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Posts from the ‘Europe’ Category

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

Gasthaus zur Oper

There is only so much you can do, i.e. eat, while in
Vienna for 24 hours. There is no question, though, that wiener schnitzel must
make an appearance. It’s in the name, right?

Gasthaus zur Oper, airy and modern and nearly Scandinavian
in feel with its blonde wood and  white
on white color scheme, is not necessarily where you’d expect to find fried
cutlets. Or where I would, at least, having imagined the traditional dish in
homey but dowdier surroundings.

Gasthaus zur oper schnitzel

And their version is top notch: a wrinkly golden-crisp
exterior with no trace of grease, pan-fried in clarified butter. Though pork is
popular in the US and veal is traditional in Vienna, and definitely the
most-ordered thing at Gasthaus zur Oper, this specimen happened to contain
thinly pounded liver. Yep, liver. The schnitzel treatment works well for the
strongly flavored organ meat; it can take the breading without disguising its
true nature (I was originally given the veal ordered at my table and there was
no mixing up the two after first bite.)

Gasthaus zur oper table

The cold potato salad was in a light, refreshing
style, tart with lemon juice and creamy without the use of mayonnaise with
minced red onion for a little more bite. I’ve never eaten schnitzel in its
natural habitat (Berlin being the closest) so the accompaniments were
surprising: lingonberry jam for sweetness (I thought that was more Nordic) and
a glass bottle containing a mysterious sauce that turned out to be concentrated
pan drippings, beef, I’m guessing. Gravy and berries work just as well for
schnitzel as for Swedish meatballs.

Gasthaus zur Oper * Walfischgasse 5-7, 1010, Vienna,


Though a little hyperbolic, there are cities where
it's tough to get a bad meal (San Sebastian comes to mind). Budapest is not one
of them. I didn't have to try hard at all to get a raw-in-the middle sausage
and be served microwaved food guilelessly–no efforts were even made to
re-plate the meatballs from their original plastic tray.


Kehli interior

So, heeding local advice was more important than
ever. Kéhli came recommended, and indeed, it was exactly the type of restaurant
a resident might suggest to a visiting colleague. There were mixed groups,
clearly business associates, speaking the alternating English, German and
Hungarian common in Budapest. The food and decor is traditional and  homey, a live "gipsy" band plays nightly
(when you reserve you are asked if you want to be seated near or far, which is
highly practical. Far, thanks) and yet it's not cheesy.

Kehli hot pot

They are known for something called hot pot, which I
would've ordered even if I hadn't been told about it ahead of time, simply
because it shares its name with the communal Chinese preparation. At Kéhli,
it's a deceptively rich soup, appearing as a vegetable broth at first glance
into the red enamel crock that's de riguer in Budapest, yet upon first scoop
light meatballs and cubes of tender beef appear.

Kehli duo

What's unique are the
accompaniments: a big marrow bone with a metal spear for scraping, and a basket
of garlic bread, meaning thick slices with whole cloves sticking out on

Kehli goose liver

 Being in the appetizers section and well priced
(like $10) we assumed this would be for one when really all of the portions are
more than enough for two. Same with the goose liver, which was less like pate,
and more like, well, cold, fatty liver–nice with sweet onion jam and raw
peppers for the first few slices, but a little relentless thereafter.

Kehli stuffed cabbage

I thought that I didn't like stuffed cabbage because
I hate rice cooked into things and tomatoey sauces with ground beef. Ok, no one
has served that mix of things to me ever, but it's how I imagine stuffed
cabbage to be, conflated, perhaps with horrible '70s weeknight stuffed bell
peppers. No, this cabbage was a vehicle for pork, gooey knuckles and other odd
bits, reddened only with lightly hot paprika and brightened with cream. And it
was awesome. I need to track down a similar style in NYC–all the versions I
see are Polish or Russian, which are exactly my nightmare cabbage rolls, though I do wonder if this version is just an anomaly and not representative of a Hungarian standard at all. (This afternoon I got excited, stumbling upon a Slovakian recipe…and yes, more ground meat, rice and tomato sauce.)

This was only half of the serving, by the way. I'd
originally ordered it for myself, not realizing how big it might be until we
were asked if we wanted two plates. The anecdote on the menu, detailing how the
restaurant's owner was born big and is still formidable in size, thanks to
stuffed cabbage, should've been a tip off:  "The feast was so good for the mother’s
stomach that Mr. Cecei was born a whopping 5 kgs, and he has continued to grow
to this day, until he now has expanded to weigh over 100 kilograms." And
yet I was still not put off despite not lacking a dinner goal of getting to 220

Kehli somloi

Somlói galuska is everywhere Hungary, and you'll
encounter it in fast food as well as high end versions. Though all slightly
different, the basic premise appears to be different sponge cakes topped with
custard, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Walnut is also a prominent flavor in
this and in many desserts, because really, walnuts are the peanuts of Hungary.

Kehli vendeglo

Kéhli * 1036 Mókus u. 22,
Budapest, Hungary



More smitten with Asia than Europe (and unaware of the now-gone NYC location) I'll admit that
I had never heard of Demel (or Demel's, as Americans like to say, oh, and even literary Czechs) the 226-year-old
Austrian coffeehouse, until it came up a few years ago when the Franks name-dropped
it in describing then new Cafe Pedlar.
And because I'm a crank it felt
ludicrous to suggest a Court Street cafe could be anything like a Viennese
stalwart, though unsurprising in its Brooklyn-ness.

And because I have an unshakable grade-schooler devotion
to the color green (do adults care about best friends and favorite colors?) the
most important piece of this Demel discovery was that that there was a place in
the world serving a bright green cake shaped like a dome and that one day it
would have to be eaten by me (and that there are no copyright-free photos
demonstrating this amazing pasty case with the green cake on Flickr–not that
that has ever stopped anyone from using my photos without even an attribution).

Demel cake  case

Unfortunately, on my last-minute visit to Vienna
(Budapest was already a spur of the moment idea with little research, and I
hadn't realized Vienna was less than three hour away by train) the green cake
was not on display. I don't imagine it's a greatest hit, especially when competing with more famous sachertorte or dobostorte.

Demel cabinet

Instead of
a glorious whole confection in the case, there were just a few errant slices
and a dummy cake up on a high shelf in a dark glare-proudcing glass cabinet.

Demel cake selection

I had heard nightmarish stories about being seated
upstairs after a very long wait in line, having to fight your way back down to
the main entrance to pick out your slices and have them written down for you to
bring up to your waitress (they are all women) and then wait for the sweets to

Demel chocolate cake

There was a poorly organized line that was being cut
with no consequence, however, the wait wasn't more than five minutes and there
is a young woman with a selection of cakes in an annex on the second floor (in
the American sense–I can't call something up stairs the first floor) so it's
not that much trouble. There would've been trouble if a green slice was absent,

Demel cake list-001

I could make out the very un-German, casatta, and
still can't determine the name of the browner, cookie-adorned and gianduja-fillled slice I also
picked out (above). Who cares? It's not green.

Demel casatta slice

Ok, casatta? That green slice is totally Italian, or more
specifically Sicilian, and a staple of many NYC bakeries, often as mini
cherry-topped single serves. There's nothing Viennese about the fluffy sweet
ricotta center suspending candied fruit and surrounded by a layer of liqueur-soaked
sponge and a smooth blanket of  almondy
marzipan. I traveled blank miles for something I could've gotten in Carroll
Gardens? (Or at Ikea, sort of. Princesstårta has a different flavor profile,
but also is a bulbous torte covered in green marzipan.)

Demel dome

Maybe the casatta has been adopted as an ode to the oxidized
domes of the Hofburg Palace across Michaelerplatz from Demel.

I guess the non-Austrian nature of this cake
shouldn't have been so surprising. Wienerschnitzel, the most iconic dish in
town, is essentially scaloppine. Now that I know the green cake is Italian, I want
the best casatta (green-only) in NYC. Villabate? Where else? Now may be the
rare instance where I regret moving out of an Italian-American neighborhood.

Demel * Kohlmarkt 14, Vienna, Austria

Photo of Demel sign via bestbig&tucker on Flickr

Snapshots, Hungary Pun-Free

Even though I spent a good part of Black Friday
pondering new cameras (and ankle boots, area rugs and cat sweaters) and –what do you think of mirrorless?–I've begun to rely on
my camera phone way more than I'd like to admit. Accordingly, here are some
not-all-beautifully-shot photos from my week in Budapest with a jaunt to

Budapest Marketing

Even as taking photos of one's food has become an
easy target for mockery, there seems to be an exception among "real"
photographers and travel writers–I'm not calling anyone out specifically,
though it's commonplace on travel blogs and pops up on Twitter–for food
markets in foreign locales. Huh? Isn't "food markets are the soul of a
city" nearly as much of a trope as "____ is a city of contrasts?"

Great market hall facade

But I wasn't seeking to make art or looking for a
window into the hearts and minds of Hungarians. I only wanted to see what might
be good to eat at Budapest's Great Market Hall, just me and my iPhone camera. Note the Mexican flag on the sign hanging from the entrance–chiles en nogada with their red, white, green, isn't so different than stuffed cabbage highlighted with sour cream, tomato and greenish Hungarian wax peppers, also a nod to a flag with shared colors.

Great market hall doll

Goose cracklings. Goose is big in Hungary; the big
bird's liver is featured in restaurants both high and low, and canned foie gras
was commonplace at market stalls and even at duty free. (November also happens to contain St. Martin's Day, a new-to-me holiday that entails eating goose in multiple courses.) Liba, a.k.a. goose, is one of the only Hungarian words I learned to read.

Great market hall butcher

Even this beefy stall, has cracklings in the lower left and cans of goose liver in the case on the upper right.

Hungarian cracklings

I would've assumed that the piles of fried skin in
plastic tubs in butchers cases were all pork rinds if I hadn't chanced upon this
entry mentioning libatepertő
aren't a lot, or any Hungarian food blogs written in English. looked
promising, but hadn't been updated since last December).

Too many goose cracklings

As has happened more times than I'd like to admit, I
always mix up grams to ounces, and the extra math of converting a foreign
currency, in this case forint, furthers the confusion. I ended up with a pound
of goose cracklings, enough to fill a small pillow–could you imagine
cracklings instead of feathers and down?–when I only wanted a handful to
sample. Yeah, the young man working the counter did give me a funny look when
I asked for half a kilo, but everyone in Budapest shoots nervous-making looks.
Service with a smile is not a thing (not that anyone is particularly unfriendly either).

Thanksgiving snacks

The crackling miracle was that the nubs of
goose-bumped skin and fat, some with bits of dark meat attached, not only
stayed crunchy, but lasted a week at room temperature, stuffed in a plastic shopping bag in the
hotel closet (nowhere near the biggest food crime of frozen horse meat unthawing and bleeding all over the contents of a
minibar fridge in Montreal) and an additional week in a Brooklyn fridge, to be
served at Thanksgiving traditionally with a generous amount of salt, sliced red onion, the
other Hungarian fave (one can only stomach so much raw onion), and
untraditional jalapeños in lieu of the milder yellow-green peppers they
consider spicy and sometimes are. Ignore the pickles on the left, but do take a closer look at the onion plate–it has a face.

Mangalitsa pork, the extra rich and fatty meat from
curly haired pigs, is premium both here and in Hungary, the difference is that
being a native breed there, it's everywhere you look.

Spicy mangalitsa sausage

It's in spicy, super oily sausages, served with no more
than a dollop of sweetish mustard, that can make a normally self-conscious solo diner more self-conscious while chomping at a bench next to the garbage cans where the cleaning women smoke. With paprika as the dominant spice, the pork
sausages bear more than a passing resemblance to chorizo, except that I've
never encountered such large portions for one in Spain.


Lángos is essentially fried pizza (Neapolitan
montanara doesn't own the style) and at its most basic is topped with sour
cream and mild shredded white cheese. There is a menu that none of the staff
appears to adhere to, combo-wise or price-wise; instead, they ask what
ingredients you'd like piled on top from a series of metal containers separated by
glass, Subway-style. That's how I ended up with sausage and more red onions
than I'd bargained for. Even if the price balloons beyond the listed 700
forint, it's inconsequential–that's only $3.20. (If you want to get drunk and
eat cheesy fried dough in NYC you are in luck–there's lángos at Korzo f.k.a. Eurotrip in South Slope.)

Langos with mexican sauce

No one orders the #7.

Great market hall mexican stage

However, there was a Mexico tourism promotion
occurring on my first visit. The performers weren't at their post.

Great market hall mexican food

There were Coronas and tequila, as well as tacos,
sopes and quesadillas being prepared for sale. Only 400 forint a taco.

Sadly, it was a week too early for the big
Christmas market that was setting up what is called Fashion Street, an open-air
mall. Touristy as they may be, they're fun, at least the ones were that I encountered in
Berlin last year, though it may be the glühwein talking. (The Germans are more
hardcore, adding shots of rum or brandy to their mulled wine, as well as still
smoking everywhere indoors and having no rules against drinking in public or on
public transportation.)

Luckily, a smaller collection of stands were open
along the pedestrian arcade behind the city's two major hotels, across from the
Tommy Hilfiger shop. From the fifth floor of the Le Meridien, in a room
overlooking the row, I could hear the muffled voices on the ground each morning.

Kolbasz haz

Of course there was Mangalitsa pork.

Christmas market sausage

And just regular sausages with potatoes. We
accidentally ended up with two massive links (one not fully cooked) when we
only asked for one. I don't expect the world to speak English, so these things
happen (well, not uncooked food).

Szittya buci stove

Szittya buci (translated as Scythian bun) is a sandwich cooked in old-timey wood-fired
stoves. I don't imagine the average Hungarian still uses these. These
anachronisms are all in the fun of the Christmas market. Give them time, and
their youth will rediscover old methods, cooly repackage the experience and
charge double.

Szittya buci duo

Bacon, with lots of sour cream and red onions, of
course. Tomatoes cost extra (hot peppers and cracklings were also available add-ons).

Vitez kurtos cakes

I regret not getting to try the kurtos before this stand
closed (businesses shut down early, at least in the tourist zone–we were
snapped at for trying to walk into a closing bar at 11:40pm) which I initially
mistook for rotisserie pork. It's a hollow cake that gets burnished by fire and
rolled in cinnamon and sugar.

As Political as it Gets Around Here

Barack palinka

Barack=apricot in Hungarian, a fact I quickly
learned through the ingestion of pálinka, a popular fruit brandy. (It took me
longer to figure out that when someone with shaky English tries to describe a
fruit as "like apple but bigger" they mean quince, a.k.a birs.)



When the news broke (ha, assuming restaurant openings/closings qualify as breaking news in your world) that Frankie’s 17 was turning Spanish and rebranding as Francesca, my only thought was that I wish it had been the original location instead. Yes, 457 has remained wildly popular since day one, but how much Italian food can one neighborhood sustain? Or rather (selfishly) how much Italian food can I continue not to eat?

It happened that the same Friday afternoon I was pining for pintxos on Twitter, Serious Eats posted a slide show of the new menu at Francesca. I knew I wasn’t going to get the San Sebastián experience I was craving—it’s just not going to happen in NYC for a gazillion reasons.  (I’ve already speculated why the true pintxo bar experience would never work here and won’t bore you again–in a nutshell: too expensive, not sufficient concentration of bars.)

Francesca creamed leeks, idiazabal, membrillo, jamon serrano

What looks like smoked salmon from afar is really jamón serrano drizzled with a viscous membrillo. The sweet and salty components sit atop a slice of Idiazabal and a big tuft of creamed leeks, and would be at home on the counter of any respectable pintxo bar.

Casa senra bar

Like this. A more traditional version of a pintxo bar at Casa Senra.

Zeruko pintxos

Or modern like Bar Zeruko.

I want that buffet-like feeling of walking into a crowded venue and seeing an entire bar covered in delightfully unrecognizable things layered on bread, stuck with toothpicks, maybe even gelatinized or radiating smoke,  like you've entered a canapé-filled party where anyone’s invited if you have $10 to spend—and foie gras or gold leaf might even schmooze its way into that equation. And that’s the other thing, the couple of dollars for a dish and a couple bucks more for a glass of wine—or more commonly a zurito, a small glass of beer—adds to the democratic appeal.

Francesca mushroom, morcilla, setti anni brotxeta

The brotxeta of morcilla, mushrooms, and peppers (setti anni–also served at Frankie's) exemplifies the quick and creative ethos, as well.

Francesca lomo

A fried egg covered slices of lomo, just fatty enough to remind you why grocery store pork loins are so wretched, and a pile of oil-slicked peppers and onions, piperrada, that had been cooked-down soft.

Francesca cheese

Instead of raciones, of which there were as many as the pintxos (five) we tried a selection of cheeses (Valdeón, Torta del Casar, and Idiazabal) all good, and a plate of jamón Serrano. The thinly shaved, cured meat could’ve been prosciutto. I guess if I wanted that luscious, substantial ham that could never be confused for lunch meat, we should’ve sprung the extra four dollars for Iberico.

Francesca sherry cocktails

The sherry cocktails were fun, and you don’t really see spirits being manipulated to creative ends in the Basque regions like you do with the food. Txakoli is txakoli. And kalimotxo? You might not want it. #3 (East india sherry, dry vermouth, orange bitters, seltzer) and #1 (Fino sherry, sweet vermouth, cinnamon syrup, whiskey barrel aged bitters). I also tried a glass of Benaza Mencia, a lighter red that I'm still getting a feel for.

If I happened to be in the area between 5pm-7pm, which I probably won't, I would stop by the bar for a happy hour snack and discounted cocktail

I'm not an eavesdropper (well, I try, but my hearing isn't always sharp enough) but it was hard not to take interest in the older couple sitting nearby who lived on the Upper East Side,  were somehow drawn to dining on Clinton Street,  yet had never heard of Frankie’s and hadn’t been to Carroll Gardens. As much as I hate the dated food media “make the trek to Brooklyn” trope, it’s refreshing to be reminded of that the celebrated Brooklyn artisan only has so much reach in reality.

Afterwards, we weren't terribly hungry, but in the spirit of a tapas crawl (Tapeo 29 and 1492 Food are both a block away) we went traditional at Tapeo 29 (more Madrid than San Sebastián, and too dark for photos) and had cazuelas of sweet cider-braised chorizo and garlicky shrimp with lots of bread and glasses of cava and Garnacha. My pronunciation of the red wine was corrected (I feel silly saying any non-English word as if I’m affecting an accent that’s not mine) and in a way the unasked for authoritativeness was endearing in a way that Francesca wasn't. I'll let the transformed pintxos bar get its footing before making any rash judgments, though.

Francesa * 17 Clinton St., New York, NY


Sure, we have Turkish food in NYC, but it’s not as ingrained in our culture as in Berlin. I wouldn't call it a top of mind cuisine. And while our love of gyros matches a German fondness for doner kebabs, our geographically generic shaved meat in a pita isn’t particularly Turkish or Greek or…whatever it's supposed to be.

Mercan exterior

Cafeteria-style Mercan, in Kreuzberg, is as good as any place to get acquainted with homey Turkish cooking. For only 6 euros, you can pick an entree (in the American sense–we're the only weirdos who use the term to mean the main dish, not a starter) from the handful of giant metal pans behind glass at the counter, choose rice or bulger, and salad or dessert. Nothing is labeled—the only written indications are in German on the chalkboards out front–but it's likely that one of the cooks will be able to speak enough English to explain the basics.

Mercan lamb & eggplant

You may find a thick ground lamb and eggplant dish slicked  with mildly spicy oil (perfect for dipping the fluffy focaccia-like bread), the abergin musakka. I've always wondered why countries like England and Germany use French words for so many food items, or are we the weirdos again with our eggplants and zucchinis?  When a server at speakeasy, Beckett's Kopf, described a cocktail to me using the term "pamplemousse," I remarked, "oh, grapefruit," and he got all flustered like I was correcting him (I was not). I'm still trying to figure out the German temperament.

Mercan lamb & potatoes

Or you can have Lamm nacken a.k.a. lamb shank stewed with potatoes. There are plenty of non-lamb options, by the way.

Mercan rice

Rice is fortified with meaty white beans. I think they refer to this style with slivered nuts and cooked in broth as pilaf.

Mercan salad

The chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion salad was a little bland even with the sliced chiles and a squeeze of lemon. It wasn’t until after I finished eating that I  noticed other diners making a dressing with the oil and vinegar on the table. Of course. I'm not used to d.i.y. dressing, though it seems commonplace in other countries–Spain and Argentina, off the top of my head.

Mercan * Wiener Strasse 10, Berlin, Germany