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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Hungry Uzbeks Can Eat a Horse

The opening last November of the Navruz Uzbek restaurant is another welcome step toward the normalization of the Moscow dining scene.

Navruz is a cheerful restaurant, simply but elegantly decorated, that embraces everything exotic about the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan without stooping to the kitschiness that colors some "theme" eateries.

In a dignified and somewhat expensive way, Navruz is the best, most comprehensive introduction to Central Asian cuisine that I've seen in Moscow. Not only is this the restaurant to find Uzbek staples like the rice dish plov but also more exotic fare such as Chakchak, a honey-bound dessert ($5) that resembles Rice Krispie treats.

For the adventurous, the English-Russian menu also includes sausages made from horse meat, a somewhat alarming entry given the restaurant's proximity to Moscow's Hippodrome race track. The waitress, however, emphasized that the sausages came from horses who were "raised like cows" for such purposes in Uzbekistan.

There is much to be learned at Navruz for those uninitiated in the rituals of Uzbek dining. The free green tea placed on every table, for example, is only to be used to fill the cups halfway as a way of allowing the host to provide frequent refills. The flat circular bread, Ui Noni ($2), is only served in even numbers except at a funeral.

The meal itself, which came to $89 for two people on a recent weekday afternoon, was a lesson in how to achieve a culinary balance between light and heavy. My fellow diner, a Muscovite with a birdlike appetite who has traveled to Uzbekistan, advised that we offset the meat dishes by ordering a couple of light salads from the 15 on the menu.

The Chimcha ($4) was very spicy by Moscow standards and consisted of crunchy marinated wild cabbage with a hot red pepper paste between the leaves. The Radish Salad with Grated Walnut ($8) was just that. The green radishes were on the dry side, but you can order sour cream, olive oil or mayonnaise to compensate. Both salads came with a garnish of pomegranate seeds and conical cucumber slices.

Of the six soups priced between $6 and $9, the generous portion of Lagman ($7) was a stand-out. Made with a lamb stock and fat, handmade noodles, it was hearty and fresh. According to the waitress, "men prefer Lagman" and eat it along with the horse sausage. Those with more delicate palates can try the Chuchvara Shurva soup ($7) made from fresh, finely chopped vegetables. Armed with leftover salads, we tackled an order of Fergana Plov ($20) that must have weighed close to a kilogram. A concoction of brown rice, lamb, carrots and onions, it had a much more delicate taste than the plov sold at Moscow's markets. Still, like all true plov, it was oily and benefitted greatly from the addition of the salad. Other varieties of plov on the menu were the Tashkent ($16) of stewed rice and lamb and the Samarkand ($14) made from steamed lamb ribs.

Determined to sample another entree, we ordered the Narvuz Shashlyk sampler ($20), a skewer each of sturgeon, veal, lamb and chicken. All were lean, fresh and with a smoky flavor -- everything a shashlyk should be. Other dishes seen but not tasted include Dimlama ($18), lamb stewed with vegetables and quince; Somsa ($7), oven-baked pastry puffs stuffed with lamb; and Kazan Kebab ($22) a lamb and potato dish prepared in a kazan, a large metal tub.

The desserts, with the exception of the aforementioned Chakchak, were a straightforward selection of items like Ice Cream ($6) and Fresh Fruit platter ($20). The Espresso ($3) was competently prepared but nothing special.

Although about one in four of our fellow lunchtime diners had a cellular phone, the decor, the Uzbek folk music and the superb service make Navruz a genuine escape from mundane Moscow dining. For those looking for a deeper experience, check out the live, nonexotic "Eastern Dancing" nightly from 8 to at least 10 p.m. or book the "VIP Hall, Dastarkhan," a room in the back with an elevated platform where diners eat seated on pillows surrounding a low table. The room, which has a telephone and a television, costs $100 per hour, not including food and drinks.

Navruz, at 36 Ulitsa Begovaya, is open from noon to midnight. Reservations may be made by calling 945-0451. Payment is accepted in rubles or with American Express, Mastercard, Eurocard, Diner's Club and Visa credit cards. Nearest metro: Dinamo or Begovaya.