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By Leslie Witt
Issue 12
December 2, 2004 - February 10, 2005

Leslie Witt
Spiral staircase: lemons
I have to admit, when the call came to review a new restaurant featuring Azeri cuisine, I was less than enthusiastic. After all, upscale food from the Caucasus can be a bit of a three-ring circus in Moscow: native costumes, writhing belly dancers and overblown decoration, all set to the beat of a shrill pseudo-Middle Eastern house band.

How wonderful to discover that the newly opened Barashka, serving genuine Azeri cuisine with a European presentation, is a serene little gem of a restaurant where you can concentrate on the food, talk without shouting, and come away with your wallet intact. The food is the star of the show at Barashka; it is the only star you need.

Barashka is one of the latest additions to the restaurant dynasty of Arkady Novikov, who has thankfully grown far beyond the dining-as-theater concept so popular a few years ago. Under his tutelage, a new restrained dining chic has overtaken Moscow, and how thankful we are for it.

The name Barashka, meaning little lamb, is fitting because cuisine from the Caucasus is heavy on meat, particularly lamb. My favorite dishes were both bursting with lamby goodness: dushbara soup (100 rubles) — a clear, fresh herb-infused broth with miniscule lamb pelmeni, each no larger than a bean; and traditional Azeri dolma (220 rubles) — almond-sized pellets of minced lamb, rice and herbs, wrapped in grape leaves, with yogurt and freshly chopped garlic.

Barashka is beautiful. Its two stories, connected by a white spiral staircase and a shocking yellow wall of lemons in glass jars, are richly appointed in luxurious, contrasting materials: rough sandstone, smooth dark cloth and leather, deeply glowing woods, pomegranates, lemons. Windowsills overflow with guttering candles and pots of pepper plants and watercress. Although the address is listed as Ulitsa Petrovka, its windows and entrance are on Petrovskiye Liny, giving it a more tucked-in-a-corner feeling, which is nice.

One interesting twist: Barashka has only one small bathroom for both floors, with no sign on the door as of yet. So be sure to ask a waiter which is the right door, or you could find yourself stuck in a broom closet for the night and miss your meal.

Leslie Witt
Second story: luxurious
Following complimentary tea, bread and spiced meat, we ordered vegetable salad with cheese and greens (200 rubles) — a gorgeous pile of cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, and pepper enlivened by long salty strings of chewy cheese, all lightly dressed and topped with fresh coriander. The cress salad with radishes in a mustard sauce (200 rubles) was less successful; the greens were drowning in gluey dressing.

The plov (250 rubles), a Caucasian staple, was presented in the Azeri way, with ingredients layered separately rather than being mixed together in the Uzbek style. And of course, we had kebabs; Barashka has nine varieties. The veal kebabs (350 rubles) came with a big heap of fresh sliced onions and greens, a cold, diced tomato and sweet pepper relish. Yum.

But the lamb dolma was my favorite dish. Each bite dissolved in the mouth effortlessly, delivering an unbroken, subtle vinegary taste and a slightly caramelized, meaty bite. You didn’t even need the yogurt sauce. But eat ’em while they’re hot, because they started to taste greasy as they cooled.

Baklava (90 rubles) and herb tea rounded out the evening. The layered dessert was less gooey and more filled with crunchy crystalline sugar than I am used to, but it was still very good.

Some hiccups: non-Russian readers, beware that the menu is only in Russian. It was a bit of a comedy of errors when the waitress, in her best English, described one dish to us as an omelet of “eggs and verbs.” But the waitstaff do speak fair English; you’ll do just fine.

Also, Barashka is brand new and still in flux. The wine list has very few Azeri wines; the waitress advised we stick to the French ones because, “the ones from Azerbaijan aren’t very good.” The place only offers two beers: Grolsch and Krusovice, both on tap, 350 milliliters for 140 rubles or 250 milliliters for 90 rubles. My dinner companion found this a bit expensive and wished for Azeri Khirdalan beer, or even Efes. But as Barashka reaches its stride, it will import more and better wine, mineral water, produce, and even local caviar. They promise!

The meal was enjoyable, not just because the food was genuine and beautifully prepared (the two chefs are Azerbaijan natives, which is a great boon), but also because the surroundings are tasteful and unobtrusive. The service was friendly, and the clientele seemed to relish eating, chatting, and lingering over a cup of coffee and a sweet. Barashka proves you don’t need a circus atmosphere to enjoy Azeri cuisine; you just need a bit of peace and quiet.

20/1 Ul. Petrovka (M. Teatralnaya / Kuznetsky Most)
200-4714, 11am to midnight

Today's Gigs
Komotsky: eclectic
DJ Partyphone
7pm-midnight. DJ Sergio Solo: atmospheric drum 'n' bass

Today's Films
American Cinema:
Hide and Seek
American Cinema:
Finding Neverland
Kinoteatr Pod Kupolom:
The Incredibles
Kinoteatr Pod Kupolom:
National Treasure
Kinoteatr Pod Kupolom:
[4 films today]

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