexpensive chain or free-standing restaurants that are cheapish, clean, have a nice ambiance, a large menu with at least 50% of the items being edible, passable service, and even available parking. We start with Rosinter’s chains, two this month (namely 1-2-3 and Planet Sushi), and two next month (TGIF and Il Patio).
I went to Moskovsky Dvorets Molodezhi at Komsomolski Prospect 28, where there is a 1-2-3 and Planet Sushi, along with Rosinter’s other brands. I like this location because it is not as busy as the restaurants on Tverskaya or Mayakovskaya – Rosinter’s prime locations, and there’s always parking available, if you look in the right direction. Before eating though, I made a tour of the kitchen (all doors are open for a discerning Passport restaurant critic) and here’s my verdict: clean, and the kitchen looked quite well thought-out, but there were no fridges or storage areas in it – they are situated in the basement, which I think is a bit of a hygiene hazard: – food has to travel longer to make it upstairs. The bathrooms were clean; a really nice touch were miniature WC’s and sinks for kids.
1-2-3 (average check $12) is the newest Rosinter concept – a Russian cuisine restaurant with a modern twist and in modern surroundings, which means you don’t get the gory sunflowers, cows, haystacks and telegas like in Elki Palki. Instead, the interior is red, white, metallic and black. Metallic symbolizes space, white symbolizes snow, red – Soviet Russia, black and gray – cement. The walls are decorated with semi-transparent glazed niches containing the shapes of balalaikas, samovars, matryoshkas. I liked the attention to detail in creating the ambiance – exclusively Russian rock music as background, custom-made salt shakers, photos of smiling customers. Service staff were friendly and really trying hard, but not yet as smooth and fast as the, say, American Bar and Grill guys. The restaurant’s bestsellers are Moscow borsch (95 rubles), Beef Stroganoff (275 rubles) – served inside a warm bun, and Polyarnye Pelmeni (185 rubles) - served with a tiny Bloody Mary in a shot, by way of a dip. The pelmeni tasted good, but were too salty. Another dish I would recommend is Sushi-salo (110 rubles) – for its smooth texture and original presentation. Being a big fan of grilled fish, and bearing in mind that Russian cuisine is famous for its fish dishes, I also ordered Fishrice (225 rubles) – both salmon and Dijon mustard sauce tasted good, but the rice mix was sticky and cold, and the stir-fried vegetables were bland and oily. I washed it all down with Black currant compote (45 rubles) – one of about 4 or 5 compotes the beverage menu offers.
Planet Sushi (average check $27), is a hugely successful chain. It appeared in 1999 as a harbinger of the huge sushi wave that washed over Moscow in the coming years. Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as ‘sushi’ in Moscow. Eating raw fish in a city where there’s no sea and no fishing industry is quite risky and mostly not gratifying. The Planet Sushi people swear that fish is not kept longer than 2-4 hours after it is defrosted, so I guess it should be fine. They also add that the fish that is being used the most is salmon, and it’s flown in on ice from Scotland (after the ban on Norwegian salmon), and the rest of the fish is shock-frozen – a technology that permits preserving the flaky structure of the fish and its texture, and preventing the development of ice crystals inside and outside. To confirm that salmon was indeed fresh I ordered a Philadelphia Maki (195 rubles) – Philadelphia cheese and rice wrapped in salmon, and it tasted pretty good, hope it always does. Other bestsellers include Planet Maki (145 rubles), Unagi Onigara Maki (220 rubles), Tempura Maki (195 rubles). At the hands of Rosinter’s new marketing team, Planet Sushi is slowly changing its image – you can already see some considerable menu, ambiance and uniform changes at the Taganskaya unit. The management are hoping it would soon become a trendier chain and get one step ahead of its competition.