One of the first genuinely good restaurants to appear in Moscow, BRASSERIE DU SOLEIL back in its heyday some five years ago was a virtual Mecca for expats. The outstanding nouvelle cuisine and relaxed atmosphere made it one of the top two or three eateries in town at the time; heck, people were known to trek all the way across town just for their goat cheese salad, and the chocolate mousse was exquisite. But the '98 financial crisis took down the Brasserie with it (at least symbolically); quality dropped severely and the place has faded into oblivion during the past couple years.
Now, however, just in time for the latest round of announcements that the Russian economy has finally turned a corner, this place is coming back in a major way, with a new manager and a French chef with experience in the Caribbean who has created a delightful Creole-tinged menu. For now, old standbys such as beef carpaccio, French onion soup, and grilled beef tenderloin remain, but the plan is eventually to focus on Creole dishes exclusively. If all goes well, a redesign of the interior will be in the works as well, but for now that old familiar dining room is still as inviting as ever.
The chef was especially high on the fish, which is flown in fresh twice weekly from Paris, so I decided to go that route. For a starter, I had the Bonito Tuna Carpaccio Seasoned with Island Spices ($9.80), a luscious appetizer, although the tuna did have the slightest bit of overly fishy taste to it. I followed this with the Grilled Seabass with Fennel Sauce ($23.50), which was in a different league entirely. This was succulent and cooked to perfection, with the delicate fennel sauce providing the perfect accompaniment. If this wasn't the freshest seafood I've ever had here in Moscow, then it was certainly among the top three. The fresh spinach and tangy tomato sauce on the side was a very nice touch as well.
My fellow eater also began with seafood, Creole Crab Salad with a Celery Sauce ($11.50) in his case. This was another lovely, delicate dish. He also decided to try a soup -- Seasonal Mushroom and Tomato Flamed with Rum ($5.90), a tremendous winter soup in which the mushrooms and tomato make for a pleasantly surprising complex of flavors. It was so tasty, in fact, that it had me wishing I had tried the Coconut-Flavored Cream and Shrimp Soup ($7.80), but alas, that one shall have to wait for another visit.
For the entree, the fellow eater opted for what seemed the most typically Creole meat dish -- Jamaican Jerk Pork ($18). The tender pork is accompanied by scrumptiously moist sauteed banana slices, making for a combination that quite literally melts in your mouth. Practically every other item on the menu is tempting in some way, but some that caught my eye in particular were the Grilled Tuna Steak ($24.50), Giant Sauteed Gambas Shrimp with Mildly Spicy Creole Sauce ($26), Mauritius-Style Chicken Curry ($13.50), and Roast Filet of Lamb with Sesame Seed and Candied Garlic Sauce ($25.90).
It was especially nice to see the richly varied dessert menu, which includes Guanahani Chocolate Surprise ($5.90), Daily Special Cheesecake ($5.90), the intriguing Flamed Pineapple with Dark Rum and Black Pepper Antigua Style ($7.50), and of course a cheese assortment. But the chef is especially proud of his "Opera" dessert, a chocolate and coffee cream tort that is nothing short of fabulous that's not actually listed on the menu (presumably, this will be changing shortly). And just to prove that the Brasserie is for real and back to its form of old, the fresh bread (served warm) and coffee are both outstanding.
What with all the overpriced and overrated Novikov establishments (Syr, Vanil', Biskvit) opening up these days, it is truly a joy to see an old favorite reclaiming some of the territory it once enjoyed practically alone. So welcome back, Brasserie. We've missed you.