Cipollino and Uncle Pumpkin
By Charles W. Borden Photos by Alex Gorov
Cipollino is a Soviet era, revolutionary ballet choreographed by Henrik Mayorov with music composed by Karen Khachaturyan based upon a children’s novel by Italian Gianni Rodari. It is also a popular Soviet animated film, and for the last two years, the design theme for the restaurant on Soiymonovskiy Proezd across from the Christ the Savior Cathedral. Each character in all versions of Cipollino come from the plant kingdom. In the very amusing Cipollino story, the brave boy Cipollino (green onion) with his little friends – a jolly Radish-girl, a wise Cherry-boy, and a lovely Magnolia – battle the evil Prince Citron and Mr. Tomato who have prevented Cipollino’s lonely Uncle Pumpkin from building a house.
Presiding over the Moscow restaurant’s modern manifestation of Cipollino is Chef Adrian Quetglas, who hails from the Isle of Majorca. Of Argentinian and Majorcan parentage, Quetglas has created a broad menu that includes innovative sections such as the “Bio Menu” that features organic foods and a “Raw Menu” consisting of uncooked selections. Cipollino’s “Art menu” as it is characterized on the website, is “traditional Italian, French and modern Mediterranean with hints of Japanese minimalism and a Tasting Menu for high gourmands.” Mark Fosh, who achieved a Michelin star for his restaurant creativity at Bistro 33 at the Read’s Hotel and Spa in Majorca, is credited as Chef /Consultant.
John Ortega and I arrived for an early evening at Cipollino to prepare for our wine tasting scheduled for the following week. John was prepared with his own recommendations and corralled the chef for his input. Once the order was placed, we were presented with a small complementary; a tiny patty of polenta and pesto covered by a wafer-thin slice of Bresaola (air-dried salted beef) intended to be swooped up in one bite for the full enjoyment of the diverse flavors.
John ordered the Borsch (300r) off the Chef recommends menu, a cool, smooth and bright red clear soup with bits of Spanish ham and spiked with chips made from reduced potato water. This was a very pleasant variant on the Russian tradition. The Pumpkin Soup with Quail, Cumin and Almond (450r) was spicy with a generous helping of slivered almonds and small strips of tender, dark quail meat. The presentation of the soups by the wait-staff involved a small surprise – a bowl containing the heavy elements such as the quail meat was presented to us. Just as you are wondering if this is another chef’s complement, the soup arrives and is poured into the bowl in a clever presentation.
For starters John selected another soup, Cream of Potato and Smoked Bacon Soup with Mushrooms and Garlic (350r), which was thick, creamy, and garlicky with a large, soft and tender mushroom mix to be fished out of the bottom of the bowl. John described it as filled with spectacular flavors. I ordered Grilled Young Vegetables with Warm Goat’s Cheese and Szechuan Pepper Soup (650r). The vegetables included snow peas, asparagus and celery very lightly grilled and presented in a lightly spiced cream sauce.
John was hot to try an off-menu item Chef Quetglas recommended; Veal Cheek, a small piece of grilled meat with a bright reddish-brown demiglas made from port and red wine with herbs and splashes of green foam on the side. The veal cheek, and this apparently really was the cheek of the animal, is vacuum packed and cooked very slowly at 60 degrees C in a kind of double boiler controlled by a Spanish innovation; a Roner thermo control.
John ordered the Lion of Lamb with Spiced Cauliflower Puree and Preserved Lemon Essenses (1100r), two bright, thick, and generous strips of tender lamb fillet overlaid with a layer of minced tomato, onion, shallots, capers and covered by a light lemon essence. We also split the Salmon with Crispy Pasta, Tomato, Chutney and a Pistou Sauce (800r), which was a very light, Scottish salmon placed over a round patty of thin pasta. A pistou sauce is a French alternative to pesto: basil, garlic and tomato, without pine nuts, and cheese replaced with course salt.
I ordered the Slow Cooked Prawns with Tagliatelle and Shellfish Cappuccino (770r). This was an over-the-top rich dish consisting of a row of five medium sized split shrimp topped with sprigs of fresh herbal sprouts over a serving of creamy tagliatelle interlaced with red salmon eggs, and the entire serving surrounded by an intense yellow saffron foam.
Cipollino has four spacious rooms labeled as the lobby hall, light, tasting, and Karaoke-film hall. The atmosphere at Cipollino is laid back, with soft chairs and divans at each table; popular with Moscow’s Nouveau Riche laid back crowd but difficult for a serious meal. The music runs to the techno favored by much of Moscow’s elintny, which on this evening apparently included Vladimir Potanin. The service at Cipollino was flawless, and the food reaching to near the top of the line in Moscow, leaving our only complaint the divans and soft chairs with no real, get-down-to-the-business-ofeating seats in the house.