Restaurant: Else Cafe
Text Charles W. Borden
Photos Sergei Koshkin
I’d heard raves about the food at this quiet restaurant near the expat colony of Pokrovsky Hills. The area borders a large park on your right as you head out of town on Volgogradsky Shosse, a couple of kilometers past the exit off Leningradsky Prospekt at the Green Line’s Sokol metro station. The large Pokrovsky Hills townhouse development, which could have been transplanted from a U.S. suburb, draws many expats because of its proximity to the Anglo-American School. There is also a huge complex of high-end apartments nearby. Else is on the first floor of a relatively new high-rise apartment building and an adjunct to a fabulous health club, the ElseClub.
Upon entering, the dinner guest is greeted at the Else-Club’s reception and then ushered into a rather diminutive restaurant with a simple décor — clean but not particularly distinctive. The restaurant’s web site bills the menu, and the interior design, as fusion.
Upon tasting the “Chef’s Complement,” a cube of braised tuna served with shredded beet, it was clear that a real professional was at work in the kitchen: Chef Alexei Berzin, a veteran of the Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow.
The somewhat limited wine list included a nice New Zealand Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc (3050 R). When a red wine at 1 500 rubles was not available, we took a similarly priced substitute, an excellent, deep, floral Italian Salento Primitivo 2005.
Starters sampled included an intriguing cream polenta with tiger shrimp (520R) and the Scotch salmon in corn crisp (800R) as well as a Caesar salad with shrimp (450R). Caesar salad provides a basic test for a restaurant — it’s such a universal menu item that it is easily taken for granted. (Believe it or not, I have had a Caesar salad in Moscow made with chopped cabbage.) The chef at Else has not overlooked his Caesar, which was served just right, a good combination of flavors on real Romaine with thin slices of fresh grilled shrimp, a bit of anchovy, and large Italian capers. The cream polenta was also delightful, the polenta very smooth, almost a corn pudding captured in a very thin, cylindrical corn crisp with a tiger shrimp and sprigs of basil and thyme.
I ordered the simple wok vegetables with cashew and chicken (450R), which was served on papadum, a circular Indian crisp made from lentil flour. The papadum nicely set off the lightly spiced and sautéed vegetables and chicken. My dining companion was pleased with the grouper fillet he caught, served with batata (Spanish sweet potato) cream and morel sauce (1 400R).
Normally, we don’t have room for dessert, but I couldn’t resist the Belgian chocolate mousse with raspberry marmalade and black pepper (300R). Overall, the meal was a pleasant surprise. The quality of the food offerings and their presentation were extraordinary, certainly comparable to some of Moscow’s best. The residents of Pokrovsky Hills should be pleased to have Else and its chef in the neighborhood.
As to the adjoining health club, an extraordinary health facility on two floors, no expense appears to have been spared: It has half a dozen pools at various temperatures, a large Finnish sauna, Russian banya, and rooms full of the latest high-tech training equipment. Those who pay the $5,000 per year membership dues will have access to an oligarch’s dream and, at least for now, no crowds.