Restaurant: La Maree
Average cost: $50-100
Services: Reservations recommended
Mediterranean seafood restaurant in upscale minimalist surroundings. Noon-11.30pm.
A Catch of Fish
By Charles W. Borden
We were greeted at the door of La Marée by the owner, Mehdi Douss, an Algerian who, in the best traditions of a patron, makes a point of saying hello to his guests.
Our table was next to one of the two large aquariums, filled with live Kamchatka crab, lobsters and other fish. The aquariums separate La Maree’s luxury restaurant from its seafood retail boutique. Mehdi Douss is one of the largest importers of fresh seafood into Russia; he opened La Maree in 2005 as the restaurant arm of his wholesale business which features fish flown in, often live; the business supplies both his own restaurant and many of the top restaurants in town. La Maree’s chef is Jerome Coustillas, previously chef at Moscow’s Nostalgie and Le Chateau de Marcay hotel in the Loire, France.
After a quick examination of the menu and wine card, we slipped into the adjacent boutique to select some fresh oysters, fish and shellfish for our La Plancha, a Spanish specialty of the house. You can buy fish and seafood from the boutique to take home.
La Plancha is a mix of the day’s catch seared on a flat grill. La Marée presents its oysters in baskets, laid on ice under white linen cloth. For the novice, they appear to be just oysters, differing somewhat in shape and price, but there are a dozen or so different varieties ranging in price from about 125 roubles each to almost 600. All of the varieties are French, with the exception of the giant Kiril Island Oysters. We chose Pousses en Claires #2 and Speciale Argente #2 (180 roubles each).
La Maree displays its selection of fish and shellfish over a large ice table, and prices are displayed per 100 grammes. For the La Plancha our host selected Madagascar Prawns (350 roubles), huge Carabinier Shrimp (890 roubles), Merou – otherwise known as grouper (350 roubles), Bluefin Tuna (305 roubles), Seiche – cuttlefish (345 roubles/100g), Praires – clams (100 roubles), Octopus (385 roubles), Scallops (430 roubles), and Spanish Mussels (190 roubles). We added a full Besugo – red bream (305 roubles). And as an afterthought, how could we leave without trying the Bouillabaise at 1220 roubles?
By the time we returned, our order of a round of cold shots of Kauffman’s Soft Vodka and a bottle of white wine, an Australian Dalwhinnie Moonambel Chardonnay (3650 roubles), were on the table. The La Maree wine list is dominated by the selections of Mark Kauffman, who owns Whitehall importers and the wine boutiques bearing his name. Kauffman has bottled his own premium vodkas, Soft and Hard, sold in La Maree at 200 roubles per 50ml shot. The Dalwhinnie wine is an import of a regular Passport Magazine guest, Australian Grant Dodd, and this Chardonnay has received top ratings of our tasting team, with good reason. It is a deep, straw yellow, elegant Chardonnay, with oak clearly present but not overdone. The big surprise on the wine list was Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu 2005 (1850 roubles), a full, honeyed-fruit forward, and brilliant wine from this Loire domaine that was converted to bio-dynamic production in 1990. La Maree also offers this wine by the glass.
Before starting, a complimentary Fish Tartar was presented; a small patty of chopped Dorado with black sesame seeds accompanied by shredded carrots. The bread selection included triangular shaped, chewy, white, yeasty rolls with a touch of caraway and black sesame, and very thinly-sliced black bread, baked hard. The oysters came out with the Madagascar Prawns. The oysters were very fresh, cool and smooth.
The Bouillabaise was presented in the classical way with toasted slices of baguette toast, a white wine/butter/lemon/cream roux, and shredded hard cheese, which we floated in the saffron yellow stew, and after a few seconds to soak up the flavour, popped them out as a preview to the soup to come. This was one of the first cold nights this winter and La Maree’s Bouillabaise was a heavenly treat. We finished the starters with a complimentary sorbet of grapefruit ice crystals to polish our palette before the main course.
The Plancha arrived on one platter together with the Besugo, flayed out on a plank with its large, bright white, now quiet eyes staring up at us. Besugo is a delicatelyflavoured, sweet fish and La Marees’s was a good example. No one item of La Plancha stands out, either plus or minus, from the rest; the La Plancha grill was what we expected, very fresh fish, grilled without any additional touch.
La Maree is elegant and upscale in design, with white, starched table linens, exquisite fabric and leather trim, and a staff wearing Gallic cafe dress. The prices are also similarly upscale.
A Tunisian Tide
Text by Charles W. Borden
Photos courtesy of La Marée
Our return to La Marée was a last minute plan change; we were set on steaks at Beef Bar until one of our diners, Shiraz Mamedov, sent a message about some health research he was doing. Publisher John Ortega followed up with some Internet pages and by the afternoon had decided that we had to find something healthier than beef.
La Marée is one of Moscow’s best restaurants and it certainly has the best seafood in the city, as it should be since Tunisian owner Mehdi Douss is the Big Onion’s premium seafood importer and distributor. He flies seafood to Moscow from the corners of the globe several times a week. The entire selection is laid out on ice in the adjacent seafood boutique, usually a La Marée diner’s first stop for a peek at the catch of the day. Live Kamchatka crab and blue Breton lobsters glare out from fish tanks and there are about a dozen varieties at the oyster bar including huge Kurile oysters (660r each). Our oysters ranged from about 200 to 350 rubles each.
Chef Abdessattar Zitouni’s menu is extensive, drawing on scores of seafood selections prepared whole, filleted, baked in salt, steamed, “la plancha” or with Tunisian spices. Zitouni is a master of the Tunisian kitchen presenting such dishes as Tunisian Fish Chowder (750r), but he has also conquered other cuisines with such creative plates as Crispy Cheburek with Tuna, Capers and Soft Egg (480r), Soft Shell Crab and Vegetable Tempura with Ginger Sauce (1320r), or Fennel Crusted Giant Scallop with Artichoke (1050r).
Chef Zitouni joined us in the seafood boutique where we decided to bypass the menu; John ordered Bouillabaisse for the table and he and Shiraz selected fish and seafood for a La Plancha dinner: baraboulka, sculpin, sardines, calmari, scallops and a couple of varieties of shrimp.
A chef’s complement was first out, a cube of fresh tuna with finely chopped fresh sweet pepper, accompanied by a basket of very fresh home-baked breads and rolls and some very thin sliced dark bread. The Bouillabaisse was dished out at the table after the servers hung starched white bibs around our necks. This Marseille specialty fish stew consisted of a dozen varieties of fish and shellfish, large pieces or even whole swimming in a thick textured, dark amber broth – so good you could almost feel the Provencal coast. The “la plancha” seafood came out on a huge platter, grilled without adornment, just the way to enjoy La Marée’s fresh catch.
La Marée has a very good wine list, naturally heavy on white wines. We started with a Bonny Doon Albarino Ca’ del Solo 2007 (3200r), a California Central Coast biodynamic production from a white grape from northwestern Spain (3200r). We then tried a Condrieu Andre Perret 2007 (6100r).
La Marée left a better impression on me than our last visit; it appears to have matured. Its impeccable and polite service makes its operation appears tight, and, as I understand, a reflection of Mr. Douss’ pride in his establishment, the sign of a consummate restaurateur.
Tunisian Tide – Second Wave
Text and photos by Charles W. Borden
La Maree, which in my book already sits at or near the crest of the Moscow restaurant wave, just edged further up with the opening of its majestic digs on Malaya Gruzinskaya in the building formerly occupied by the Indian restaurant Ajanta. I dined at Ajanta for the first and last time just before it closed and was awestruck by the setting with its lofty open spaces, its tasteful mélange of earth tones and quality finish. I’d love to know where they got the floor tiles in the entry. It doesn’t appear Tunisian owner Medhi Douss had to do much to transform the space for his needs: some rosy octopuses climbing the restaurant’s decorative columns, some fish on the wall, some fancy sea-theme artwork, a lobster tank at the entrance and La Maree Two was open. And of course there’s the La Maree centerpiece, its seafood market featuring Douss’ fresh-off-the-plane seafood. Some of these delicacies got to enjoy a little air travel to Moscow before a La Maree chef pulled them out of the tank to administer the last rites.
We reviewed the first La Maree just a few months ago. When I heard Mr. Douss had moved into the Ajanta space I was itching to try it. And as impressed as we had been with La Maree #1, the new La Maree makes it look dated. Mr. Douss runs a huge seafood and food import operation supplying Moscow with up to 100 tons of fresh and live seafood every week, as well as cheeses, duck, foie gras and olive oil. Take a look at the English language version of his website ( www.lamaree. ru) to get an idea about how the market works. Both La Maree locations also operate as a fresh-fish-take-home boutique.
Passport publisher John Ortega brought some new guests: Morrocan clothing businessman Albert Ifrah, who grew up in Paris but now lives in Valence in southern France, and Consuelo De Haviland, who grew up in Manhattan and Limoges (central France) where her family has produced fine porcelain since the mid nineteenth century. Ms. De Haviland now shares her time between Paris and Moscow as a result of her marriage to legendary Russian actor Igor Kostolevsky. A French film actress herself, the story of her life journey to Russia leading to her current work representing the Russian railways in France is worth a separate article.
Chef Abdessatar Zitouni now runs both restaurants and brought the same menu to #2 with its Mediterranean and Tunisian specialties. As we did a few months ago we started with Zitouni’s Bouillabaisse, the Marseillaise fish stew, this version a rich dark ochre with a rich assortment of Mediterranean shellfish and fish. And as before, John, a serious Pacific fisherman in his Newport Beach years, selected an array of sea delights for La Plancha, which were grilled and served unadorned. Fish prices ranged from 170 rubles to 720 rubles per 100 grams.
This time John also ordered a sashimi assortment, which, if I have ever had fresher or better I surely don’t remember. The tray, with each selection priced per 100 grams, consisted of Scottish salmon (530r), deep red akamai (630r) and fatty toro (1260r) from Bluefin tuna, thinly sliced, sweet and delicately tender sea scallops (470r), and octopus (430r).
La Maree has an excellent wine list, mostly whites. We ordered the Cervaro Castello della Sala (Umbria, Italy), an Antinori wine that is primarily Chardonnay with a touch (15%) of Grechetto. Priced at 8700 rubles at La Maree, this wine has become a wine list index for me; it seems to appear on most Moscow wine lists. It’s a great wine, no argument there, and can be bought by the case for as little as 2100 rubles a bottle in Moscow. I doubt La Maree or any other restaurant pays more, so we see here a markup in excess of 400%. I’ve seen Cervaro as high as 9900 rubles. At each restaurant, the sommelier give the same lame excuse when asked why the prices are so high, “Oh, the taxes and import costs are so high.” Well, we know better, and so do you.