FOOD&DRINK

Irina Khodzinskaya:

I like feeding people!

It seems there isn’t a word out there that has as many different meanings as the word “simple.”

Even dictionaries can’t convey the many different connotations of this word. After all, “simple” can mean “natural,” “easy to understand,” “close,” or “without cheating.” In any case, the patrons of the cafe “Simple Things” intended for all of these meanings to be a part of the establishment’s name.

The center of any capital is a tense, noisy place. Moscow is no exception. Among the endless buildings made out of brick and concrete, there is a sea of people in cars who are all in a hurry. But once you find yourself at 1-ya Brestskaya 41, you will feel like you’re in a totally different city, a different century or, if you prefer, even in a different dimension. This is exactly what Irina Khodzinskaya felt in March of this year, when she first came to this magical place. “It seemed like you were magically transported from a concrete jungle into an oasis with a cosy two-story home, trees and unexpected silence,” Irina remembers, “It was so wonderful that I didn’t want to leave!”.

What she saw before her eyes impressed Irina so much that she immediately decided that there needs to be a cafe here. In May, the area was already equipped with a summer terrace and in the beginning of fall the house turned into an elegant cafe called “Simple Things New Vintage.”

However, Irina wouldn’t have been able to do all this had it not been for over a decade of experience in the restaurant business in Moscow. Suffice it to say that she has become the owner of three Simple Things cafes in Moscow during this time. Although all of them have the same name, each cafe is different. One of them, for example, offers visitors a selection of 80 different wines. And this isn’t some fancy wine bar where a pompous know-it-all talks down to customers. Much like in all of her other cafes, everything here is simple: the waiter will gladly make suggestions about what kind of wine you might like with different dishes, and will also offer you a taste of each one before you commit to a glass or a full bottle. In other words, opening a fourth cafe was just a matter of logistics for Irina.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Khodzinskaya doesn’t consider herself a “businesswoman.” Does she need to make money? Of course she does! But the art of the trade has always come first for her. She loves what she does so much that she refers to it as her hobby. “If someone had told me that my hobby would make me money, I would have never believed it,” she says.

Irina has always known that, sooner or later, she would definitely open her own cafe. In any case, she really hoped her dream would come true.

Where does someone who has a degree in finance and worked as a CFO of a big organization before getting into the restaurant business draw this passion? “I like feeding people,” she explains. Irina’s signature dish is the Wellington meat pie, which she occasionally makes at home for her friends and family. She spends the rest of her time, every day from morning to night, in her cafes. “I live there,” Irina says with a smile.

For example, she approved every dish on the menu herself. What are the criteria? “It’s simple,” Ms. Khodzinskaya says, “it just has to taste good!”.

Aside from Irina, the cafe’s chef Alexey Eisen works to make sure the menu is delicious. There is a wide selection of appetizers, salads, soups, main dishes and desserts. You won’t get anything totally out of the ordinary like monkey brains or turtle soup when you visit Simple Things. The cafe’s menu focuses on skillfully prepared simple items with fresh products everybody is familiar with. The produce is delivered from farms that the cafe has had a long-term relationship with. The vegetables come from outside of Moscow, the beef and rabbit come from Bryansk, the lamb is delivered from Dagestan and Kalmykia, while the fish comes from the Black Sea.

The chef’s exclusive craftsmanship lies in the way the dishes are prepared. Here are just some of the items on the menu: “Tuna Salad with Zucchini, Avocado and Mint,” “Sweet Far Eastern Shrimp with Baked Carrots and Dried Apricots,” “Foie Gras with Spicy Fig Jam,” “Halibut with Cream of Beet Tops and Tarragon” and “Crab Cakes with a Light Ginger Sauce and Salad.”

One of the cafe’s big sources of pride is the cocktails. The main catch, which was invented by mixologist Max Rochman, is that they taste like different types of desserts. For example, guests can get cocktails that taste like peaches with mascarpone, lemon tarts and Parmesan cheese mousse with raspberry jelly. People who try these delicious cocktails just once will inevitably return for another round. “We don’t have accidental guests,” Irina says with pride, “People come here in order to return.”

 

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