I spent a summer in Stockholm once and was amazed by how often the Swedes ate their meals outside. It had to do with the long winters, I learned. Unlike their Russian neighbors, the Swedes take delight in dining outside whenever the opportunity arises as long as the weather permits, and instead of wolfing down their food in front of a television like the Russkies, they rush to outdoor cafes in droves, and revel in the whole outdoor experience as soon as the first moments of Spring appear.
Now Muscovites can take a trip to the borders of Sweden without leaving the Russian capital by having a delightful meal at one of Moscow’s few Swedish restaurants, Scandinavia. This centrally located restaurant near Tverskaya and Pushkinskaya offers a large menu as well as outdoor dining on the terrace and soon-to-open patio that makes eating something really enjoyable, while taking the patron far away from the confusion and chaos of Moscow’s transforming society. The atmosphere is relaxing, pleasant, and treats customers to a truly Swedish experience, not just a meal. Not that operating a Swedish restaurant in Moscow is easy. Since all of the food is imported, it’s not surprising that every once in a while, the truck from Stockholm gets snared in customs, as so happened the night we were there. But with Swedish management, two Swedish cooks and several years in the making, the restaurant is a winning combination that will make the arrival of warmer weather in Moscow that much more pleasant, and hopefully a few less Muscovites will eat their dinner to the tune of the 6 o’clock news.
We sat outside on the heated terrace in the fresh air and started our meal with plenty of homemade fresh bread, including white, delicious brown malted and plenty of Swedish flatbread. The bread was light and soft, and made, I was told, on the premises, and unlike many restaurants, the bread basket was continually filled throughout the evening. For starters we ordered several items from the menu, including a variety of Swedish herring, smoked reindeer, foie gras, and Swedish caviar. The winner in the combination was clearly the assorted Swedish herring plate ($13), which came in a variety of flavors and textures. The herring could have easily come from a specialty shop in Stockholm, but like most of the food, including the ice cream, the herring was also made at the restaurant. The sauvas, or smoked reindeer with beets, caper, horseradish and chives ($16), almost raw, was tender and also came with a couple of shots of homemade aqua vit made by Leon the cook’s secret recipe. The foie gras ($33) was soft and creamy. For his main dish my companion ordered the Indochine soup ($10) with lime, coconut and chili, which was his highlight of the evening. It was spicy, but not too much, creamy and just the right combination of East and West. The cook, I was told, has an passionate love affair with Thai food, which is why several of the dishes on the menu seemed to stem from this part of the world, contrasting my stereotyped vision that Swedish food was bland. I ordered a fish dish and ended up with a combination of cod and halibut in lobster sauce ($30). The fish was flaky, the asparagus tender, and the sauce light. We debated ordering the mix grill ($26) with a fillet of beef, chorizo and pork with french tomato and sauce bearnaise, but decided against it, for there just wasn’t enough room. In all, the food, even the smoked reindeer, was incredibly light, leaving plenty of room for desert.
For dessert, we again ordered a variety of dishes, which came in a sampler selection. All the desserts were $8.00, except for the incredibly creamy Study in Sorbet ($5). The rest included the Dou of cheesecake, a traditional cheesecake with raspberry sauce, a nutcake with pineapple and lambada sauce and a tiramisu, an Italian specialty. The desserts were sweet just enough, but light like the rest of the meal. It was refreshing to be able to walk away from the table without the stuffed feeling.
There are some other good things about the Scandinavia restaurant, like its lunchtime buffet for $15 or $7 with any main course. The buffet runs a little pricier on the weekends ($28), but it offers a greater selection of items. But true to tradition, the best part of Scandinavia comes in the summer with its outdoor cafe and the less expensive summer cafe menu, which includes such items as baked potato with your choice of fillings ($7), Swedish meatball open sandwich ($5) and grilled chicken breast ($13).