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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


The evening got off to an unfortunate start. The doorman of the restaurant that was to have graced this week's column shut the door in our faces and barked "Zakryto!" He was good enough, however, to recommend another restaurant nearby, to which we retired without much enthusiasm.

The first sight of Utyos (Sea Cliff) did nothing to reassure us -- the cafe looked like a large modified kiosk, and only a mental vision of my editor's face made me push the door open.

A good job, too, for I had one of the best dinners I've had for a long time in Moscow. Venetian blinds at the windows, loud Julio Iglesias numbers and artificial plants all around could not detract from the magnificent meal at this little place full of surprises.

To start with, the wine list is two pages long, and prices are reasonable. A welcome departure from the irritating nameless "red wine, white wine," to which Moscow menus often limit themselves.

We had a bottle of Medoc red 1993 for 160 rubles -- we paid 240 rubles for the same wine the week before in a restaurant on Tverskaya Ulitsa. For beer lovers, there is Guinness and Harp on tap at 30 rubles a pint.

The menu appears as confused as the cafe itself, doing a mad dance across several continents, veering from Spain and Russia down to Latin America. Dishes carry imaginative names like Don Juan, Corsica, Riviera and Tsaritsa.

Skipping the temptation to order the Don Juan, we chose the crab salad in cognac sauce (45 rubles). It prepared us for the better things to come. My choice was California for 55 rubles -- a crunchy chicken, asparagus and avocado concoction that did wonderful things to the taste buds. The choice of one of my two dining companions was Uspekh: clams, smoked ham and broccoli in whisky sauce at 40 rubles.

Portions were generous, but we wished the chef had gone a little easy with the mayonnaise -- the bane of Russian cooks.

For the main course, one companion chose Tornada, veal wrapped in bacon, topped with avocado and, mysteriously, guacamole.

She pronounced the bacon excellent but found the veal tough. My other dining companion peered at the pouring rain and gray skies outside, and settled for the Riviera. This surprisingly turned out to be sturgeon with broccoli. At 160 rubles, she said it was delicious -- until she tasted my choice. This was the chef's special -- called Utyos and easily the high point of my evening. This was sturgeon cooked to a turn, topped with shrimp, and resting on a bed of white and green sauce, generously sprinkled with red and black caviar.

The same served up in a downtown restaurant would have set me back a deal more than the 150 rubles it cost here. My friends had coffee, while I settled for a fresh fruit salad named Rozhdestvo (Christmas), with strawberries and kiwi served in a half melon. This was, however, overpriced at 90 rubles.

It was then that we discovered the karaoke. A group of tipsy patrons started belting out Russian numbers, a definite bargain at 10 rubles a song.

The bill came to 795 rubles. The unisex bathroom passed the cleanliness test, service was attentive and the clientele friendly, if a trifle tipsy. When we were leaving, the smiling manager handed us pens bearing the cafe's name.

Cafe Utyos. 32 Ulitsa Baumanskaya, noon to 5 a.m., no credit cards, no telephone, Metro: Baumanskaya.

-- Sujata Rao