William Reichert, one of the wine tasting panel, said “I have to say that I thought that overall everything was very good. While it's true that the paella left much to be desired, I thought that the meats were very well prepared, the service was attentive without being overbearing, and the atmosphere was unique yet understated (which can be a rare find in Moscow!). In a city that is overloaded with restaurants wanting to be ultra-hip and modern, it's refreshing to find something that has a classical feel without being garish. And for me the flamenco is a welcome entertainment alternative to the ear-drum popping live music that you'll find at your typical Russian or Caucasian restaurant.
By Charles W. Borden
Photographs by Alexei Gorov
For this issue, our wine tasters got to help with the restaurant review, and it sparked an email debate about the Passport restaurant reviews (see box). There are very few Spanish restaurants in town and El Parador was a last minute selection. We needed a place to try Spanish wines, so we checked out a few reviews. With a location just off Tverskaya near Pushkin Square, it had to be good – didn’t it? Jan Heere, head of Zara for Russia, had already warned us that diners often judge Spanish restaurants by the paella, but that it is impossible to find good paella outside Spain. So he suggested we go for the grilled meats.
As usual, we gathered along a long table to grade this month’s wine selections from Spain. We had some cheese and other simple starters during the tasting. El Parador has a selection of seven Spanish cheeses (190r/50g). We tried Manchego, a sheep’s milk firm golden cheese from La Mancha; Tetilla, a semi-soft white from Galicia; Valdeon, a Spanish blue cheese from Castille-Leon; and Queso di Murcia, a pure white, spongy goat cheese. The cheeses were accompanied by El Parador’s Extremadura Platter (790r) of selected Jamon or thinly sliced Spanish ham. We also were served Pate Salad (450r), greens with slices of smoked duck breast seasoned with “Le Blanc” hazelnut oil and herbs. The Jamon Rolls with Philadelphia Cheese and Almonds (490r) were ok, but I still can’t get used to the new found fascination with Philadelphia Cheese.
As the tasting wound down, we picked up the menus, and many items looked attractive. I wouldn’t have minded to try a soup such as the Tenerife, a cream soup with spinach, shrimp and scallops, or Gazpacho a la Cordoba (350r) with crab meat, but we skipped them to try some sides and main courses. The Bric (290r) was recommended; thin pastry fritters filled with lamb, lightly blanched vegetables and soft cheese, and the Tortilla Espanola (300r), an omelet pie with slightly browned potatoes, chorizo sausage and cheddar cheese. The slightly minty Bric (the pastry was filo) were delicious and there were some favorable comments about the Tortilla.
We took Jan’s suggestion and tried the El Parador Grill (2100r for two), a mix of lamb ribs, lamb mignons, Angus fillet steak and veal medallions. This was the correct choice. We could see the meat on El Parador’s centerpiece grill from our table. Every bit was tender and worthy. We also tried the Wild Deer Fillet (750r), baked under a crust of aromatic herbs served with rice flour tortillas and Pierna de Lechon (740r), a leg of suckling pig baked in Mediterranean herbs. The deer was from Siberia, and gamey – a dish that would please hunters. The suckling pig was tender, maybe too much so, but the sauce carried it. See our bottom box for comments on the Valencian Paella (800/1200 for 2 or 4 persons). We ordered two sides: Spicy Red Beans with Tomato Sauce (110r) and Mixed White and Wild Rice. The large, red beans were adequate but not very spicy and under-cooked; the rice was definitely a mistake.
We ended up having a great time until 1:00 AM when our hard core revelers left to go clubbing. The email comment from our Spanish expert on the panel, Jan Heere, summed up El Parador:
Would I go back? – Yes, especially for the grill and a couple of the wines. And though we did not pay much attention with all the wine and such, the Spanish Flamenco dancer and two guitarists provided a nice atmosphere.
Selections from the Passport review debate
“(There was somewhat of) a feeling that they're still in the process of "remont" – no atmosphere! … nothing to do with glorious sun-drenched Spain! … We can't be afraid to tell the truth! If (a restaurant) gets an idea of what's wrong, maybe they'll get better. When you learn to properly assess places and communicate weak and strong points to your readers, it gives you credibility and power!”
“The real killer of the place is there are not that many well known Spanish dishes in this world…but wow did they screw up that rice dish; and that is all it was – a rice dish…. Paella is the wrong word to describe it.”
“True, the paella was not that Spanish, though I loved the meat and the Tortilla Espanola was really good! I did love some of the wines, and the company was great! ”
In the end, John Ortega settled the debate with a message to Editor John Bonar: “Hey, stop this: we are doing a restaurant review on El Parador.”