Old Friends and New Starts
at The 12 Wine Bar
by Grace Watson
Tucked away amid clustered brick buildings, once home to a beer factory, nowadays indicative rather of hiding savvy socialites, is the 12 Wine Bar. Evgeniy Dobrovolskiy, the chef behind the European-flavored establishment, argues that "life should be as simple and tasty as Italian cuisine." That emphasis on comfort and quality is apparent the moment you walk through the door, making the restaurant a fitting setting for the Moscow Times's first Club event, which fell on a chilly November evening.

We all have those "well, this is Moscow" moments while living here, from streets being ripped out, sometimes only to reappear relatively unaltered, to friends' comings and goings, to dynamic surges of curious trends. But we endure, finding new sources of resiliency, a strength we often admire in Russians.

The Moscow Times, a 25-year staple of the city's foreign population, is finding resiliency of its own. Recently becoming online only, it has also launched its new Moscow Times Clubs, group events centered on varying themes that welcome all who are interested. In a grand premiere that also celebrated the publication's quadranscentennial, about 30 guests, including Moscow Times founder Derk Sauer himself, huddled cheerfully around circular, neatly-laid tables for an evening of food, wine, and conversation.
Guests began arriving at 7:30 to what was surely a warm welcome, made more so as servers distributed glasses of champagne. These details I can only guess, as I was among those who had some difficulty finding the venue. Close enough to Kievskaya metro, the route isn't an intuitive one, weaving through buildings and cars, requiring some trial and error. I was relieved when, having worked my way through the layers of brick structures, I finally gazed upon the sought-after 12 Wine Bar, and as soon as my coat was being hung up, I felt at home.
The restaurant was a welcome refuge after the brisk workday, but its atmosphere – brick walled, dimly lit, eclectic but tidy – would complement most circumstances. A live string group strummed away near the entrance, just audible enough to help the wine work into even the coldest of bones, never loud enough to get in conversation's way (I can't be the only one whose pet peeve that is). I barely had time to bemoan having missed out on the welcome drink, as, everyone seated, diligent staff began serving more drinks and appetizers. Guests are in good hands here.

It seems rather courageous for an Italian-inspired restaurant to stray from the region when it comes to wine, but this evening's drinks selection was purportedly the chef's attempt to evidence the comparable quality of Russian vineyards. Already a fan of the Yubileinaya winery ever since a formative dinner at Lavka Lavka some months back, I was already a convert, ready for yet more proof.

We continued getting acquainted as we were delivered appetizers and the tasting menu's first wine: Lefkadia Likuria, from the Krasnodar region. The chardonnay was well received, lighter and less oaky than is typical of the varietal, and event guests scored it highly on corresponding review cards, passed out upon arrival. Also well rated was the accompanying bruschetta topped with anchovy mousse, fish roe, and boiled quail egg. Diners noted that the seafood notes and white wine were a good fit, saltiness balanced by fruitiness, though a textural component would have been preferable to the sponge of white bread that lie beneath the anchovy puff. Vegetarians were served a vibrant strawberry tartare with balsamic cream and tomatoes. Both options endearingly tiny, we were all eager for the next course.

With another glass of the white wine, guests were handed either seabass with a variety of sauce drizzles, or else veal tartare with truffle and cream sauce. Though it may have been a "proper tartare," as one guest claimed, it was consistently complained of as bland. The seabass was not – it was tender and delicious, though it unfortunately kept on with the Lilliputian theme. No one was quite satiated, and yet the mood wouldn't be spoiled. There was plenty to talk about, and the music drifting over was there to fill in the blanks if conversation ever did falter.

Luckily for us, two more courses lay ahead. Two glasses deep and all the hungrier, though, one grows impatient. The bread basket, squat in the center of the round table, enough out of reach to make impossible any graceful advances, was more tempting by the minute. And so the group became friendlier still, limbs jutting in between stemware for a piece of that Borodinsky. Finally, the 3rd course was approaching; we could be civilized once more. White was exchanged for red – the same winery's Cabernet Franc, rich and dry – and we were all served ricotta and spinach-stuffed cannelloni. Initial food sequencing confusion aside (an Italian restaurant doing protein before pasta?), the dish was creamy but not cloying, savory and spinachy, brightened by notes of olive oil and basil. Those guests who aren't put off by spinach were pleased but, once again, for the size.
The meal finished with a final creative burst from the kitchen. Dessert was cloudy white half spheres that turned out to be gorgonzola mousse with pear, berries, and wine. It was unexpected, inspired, and decadent, and guests were unanimously impressed.

Mr. Sauer's initial words had set the tone for the night as a touching and informative reflection on the first quarter century of The Moscow Times, an old friend of sorts, loyally providing readers all kinds of perspectives, voices, and a sense of community that are an uncommon privilege in a foreign city. The Club event followed in kind, tables representing an unpredictable array of nationalities and languages, ages and professions, and yet these distinctions resulted in little barrier to entry. There was presumed comfort in the understanding that we were united in our interest to explore, and learn, and share. It's refreshing that these things haven't changed. Here's to another 25.
Guest Ratings
1 - 5 points
A 19th century building in the Badaevsky business center, a former beer factory. Pretty central, but a bit hidden.
Industrial and stylish with some old-fashioned elements. Cozy all in all.
Friendly, but could be more attentive.
Best Dishes of the Evening*:

Seabass fillet with 4 types of sauce (lavender, parsley, orange, berry)

Strawberry tartare, balsamic cream, and tomatoes

Scamorza cheese with grilled vegetables

Gorgonzola mousse with candied pear in wine, berries, and almond tuile
(shown in photo)

Best Wine of the evening*:

Lefkadia Likuria Chardonnay

*According to event guest questionnaires

The 12 Wine Bar
Address: Kutuzovski prospect, 12 blg. 1
Polina Shefter - @polinashefter - pshefter.com