Moscow Nights: feasts fit for a czar

January 18, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Moscow Nights

Where: Sutton Place, 1111 Park Ave.

Hours: Open for dinner 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays; Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Credit Cards: MC, V.

Features: Russian cuisine.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: 669-7200.

*** Of all the nice things waiters have ever said to me, my favorite has to be, "Would you like more caviar?" Ooooh, would I.

And it's free caviar at that. The shot of vodka is free, too. Although "Russian restaurant" might seem like a contradiction in terms, there are no food shortages in the little corner of the U.S.S.R. called Moscow Nights. No shortage of choices, either. In fact, Moscow Nights is an orgy of capitalist plenty.

Not just a restaurant, Moscow Nights is a dressy supper club with a glassed-in balcony and a stylized mural of the Moscow skyline and the brilliant onion domes of St. Basil's. There's a dance floor and, on weekends, a band; electric keyboards and banks of speakers let us know we weren't in for soulful balalaika music, but we liked the fact that many of the pop dance tunes, played by a combo in spangled tunics, were sung in Russian.

As soon as we were seated, the management set about stuffing us. First came black-and-white marbled bread, butter, caviar (salmon, I think, with pearl-sized, peach-colored grains), and vodka. Then a platter of vegetables, some fresh, some pickled. All this before we had even ordered!

The Siberian pelmeni ($6.90), a huge portion of pasta dumplings stuffed with savory chopped meat and served with melted butter and a dollop of sour cream, would be an ample meal in itself, accompanied perhaps by the salad Odessa ($4.90), which looked like a mound of coleslaw but was lent a tangy, smoky flavor by bits of sausage. Or, perhaps, with one of the best borschts ($2.50) around -- meaty, beety, big and bouncy, with more than a hint of cinnamon. But there was (lots) more to come.

While not as extensive or authentic-sounding as the (28-item!) appetizer list, the entree menu includes regional specialties along with Continental items masquerading in Russian names. The chicken Tabaka ($12.50), from Georgia, was half a chicken, marinated, pressed almost flat and sauteed with spices and garlic until its skin was the color of mahogany. Delicious -- although you do have to negotiate a lot of bones. I'm not sure of the pedigree of the pork chops Rostov ($14.90), but the chops were extra meaty, and their seafood filling was not the usual imperial, but a robustly spiced stuffing, vibrant with the flavors of shrimp and crab.

You won't need dessert, believe me. Especially when the mixed dessert platter is composed of serviceable but strictly birthday-style cakes.

Special mention should be made of our waiter, who set new records for attentiveness and friendliness -- not to mention readiness with seconds on caviar!

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