Despite Moscow's alleged restaurant boom, eating out at a new joint in this town is usually a chore. Even when the food's decent, something ain't right about the whole process. Maybe it's that most Moscow restaurants have, if not feis kontrol, a Nazi surveillance vibe where no-one's allowed to have too much fun. The whole casual dining experience, taken for granted back home, is still a novelty at all but a few enclaves.
When you find it, it makes it that much more valuable. And PAPER MOON Milano has that in sheaths. Other publications didn't give it the rave reviews it deserved, so this place passed us by. Their bad, not ours. Because Paper Moon is easily the best Italian in Moscow. Not just because of the food -- which is spectacular -- but also because it gets it. It's much more low-key and "contemporary" than usual pafosny Italian restaurant in Moscow... in other words, more authentically Italian.
Paper Moon first opened in Milan 20 years ago and only started franchising recently, including one in New York's chic Central Park area. Moscow is the fifth and latest filial, opened last spring under the guidance of Mario, a southern Italian culinary maestro who is still at the helm. We arrived to a relatively empty hall a little before nine, but the second floor dining room was mostly filled within the hour, including a large Italian party next to us.
The interior is minimalist white walls with wood panel trim and hanging photos of 40s movie stars. Some rich Russians have trouble with the low-key approach -- the (rather nice) house wine served in plain glasses, the unobtrusive waitstaff.
We tried a variety of appetizers, including a perfect warm octopus salad with potato, red onion and olive pate (699R), beef carpaccio with truffle oil (499R) that's Moscow's best, and a fresh swordfish carpaccio with sliced fennel (523R) that melts away in your mouth, leaving a lasting memory.
But all that was just a distraction for the pizza. Now let's be honest, it's not cool to say pizza can be great, but this was some of the best pizza we've ever had. Real South Italian style, with a thin crust, cooked in brick oven with woodchip coals, perfectly crispy at edges and cheesy in center. Both the Diavola with pepperoni (359r) and Proscuitto with mushrooms (449r) were flawless.
All this, and we hadn't even touched the highlight of my night: homemade gnocchi with 4 cheese sauce, including walnuts and gorgonzola, topped with white truffle shavings (now in season) to draw out the richness of flavor. The lobster and asparagus risotto was jazzed up with some black wild rice, and Mark credited as by far the best risotto he'd tried in Moscow. I wouldn't know, if only because I don't usually do risotto.
By now, if you tried to eat this much, you'd be ill. But for you, dear readers, we continued on, splitting an entree. The Bistecca al pepe verde (1499R) was a fine cut of Argentine beef cooked to perfection, in an excellent green pepper sauce. This dish comes with grilled vegetables, including grilled fresh artichoke heart.
Dessert involved a fantastic slice of chocolate truffle cake (249R) and a nice tiramisu (249R). The coffee was also excellent.
Overall, Paper Moon is one of the few truly rewarding restaurants in Moscow. Not only can you be assured of the quality, food, and service, but you can also feel free to enjoy it. You heard it here first: Paper Moon is now on our shortlist. Ignore it at your own peril.