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

October 20, 1985| William J. Eaton

A joke here has it that "The Gourmet's Guide to Moscow" is one of the thinnest books ever written.

Most Moscow restaurants look alike, serve almost identical food and have similarly indifferent service. Moscow must be one of the few capitals where the U.S. Embassy snack bar is in the running for the title of best place to eat.

There is, however, a small Soviet restaurant that combines an attractive ambiance with tasty food and pleasant service. It is the Cafe Stoleshnikov, situated on a little lane with the same name, about a block from Gorky Street and a short walk from Red Square.

For intimacy and attractiveness, it is probably unique in Moscow. The cafe is below street level, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and red-brick walls. There is a small, circular bar and indirect lighting that would not be out of place on New York's Upper East Side. One room resembles an English pub, with wooden tables and high-backed chairs.

Ordering a meal at the Cafe Stoleshnikov is simplicity itself, for it offers only a single appetizer, entree and coffee at a cost of five rubles (about $5.75). Drinks, which are limited to juice, champagne and cognac, are extra.

The appetizer invariably includes a small portion of caviar with egg and smoked fish, usually sturgeon. The main course, served in a small clay pot, has tender pieces of meat in a fruit sauce that is the cafe's distinctive specialty.

The atmosphere is perhaps even more appealing than the food. The Cafe Stoleshnikov may be the only restaurant in Moscow that provides candlelight and well-chosen recordings of Russian songs as background music. The waitresses are friendly and quick.

For some reason, the cafe seems to appeal to young lovers, judging by the number of couples holding hands, gazing into each other's eyes and, occasionally, entwined in an embrace. It is an oasis of privacy and romance in a city that is not known for either.

Cafe Stoleshnikov, 6 Stoleshnikov Pereulok.

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