MOSCOW … Birthday Luncheon at the Ultra-Modern Grand Café Dr. Zhivago
The home turf of the new Russian elite, Moscow, is seeing more and more elite establishments opening up to cater to their discriminating needs. Plus there is an explosive interest in sourcing locally and focusing on the best of Russia. One of these “new Russia” restaurants which opened up in 2014 is the Grand Café Dr. Zhivago located in the luxurious National Hotel Moscow with a superb view of the Kremlin from its many large, modern windows. I chose this restaurant for a lunchtime celebration of my husband’s birthday not only because we were spending the morning in Red Square and I wanted something close by, but also because after the historic experience of the Caviar Bar and Restaurant in St. Petersburg, I wanted a taste of the “new Russia” … and I wanted the best of “Russian” cuisine.
The fabulous Grand Café Dr. Zhivago fit the bill perfectly. In fact, just like the Caviar Bar, it exceeded my expectations from ambiance to cuisine and location. How could we forget for a moment where we were when we were seated right by a large window overlooking the Kremlin? From the absolutely stunning ultra-modern décor of this large restaurant to the awesome selection of traditional Russian dishes on the menu, including pickles, cold smoked fish, blintzes, pelemenes (small dumplings stuffed with crab, fish or duck), soups, salads, cutlets, herrings, caviar, rissoles (vegetable or meat patties), hot dishes of at least 12 types of fish and 15 types of meat and the list goes on, the impact of Zhivago is grand scale … which itself is very “Russian”. I mean from Peter the Great’s construction of his new capital, St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland, to Catherine the Great’s L’Hermitage to showcase her fine collection of European art, to modern-day Red Square or the Gum Department store, “grand scale” barely does the Russian appetite for “scale” justice.
Which reminds me … the innovative genius behind the Grand Café Dr. Zhivago, Mr. Alexander Rappoport, can also be said to do things on a grand scale. With his ownership of quite a few other Moscow restaurants, all of which are highly rated, it is not surprising that upon opening Grand Café Dr. Zhivago, presently ranked #12 out of 11,339 Moscow restaurants by Trip Advisor,
Mr. Rappoport was awarded the title of Restaurateur of 2014 by the Russian edition of GQ magazine. He hired the renowned Chef, Maxim Tarusin, and proved that Russian cuisine with a contemporary flair in a contemporary ambiance could be truly haute cuisine and could develop a loyal clientele. Oh, and factor into the equation that Dr. Zhivago is open 24/7 … yes, the nightlife in Moscow swings!
Now let me take you inside this glamorous new Moscow establishment. High ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light to pour into the restaurant and illuminate the exquisite architectural details as well as the stunning ceilings. The creative use of red and white not only helps symbolize this as a “Russian” establishment in front of “Red Square”, but also highlights most every feature from the red glassware to the red chairs and the spectacular hanging red light fixtures to the tight little red skirts of the slender hostesses. Sexy, but tasteful and stunning. Comfortable seating of various sorts is everywhere. I just love the love seats! And how about the fabulous hot red cocktail bar or the spectacular red wall showcasing Zhivago’s impressive vodka collection? As for the white … the snowy white walls are the perfect backdrop for the fascinating collection of contemporary Russian art, including murals, paintings and sculptures. Stunning. Awesome. Unforgettable – take your choice.
So how about the food? First of all, if you don’t speak or read Russian like me, you will need an English menu which, overall, is well translated. But this menu is so vast that it doesn’t come with typical details that we are accustomed to these days, such as the accompaniments to a dish. Make sure to request an English-speaking waitress and if you have questions, you may need to ask for one of the managers. With that being said, Zhivago is known for doing the classics well and it did not disappoint. We had a divine meal.
My husband Denis perused the vast wine list and selected a well-chilled French Côte de Provence to accompany his birthday lunch and then ordered a Fish Solyanka as his first course. Made with a rich and very flavorful fish stock and surely with fresh local fish, the Solyanka was superb.
I tried their Borscht which awakened my taste buds with just the right amount of sour to sweet flavor and enchanted me with a trio of tiny quail’s eggs.
For our main course, Denis had the Beef Stroganoff. An artful presentation and layers of flavor made this stroganoff perhaps the best he has ever enjoyed.
I ordered the Quail with Porcini Mushrooms and Truffle Oil. What the menu did not indicate is that the quail would be stuffed with a very light local cheese which I presume was a Russian goat cheese.
Exquisitely cooked to perfection, I surprised myself by eating every last bit – far more than I like to consume midday but the taste and quality of the meat was irresistible. Try as I might to coax one of the two managers to discuss the recipe with me, I received lots of attention but no details.
For dessert, Denis ordered a Napoleon and I ordered a Blueberry Cake. Four charming waitresses and one of the managers formed a procession to deliver his dessert with a sparkler as they sang Happy Birthday … in English! Denis’ Napoleon disappeared in no time, while I enjoyed my traditional Blueberry Cake made with fresh blueberries and just the right amount of sweetness. http://www.drzhivago.ru/en/
From the historic Caviar Bar and Restaurant in St. Petersburg to the ultra-modern Grand Café Dr. Zhivago in Moscow, not only have we enjoyed extraordinary culinary experiences but we have gained insight into Russian culture and lifestyle. The fact that there has been a recent rebirth in Russian cuisine speaks volumes about the “new Russia” and the confidence and resilience of the Russian people. Meanwhile, if you enjoy exploring cities with burgeoning culinary scenes, then I highly recommend a trip to Russia.
We traveled in Russia as guests of Viking River Cruises on the Viking Akun cruise ship from St. Petersburg down the Volga River to Moscow. Denis and I had a fabulous trip with Viking and, for many reasons, we highly recommend Viking for visiting Russia (see my upcoming post). Our sincere thanks to the ship’s Concierge, Nadia, and to Viking for making my longtime dream of a caviar and vodka tasting at the renowned Caviar Bar and Restaurant in St. Petersburg into a reality, and for finding the perfect restaurant in Moscow to celebrate my husband’s birthday. Plus she made sure that we had superb reliable drivers – who actually came into the restaurant to find us — to chauffeur us to our destinations after we completed our meals. I had told Nadia that the historic grandeur of the Caviar Bar in St. Petersburg would be a hard act to follow, but she made a very trendy yet exquisite selection when she chose the Grand Café Dr. Zhivago in Moscow for my husband’s birthday.
Stay tuned to BonVoyageurs.com for our writings about other Countries of the World as we share our joie de vivre from around the world. Luxury escapes, cruises and city breaks to Quebec City, New York, Washington, Buenos Aires. In Europe and the Mediterranean, places like Paris and Nice in France, Florence, Rome, Napoli and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Tel Aviv in Israel. In Asia, countries like China, India, Nepal and so much more!