Average cost: $50-100
A stone’s throw from Triumfalnaya Square.
Opulent Setting, Traditional Oriental Cuisine
By John Bonar
Photos by Jason Platt
While the bright, airy setting, with a choice between comfortable banquette seating or solid tables and chairs, is as modern as you could wish, there is nothing remotely fusionlike in the menu of Tan, the Chinese-Japanese restaurant a stone’s throw from Triumfalnaya Square. The restaurant’s spacious interior was designed by a leading Beijing creative design agency and incorporate fragments from an imperial palace and carved wooden dragons and bas-reliefs while conveying the spirit of 21st century China.
There is an incredible menu created by the Chinese master-chef Duan Chinbo, who is a ‘chef with attitude’ according to the management. Sticking to traditional Chinese cuisine, he has modified some dishes to suit Russian taste, but many of his choices hark back centuries and draw heavily on Chinese folk medicine traditions in their ingredients.
Nothing is more traditional than the tea served to guests by Yu Yan, the restaurant’s ‘Doctor Tea’, who pours hot water from his ancient copper tea-pots with a one meter long spout into an infusion of petals of chrysanthemum, Chinese dates, barberry, raisin, green tea leaves, jasmine, walnut kernels and the Chinese kuyuar berries. This refreshing tea is imbued with health giving properties.
One of the most expensive selections on the menu is deep water mollusks of the Abalon strain. These invertebrates come either from the Sea of Japan or from the Atlantic Ocean and are recommended by Chinese traditional medicine practitioners for people suffering illness of the liver, kidneys and eyes. It is also said to improve the structure of blood and a portion of six of the largest at Tan will set you back 3,900 rubles.
Ignoring the mollusks, shark fin dishes and a variety of swallow nests, all of which have health improving qualities, I started with a very traditional hot and sour Sichuan soup (210 r), which was exactly as I like it, spicy, filled with succulent chicken and mushrooms, and very filling. Following this with a selection of spinach with peanut under garlic sauce (290 r) and sliced cucumbers with a hot Sichuan style marinade-dip (180 r) I enjoyed the crisp taste of the fresh vegetables and the appetite stimulating sauces. This was followed by Royal shrimp with almonds (710 r), recommended by my hostess and was a plate of flattened giant shrimps coated on both sides with almond flakes. This is truly a signature dish that will live in the memory.
The entrees ended with traditional Peking Duck (650 r). What was surprising was the duck, which came as sliced breast rather than shredded, making it more difficult to construct rolls from the steamed pancakes, finely sliced cucumbers and green onions with Hai-sian sauce.
We ended the meal with rice balls, covered in sesame seeds (200 r) which were succulent, met my sugar-free dietary requirements, but were a pleasant mouth cleanser after the duck.
Although it was a Monday evening, Tan was busy by nine p.m. and many patrons took the opportunity to have a Tarot reading by the resident fortune-teller.
Tan also has an extensive Japanese menu prepared by another Chinese chef, Kao Gushuam, who spent seven years on Japan’s southern Kusu island; however the overall feel of Tan is of China and the numbers of Chinese attendants is impressive. Checking with our Chinese friends in Moscow we find it is popular with them as well, which is a true sign of quality and a guarantee of authenticity in the cuisine.
Let’s Try Chinese
Text Charles W. Borden
Photos courtesy of TAN restaurant
After years in Moscow, I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant as good as the take-out near my high school west of Chicago. A strange fact about Moscow is that there are very few authentic ethnic restaurants (unless you count Azerbaijani or Georgian). What I mean is a Mexican restaurant run by Mexicans, a Thai by Thais, a Chinese run by Chinese. Few among the hundreds of Japanese restaurants Moscow even have a Japanese sushi chef. At best, they are from Russia’s Buratiya autonomous region.
TAN, located on that west-bound side road that runs along the Garden Ring just near Mayakovskaya metro station, is not exactly hidden, but I had never noticed it before, despite the large orange sign facing the street. The entry and the restaurant are smartly decorated in Chinese elaborate, and it is spacious and clean. When I entered, TAN was quiet and near empty.
Upon sitting down, I was given a delicate teacup full of white flowers and colorful accents. Then the Chinese tea pourer arrived and began an elaborate show with his brass hot water pot, which had a thin, sharp straight spout that seemed about two meters long. Dressed in a starched white martial arts outfit, he grabbed the cup and began to swing the pot around like a samurai sword, never losing a drop of hot water. With a last stroke that brought the spout across his back, he leaned over to fill the cup he had laid on the floor. The tea was Pau-Pao (110r), made from chrysanthemum petals, Chinese dates, barberry, raisins, green tea, jasmine, and walnut kernels, and sweetly delicious.
We opened the thick menu, which begins with a page devoted to each of four house specialties — abalone, swallows’ nest, shark fin, and trepang (sea cucumber). These are followed by Beijing Duck (1200r). We selected a broad sample of TAN’s staples, starting with Beef in Chili with Garlic Sichuan Style Sauce (450r), Lamb with Cumin (520r), Chicken in Hot Sauce with Peanut (420r), Crisp Royal Shrimp with Almond (710r), Scallops in Oyster Sauce (630r), and Pork Ribs on Lotus Leaves (510r). For vegetables we tried Fried Celery with Cashew (380r) and Saute of Broccoli and Chinese Vegetables (460r). We also ordered a plate of Fried Udon Noodles (390r) and white rice (40r). The wine accompaniment was Hugel Riesling 2001 from Alsace (2900r), a good choice for TAN’s mildly spicy menu.
As the dishes were brought out and served, several stood out. The pork ribs were dressed with a dark, sweet sauce and covered with mounds of chopped peanuts in a light sweet sauce. The peanuts alone made the dish, but the ribs were also excellent. The scallops were a special order, and they were huge and tender set in a shallow layer of rich oyster sauce. The shrimp had been breaded with a thick layer of sliced, blanched almonds before being fried. The almond coating was crisp, and a great contrast to the large, soft shrimp within. The fried celery was a simple treatment, lightly pan fried with large cashews but still just crispy. There should always be room for dessert, in our case Carmelized Pineapple (40r/100g) and Carmelized Strawberry (80r/100g).
The memories of the Chinese takeout from my suburban American youth remain the yardstick by which I judge, perhaps unfairly, Moscow’s Chinese restaurants. However, several dishes at TAN made a strongly positive impression, and the tea service was a remarkable and pleasant highlight. I won’t hesitate to return.