De-Fusion, European, French, Japanese
Address: Ostozhenka ul., 1
Tel: +7 (495) 637-1082
Open from 12:00 until 24:00
All major credit cards are accepted.
By Polly Dented
When I told Mr Polly that Expat.Ru had invited me to review Vanil, a place that a clueless prole like myself had never heard of before, his eyes lit up and he got very excited. He messaged all his friends to make them jealous. Turns out Vanil is, or at least was at one time, one of the top elitny eateries in town. After all, it was founded by some pretty well-known people: Fyodor Bondarchuk, Stepan Mikhailkov and none other than local restaurant legend Arkady Novikov. This initially gave me the impression that it must be packed with Moscow’s gilded youth and socialites, especially after noting that Vanil, a restaurant, enforces face control. But I soon came to understand that Vanil is more for an older, perhaps more refined crowd: Moscow’s gilded thirty-somethings.
Naturally my expectations were high. Very high. Especially after reading that an average dinner at Vanil without drinks will break you off about $140. I had also read conflicting comments about the menu, allegedly filled with indecipherable, purposely obscure selections. But in fact, once we had been seated at a table for two near a window facing Ostozhenka, I found that the menu was not as pretentious as I had been led to believe. I was only slightly disappointed when I understood that we would not be sitting at one of the popular tables facing an amazing view of Christ the Savior Cathedral. Instead we had a full-on view of the traffic jam outside and car-less metro commuters hurrying home from work. But never mind that - after all, who doesn’t enjoy watching the poor folk hobble by and stare wistfully in at you while you dine? Thanks to Vanil’s glistening ceiling-to-floor windows, this was a special treat we were granted the opportunity to enjoy several times that evening.
After perusing the menu for a bit, I was met with more disappointment upon learning that despite the fact that there are two scallop options listed on the menu, there were no scallops. So I was forced to rethink my plan. We decided on two cold appetizers the beef carpaccio with mushrooms (970Rbs) and tuna fillet with seaweed salad (750Rbs). Initially I had wanted to try the “warm scampi on rocket salad” (690Rbs) purely out of curiosity (what is rocket salad?), but we decided instead to share (note: “share”) another shrimp dish from the hot appetizers – scampi in tandoori sauce (450Rbs). I ordered a Kirin beer (180Rbs per 0.33L) and Mr Polly opted for a simple non-carbonated water.
Our cold appetizers were served quite soon after we ordered. Mr Polly’s water was poured into two wine glasses, even though he had only ordered water. My beer was nowhere to be seen. Oh well, I was hungry, so we began to check out the appetizers, which were both presented elegantly on Japanese-style plates. (One of the pages of Vanil’s menu offers a selection of what are allegedly Japanese delicacies, including sashimi and sushi rolls.) Vanil’s beef carpaccio is not cut in the traditional super-thin slices, but in small, thick rectangles. Not exactly what I was expecting, but this is probably the best thing I ate all evening there, and that is not meant to demean the carpaccio. It was excellent. Mr Polly’s tuna fillet was also quite good, but towards the end the large quantity of sea salt gracing the tuna and seaweed salad overwhelmed him.
Next came the scampi in tandoori sauce and Mr Polly’s order of cream of mushroom and celery soup. When the shrimp were served, I was again impressed by the detail devoted to presentation. I was also very impressed by the extremely large plate, considering that there were only four shrimp on it. Despite the accompanying iceberg lettuce salad, the actual food only covered about 1/3 of the plate. I began to feel like Steve Martin in LA Story when I noticed that Mr Polly’s soup was served in a gigantic bowl, also filled only about 1/3 high. I was getting a little nervous now since we had asked to share the shrimp, and there were only four. Plus, the waiter did not give Mr Polly silverware to partake in the shrimp, so there was clearly no chance that they had heard us say the word “share” and that he would be bringing the remaining four shrimp on a separate plate post-soup. I had not ordered soup because I thought it would be too much food. I was sorely mistaken. So I saved Mr Polly’s two shrimp for him after trying as hard as I could to relish the strange tandoori sauce drizzled over my half.
By the way, my beer had still not arrived at this point in time. I had to ask the waiter to please bring the beer I had ordered at least 30 minutes previously when he came to collect our dishes. He nodded obediently, but I got some look like “uh, yeah,” like it was my fault that he hadn’t brought it already.
We waited a little while before the entrees were served. Having been forced to forego the scallop plate, I had decided to try the “stake [sic] with vegetables Chinese style” (1250rbs). Mr Polly chose the veal breast with crunchy vegetables in an orange sauce (1100Rbs).
Now let me begin my diatribe by saying that I selected the Chinese-style “stake” because (a) I figured a place with such a high reputation would do a good job with “Chinese style” and because (b) having been misled by the description of “Chinese style,” I had envisioned said “stake” and the alleged vegetables would be served up as a stir-fry. Boy, was I ever wrong. Instead I got another gargantuan plate with a small, not-choice cut of steak surrounded on either side by saut?ed bits of probably two mushrooms cut up real small, and three snow peas cut up real small (the small slices make it look like there is actually more than three to the untrained eye). The worst of it was that the majority of these “vegetables” was freaking Chinese lettuce!!! First of all, Chinese lettuce is an affront to any kind of real lettuce. Plus, lettuce isn’t exactly what you imagine when you read the word “vegetables.” To top it off, this mutant, evil spawn of the lettuce devil and the “stake” had all been soaked in some sort of cheap-tasting teriyaki (read: Japanese, NOT Chinese) sauce that really did not do much to help either the hateful Chinese lettuce or the tough meat. To add insult to injury, a few drops of the offensive sauce literally leaped off of my fork, staining my sweater. So I guess the lesson here is that even in Moscow’s best, any “Asian-style” sauce will do and that bok choi’s rejected deformed cousin Chinese freakin lettuce can make any dish “Chinese style.” Oh, and neither of us received steak knives despite both of us ordering main courses with meat. You can imagine what a joy it was to saw away at my wretched “stake.”
Mr Polly’s veal was served in two pieces, one with meat, and one that was 90% bone and 10% impenetrable grizzle. The “crunchy vegetables” were not crunchy, and consisted of about 12 rectangular slices of some obscure vegetable measuring roughly two inches long and ?-inch wide. Maybe they were carrots, I’ll never know and at this point I’ve no desire to find out. They were, as you could probably guess, presented beautifully. But that had started to lose significance. Mr Polly liked the meat part of the veal, which he said was very tender, and the orange sauce it had been cooked in. He also noted that this was the first place he’d gone with me to review at which he’d actually been able to eat everything he was served. That should help you understand just how ‘minimalist’ the very pretty servings are.
We were then offered the dessert menu, which has a large selection of pretentiously named sweets at prices ranging from 250-950Rbs. At least the English dessert menu had enough mistakes to be amusing, with choices like “Ring with ice cream” and “chestnuts muss [supposed to be mousse].” After the stake disaster, I was in a foul mood and nothing except the berries appealed to me at all, but at this point I was in such a snit that I couldn’t even bear to not have to pay 950Rbs for what I assumed would end up being three to five berries on a giant plate. Thank you, I’ll pass. Mr Polly, however, cannot pass up anything halyava, so he tried a creative little number with vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sorbet surrounded by three “French meringues” and fresh whipped cream topped with slices of strawberry and a sprig of mint. Not bad. Now I was even more pissy because hey, I should have ordered a freakin dessert. He also ordered a latte but I didn’t bother looking to see how much it costs. Probably a lot. I just finished nursing my puny, overpriced beer.
While I simmered away in my silent little hissy fit, Russian Mr Polly hastened to note that you have to pay for atmosphere and ambiance. OK – to their credit, Vanil has got the whole interior design thing down right. The restaurant is decked out predominantly – and tastefully- in what we can call Asian style. The color scheme is light, eliminating anything even slightly resembling Moscow’s heavy and ubiquitous “wood factor.” The lights are dimmed – but not too much, and the music is played at a perfect, unobtrusive volume. There are plenty of tables, many of which were filled with clients before we left, and despite their close proximity to one another, Vanil really manages to retain a sense of intimacy at each table. You don’t feel crowded, but you do feel cozy. This could be a great venue to chat someone up, for either business or pleasure.
That said, I’ve experienced my fair share of atmosphere and I ain’t payin no 950Rbs for no berries. It was with a sigh of relief that I stepped out onto the sidewalk, breathing in the cool autumn air and rejoining the masses of car-less commuters, without even one wistful glance back at Vanil’s fabulous floor-length windows.