Among my favorite travel cliches spawned by the collapse of the USSR is the game of claiming the title of "first boutique hotel in [insert name of formerly communist capital here]." This I never understood. If you can afford $500 to crash in a trendy boutique hotel, do you really give a flying souvenir kopeck if Fodor's says it was "first"? Does being a footnote in a city's development trump location, bed, food, or design? I've even noticed this phenomenon in early Olympics coverage, with multiple travel writers plugging a place called Fortune Land as Beijing's "first boutique hotel."
Moscow's proud title-holder is the Golden Apple, which throws a cool light down on Malaya Dmitrovka, just off Pushkin Square. The hotel's website wastes no time announcing that it's the "first and only boutique hotel in Moscow" where "exquisite and personalized service is a hotel philosophy." I can't verify the first claim, but based on a night in their restaurant, they're right about the service. I took a bite out of the Apple last week and the wait staff was pitch-perfect attentive. And I know they weren't putting on a Sambo performance because I went undercover. I waltzed in like any other guest shuffling down from his room in flip-flops and jeans and a paper-bagged copy of Black Inches under his arm. (I'm currently researching a story on ethnic porn for Maxim UK.)
Service isn't all the little Apple gets right. The ambience is ultra-modern boutique chill all the way. The dining space is a faux forest (an Eden, if you will) with a mellow screen of trees lit in purple along two walls. The night I went, the music swayed from ambient to dub to down-tempo house, the decibels just right. In a cute little design touch, a fresh red apple sits on each table. In some Moscow establishments, the apples would be painted gold or something equally garish and wrong. But the Golden Apple sets a genuinely cool tone throughout and holds it taut.
Even before the food arrived I was thinking to myself, this is the kind of place I'll stay if I ever make real money. No doubt - I'll be boutique all the way. No more sleeping in Christian-run hostels, Best Westerns, or the occasional train station bench. When I have the duckets, this is how I'll roll, from one Golden Apple to the next. If it hasn't been featured in an architectural digest and the dj in the bar can't slice the difference between Kruder and Dorfmeister, then that place just won't make the Tofer cut.
As I imagined myself in this boutique hotel filled future, I nursed a couple of drinks from the Golden Apple's summer cocktail menu, both delicious. The Lamponi was a dead refreshing mix of amaretto and fruit juices, with raspberry dominant; the Planta Tropical a splash of Asti Mondoro and banana liquer mixed with melon pure, orange, and crushed ice. I'm pretty sure I was thinking "Why don't I try this at home?" when my appetizer appeared in the form of juicy sautéed scallops (360r) alongside a glass of Chilean white (230r). The seafood was soft and buttery; no complaints. The teamed sea bass that followed (960r) was a tad too soft for me, but well within acceptable range.
For desert I had the coconut creme brulet with Japanese pears (380r). (When I'm rich, I will also refuse all pears not from Japan.) My espresso was strong and hot and came with a little piece of what looked like Hannukah gelt, which warmed my half-Jew heart. If someone else was paying I would have thrown in a bowl of fresh strawberries (430r). Or have them sent up to my room, where my lovely lady friends would feed them to me one by one in the bubble bath.
I should mention the Apple seems to have an interesting if unseasonal thing for golden pumpkins. They have a pumpkin roll pasta with feta cheese (350r) and pumpkin soup (320r) on the menu, as well as a veal tenderloin dish (500r) with a side of pumpkin risotto. Any New Englanders who get homesick around this time of year might consider a Halloweentime visit to the Golden Apple to suck on some pumpkin soup. It won't just be delicious, it'll be hotel history: According to Fodor's, the Golden Apple is the first boutique hotel in Russia to serve pumpkin soup.