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On vacation, if there's a Michelin star in town I'll
try it. It's certain to beat the Nobu or Buddha Bar that every international
capital now advertises. In Budapest it's an easy decision because there are
only two choices, one star apiece. My inclination was to go with the restaurant
serving lentil foam, though both Onyx and Costes, the other option, do two
tasting menus, one using more traditional ingredients and one more
international. I'd have to be on a second visit before branching out into
pineapple and avocado.

Onyx is plush and glossy, that mix of tufted
banquettes, chandeliers, oversized chairs, damask wallpaper that's Vegas
Versailles, but with unexpected glowing surfaces and space age metal wall
installations that are more of a cold climate Miami. Somehow it wasn't too
much. The diners were almost exclusively young couples from countries with even
more favorable exchange rates (the menu is priced in Euros, not Forints) with a
business dinner where the local underlings slowly nursed glasses of wine and
laughed more than they had to at American khaki bosses' stories.

Onyx bread & spreads

They do
not skimp on the bread. The basket comes with butter, pork rillettes and fresh
cheese. The wedge right in the center was mauve from red cabbage like a piece
of Hungarian ube pan de sal.

Onyx amuse

A puzzle
piece of squid is accented by dots of paprika sauce and a foamy milkshake, also
red pepper.

Onyx danube salmon, luke warm potato salad, crispy veal

salmon, luke warm potato salad, crispy veal.
That fried veal nugget showed up
again. When I first encountered it at Csalogány 26, I assumed it was a creative touch, but maybe it has Hungarian roots, after all.

Onyx marinated goose liver with plum textures

goose liver with plum textures.
The puck of lacquered foie gras (you knew there
was going to be goose liver–even pubs and mom and pops in Budapest serve it) was
a lot of richness early on.  If I could
only eat one dish again, it would be this one, plus the bread basket. I basically want to eat nothing except fat and carbs for every meal.

Onyx hungarian sturgeon caviar with cauliflower puree, vegetables, “black soil”

sturgeon caviar with cauliflower puree, vegetables, “black soil.”
the vegetable patch came next. I don't actually know what the dirt was crafted
from; I was more preoccupied with the world's tiniest melon hiding out near the

Onyx mangalitza marmalade with lentil foam, and charbroiled mangalitza loin with lentil

marmalade with lentil foam, and charbroiled mangalitza loin with lentil.
wouldn't be a survey of Hungarian cuisine without the beloved mangalitza. As often happens, the meatiest course shows up when you're fuller and less appreciative.

Onyx lentil foam

The foam,
with more of a pea soup body, got its own plate–and dark breadcrumbs.

Onyx intermediate dessert

dessert of forgotten ingredients.

Onyx 21st century somlói sponge cake

21st century
somlói sponge cake.
On the final night of my week in Budapest, I was now on my
third version of somlói. With a thick layer of real, dense chocolate, not syrup,
this non-traditional style was my favorite.

Onyx bar cart

Now here
is where it gets weird. The staff was mildly obsessed with getting people to
try the tableside Chemex coffee service. No one was biting. I kind of wanted to
peek at what was on the bar cart I'd seen making the rounds earlier, so I had
sour cherry palinka first. Maybe this upset the balance and order?

What I
really wanted was the petit four cart. Throughout the evening it has been
wheeled up to everyone's tables and I'd stealthily looked to see how many
treats they'd take (diners get shy when given no limits) and make a mental note
of which I wanted. The lavender marshmallows, for sure. Also, the mini canelés.

Onyx chemex presentation

coffee is done with flourish on a portable induction burner. I'm truly not a
coffee aficionado, no Portland roasting obsession ever rubbed off on me. Do you
know what would've went well with the coffee? A lavender marshmallow.

And that
was it. No treats (minus the box of two you're sent home with). Did they run
out? Were they trying to close?  At this
point, not yet 11pm, there was only one other couple in the dining room,
another anomaly since I didn't consider 8pm an unusually late hour to begin an
evening meal.  They were not brought the
sweets cart either, but a plate with a small selection on it. In hindsight, I
should've just said something. If you're paying hundreds of dollars (this was
very much NYC-priced) you don't need to be a mignardises martyr. This exact
situation played out during an Eleven Madison Park lunch back before they went
four star, and it soured me on them; I've never wanted to go back. It's not the
note to end on.

On the
way out the door we passed by the candy cart, well-stocked and taunting.  

Onyx *
Vörösmarty tér 7-8, Budapest, Hungary

Csalogány 26

Though the wines are all regional at Csalogány
26–it's your chance to sample from
Slovenia and Moldova–the food isn't overtly Hungarian.
It's a solid in-between restaurant, not too formal or casual with a menu that
changes regularly. And while you can dine a la carte, the prixe fixes, four or
eight courses, with wine pairings, is the way to go. The shorter option worked
out to being just $49.

I didn't take real photos because I was trying to be in
relaxed enjoy-your-meal mode instead of obnoxious tourist mode. And then it
happened that we were seated next to the other Americans (isn't it the worst
how Americans never want to be anywhere near another American abroad?)
walk-ins, a young woman in yoga pants, Toms and a $260 sweater (she said so)
with her bro friend and an SLR.

Csalogany 26 trio 1

The amuse and my first course were both pressed meat. In
fact, the chosen dish was called presskopf, which turned out to be a
fat-encased slices of pig's head terrine accompanied by chopped pickles and
sliced radishes. The crisp-skinned sea bass was in a completely different vein,
but also had a tart and briny flavor from capers tossed into the risotto.

Csalogany 26 trio 2

The third dish bridged the Eastern European and
Mediterranean with polenta and more composed meat. A veal tenderloin comes with
more veal, cheeks, cubed, panko-crusted and fried, reminiscent of the pork nuggets
at totally American Char no. 4.
For dessert I chose the cheese plate with a
puree of walnut, the chestnut paste of Hungary. An extra sweet appeared. Despite
the presence of cookies, it was more of a breakfast–unless you consider Farina-like
porridge with dried fruit a traditional dessert.

Budapest parliament

On the walk back to the subway–cheap, super efficient and
old-school Soviet with doors that slam shut so violently they'd easily chop off
a limb–you probably won't miss the glowing parliament building, which I
assumed was yet another castle. It's impressive at night, and probably more so
when captured by camera that's not an iPhone.

Csalogány 26 *
Csalogány utca 26, Budapest, Hungary

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Locals Only

I'll admit I kind of liked complaining about Carroll
Gardens (and I did so with gusto–there's a grocer/sandwichery that called me
out on citing them three times–Google alerts, clearly–in my blanket
overhype condemnation). But as they say, love it or leave it, and so I did. There's nothing worse than whiners who don't take action.

And I can be honest and say that there's not a lot going
on over here in my far northeastern corner of Clinton Hill (and technically none of what follows is in Clinton Hill–you don't really need to hear about the perfunctory sashimi and Caribbean snacks and melon cocktails I've encountered). But at least there are no
illusions. A majority of the restaurants on Court and Smith streets were/are mediocre,
and despite perfectly good meals at Buttermilk Channel and Frankies, I see no
need to wait over an hour for a bowl of pasta or fried chicken anywhere.

So that said, my standards aren't as stringent in
these parts. It's like in high school where there was a class called Reading
and the students did nothing but read books on couches amidst a bunch of potted plants because
they had bad grades and were underachievers. Ok, my standards aren't that low;
I'm just saying there are different measures of success.

Dictated by the
neighborhood made up of  Pratt students, old-timers, public housing
inhabitants, and yes, the errant brownstone dweller (I don't think the Hasids play any role)  the dining options tend to
be inexpensive and un-ambitious. The new busineseses all seem to be burger joints or wifi cafes, which don't mean much to me. The Wallace, which is more upscale, is already using Scoutmob and was recently on Blackboard Eats, which aren't typically good signs even though I've been known to use both. I assume Lulu & Po is still going strong (I need to revisit) and I haven't heard a peep about Prospect since it opened.

(I was going to say that the white bougie
family influx hasn't hit hard yet, but just a few hours ago a preschooler sat
down on the barstool next to me and then her Scandinavian-accented father asked
her if she wanted to have her birthday party at "the new house" or in
France. He then told her Bono was "a nice guy" after she failed to
pay proper attention to the song playing that I didn't recognize. "I like it," she said.
"You're not even listening!" he replied, but softly, not snappily
because he was foreign.)

Brooklyn bird trio

Brooklyn Bird Opened a few weeks ago to zero bloggy
fanfare, this diner-styled restaurant that feels more suited to takeout is nothing special (I do feel bad that no one ever seems to be in there) but it's a block away
and they serve food until 4am. They are advertising beer and wine coming soon. Plus, they've created a lesser-known-regional-fare trifecta with their upstate New York spiedie (nearby Speedy Romeo and
Brooklyn Koalache Co. round out the mini-trend with St. Louis pizza and Czech
by way of Texas, koalaches). I just tried a grilled cheese (cheddar and gruyere) sandwich with bacon and truffle oil. Of course, it didn't really need the truffle oil. I may be inclined to try the ghost pepper hot wings and that chicken spiedie some late night soon.

Dough doughnuts

Dough It's only a block from the nearest subway
station, but it's still a solid 12-minute walk from my apartment, so it's on
the fringes of what I'd consider "my neighborhood." It's not like
Dough is a secret; they made a name for themselves at the Brooklyn Flea. But
even for someone who rarely eats doughnuts,  I can say unequivocally that it's the best
$2.25 you'll spend for something of the raised yeast variety. (It took me three
months to finally walk over there, and the main reason I did was to break the
twenty dollar bill I had on me to tip the Fresh Direct driver who was arriving
in less than an hour. Mildly related and good to know: the 99-cent store on the
ground floor of my building–yes, I live in the same structure as a discount
store and it rules–advertises an atm that distributes $10s, but I only wanted
to tip $5.) Tart frostings are kind of their thing. I'd had a hibiscus doughnut
before, and the passionfruit is in a similar vein. What sets it apart are the
cocoa nibs that give it a bitter crunch. The dulce de leche with slivered
almonds is more full-on sweet and makes you want to go back to sleep after
eating it. That is not a criticism.

Scratchbread chai sticky bun

SCRATCHbread Another five minutes southeast from
Dough and unquestionably in Bed-Stuy (I'm a newcomer and I already know that
Classon is the cutoff despite brokers pushing Bedford as the dividing line). I didn't
fully get that Scratchbread is doing crazy things until I actually ate a few
baked goods. The sticky buns may look innocent, but there are a million things
happening. I'm still not completely sure what. The bread itself is
wheat-y and vaguely wholesome, and then the caramel isn't particularly sweet but
burnt and spicy–both hot spicy and cardamom-spiced–and there are more of those cocoa nibs. I kind of just wanted sweet
caramel and pecans. If you're going to go this direction, though, I bet you
could do a cool caramel with fish sauce.

Scratchbread bread custard

I also picked up a loaf of the bread custard,
but it wasn't the seasonal loaf I'd seen mentioned elsewhere. I do think the
guts were soft from roasted squash, but instead of rosemary there was sage and
there was no trace of prosciutto. Instead, two cheese-filled red peppers had
been stuffed into the bread like little Crater Lakes, almost treading into
foreign Pizza Hut territory. It was a Christmas Eve hit, of course.

Lola quad

Lola f.k.a. Chez Lola. I guess the former bistro and
Myrtle Ave. pioneer is now calling itself a gastropub? The revamp entails new
cocktails (too sweet, though it was my own fault for ordering the Brooklyn Beauregard,
essentially a whiskey sour with Jim Beam Honey Tea Bourbon and St. Germain) and
a move towards American cuisine, meaning Canada, US and Mexico. The menu sort of
reads like a Kitchen Nightmares overhaul: pared down, nearly foolproof to
prepare, a bit of repetition, but overall inoffensive. Canada is represented by
a duck poutine, which is a glorious drunk food (I wasn't drunk, though). The fries, cheese curds and confit
could've use a little more gravy it was decided. I love a thin crust tarte flambee and their goat cheese, onion and bacon version was ok. A salad of smoked chicken, apples and cashews wasn't really more than just that. They
do serve late for the area, until 2am, and nothing is over $20 (most is under
$15) so there is an appeal if you want something other than pizza or Chinese  in
the immediate vicinity. And I think they still do a $15 all-you-can-eat mussels
deal on Thursdays, so there's that. They're also on Scoutmob, by the way.

Fatty ‘Cue Christmas

Writing about a Christmas dinner is about as useful
to anyone as the typical brunch-focused Yelp review (you don’t eat brunch,
right?) so I will keep this brief. Often restaurants serve a holiday menu that’s not representative of what they normally make–last year Red Rooster
went highly Scandinavian
. Fatty ‘Cue kept the cue, but played it straight
American. Perhaps galangal and coriander would offend baby Jesus’

Fatty cue brisket

The only Asian flourish was the sweetened fish sauce
served in a plastic squirt bottle alongside the spicy barbecue version. This
condiment was my favorite aspect of the meal, and perfect for the thick slices
of brisket, righteously fatty by my standards, too much so for my dining
companion. Take heed if it’s not your thing because I’m fairly certain the
Brandt beef is always served like this. If you hate lean pastrami, white meat
turkey or chicken breast, you will be fine.

Fatty cue pork ribs

The pork ribs were hefty, and while eating one
sauceless and cold the next day I noticed the overt porkiness that I’d missed
when they were fresh. Not name checked, but I’m guessing they’re not from
Western Beef, my go to for meat slabs.

Fatty cue duo

Collard greens and mac and cheese were
straightforward while the red cabbage slaw was lightly creamy, but not from

Slices of pie were available, but a Coors and a shot
of Jack was enough of a send off.

Fatty ‘Cue * 50 Carmine St., New York, NY

The Hoax of the Seven Fishes


Not exactly a shocking expose (it's touched on here) but if I took away
one thing  (in disgusting business speak,
"a learning") this Christmas, it is that The Feast of the Seven
Fishes is an American, or more specifically NYC Italian-American invention. Oh,
and that Home Alone is a popular Christmas movie in Italy with a title that
translates as Mama, I've Lost the Plane.

Facebook planning for a Christmas Eve get together
involving a bunch of Italian under-35s (what do you call millennials in Italian?)
just ended up stumping them when the hostess mentioned the party would be
"BYOF" since she was only serving three kinds of fish. Representing geographies from the top to bottom of
the boot, no one had ever heard of having to eat fish on Christmas Eve, let
alone seven of them.

Then again, anyone abroad could just as easily
assume Americans all crack open peppermint pigs for Christmas.

I do love that there is a Feast of the Seven Fishes comic book.

Bock Bisztró

My knowledge of wine is intermediate at best, and my
Hungarian wine knowledge  didn't extend beyond Tokaji. But
without even trying, I got a quick mini education in Budapest because regional
wines are prominent, if not exclusive, at a number of restaurants.

Bock Bisztró with locations on the Buda and Pest
sides, as well as in Copenhagen, takes its name from winemaker József Bock.
Consequently, the list is 100% Hungarian and includes the winery's full range. It
doesn't take oenophilic expertise to sort through the K's, Z's and accent marks to
spot Chardonnay or Syrah, but the number of local varietals–Furmint, Kadarka
and Irsai Olivér, for instance–was
surprising (and a little overwhelming). I got into the Kékfrankos, a.k.a.
Blaufränkisch, while there. Simple, fruity and a little spicy, the red managed to be pretty all-purpose.

Bock bistro mangalitsa pork fat

The Mangalitsa fat was something I definitely wanted
to order from the aperitif section, and then it magically appeared on the table
with a basket of bread (no charge, I'm fairly certain). Everyone had the butter
substitute on their tables, so either it's extremely popular or a courtesy. The
pork fat is smoky with bits of crisp skin and chopped chives mixed in, and
even better with a touch of sea salt sprinkled on top.

Bock bistro ham & salami

More Mangalitsa pork came in salami form, spiced
with paprika. The prosciutto was good too, but the crumbly sausage was more
distinct. Rich meats are often served with Hungarian peppers, which aren't wildly
spicy, though if you say they aren't, you'll get looked at like you're crazy,
and raw red onion, which to me is far more difficult to down in such quantities
than the chiles.

All the pork will make you full, but persevere.
While the printed menu comes in Hungarian, English and German, the most common trio, the daily specials on a chalkboard above the bar, are only in Hungarian. Some lean traditional; others are more invented. I was able to
make out one featuring goose and soft-shell crab, which seemed so oddball that
I had to order it.

Bock bistro soft shell crab & goose

The goose was tender and falling apart, more like roast
beef than poultry. Looking at the plate now, I want to say that soy sauce and star anise were
involved, but that's probably because it's how I would cook the goose in this
situation. The swipe of curry powdered sauce and side of fat rolled rice noodles
greased with sesame oil is making me think Asian when really the goose component was
traditional. Frankly, I don't know that this hybrid dish would stand up out of
context. It's not something I would ever order in NYC, but I liked it in

Bock bistro pastry with poppy seed cream

Dessert was a poppy seed cream served with a flaky
pastry and raspberry sauce. I've said that walnuts are big in Budapest, but so are poppy seeds.

Bock bistro bizarre ice cream selection

I'm still wondering what the "bizarre ice cream
selection" entailed.

Bock Bisztró * Erzsébet Körút 43-49, Budapest, Hungary


I had no idea that open-faced sandwiches were a
thing in Austria. (Denmark, sure.) They are part of the draw at Zum Schwarzen
Kameel's lauded bar
, which I didn't have time to visit. With minutes to spare
at the train station, I picked up the chain version from Trzesniewski, a fine
enough stand in.

Trzesniewski duo

Choosing based on looks alone, I ended with chopped salmon,
paprika (in the Hungarian sense where paprika is the spice and the red pepper,
itself), mushrooms and pickles, bolstered by cream cheese and hard boiled eggs,
all on thin dark bread. More like canapes than fast food, the dainty wedges
classed up the train trip back to Budapest.

Trzesniewski * Multiple Locations, Vienna, Austria

Christmas Eve Links

Last week got away from me. I wrote about smorrebrod
at Aamanns
, a new Danish offshoot, for Serious Eats, and also contributed to
Real Cheap Eats' latest batch of reviews (yes, I have an obsession with Yip's).

This was also a super chain-y week. Everyone got caught up
with Pizza Hut's Double Sensation and Brazilian burger joint, Bob's, using
edible wrappers
(no idea who mentioned it first, but I saw on Springwise) "Starbucks Evenings" expanded (not to be outdone by
Club Applebee's) while Darden realized that no revamping will draw youngsters
to Olive Garden or Red Lobster
(and yes, that "Dinner Today, Dinner Tomorrow" campaign was confusing, right?)

King returned to France
after a 15-year absence. I imagine a Whopper will be called a Whopper. The first KFC opened in the Ukraine, and yes, there was a line.

And on Craigslist a "small restaurant from Barcelona" is looking for waitstaff for something described as "50's Americana meets Barcelona in the Lower East side." What?

Localized: Pizza Hut Singapore

It's hard to say whether wacky chain restaurant
pizzas were on the increase in 2012 or if the amount of online coverage just
made it seem so. Had blogs not heard of foreign Pizza Huts in 2011? Then again Yelpy PR-driven dining events (Um, "I'm not complaining, I'm just saying" tells you all you need to know) which seem more rampant outside the US, or at least NYC, are probably a factor, as well.


The Singaporean "Double Sensation," is the latest attention-grabber. And yes, the two crusts, alfredo sauce and
maraschino cherry are hard to ignore. So too, is much of the tropical
city-state's Pizza Hut menu.

Five things you're not likely to ever see at a US
Pizza Hut:


I love how so many Asian countries are fearless about combining cheese and seafood. I'm all for it, and the pairing reaches its pinnacle with this bold fusion that would be the first thing I'd order. Classically Singaporean chili crab is presented in soft shell form and mixed with fake crab, pineapple, tomato, buttered rice and melted mozzarella.


I draw the line at warm mayonnaise, though. We all have our personal boundaries. The Ocean Catch also relies on crab sticks, pineapple and tomatoes, along with tuna, squid and shrimp–all atop lime mayo.


While American Pizza Huts still feature salad bars, in Singapore the roughage is more composed–and willy-nilly. The Fruitty Prawn Salad takes obvious favorites like shrimp, mayonnaise and pineapple and puts in mangoes, strawberries, rasins and almonds just because they can.


A roasted chicken leg isn't so odd, in and of itself, but touting the "garlic cheese fondue sauce" and its positioning on the Western Favorites part of the menu with overtly British fish and chips just makes one wonder which Western country claims garlic-cheese sauce a favorite? They lose all credibility with Americans with the glaring omission of ranch.


On the other hand, Munchie Mouse seems aggressively American with its Oreo ears and  mini M&M eyes. We have Hershey's Dunkers and Cinnamon Sticks, which I'm pretty sure are just dough scrap desserts.

Photos: Pizza Hut Singapore


Now That’s the Holiday Spirit


BurgerBusiness declared black buns one of the worst trends of 2012, citing offenders in China, Japan and France. Thailand
also has two specimens that I’m aware of (and I'm hardly an on-the-ground Thailand expert so it’s possible there are more): gastropub, The Smith, and
Casper Burger, a fast food joint that used to be in Bangkok's goth mall and is now at
Plearnwan, a made-to-look old-timey tourist attraction in Hua Hin.

It’s as if Casper knew spooky squid ink was already
passé. For Christmas, the restaurant has concocted red and green buns made from
spinach and beets (I refuse to type or say beetroot). I’m also fairly certain
that the patties aren’t beef, but battered pork cutlets. Who needs tradition?