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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GOURMET'S NOTEBOOK:




When my dining companion (the D.C. blew me off, can you believe it?) and I were looking over the display cases at Soleil Express, the new cafe opened by the owners of the Brasserie du Soleil, he remarked that this was the kind of place that you wished you worked near enough, to be able to say: "Hey, let's go down to [blank] for lunch." In other words, that it was the lunchy sort of place of which there are a million or so in a city like New York or even Des Moines, but of which there are practically zero in Moscow. So basically the people who work in the Mosenka building now have such a place and the rest of us will just have to wait, or take a long lunch and schlepp on over there.


Soleil Express, which bills itself as Louis XIV's favorite cafe (of which I am skeptical), is decorated along the same general lines and color scheme as its older sister restaurant. The general idea is similar to Deli-France's: The customer chooses his food from glass display cases, pays for it and takes it on a tray back to his table. Soleil Express is worlds ahead of Deli-France, however. Not only do they offer a much better selection of salads and sandwiches, there is the added bonus that the wait staff is polite and helpful.


There are four general categories of food at Soleil Express: salad, sandwich (or "panini" as they would have it), soup (of the day only) and dessert items. The soup -- Cream of Cauliflower (15,000 rubles, less than $3) -- and the dessert items -- Carrot Muffin (10,000 rubles), eclair (15,000 rubles), chocolate croissant (6,000 rubles) and Raspberry Cake (20,000 rubles) -- were the best things we had. (Yes, we did have two desserts apiece.) The soup was appropriately creamy, but with chunks of cauliflower left to break up the slurping monotony. I couldn't believe I could actually buy a carrot muffin in Moscow, so that was my first dessert choice. It was more in the shape of just the cap of a traditional muffin (just like that Seinfeld episode), but the flavor, consistency and not-too-sweetness of it were just right. The croissant was good in an average way, with a chocolate filling that was better than average. The nondescript cake was redeemed in a big way by an unexpected raspberry ice filling.


My dining companion's vegetable sandwich (36,000 rubles) was better than my prosciutto and brie variation (also 36,000). Both were somewhat soggy, however. He went with the all veggie meal, getting the Grilled Vegetable Salad (18,000 rubles), which he described as being a lot like the sandwich, except without the bread. My Caesar Salad (15,000 rubles) was pretty good without any qualifications and excellent if you consider the price. The bacon pieces were real and crunchy, not soft, and the dressing was properly garlicky.


The most amazing thing about Soleil Express is you can get a decent cup of coffee there: Cappuccino (18,000), Espresso (10,000) and American (10,000).


Soleil Express, 24/27 Sadovaya-Samotyochnaya Ulitsa. Tel. 725-6474/75/76, metro: Tsvetnoi Bulvar.