The title of this review is the extent of my ‘polite’ Italian, bit and pieces of which I mostly learned from my former Italian-American boss of my restaurant days years ago, Mr. Castiglione – a tall mustached man from the southernmost point of Italy, Calabria, which might as well be Sicily. A good man and a good boss, and with memorable habits such as walking around the kitchen near closing time with a loaded pistol noticeably stuffed in his back pocket. He always said he had a good reason for it, and when I finally I asked him I didn’t bring up the subject again. He taught me other useful words not for print, but they always came in handy back then to secure one’s place in the kitchen hierarchy. In exchange I told him about great Italians that shared his last name such as Giovanni and Baldassare Castiglioni of the Renaissance, to whom he strangely bore a faint resemblance.
Assaggiatore literally means “the taster,” and in this case that was me. Assaggiatore has an excellent location, right on Ostozhenka between Kropotkinskaya and Park Kultury metro stations. For the review I decided to invite my first restaurant review companion, a Russian-Irish girl who has proven to be the best zamestitel
Despite having a prime location, the restaurant seems to be one of those places that is overlooked. We visited on a Saturday night, but had the place nearly to ourselves. However, the attendance that night did not reflect on the food our service. Even though Assaggiatore share the same street with top-end dining spots such as Vanil and Vertinskiy, the restaurant has a more modest approach of a nice Italian cafe with a pleasant white-washed exposed brick interior and wooden chairs. The menu features a broad range of Italian dishes from traditional Italian antipasta appetizers (carpaccios of salmon, tuna, and squid 350-420 Rbs), thin crust pizzas (480 Rbs), variety of pastas (390 – 650 Rbs), seafood (such as Chilean seabass in rosemary sauce 830 Rbs or grilled fish of your choice), and meat dishes from a wood-fired oven such as lamb with herbs (860 Rbs), beef Florentine (950 Rbs), and filet-mignon (1050 Rbs). The menu also had an excellent selection of creative side dishes, such as spinach and pine nuts (160 Rbs). The restaurant, alas, also offers a sushi menu. I swear there must be some city ordinance requiring sushi in all restaurants in Moscow.
We began with the wine list of Italian, French, and Chilean wines ranging from 180-220 Rbs a glass and – predicting I may sample some of the seafood on the menu - settled on a glass of Italian Pinto Grigio. The bilingual menu provided some good reading material, so to start off we immediately ordered focaccia with tomatoes (130 Rbs) to hold us over. Inexplicably we received a focaccia with pesto which looked and smelled so good we argued about sending it back, an argument which I later regretted I won as the pesto version did look superior in comparison.
It was tempting to sample something from each menu category, but seeing we only had one evening we decided to focus on the salads, soups, pastas, and deserts. Of the salads, my dinner date chose the avocado and grilled prawn salad (380 Rbs), which was a nice summer dish, albeit light on the avocado. Amongst a tasty selection of soups I selected the asparagus cream soup with crab meat (390 Rbs), which included bits of fresh asparagus but would have benefited from more crab meat to add more flavor to balance the combination.
The choice of a main course was challenging amidst some very good options. Noting some good seafood selections on the menu, but not wanting to walk away from an Italian restaurant without trying their pasta, I settled on the spaghetti with mussels (550 Rbs) which had an excellent sauce of garlic, fresh basil, parsley, and tomatoes. The mussels were traditionally served in the shell and the portion was quite generous, but I found the mussels themselves to be a bit chewy and perhaps not as fresh as one would find in Italy. Seeing we are in Moscow, I allowed that as a pass. The pasta itself tasted homemade and well-prepared al dente
, something one does not often find in a country where things are often over boiled. Even though I was pleased with my dish, I was a bit envious of my date’s gnocchi in “Assiaggiattorre sauce,” which was a nice fresh mushroom and vegetable ragu sauce, a unique change from the standard cream sauce gnocchi usually find themselves in.
After our main courses we were both indeed already full, but could not help but order desserts – Italian panna cotta (170 Rbs), and a dish of Italian pistachio and chocolate ice cream (80 Rbs a scoop) followed by Italian espressos (110 Rbs).
For some post-meal exercise, we were graciously given a tour of the restaurant and discovered a beautiful summer terrace in the back (too cold that day to enjoy it), and a basement VIP room suitable for banquets (what’s a respectable Moscow establishment without a VIP room?).
Service was prompt and polite, food quiet satisfactory, and atmosphere pleasant. Worthy of a return trip, and also an excellent spot for lunches given its prime location. Assaggiatore also stands out for a wonderfully diverse menu to encourage repeat customers. However, my main suggestion to the restaurant management is to drop the sushi from that diversity and be a true Italian restaurant. I can only imagine what Mr. Castiglioni would have said to me had I proposed added tuna rolls to the menu of where I worked; I certainly would not have mentioned it around closing time.