A trip to the dacha, or countryside home, is a quintessential Russian experience—some fresh air, a little sweat in the garden, and a huge meal of freshly grown produce in the evening. For many Muscovites, however, this opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the city doesn’t come often enough. Grabli (the name “грабли” means “rake” in Russian) is a restaurant intended to mimic that experience. The interior is decorated with fake greenery and the employees wear gimmicky straw hats, but the traditional Russian fare this buffet serves is the real deal.
Grabli is a chain of cafeteria-style, large restaurants with about nine locations throughout Moscow. Each location is slightly different in atmosphere, but all are based on same concept – large, airy, comfortable establishments with fast service and a wide selection.
The location we visited is located about a minute’s walk from the Novokuznetskaya metro station on Pyatnitskaya ulitsa. I went with fellow student Whitney, who had just arrived to Russia a few days ago and was eager to try some traditional dishes. The buffet is organized very logically—first cold drinks, then side dishes, and then main courses. After this, however, are a few more side dishes, then soups, deserts, hot drinks, savory pirozhki (Russian pies) and finally bread. Everything is laid out openly and nearly everything looks delicious. While everything is quite reasonably priced and comes in good-sized portions, it is very easy to allow your eyes to overtake your stomach and to order way too much. We found this out first-hand.
Whitney had black currant mors and a carrot salad. I picked out a mushroom salad and decided to try the strawberry compote. We both settled on ham cutlets with fried potatoes and mushrooms for our main course, and added a mini-pirozhok filled with cabbage. I must have been somewhat nostalgic for the time I spent at my host family’s dacha because I also grabbed a pickled tomato and a cucumber.
To be honest, the mushroom salad was disappointing—it reminded me of a bland American potato salad. The pickled vegetables were also a disappointment – not quite living up to my memory of home-pickled grub. However, the meal as a whole was quite satisfying. The cutlets were very tender and not too greasy, and, along with the potatoes, almost made up a complete meal in itself—it was a large, filling portion. I had never had strawberry compote before and now find myself wishing that it was served more often—it is a much more logical fruit to make a drink out of than apricots, in my opinion. We had added the cabbage pirozhok as almost an afterthought, but it was very tasty – moist and flavorful.
A bit overwhelmed by all the tasty options laid out before us, we weren’t careful when picking things out and we went over our intended budget—my bill alone came to 455 rubles. However, if I had been more attentive, (and with the benefit of hindsight) I could have easily forgone the pickled vegetables, the mushroom salad, and the pirozhok, and would have had a filling meal with drink for 349 rubles, just inside my budget, and I would have still been full at the end. Without the drink, it would have come to just 310 rubles. If we had ordered a simpler garnish, like rice, for example, it would have been possible to get a filling meal well under 300 rubles.
The atmosphere was also remarkable. There were plenty of places to sit—three stories, in fact, and so the overall atmosphere felt calm and unrushed even though the place is frequented by the people who are there to take advantage of the fast service. The staff was no more polite nor rude than is typically found in Russia. Perhaps they would be happier if they didn’t have to wear those ridiculous hats. In any case, Grabli provides an excellent chance to get a taste of down-home Russian cooking for a decent price.
For groups and faculty-led tours, Grabli can be great. Basically, so long as you tell you group that everyone can have one salad, one main course, a side dish, and a drink, the average bill will almost always come out to 300-350 rubles ($10-12). Plus, everyone can see what they are ordering before they order it, and even folks who can’t speak Russian can just point and grunt and get what they like. The massive seating area makes accommodating groups easy – ask everyone to head to the third floor if you want to try to keep everyone more or less together.