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Meet the strip-mall saucier

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Right or wrong, area foodies consider the west side something of a culinary wasteland. For haute cuisine, the East End has the Rio, Tonic, Max, and 2 Vine; the eastern suburbs have Joey B's, the Erie Grill, and the Victor Grilling Company. Out west, you've got Bernard's Grove and, well, Bernard's Grove.

            A year ago, Len Moscowitz was enjoying a meal cooked by his brother David at the Del Monte Lodge. "Dave," he said, "we should open our own place." Len felt that 100,000 people in Greece could certainly support a fine restaurant, which seems demographically indisputable. Thus was born Moscow's Eclectic Dining, sitting improbably on Latta Road in a strip mall.

            David Moscowitz is your basic local pro; his resume includes stints at Oak Hill Country Club, Park Ave. Pub, and the old Rio Bamba. He called himself, "a prima donna about product," but it's Moscowitz's experience as a saucier that sets his cooking apart (he credits Belgian chef Andre Graindorge, with whom he worked at Oak Hill). His veal shank demi-glace serves as a base for many sauces, and its rich depth shines.

            My first encounter with that stuff was on a lamb chop special ($24, it will be on the winter menu). Two domestic loin chops were seared, then served with a mint demi-glace: caramelized mint jelly fused with Moscowitz's standard sauce. The idea to incorporate the mint was inspired, and realized beautifully. The chops were a perfect medium rare, large, and meaty; I labored over the scraps in the crevices.

            Canadian snow crab cake was as good as can be expected inland ($8). It came on a bed of "sizzled" spinach, with a roasted red pepper reduction and a creamy rémoulade. The accompaniments to the lobster salad ($12) were so good, the prosciutto-wrapped lobster seemed superfluous. Roasted plum tomato, sizzled spinach, and tapenade were spectacular in herbed butter, with the tomato and lobster pieces simulating the body of a small crustacean.

            At its worst, "eclectic" dining leads to the dreaded culinary train wreck, but not here. Pork pot stickers ($8) might seem odd next to crab cakes, but that's your choice to make. Each dish is successful on its own terms. The pot stickers came with sautéed Chinese cabbage and another spectacular sauce: fermented black beans in reduced plum wine and teriyaki.

            Almond-encrusted Chilean sea bass did nothing to harm our opinion ($18). Dried cherries in a risotto bed were a great touch. Veal loin Wellington was regal wrapped in puff pastry ($19). The meat was sweet and tender, and mushroom pâté and fresh spinach were very fine. The shitake mushroom port wine sauce sent it into orbit. If you're looking for quibbles, the roasted red pepper didn't jibe perfectly with the sauce, and the steamed vegetables on the side were dull by comparison.

            Michael Warren Thomas claimed the crème brûlée had the best custard he's ever had. I also liked the hazelnut cheesecake, though Michael objected to adulterating the smooth texture. The wine list is extensive and includes a Dr. Frank Riesling, and there was also a very good mixed fruit juice (for the non-alcoholic epicure).

            Yes, Moscow's is in a strip mall. But it's tony just the same. Art from the Elizabeth Collection hangs on deep-red walls, and the lighting is adequate but unobtrusive. The bathrooms are very nice. The service was clear, attentive, and friendly. If you come on a weekday, give a call and David will put together a tasting menu for you.

            My guess is we can't support the glut of high-end places on the east side much longer. And initially, the idea of eclectic dining in Greece seems odd. But really, it's not. Of course Greece has plenty of patrons for such a place, and they certainly don't have many choices. Moscow's is a terrific restaurant, run by good people. Here's hoping it can last.

Moscow's, 3208 Latta Road, 225-2880. Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 4:30 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. (Open Mondays beginning in October.)

Food tip

Chef's Day at the Rochester Public Market is this Saturday from 10 to noon. There will be grilling demonstrations, and three farmers with newly harvested garlic for sale. Meet some of Rochester's best chefs in front of the brick office building at the center of the Market.

            And be sure to fill out the food section of your Best of Rochester ballot. Even if you think your favorites might not have a chance in the poll, we're interested. Adam and I will be reviewing as much of the data as we can, and could use the tips from all of you.

--- Michael Warren Thomas

Michael Warren Thomas can be heard on WYSL 1040. Tune in on Saturdays for gardening, restaurants, and travel from 9 to noon, and on Sundays for antiques and wine from 10 to noon. Listen live on the web at www.SavorLife.com.

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