Barashka (20/1 Ul. Petrovka; 7-095/200-4714; dinner for two $50)—pronounced "Ba-rash-ka"—means "little sheep," and the name's cheeky mix of Cyrillic and Latin characters amounts to a sort of statement of purpose: to garnish the spicy, mutton-intensive cuisine of Azerbaijan with a dash of European finesse. Barashka is no ethnic dive. Opened last year by Moscow's dining czar Arkady Novikov, once a purveyor of flashy theme restaurants, the place is an exercise in the kind of restraint Novikov has recently taken to preaching. The discreetly handsome bi-level space has white-linen tablecloths offset by lots of dark wood, gray pillowstrewn banquettes, photographs of Baku on the walls, and nary a belly dancer. Big glass jars filled with lemons make the boldest design statement—all the real fireworks are confined to the kitchen. Not even the Pilates-practicing matrons who patronize La Marée, Moscow's "in" seafood place, can resist Azerbaijan's meaty offerings: the succulent shashlik (kebabs) and lamb riblets and the piti, a tender braise of chickpeas and lamb presented in earthenware pots. For a carb fix, try dyushbara (thimble-sized dumplings in a clear mint-infused broth) or the aromatic Azeri pilafs layered with spices and meat. You'll overeat at Barashka. Then again, in Moscow these days, there's always a fancy gym around the next corner.
Few parts of Moscow are more beloved and iconic than Patriarch's Ponds, the setting for Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita and a place to go figure-skating in winter or feed the ducks when the weather turns warm. Everyone in the neighborhood knows the yellow Neoclassical mansion that once housed the boat depot and skate rental facility. Now it's being colonized by the city elite, who can't seem to get enough of Pavilion (7 Bolshoi Patriarshy Per.; 7-095/203-5110; lunch for two $100), a restaurant that reportedly cost the group behind the wildly successful Fish and Oblomov some $2 million to build. It's easy to understand the appeal: with cushy red couches and blond tables illuminated by chandeliers that look like fantastical snowﬂakes, the bright, cozy space invites endless lingering.
The walls frame blown-up fashion stills from L'Officiel magazine; the arched windows, that lyrical view of the pond. Don't wince at the menu's Japanese-Chinese-Italian-Slavic mishmash that typiﬁes Moscow's current dining scene; Ilya Tyukov happens to be a terrific chef. Leave the eel maki rolls and spice-crusted tuna with a Nobu-esque dressing to the oligarchs and their pouty charges. Go Russian with a rich duck borscht accompanied by veal piroshki or a creamy potato-and-celery soup presented in a hollowed-out loaf of coriander-spiked Borodinsky bread. Follow your potage with rabbit smothered in sour cream or a generous portion of beef Stroganoff. Then take a stroll by the pond and watch babushkas wagging doting ﬁngers at their rosy-cheeked Natashas and Mishas.
As the eternal city falls prey to the enoteca craze, diners should be grateful for restaurants as professional and intelligent as L'Arcangelo (59 Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli; 39-06/321-0992; dinner for two $110). On a residential Prati street and still off the radar of most Roman foodies, the place resembles a dozen other amber-hued bourgeois Italian restaurants, with old prints on the walls and guests who all seem to be discussing something extremely private. Look closely, however, and you'll notice the quiet ambition and attention to detail: the stylish, unusually shaped Zafferano stemware, the impeccably sourced salumi, the carefully considered wine list, rich in such $20 ﬁnds as the smooth, peppery Lazio red called Capolemole from Marco Carpineti (Arcangelo Dandini, the restaurant's owner, is a master sommelier and used to run the well-known wine bar Simposio). The menu is equally sharp. Cubes of tomato-drenched country bread accompany an octopus salad drizzled with aromatic olive oil produced by superstar Tuscan chef Fulvio Pierangelini. The leg of lamb, with its plump roasted potatoes and a clean, focused sauce of puréed capers and pecorino dolce, is a small masterpiece. Ziti (long, ridgeless pasta hoses) are tossed with a mere touch of candied lemon and mint and a few meaty chunks of ricciola, a kind of amberjack. Just when you're thinking that the pasta is underdressed, the flavors come together in a way they do only in Italy. And the ur-Roman specialties—veal tripe with scrambled eggs, classic pasta preparations such as amatriciana and cacio e pepe—set the gold standard.
Few chefs in Italy are more admired than Alfonso Iacarino, the force behind Don Alfonso, an Amalﬁ Coast dining temple where he and his wife, Livia, indulge guests in modernized southern Italian flavors fueled by vegetables and freshly pressed olive oils from their farm. Not long ago, the Iacarinos decided that it was time to export their style and philosophy—along with truckloads of those flavorful Vesuvian pomodorini—to Rome's sedately posh Aldrovandi Palace hotel. Baby (15 Via Ulisse Aldrovandi; 39-06/322-3993; lunch for two $195) is what they christened the restaurant, located in a cool white-on-white poolside room enlivened by luxurious silk curtains straight out of a Renaissance painting. Baby, as it happens, is an extremely grown-up and formal affair—silver cloches covering piatti di pasta; that prehistoric practice of not listing prices on ladies' menus—and the presentations can be unnecessarily haute. (Do sauce squiggles and multicolored cubes of bell pepper gelée really contribute anything to an otherwise lovely red pepperand-stockﬁsh "cannoli"?) But the masterfully runny, al dente risotto ai frutti di mare, the chickpea-and-mussel soup that ferries you straight to the Mediterranean coast, as well as the up-and-coming Puglian red the sommelier recommends to flatter your meaty saddle of rabbit with cherry sauce, make up for a lot. This is the perfect place for Belgian diplomats, Russian millionaires, and posh Parioli types to connect with their inner (coddled) child.