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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Chartres

1 11 2010

Chartres is one of those places, if you’ve studied French for a long time, that you’ve heard about over and over.  It’s home to the best-preserved cathedral in Europe, which is also one of the purest examples of Gothic architecture, built relatively quickly between 1206 and 1260.  And it’s only about an hour from Paris. But I had yet to visit, until last weekend.

The catalyst that finally got me to hop on the train was an invite to a salon from Domaine La Beille.  A small winery run by a couple (he’s Australian, she’s French) in the Languedoc, not far from Perpignan and the Spanish border.  They make some nice wines, and I especially like the way they buck traditions to make single varietal wines in a country where blends are the norm.

Since the train tickets were a little spendy (14 euros each way), Nick and I figured we’d make a day out of it.  I researched some places to eat and made phone calls from the train.  I got a reservation at the first place I called, the Brasserie La Cour at the hotel Le Grand Monarque.

Table setting at Braaserie La Cour

After a short but cold walk from the train station, we walked into the elegant lobby of Le Grand Monarque.  Straight ahead was the airy dining room of the Brasserie La Cour.  Thus named because it is actually situated in the courtyard of the building, the space is very light.  It almost felt like we were dining outside, save for the fact that it was warm and we weren’t getting rained on.  So, better.  I was immediately charmed by the mini-baguettes that were part of the place settings at each table.  I was also a big fan of the little butter crocks, which contained perfectly softened butter.  (It’s a pet peeve of mine when restaurants serve ice-cold, rock-hard butter.)

Butter crock

Of course I had found out the local specialties before we headed to Chartres, and topping the list is a special pâté.  Pâté de Chartres is a rustic, meaty pâté with a hunk of foie gras in the center.  It’s wrapped in pastry and baked, then any space is filled with aspic.

Pâté de Chartres

Here it was served with a salad and a few pickled cherries on the side.  I liked the way the tangy cherries played off the richness of the pâté, but Nick wasn’t a fan.  (Of the cherries.  He definitely liked the pâté, and he also lucked out and got the piece with the big chunk of foie gras.)

Given the gray, rainy weather, for my main course I opted for the “Cocotte du jour,” which happened to be pot au feu – a French classic that consists of slow-cooked beef and vegetables in a rich broth.

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Victorian Square, Sparks

23 09 2010

Is it gilding the lily to prolong a vacation that was already a month long?  One that has now been over for almost three weeks?  Maybe so, but I’m doing it anyway.  I still have vacation food photos to share, and they’re of some of my favorite places and foods in the world.  This one leans more toward favorite places, but you know the food is good, too, or they wouldn’t be my favorite places.

Some of my favorite eating and drinking establishments
1. The Nugget 2. Blind Onion Pizza 3. O’Ski’s Pub 4. Great Basin Brewing Co.

Sparks, Nevada (the middle “a” sounds like the one in “hat,” not “blah”) has been a sort of home-away-from-home for me for a long time.  (Except for the half-year I lived there, right after moving back to the US from France for the first time.  You can imagine the culture shock.)  Victorian Square, aka B Street, was the epicenter of my life there.  I spent many a happy hour at the Nugget Casino’s Orozko bar, drinking half-price drinks and eating tapas, and a few late nights at their blackjack and roulette tables.  I worked at the Great Basin Brewing Company, and I go back for a few pints and meals every time I’m in town.

Black and Blue burger at Great Basin Brewing Co.

I always have a hard time deciding between the signature Black and Blue burger and the fish and chips.  On this particular occasion, I went with the former – a juicy burger seasoned with Cajun blackening spices and topped with blue cheese.  It was every bit as flavorful as I remembered it.  Since this was our second lunch there in a week, and I’d had a chance to chat with the head chef, Nick got a special experimental sandwich he was working on.

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Around Paris: 19th: Zoe Bouillon

20 07 2010

Zoe Bouillon on a sunny afternoon

It’s too bad they’re closing next week for summer vacation, because Zoe Bouillon is serving up an ideal summer lunch.  I’ve walked past the cute canteen on rue Rébéval many times, but today was the first time I’d eaten there.  I doubt it will be the last.

A soup joint might not seem like the best place to eat on a warm July afternoon, but Zoe is cooking up (or mixing, rather) some delicious chilled soups, perfect for summer.  I met my friend Celine there for lunch on Monday, and we were delighted with the fresh, seasonal offerings.  The soups and salads are available à la carte or as part of a formule: from 9 euros for soup and a sandwich, salad, or slices of savory cake, to 11 euros for soup, sandwich or salad, cake and dessert.  We went with the simplest menu, though both of the freshly baked cakes looked so good, we both had to ask for a slice of each.

savory cakes at Zoe Bouillon

There was the mozzarella and herb, green with fresh herbs, and the goat cheese with eggplant and zucchini, which was still slightly warm from the oven.  Both cakes were incredibly moist with a pleasantly browned crust.

Gazpacho andalou with oeufs mimosa

For the soup, I chose the chilled gazpacho andalou, a refreshing and savory blend of tomatoes and herbs.  It was served with a sprinkling of crumbled oeufs mimosa (hard boiled eggs), which provided a satisfying dose of protein.

Chilled cucumber-mint soup at Zoe Bouillon

Celine opted for the chilled cucumber-mint soup, which was incredibly cooling.

The service here is pretty much non-existent, though the staff are friendly and accommodating.  The soups are served in plastic cups and the cakes  on paper plates.  Spoons, forks, knives, and napkins are disposable, too.  (A little surprising to see so much waste at an establishment that otherwise seems to respect food and nature.)  Orders are taken at the counter, and you bring your meal to your table on a brightly colored tray.  When you’re finished, you bus your own table.  It’s bare bones, but it probably helps to keep the prices low.

A restaurant with seasonal fare and reasonable prices in one of my very favorite Parisian neighborhoods?  I only wish I could swing by for lunch more often.

On this day in 2009: Le Rouennais (Another lovely lunch.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Le Rouennais

20 07 2009

In the limited planning time I had for the Rouen trip, I didn’t make it to the library for guidebooks as I normally would have done.  But in the research I was able to do, one restaurant kept coming up, no matter where I was looking.  And that restaurant was Le Rouennais.  I called before we left Paris to see if they would be open on the holiday weekend, and impulsively made a reservation for lunch on Bastille Day. 

Lunchtime Apéro

Since it was a holiday, we figured it would be ok to start our lunch with a celebratory cocktail.  (A quick hilarious story, if you don’t mind: last Thursday Nick and I went to the Musée d’Orsay.  We met on the bridge that joins the Tuileries to the Left Bank, where there are naturally loads of tourists.  I overheard a miffed-sounding American woman telling a companion that she had gone all the way over to the Place de La Bastille, and “No Bastille!”  I just about died laughing, once I was out of earshot, of course.  For those of you not in the know, the Bastille prison was completely demolished very shortly after its famous storming, and, in an ironic twist, the stones were used to build the Pont de la Concorde, one bridge over from the one on which we were standing.)  So I ordered a kir violette, and Nick was talked into the “Cocktail Maison.”  With our drinks came a little plate of apéro nibbles: puff pastry-based cheesy poofs and seafood canapés.  It seems that this is fairly common practice in restaurants in Rouen, but it’s such a nice touch.

We each got a two-course menu, as we do, and Nick got the meal started with the trio de saumon.

Salmon, Three Ways

Silky house-smoked salmon, a wedge of mousse-like salmon terrine, and a very finely minced salmon tartare were equally delicious and beautifully complimented by a dollop of citrusy crème fraîche.  Luckily for me, Nick was generous enough to share a few bites.  The seafood in Normandy is some of the best and freshest in France, and regional chefs proudly highlight it on their menus.  So for my main course I chose the marmite de pêcheur, expecting some kind of mixed seafood stew.

More like seafood pot pie!

What I got was this adorable little tureen topped with flaky puff pastry (and a pointless rosemary garnish).  Underneath the golden crust was my stew – big chunks of salmon and some kind of white fish along with tiny mussels and shrimp swimming in a rich seafood velouté.  I enjoyed every bite, mopping up the last of the sauce with bits of bread, sticking my hand into the bowl in what was certainly an undignified manner.

As for Nick, he chose the magret de canard, and was very pleased with the rosy, perfectly medium rare meat on his plate.

Canard à l'orange

It was served with a classic orange sauce, triangles of underwhelming polenta, and a portion of delicious tomato confit soufflé.  He liked it so much, in fact, that he neglected to photograph the rather unremarkable moelleux au chocolat I had for dessert.

Our bellies full and our palates satisfied, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the mostly deserted streets of Rouen – it was a holiday, after all – before hopping on the train home.  We arrived in Paris in time to watch the fireworks from a vantage point high on the hill above Belleville.  Not a bad way to spend a Fête Nationale.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Bienvenue en Normandie

16 07 2009

As it turned out, I got a three-day “weekend” for Bastille Day.  I put “weekend” in quotes because the three days were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  But no matter.  I found this out on Saturday, and by the time I got home from work, Nick was already researching last-minute getaways.  (Isn’t he the best?)

Can anyone guess where we went?

We found ourselves in Rouen Monday morning.  Rouen is known for its cathedral, which was the subject of a large series of paintings by Claude Monet.  Rouen is also famous for being the site of the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc.  (Incidentally, she was born in Orléans, where I went for a weekend last summer.  I swear I’m not doing the Joan of Arc tour on purpose!)

Restaurant

Rouen is located in France’s Normandy region, and since I haven’t written any Regional French Cuisine posts yet this month, it seemed like a good idea to name July Normandy Month.  (I was originally saving Normandy for September, seeing as it’s famous for its apples, but there we were, so I went with it.)  After finding our way to our hotel and getting a couple of maps from the tourist office, Nick and I set out in search of some lunch.  And by “set out,” I mean “got some beers at a café and made some phone calls.”  Holiday weekends can be tough in France, and a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays anyway, so I wanted to make sure we’d have somewhere to go before hitting the cobblestone streets.  An affirmative response from Le P’tit Bec, which specializes in traditional cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal products, and we were off to the incredibly charming Rue Eau de Robec.

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Why English Food Doesn’t Suck, part 1: What I Had For Lunch In London

23 04 2009

Blue skies in London!

I spent last weekend in London (and by weekend, I mean Sunday to Tuesday), and it defied stereotype right and left.  The weather was gorgeous and the food was delicious!  Seriously.  Upon arrival, we were directed to a restaurant near our hotel for the best fish and chips in the neighborhood (and arguably, all of London, so they claimed at the hotel).

Fish... 

... and chips

The green stuff on the plate with the fish is called “mushy peas.”  Terrible name, but the stuff was rather tasty.  There was a bit of mint in there with the peas, giving it a fresh, springy flavor that worked really well with the crisp fried fish.

The next day, we lunched at a fantastic little spot called The Modern Pantry.

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