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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


Stepping into the bright dining room of the Samurai restaurant on a cold and rainy night is a treat. The restaurant is small and cozy -- only six tables, so book ahead -- and the walls are elegantly decorated with colorful murals and bamboo lattice work.

The understated decor and light colors of the room were a refreshing change from some of Moscow's more garish dining rooms.

Unfortunately, Samurai's alcohol selection seems to have been severely depleted, either by financial crisis or sheer laziness. The menu listed four kinds of beer but none was available, while the meager 100 grams of wine served per glass suggested the vino supply was also on the wane.

Several appetizers were also unavailable, including the enticing Nasu-torisoboro, or eggplant in chicken sauce, and the Kamoniku-yakizute, or marinated duck. Still, the menu is meaty, and we succeeded in ordering a pleasing meal.

If the joy of Japanese cooking is in the light tastes and textures and the beautiful presentation, then Samurai hits the mark. The meal didn't clobber the palate with a symphony of tastes but impressed with its clean, fresh flavors. And in these days of turbulence, perhaps everyone's stomach could do with some simple, healthy food.

The Oshinoko-mori marinated vegetable salad (42 rubles, $3.10 at Thursday's Central Bank official exchange rate) contained just the right level of ginger, while the miso-shiru soup (42 rubles) pleased with its tender tofu and fresh seaweed leaves. The Udan-tori soup (85 rubles) was packed with rice noodles, egg, vegetables and chunks of tender chicken, although the broth was a bit weak.

The tempura-fried calamari, octopus and king crab seemed a bit nontraditional -- tempura batter is usually crispy and translucent, while this was thick and chewy -- but was nonetheless tasty. The tender seafood and batter were complemented well by the sweet soy dipping sauce. We thought we had ordered the vegetable tempura but were not at all displeased by the mixup.

The selection of sushi is vast. We tried the Sushi-Maki rolled in seaweed leaves, but there are also a dozen kinds of Sushi-Nigiri, or formed rice mounds draped with fish, caviar, omelette and crab.

Likewise, the menu includes several types of sashimi, or plain raw fish.

Our delicate avocado and salmon rolls held fresh chunks of avocado and plump pieces of fish. A second type, the California Maki Roll, was fat with salmon, tofu, cucumber and green onion. Both were accompanied by a hot wasabi sauce.

The ingredients that compose sushi are not particularly flavorful -- seaweed, plain rice and bits of fish -- so texture is particularly important to a successful sushi roll. Unfortunately, the rice in our maki rolls was a bit gummy.

We opted to skip dessert after scanning the menu, which consisted mostly of ice cream or fruits fried in dough. For those not seeking a truly Japanese experience, Samurai also offers what it calls a "banana split" sundae.

Service was a bit slow, and the wait staff didn't seem overly concerned by the deficit of food and drink. Still, Samurai offers diners a pleasant change of pace from loud, smoky dining rooms and heavy meals.

Samurai. 21/13 Ulitsa Malaya Bronnaya, 202-8694, noon to midnight. Metro: Mayakovskaya.

-- Jeanne Whalen