THE DISH: Young at heart

THE DISH: Young at heart

Leica Café and Bar//29 Kanal Griboyedova//Tel. 571 9695//Open 11 a.m. to midnight (till 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday)//Menu in Russian and English//Lunch for two without alcohol 1,790 rubles ($57)

Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)

On entering a restaurant named Leica, one might expect to be welcomed by a barrage of photo-related décor, as a tribute to the renowned camera company of the same name. Here, however, visitors are initially confronted by a small bar — Leica describes itself not only as a café but also a bar. At 2 p.m., however, the bar portion of the restaurant was receiving very little attention. The remainder of the interior, a vast, cavern-like series of rooms sporting whitewashed brick walls and a number of decorative archways, was reasonably crowded.

Leica boasts English-speaking wait staff and an English-language menu, with a section titled “a history of coffee” devoted to the extensive range of coffee beverages offered by the café. The afternoon began with an order of two cappuccinos (150 rubles each, $4.80), which turned out to be not only larger than in many places, but also exceptionally good.

The drinks menu is not limited to coffee, but encompasses everything from milkshakes to cocktails. Wine starts at 190 rubles ($6) for a glass or 800 rubles ($25.70) for a bottle, and peaks at 1,350 rubles ($43.35) for the most expensive bottle.

A young and funky atmosphere rules at Leica. The placemats, which are clearly designed for the young-at-heart, provide various games such as battleship and tic-tac-toe, as well as ample space for drawing. This inspired set up is completed by individual buckets of colored pencils provided for each patron’s gaming or drawing needs. The décor of the restaurant continues along this same playful line, with brightly colored plastic watering cans adorning the windowsills, potted plants dotted strategically around the room and large framed photographs of vintage cameras hanging on the walls. An eclectic mix of music played constantly in the background, broadcasting anything from Michael Jackson to light techno, and always at a level slightly too loud for comfort, though not entirely overwhelming.

The menu at Leica is an interesting one, consisting of a combination of traditional Russian dishes interspersed with some Asian options, as well as salads, pizzas and pastas. Leica can accordingly satisfy both adventurous diners and more conservative ones. Lunch exemplified this theory perfectly, starting with one order of Thai “sharp” soup — one of numerous comical translation errors in the menu, here, seemingly, a literal translation of the Russian word for spicy — for 250 rubles, $8, and another of the more traditional borsch (210 rubles, $6.70). The Thai soup was excellent, sporting flavors seldom found in Russia such as ginger, lemongrass and coconut milk, while the borsch was slightly sweeter than usual, though none the worse for that.

Also from the Asian section of the menu came a wok dish with rice noodles, chicken, beansprouts and mushrooms, completed with a sweet chili sauce (260 rubles, $8.30). This dish lacked the spicy zing that usually characterizes such Thai meals, and the other flavors didn’t entirely make up for it, with the promised sweet chili sauce failing to make an appearance entirely. To top it off, the portion was relatively small.

The other main dish, beef Stroganoff with potatoes (370 rubles, $11.90), was decent though also small, smothered with an excess of sauce and lacking any noteworthy flavors or qualities. Furthermore, in a typical Russian service quirk, the waiter failed to stagger our courses, bringing out the main dishes before the soups were finished, making for an uncomfortably crowded table.

Any grumbles, however, were quickly forgotten upon the appearance of the Belgian waffles (150 rubles, $4.80) and hot chocolate lava cake (250 rubles, $8) that arrived for dessert, accompanied by a modest but rich side of vanilla ice cream. Both desserts were served warm and left no room for criticism. This led to the conclusion that Leica might perhaps be a better place to visit for a fun, engaging atmosphere, good cup of coffee and mood-lifting dessert, rather than a full-fledged meal.

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