Italian food is probably the most popular choice for an 'ethnic' meal in Estonia as well as everywhere else. And the quality varies from restaurant to restaurant a lot.
I've been to a couple of different Italian restaurants in Tallinn in a row recently, so I thought I'd give a short overview. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera to some of them.
Absolutely fabulous - and quite pricey - Bocca:
Bocca is in the Old Town and it's one of the nicest ones. They serve high end Italian cuisine and everything I've ever had there had been fabulous. Apparently they're also internationally appreciated - Restaurant Magazine UK placed them as number 15 amongst the 50 of the worlds most prestigious and respected restaurants in 2003.
Every time I go there I order Cozze verdi gratinate con burro e Parmigiano (Green Mussels gratinated with Parmesan cheese) as a starter. I always think I should try something else, but I just can't bring myself to. They are SO good. The secret of lot's of butter kicking in there :).
From their pasta's my favorite is the Spaghetti al nero di seppia con polpa di gamberi in salsa di vino bianco e pomodoro al peperoncino rosso (Black spaghetti with grilled prawns and scallop in spicy fresh tomato sauce). The spaghetti wasn't all that black last time (looked rather green), but they were still wonderful.
My co-diners went for Orata arrosto con intingolo di aglio fritto funghi e peperoncino rosso (Grilled royal seabream with red chilli in mushroom sauce) and Filetto di angus alla griglia con fegato grasso d`oca su salsa di vino porto (Tenderloin of Angus beef with foie gras and port wine sauce), and those got good reviews as well.
The only meal that was a bit of a disappointment was the Mozzarella di bufala con pomodori estivi rucola basilico e radicchio rosso (Buffalo mozzarella cheese with fresh tomatoes, rocket, basil leaves and radissio rosso salad) - an Italian kitchen starter-staple - but the Mozarella texture was kind of crumbly and the taste watery.
Cozy, rustic and very very good - Controvento
Controvento is another Italian food place in the Old Town. If I remember correctly it is owned by Italians and the chef(s) is/are Italian as well. It's impossible to get a table when you just walk in on a Thursday - Sun afternoon or evening, but on Monday - Wednesday you may get lucky. The price range is reasonable for the old town and the food absolutely never disappoints.
Their bruschettas are the best I've ever had.
Cozze all`aglio e vino bianco* - blue mussels in white wine sauce - are a bit too acidic in my taste but then again there is a wonderfully generous portion of them. The pasta's and pizzas are just so straightforwardly good.
One of the few pictures I did manage to take is of these yummy spinach and ricotta filled tortelloni in sage and butter sauce (tortelloni al burro e salvia).
And the desserts - the Tiramisu was very good,
whereas the ricotta and chocolate cake was not all that interesting and far too rich to consume after an Italian meal (beware!)
A new angle - Vapiano
This year they opened the first Vapiano in Estonia (apparently it's a chain and there are a bunch in other countries). I was really impressed. The way they've mixed and matched the traditional Italian cuisine and the simplicity of the menu with a very modern approach to the service is ultra cool. Basically, if you've never been to one - it looks like a modern lounge like eatery. You go in and get a swipe card. The whole back wall is filled with cooking stations, I think there are about 20 there (at least). It's cooking down to the basics. There is a pasta section and a pizza section. In the pasta section you can choose between about classic pasta sauces and all the typical pastas. All the pastas are fresh. Everything one needs for a recipe is layed out in little dishes, so whipping up your penne alla arrabiata is just the matter of combining 10 different little boxes. It's ready in the matter of minutes.
Wonderful for lunches (although you have to then deal with the 'falling asleep after consuming all the carbs for lunch' factor). And the pasta is always cooked right and the sauces fully meet the standards.
Meditterranean garden in the cellar - Sisalik
Sisalik is another one in the Old Town, we've been there twice now. The first time we really weren't impressed (as many of the Old Town places it is in the cellar and those tend to work better in the winter compared to the summer). But the second time we went very recently and everyone was satisfied.
Here's what we had:
I had seafood pasta and was very happy with it. It came with a creamy tomato sauce which was neither too pricey nor too rich.
Other people went for:
A grilled duck-breast with foie gras and black-currant liquer sauce - a dish that made S change his mind about Sisalik and about ducks. It was very good ( I got a bite). It came with a potato and apricot (I think, can't remember now) gratin.
Another friend had the grilled beef tenderloin with cheese-cream and thyme sauce and some chips. It was also very nice.
And the chicken and black plum pasta as well as the creamy beef and thyme sauce pasta also had great reviews.
Panna cotta was very well received.
The lime tart got the 'average but decent' marks.
That's it for Italian in Tallinn for now :).