Borssó Bistro, Budapest

9 03 2011

Just as soon as I’d snapped the photos of the lángos we ate for lunch on our first full day in Budapest, Nick noted that my camera was flashing a low battery warning.  D’oh!  I took no more pictures for the rest of the day, and I left my camera in the hotel the next day.*  But the day after that, we woke up to see Budapest covered in a light dusting of snow, with a few tiny flakes fluttering through the air.  We had already planned to warm ourselves up in the sauna before heading out, and the weather only confirmed our decision.  Once we were warmed through, showered, and bundled up, we set out to explore Budapest’s answer to Père Lachaise: Kerepesi Temetó.  (That o is supposed to have two accents, but I can’t figure out how to make my keyboard type that.)

Gravestone with ivy

The cemetery was especially silent and still with the snow falling gently on the graves.  I was surprised at how far apart the plots were spaced, and at the sheer size of some of the monuments.  The biggest ones belonged to people who had streets or metro stops named after them, but beyond that, the names were unfamiliar.  I was also taken with how organic this cemetery felt.  Many of the graves had live plants incorporated into their design, and the trees, though bare, were plentiful.  I can only imagine this place in the summer – I’m sure there are flowers blooming everywhere.

We wandered through the cemetery for about an hour, enough time to chill us down to the bone.  A big, leisurely lunch was in order.  Borssó Bistro sounded like the right place for such a lunch.  Listed as “Hungarian with a hint of French influence” by our French guidebook, and as “French” by the restaurant guide I picked up at the Tourist information desk at the airport, we took a look at the menu and decided the former description was probably more accurate.

We sat down in the cozy, warm restaurant and noted the décor – it was  interesting to see the Hungarian interpretation of a French bistro, complete with tiled bar (where’s the zinc?), chalkboard menus (they got that one right), and faux-parquet floor.  I thought I might have had enough foie gras for one weekend, so I started with the paprika cream soup.

Paprika cream soup, Borssó Bistro

The bright color and mildly spicy flavor were immensely cheerful, and the roulade of roasted eggplant strips around a center of fresh goat cheese made this soup a substantial appetizer, perfect for warming a cold, hungry traveler like myself.

Speaking of substantial appetizers, Nick got what is probably the best preparation of foie gras I have ever seen:

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Central Market Hall, Budapest

2 03 2011

I could have entitled this post “Központi Vásárcsarnok,” but I was afraid that might have been a little off-putting.  To quote from my phrasebook, “Hungarian, or Magyar, is distantly related to Finnish and Estonian, but is utterly unlike the languages of the other main linguistic groups of Europe.”  No kidding.  What that means in real life is that if your main language experiences have been with, say, Romance or Germanic languages, none of the words in Hungarian will look even remotely familiar.  Which made the long weekend Nick and I recently spent in Budapest something of an adventure.

Budapest's Central Market Hall

Budapest was once two towns, Buda on the hilly West bank of the Danube River, and Pest on the flat East side.  We stayed in Pest, in the Józsefváros neighborhood, which seemed to have a pretty good dining scene as well as plenty of cool bars for later on.  There was a bit of trouble with the hotel we had originally booked, but since it resulted in a free upgrade to the Hotel Palazzo Zichy, we weren’t complaining.  The first night we dined in a nearby restaurant, Alföldi Kisvendéglö, which served inexpensive, old-school Hungarian classics like paprikás csirke (chicken paprikash – chicken braised in a paprika-laced gravy) and töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage).  The food was hearty and flavorful, though less than photogenic.  We washed it down with a bottle of Hungarian red wine, which was surprisingly good, especially considering the price – about $18 US.

Tiled market roof

The next morning, I was itching to check out the Central Market Hall, conveniently located only ten minutes’ walk from our hotel.  (I swear I didn’t plan it that way, I just got lucky.)  It’s an impressive building, with elaborate patterns in the bricks and a colorful tiled roof.  Inside, the market spans three levels.

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Périgord’s Greatest Hits

29 12 2009

I’m afraid Périgord is getting the short end of the stick this month.  Like I said before, Périgord is the home of French Christmas staples such as foie gras and chestnuts, which is why I chose it for December.  Unfortunately, my paying job is much more demanding in the winter, particularly in the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s.  So I haven’t had nearly as much time as I would have liked to research (read: taste) my way through Périgord.

Seasoning the foie

I did, however, with the help of Hopie, manage to put together a Christmas dinner très périgord.  Minus the truffles.  When it came down to  spending 23 euros on a 9-gram truffle or spending them on a 500-gram foie gras de canard, the choice was clear.  On Christmas day, I split the lobe in two, did my best to remove the vein without mangling the beautiful foie, then simply seasoned and seared it on both sides.  When the searing was done, I lowered the heat and let it continue cooking, covered, for a few more minutes.

Whole pan-roasted foie gras

After the foie was warmed through, I moved it to a plate and poured off all but a thin layer of fat from the pan.  I quickly sautéed some diced shallots, deglazed with a splash of balsamic vinegar, and stirred in some fig jam for a sauce that was absolutely heavenly spooned over thick slices of warm foie gras.  We washed it down with a glass of Monbazillac, a white dessert wine from (where else?) Périgord.  I’m not ashamed to admit that four of us polished off the entire big lobe (the small one has since become an unphotogenic but quite tasty pâté) before diving into the rest of our meal.

Speaking of the rest of the meal, Hope was enthusiastic about the Périgord theme, and contributed a delicious herbed chestnut soup to the feast.  The richness of the chestnuts was nicely balanced with woodsy rosemary and palate-awakening mint.  Of course I didn’t get any photos.  (Did I mention there was wine at this dinner?)  Nor did I get a single photo of the goose I had to go to eight butchers to find, which we roasted and ate with potatoes cooked in the drippings – a simplified version of the périgueux classic, pommes sarladaises.

All in all, a wonderful Christmas dinner and a great time spent with friends sharing some of our favorite activities: cooking and eating.  Just the way I like to spend my holidays.

In case I don’t get back here before Friday (and it doesn’t look like I will) Happy New Year!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon

16 05 2008

The bread basket

Last Monday I was fortunate enough, grace à some very generous friends, to dine at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Nick and I had been there once before, on our honeymoon.  We loved everything we ate, but regretted not going for the Menu Découverte, a mistake we would not be repeating.  Judging from what I’ve read, the place has only gotten better since our previous visit, gaining Pudlo plates, Michelin stars (now at two each), and was recently ranked #14 on San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World list.

The wines that accompanied our fabulous dinner

So we ordered the Menu Découverte this time around, and two delicious bottles of wine.  It was probably the most spectacular meal of my life.  And now, to quote one of the best food blogs I know, on to the food…

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Food Fair, concluded

20 03 2008

It was around this point that Nick noted the proliferation of stands dispensing aperitifs.  We concluded that the reason behind it was to keep everyone in a constant state of hunger.  And on that note, we went to taste some Armagnac.  Before we were given a sip, we got a full-on Armagnac-tasting lesson.  The (very) Frenchman doling it out told us that you must warm it in your hands and take deep smells of it – like a woman.  We got to taste the 1979 and the 1967.  The ’67 was pretty remarkable, I thought, although never having tried Armagnac before, I don’t have much of a frame of reference.  When the vendor found out this fact, he said this was the third time in one day that he had initiated someone into the world of Armagnac.  The first was a Swiss man, and the second was a Japanese couple.  We were holding out to try the 1944, but it didn’t seem to be in the cards.  He tried to put the hard sell on us, and we walked away empty handed.

Over to another foie gras booth, where we got samples of foie gras mi-cuit and foie gras au sel from Alban Laban.  Both were unctuously delicious, but the foie gras au selwas the real standout.  Uncooked, simply cured in salt, it was perfectly seasoned with an incredibly smooth mouthfeel.  I could have eaten tubs of the stuff and they would have had to roll me home.  So I guess it’s a good thing that they weren’t giving out free tubs of foie gras au sel.

Instead, we wandered over to the G. Prieur Grands Vins de Bourgogne stand.  I came for the Vosne-Romanée, and I stayed for the nice large Burgundy glasses (as opposed to the cheap tasting glasses most of the other stands were using) and the amiable proprietors.  At first we were proposed a flight of 3 wines, starting with my requested 2005 Vosne-Romanée, which had a deep rose color, almost floral aroma, and juicy flavor.  Next came the 2003 Nuits-St.-Georges, darker and more complex, followed by the 2003 Morey-Saint-Denis, ruby-colored with a slight oakiness.  As we chatted with the proprietors, (my French is getting better by the glass!) I mentioned that our 2nd wedding anniversary was in a few days, and they insisted we try a few more wines.  Out came the 2005 Beaune 1er cru Clos du Roy.  It was absolutely amazing.  We asked if 2005 was a better year than 2003, and they told us that 2005 was one for the ages.  Then they gave us a taste of the 2005 Volnay, which was lighter and sweeter, and described as “très feminin, très fin.”  Perhaps it was a little too subtle for my palate – it was nice, but nothing particularly noteworthy, especially after the Vosne-Romanée and the Beaune 1er cru.  To top it off, we were given one more sample: the 2003 Aloxe-Corton.  It was rond.  We began to notice a few fellow salon-goers with hand-trucks for carrying their purchases and wished we had planned as well.  Luckily, G. Prieur was selling cases of 6 bottles for home delivery.  We couldn’t pass up that Clos du Roy, especially if we didn’t even have to carry it!

Our next stop showed that even France is not immune to inane food fads.

Chocolate Fountain

Yes, that’s a chocolate fountain.  Which is too bad, because they had some very good chocolates, once you got past the stupid gimmick.  Our favorite was the dark chocolate with cacao nibs.  We wanted to buy a bag of just those, but all they were selling were mixed-bag gift baskets – again with the stupid gimmicks!

Speaking of gimmicks, the next thing we tried was a fresh cheese mixed with red pepper and shallot, rolled in neat little hors d’oeuvre-sized balls.  They were quite tasty despite their cutesy look, and made with lait cru, to boot.  Then we stopped by a caviar booth and, inexplicably, were given candied hazelnuts.  They were actually quite good, with a nice, dark caramel crunch to them.  But that’s not why I’m at the caviar booth, now is it?

Moving on, we were flagged down by a man peddling calvados and a lighter, sweeter liqueur made from apple cider.  This is not the sort of thing we would normally try, but it turned out to be enjoyable, especially the liqueur, marketed as either an apéritif or a digestif.  It had distinct apple flavor, but with earthy undertones that balanced out the sweetness.

Of course, no French food fair would be complete without an array of fancy sea salts.

One of many salt booths

This particular booth was handing out salted butter caramels.  The caramel could have been cooked a little darker, in my opinion, but I am a sucker for a salty caramel.  To the right of the salt was the Camille de Lys mushroom stand.  Obviously, we had to try it.  We got three different marinated mushrooms: Champignons Bruns, in an acidic, appetite-stimulating marinade; Pleurote Gris, meaty and rich; and Lentins du Chêne, with a subtle curry flavor.

With our palates fully blasted, we, predictably, went straight to… Read the rest of this entry »

Food Fair, continued

19 03 2008

The next hour began with chocolates.  We tasted pear and vanilla caramel-filled chocolates, crunchy praline chocolates, and a peach confection that the chocolatier informed me was made from a peach unique to France.  I asked him where he got his chocolate from and the answer (as it was almost everywhere I asked) was “South America, specifically Venezuela and the Caribbean.”  These were much better than the olive oil chocolates I had so recently encountered, giving me hope for the rest of the chocolate booths.

Next we had the pleasure of partaking in a bite of pure foie gras d’oie.  (That’s goose, for you non-francophones out there.)  The artisan, Stéphane Leprettre, explained that he didn’t add anything to the foie gras but salt.  It was fantastic.  Nick declared it some of the best foie gras he had ever tasted.  It was certainly distinct from duck foie gras (which is less expensive and therefore more common), with a mellow, delicate flavor unlike the voluptuousness of duck.

I was excited to have the opportunity to sample so many high-end French wines, but the next stop, Vignobles Pierre-Emmanuel Janoueix, was disappointing to say the least.  We were poured a taste of 2002 Pomerol which tasted a little watery and flat.  Certainly nothing to write home about.  But when we asked to try another, the man condescendingly told me that the point of the Salon was to go from booth to booth, and that basically, he wouldn’t be pouring more than one taste for anyone.  Good luck with that, buddy!  Maybe you should start out with a better wine, if that’s your attitude.

After a brief macaron break, the Puligny-Montrachet line was too long, so we made our way to the Pessac-Leognan.  We were served a 2002 Château Haut-Gardère, which was delicious, and a 2000, even smoother than the 2002.  I paused for a nibble of some lucques olives (great olive flavor with a dense, almost meaty texture) on the way to a stand with cheeses from the Pyrénées.  They were giving out samples of an aged goat/sheep cheese that had a piquant, salty flavor and an almost crumbly texture.  Their pure sheep’s milk cheese was similar, but stronger and a little mustier.  And then we left the “small room.”

Upon entering the “big room,” we were greeted with this sight:

Sausages, piled high

We were distracted, however, by the Compagnie Bretonne’s smorgasbord of seafood salads.  We ate thon à l’estragon (tuna with tarragon), and rillettes of sardine and mackerel.  After a rich, eggy slice of cannelé, and a spoonful of sautéed shiitake mushrooms, we found ourselves staring at a large case full of interesting-looking sausages.


They appeared to be composed of many thin layers.  We learned after tasting it, that it is, in fact, formed by rolling up the large intestines of pigs and stuffing them inside another large intestine.  I must say, it was the tastiest intestine-only preparation I have ever had.

We refreshed our palates with a couple of seaweed canapés, one of which featured a concoction called “norinade,” which I took to be a play on tapenade.  It was good – not overly salty with a definitive nori flavor.  Moving back to heavier things, we had some smoked filet mignon of pork followed by an incredible Italian cheese: Gialline.  It is made with cow’s milk and has a flavor and texture similar to good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Of course there was more wine…

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