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Two Estonian Eateries

Tallinn, Estonia has a beautifully preserved/restored medieval old town, but it is very heavily touristicated (thank the cruise ships, in part) with quite a touch of Disneyland--such as medieval-garbed wenches hocking sugared peanuts from a wood-wheeled cart, or shilling a 'medieval experience' dining hall. As such, restaurants in the core tend to cater to the common denominator, and be of less than outstanding interest. There are, however good and interesting restaurants to search out. Taking recommendations from chefs and sommeliers in both Riga and Pädaste, we zeroed in on two fairly new innovative eateries. Both are located outside the old town, one literally hugging the walls, and one a few blocks away near the port.

Leib Resto ja Aed

Crystal, sommellier at Pädaste Manor on Muhu Island had recommended this restaurant, whose name means "Bread - restaurant in the garden" and told us that Kristjan Peäske, one of the two partners, was the best sommellier in Tallinn. Janno Lepik was executive chef at Tallinn's Fish & Wine before they came together to open Bread. The restaurant nestles beneath the old city walls near Fat Margaret's Tower, and consists of an open garden and terrace, upper terrace against the wall, and one indoor room. It's an incredibly private and peaceful setting. The kitchen in summer is open and outdoors--a prep area, oven, wide coal-fired grill.

Kristjan stated their philosophy: "Hand-made bread, coupled with foods made from natural, local ingredients is a gastronomic delight. We love simple food made with passion out of fresh ingredients. We don't like pretentious food, stuffy service, or overpriced menus. We  concentrate on Estonian products, and everything nature can offer. That is why we cooperate with local farmers, fishermen and small producers."

Along with a couple of flasks of red and white house wine, the breadboard arrives. "Honestly, we don't yet make the bread on premise", says Kristjan, "but it's baked to our formula by a small local bakery every morning." And in due course he says they will have a wood-fired bread oven in the garden next to the smoker. The first is a perfect tiny torpedo of white & wheat bread, crusty exterior and chewy crumb. The second is a dense, black peasant-style bread studded with grains and seeds. Delicious nuggets of rabbit confit that have been fried to a crunchy exterior, served with a red-wine mayonnaise arrive on the heels of the breadboard.

The menu is simple and eclectic. A couple of interesting salads, four main courses from the oven and a rotating selection of things off the grill, accompanied by a choice of grilled vegetables, green salad or potatoes with bacon.

For a representative lunch, we choose the house-smoked trout salad with marinated beets, greens & fresh horseradish cream (the smoker was fuming when I stopped by earlier in the morning to confirm our reservation and chat with Kristjan). Boned farm chicken leg was crispy, smokey and juicy, and a slab of Märjamaa young lamb liver with fried onions was pink, succullent and rich - both atop a melange or peppers, eggplant, cabbage and onion that had been grilled then stewed. Pink-fleshed sea trout fillet (looking much like salmon) in rhubarb marinade was perfectly grilled to medium rare. This is food of a rare combination of simplicity, sophistication, and deep flavors.

Desserts include panna cotta, creme brulee, home made ice cream, and a local-dairy cheese plate. We unfortunately have no room for any, as the very fairly priced dishes at Lieb are very generous.

Kristjan said "Our dream with Lieb is a restaurant where two guys crazy for food would want to eat themselves." They appear to be succeeding, and we're happy to eat with them.

+372 611 90 26
Uus street 31, Tallinn 10111, Estonia

Khovik Moon

The name means Cafe Poppy, and Moon was one of the highest recommendations of Peeter Pihel, executive chef at Pädaste Manor. "Delicious food combining tradition and innovation". With notable Chefs Roman Zaštšerinski and Igor Andreyev in the kitchen, Moon was named the top Tallinn restaurant in 2010. It's highly popular, and on a rainy Friday night, with a day's notice, we couldn't get a reservation before 9:30. But the Balts eat late in the light summer nights, and the place was still packed. The only non-northerners in the restaurant, we were seated next to a large table of raucous Finns having a great time.

Another interesting and eclectic menu--sort of a Russian-Baltic blend, with a few specials in Estonian on the blackboard. I had my heart set on tucking into one of their handmade pirogues, but alas, they are only at lunch. Other interesting starters include hot-smoked herring salad, baked duck Carpaccio with cucumbers and sprouts, and beef tartare with Adzika sauce, a Georgian condiment made of chile, paprika, garlic, spices and salt.   Eventually we chose two to share: the house-pickled cucumbers with sour cream & honey, and granny’s peppery pickled mushrooms—both were zingy and tasty. The hot buckwheat blinis with powan roe, red onion and sour cream were ethereal. Powan is a whitefish found in three Lochs in Scotland, and has a tiny, mild orange roe. One of our crew, a beet lover, chose the homemade borscht - rich with beets, cabbage and beef.

Out of the main course selections Estonian fillet of beef in black pepper-brandy sauce and minced lamb steak with baked aubergine pleased our meat eaters. The vegetarian for the night chose pumpkin orsotto with goat cheese - something like farro made as risotto was rich and earthy, counterbalanced by the tang of the goat. Bereft of pirogue, I chose the handmade Siberian pelmeni in mushroom stock--a dish not intended as a main course, but really good--hearty and deeply flavorful, redolent of earthy mushrooms and long-cooked and reduced stock.

Like Bread, Moon is a place for those interested in friendly but un-fussy service, and sophisticated but not fancy food, deeply flavored with the finest and freshest local ingredients.

Võrgu 3, Tallinn 10415
 + 372 6 314 575

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