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GLOBAL : CORRESPONDENTS' COURSES : Times writers around the world reveal the names of their favoritelittle-known restaurants : CAIRO

October 20, 1985| David Lamb

No one ever accused Cairo of being a great restaurant city. Tourists rarely venture beyond their hotels to dine. Those who do have a choice of about half a dozen restaurants that are listed in the guidebooks.

But tucked away on a side street in Zamalek, an island suburb, is a gem of a restaurant that has become a favorite of Americans and Europeans who live in Cairo. You won't find El Patio in any guidebook. Your cab driver will probably have never heard of it. No one remembers having seen an ad for it.

El Patio was opened a year ago by Argentine-born Federico Grelle and his Swiss wife, Magda. Their bright, airy eatery was once a dingy sandwich shop, but they put in skylights and potted plants; commissioned local artists to make the plates and glasses, and found some old, wrought-iron elevator doors for the entrance.

The charm of El Patio is that it is still very much a family operation. Grelle has contracted with local farmers to provide him with delicacies not available in any other Cairo restaurant--fresh asparagus and mushrooms, sweet corn, endive.

He flies to the fishing villages along the Red Sea once a week to personally select the finest fish in Egyptian waters and to bring back the only lobsters sold in any Cairo restaurant. His beef comes from the United States--that, too, is a rarity in Cairo--and his strawberries ($1.50 for a heaping order) come from an American friend who advises the Egyptians on how to make better use of their land.

There are beamed ceilings and a European atmosphere--and reasonable prices. A three-course dinner--artichoke with shrimp, pork chops from Alexandria and strawberry mousse--costs about $15, including a bottle of Egyptian wine (stay away from the white; the red and rose are acceptable).

El Patio, 5 El Sayed el Bakery Street, Zamalek, a $2 cab ride from most international hotels in Cairo; telephone 402645.

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