THE DISH: Kalitka
Kalitka\\34 Ulitsa Nekrasova\\Tel. 923 7751\\Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (1 a.m. at weekends)\\Menu in Russian and English\\Dinner for two with alcohol 2,370 rubles ($80)
Published: April 18, 2012 (Issue # 1704)
Tucked away a short walk from Chernyshevskaya metro station, the entrance to Kalitka (Gate) resembles that of a Russian cottage nestled in the woods. Small and hewn from roughly cut wood, but with just enough lighting so as not go completely unnoticed, a covered staircase leads down below street level, away from the city’s noisy streets.
The atmosphere is immediate and tangible. The restaurant is quiet, but with the steady hum of conversation, enterprise and the occasional clinking of wine glasses. Shelves displaying jars of conserved fruits and vegetables immediately catch the eye, ingeniously backlit so as to project wonderful illuminations onto the whitewashed walls. Soft lighting blends perfectly with the wooden furniture to create a genuinely rustic feel, but straight lines, simple linens and the tasteful inclusion of traditional Russian fabrics prevent it from overwhelming guests. Here “contemporary” does not mean “minimalist.”
The menu passes the immediate and most important test: That of being spoilt for choice. A whole host of traditional Russian dishes are available, ranging from cold appetizers and salads for a few hundred rubles to hearty main courses and ambitiously priced “Chef’s Specials.” The soups, all priced at about 250 rubles ($8.50), are particularly noteworthy and served with scrumptious hot pies, blini or another complimentary sidedish. For those with a larger appetite (and wallet), a selection of meat cuts available to be grilled on the spot over an open fire pit may prove irresistable.
More adventurous diners may be tempted by a shot of the homemade spirit samogon (120 rubles, $4), but otherwise there is a more than sufficient wine list — some bottles with prices that make the eyes water, but a half-liter of perfectly decent house red is available at a reasonable 500 rubles ($16.80).
To start, the homemade corned beef with salted cucumber and rye bread (260 rubles, $8.70) and steamed beef topped with sour cream dressing (280 rubles, $9.45) perfectly embodied Kalitka’s self proclaimed “modern yet traditional” approach to Russian cuisine — enticing traditional dishes that are not afraid to be themselves, and thankfully without the “fusion twist” all too frequently encountered around the city.
The corned beef was just as it should be: Light, delicate and pleasingly salty, all of which contrasted perfectly with the crisp cucumber and homemade rye bread. The steamed beef was delightfully tender and succulent in flavor, but unfortunately a heavy hand with the horseradish in the sauce caused many of the dish’s subtleties to be lost.
As a main course the jackfish meatballs on a bed of spinach and toasted pine nuts with a lemon and garlic sauce (350 rubles, $11.80), could not come more highly recommended. The “meatballs,” which would perhaps be more appropriately described as “patties,” were crisp and delicate on the outside while retaining the fish’s natural flavor and succulence within. The spinach was moist and perfectly seasoned and the garlic sauce, akin to a Greek tzatziki, brought the whole thing together beautifully.
The pork brisket served with buckwheat, mushrooms and onions however did not quite live up to expectations. It was a tad bland and something of a disappointment at 370 rubles ($12.50). Both dishes were however significant in size, and while there was a pleasing sense of getting one’s money’s worth, both diners were by this point full.
Luckily the dessert menu offers a choice of light sorbets and ice-creams alongside the traditional cakes and pastries. The selection of fruit sorbets for 90 rubles ($3) was just what was needed to top off the meal, and was more than big enough to share. Homemade cookies (120 rubles, $4) and coffee (90 rubles, $3, each) provided the perfect ending to a decent meal of wholesome Russian food, but thankfully — this time at least — without the pretensions.