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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Makings of Romance, Mirrored Ceiling Included

True romance can be difficult to find, even in Moscow's small, warm Cafe Romance on a recent chilly autumn night with a young couple at the next table furiously snogging between bites of food.

With only 19 seats, one waiter, down-home cooking and not a shred of pretense, Cafe Romance has the makings of a restaurant that lives up to its name. And the restaurant's location not far from the Cinema Center, the Moscow Zoo and the nearby Banya na Presne -- all hotbeds of romance -- make it all the more promising for strollers passing by the place's street-level, steamy-windowed facade.

Yet something is amiss here, both for those looking for the romance born of nostalgia and those seeking that of disguised lust. The overhead lights wouldn't be out of place on a prison wall; the shiny wallpaper has the look of a 1970s bachelor pad; and the mirrored ceiling gives the cafe's single room the feel of a cheap motel with an hourly rate.

Romantic ideals aside, this cafe is still a good place to come for a solid, reasonably priced meal and a refuge from the hordes who pile into the behemoth of a McDonald's directly across the street.

Because this is not Chez Fancy -- and not the kind of place the serious diner would look for thoughtfully prepared food -- we leaned heavily on the appetizer part of the menu. We started off with the baklazhan vo frityure (20,000 rubles, or $3.67) -- 15 thin slices of eggplant fried in a liberal amount of vegetable oil and topped with garlic, dill and chives. This hearty and aromatic dish set the tone of home-cooked simplicity that makes Cafe Romance's menu humble but successful. Then came the buzhenina (25,000 rubles), seven pieces of irregularly shaped cold pork joined on the plate by a healthy-sized heap of horseradish, a modest pile of peas and piece of parsley.

On the low end of the appetizer section, we found the griby po selyansky (18,000 rubles) disappointing, as the marinated mushrooms appeared canned and were completely overwhelmed by the accompanying powerful raw onions. Similarly priced, though tastier, was the sup lapsha gribnaya, a rich mixture of noodles, onions and mushrooms. And, finally, we sampled a beautifully presented salat ispansky (33,000 rubles) that consisted of a generous platter of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, shredded lettuce, onions and canned, tough corn better suited for the silo.

From the list of 23 entrees, the solitary bow-tied waiter recommended osetrina v klyare (75,000 rubles) -- three pieces of tender, thick wonderfully buttery sturgeon that had been deep-fried in a soft, somewhat sweet batter. It was a big platter that also included over-buttered rice, Korean salad, pickled cabbage, raw cucumbers and tomatoes. Next came an equally tender and delicious shnitsel po ministersky (50,000 rubles), a fileted chicken breast fried in a salty, crunchy batter. Along with that we ordered a competently prepared garnish of french fries and mushrooms (25,000 rubles).

Although there are a few better values around Moscow, the two-year-old Cafe Romance is nevertheless a good buy. Forel v shampanskom (trout with champagne) tops the entree price list at 75,000 rubles, which, given the price of fresh trout and the restaurant's handsome portions, is not unreasonable. Among the cheaper choices was the beef steak for 45,000 rubles.

And finally, to cleanse our palates for the walk home, we settled on strawberry ice cream with strawberry preserves (16,000 rubles).

One last note, according to the cafe's administrator, who sits at a small corner table with a calculator: Patrons are welcome to bring their own cassettes to play on the cafe's stereo system. This might be just the opening for the diner bent on finding romance.

Cafe Romance is located at 44 Ulitsa Krasnaya Presnya. Rubles only. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tel. 255-5911. Nearest metro: Ulitsa 1905 Goda.