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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

gourment's notebook

I wish I had had a cold when I went to Club Columbus this week, because I have no doubt that the garlic soup I ate there would have cured it.

A little-known namesake of one of the better known 15th-century explorers, the Club Columbus restaurant in northwestern Moscow weighs in at around the average eatery mark -- decent food, though not outstanding, with prices slightly north of "moderate."

When you walk into Club Columbus you are greeted by a portrait of the explorer himself, along with other seascape paraphernalia. This nautical theme, which can be so oppressive when allowed to burgeon out of control (there's nothing appetizing about a lot of netting and schools of stuffed dead fish), is kept well heeled at Club Columbus. In fact, we liked it. The bricks are fake and the wood paneling is just paneling, but the lighting makes the room warm and atmospheric, and if you're lucky you'll be seated in one of the intimate little alcoves tucked away under the second floor overhang.

Pleasantly surprised by the decor, we admittedly set ourselves up for disappointment, which was not long in coming: They had no sangria. Then my friend's margarita ($7) was too small, and we had no bread plates nor butter for our bread. Add this to an ominously monosyllabic waiter, a stream of leather-jacketed, cell-phoned customers and the minorly disruptive Coat Rack Incident (it fell over, depositing my coat on the floor), and it all took a bit of the initial glow off the restaurant.

The hearty garlic soup ($5), however, put some of the glow back on, and I was not sorry I'd chosen it over the seafood soup ($10). Waves of garlicky steam rose above the table as the waiter put the large bowl down in front of me; the smell, acting in odorous concert with my dining companion's mushrooms in garlic ($7), was downright intoxicating. The small, firm mushrooms were tasty and seemed to disappear in no time, but in the end I had to push my soup away unfinished. Delicious as it was, there was simply too much.

Too much proved to be the rule, not the exception. We had ordered the paella, that trademark Spanish throw-it-all-in-the-pot rice dish, which was billed for two at $35. We chose the valenciana meat version; the seafood variety goes for $40. A little pricy, we thought, but how can we pass it up? Paella is, after all, the essence of Spanish cuisine.

Well, if two people can put away that portion of paella, I will eat my hat. Even my dining companion was stymied, and she, in her own decorous words, usually packs it in with a shovel. Perhaps the large amounts of bread we'd already consumed had something to do with it (the waiter kept us in steady supply); perhaps the garlic soup was as filling as it was potent, but whatever the reason, the end result was that we had to take over half the paella home. Doggie bags, thankfully, were not a problem.

From what we did manage to eat, I can recommend the dish, which was presented ceremoniously by the waiter on a small serving table in a cast-iron pan. The rice had a pleasant tomato flavor, but most impressive were the huge and plentiful pieces of tender chicken, pork and beef. "I expected little chunks of chicken, not big fillets" my friend said, in between mouthfuls. With so much meat, the paella would certainly make a satisfying meal in itself, sparing the trouble of ordering anything else.

We were so stuffed that we had to cancel our original second dish, the lamb in wine ($16). Our waiter deserves congratulations for crossing it off the bill without complaint. Other main courses that caught my eye were the fillet mignon Espagnol ($18), the chicken po ispansky with cheese and mushrooms ($17) and the seafood-themed tribute to the three ships of Columbus lore, a dish titled the "Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria" consisting of salmon, flounder and shrimp served with vegetables ($20).

Unable to face the prospect of dessert, we gave up the idea of trying the caramel custard pie (presumably the Spanish flan, though not identified by name on the menu). We couldn't even stomach a cup of coffee. But if the rest of our evening was anything to go by, you'd get a lot of flan for your money.


Club Columbus, located at 10/1 Ulitsa Alabyana, is open from noon to 2 a.m. Rubles, Visa, Mastercard, Eurocard accepted. Tel. 198-8011. Metro: Sokol.