Review: Mercantile

14 May 2017

After a few nice days spent in the lovely state of South Dakota, I sadly bid it farewell — tho not as fast as I thought, courtesy of the delayed (is there any other type?) flight from Frontier. But we made our way to Denver, a place I’ve not been in ages. Last time I was here I hooked up with a trainee mortician…

Anyway, after a very long day that took me south of the state and stuck in a stupid traffic jam in the middle of nowhere, I headed to dinner by the new airport train — albeit just from my hotel to Union Station. Mercantile is one of the popular eateries in the train station complex, and I was eager to check it out.

I got there about 20 minutes early and despite the early hour, it was not ready — Mothers Day glut I suppose. In any case, I parked myself at the bar and enjoyed a pair of well-made cocktails…

cockail - 01

Good stuff. I was then seated and as I was polishing off that second bevvy I placed my order. I chilled out and I switched to wine. But as the place was quite busy the food took awhile, and a surprising comp dish arrived.

0-farro

Farro salad with fava beans and various other things. Very west-coast stuff seemingly… Not bad, kept me going until my first course finally arrived.

1-shishito

A set of shishito peppers with pigs ears. Both done quite well, tho did not get one spicy pepper, which was disappointing. Most of the ears were done pretty well, but the sauce was probably not necessary… I keep wondering what is wrong with natural flavours? Why not just accentuate rather than adulterate?

In any case, a bit more wine and my middle course arrived, the pasta.

2-spaghetti

Ink spaghetti with squid and various chillies. This was quite nice, lovely spicy flavour. I really like when the chillies come out, and they actually flaked it to my specifications after the plate was presented. Nice touch, and gave me control over the spice. Nice, very good dish.

I was pretty happy with this dinner and with more wine my final course arrived — the short rib.

3-short rib

Now this was a hit-and-miss item. The rib was tender and nice, but the sauce was a bit intrusive. The ramps were okay but the morels were extremely salty. A line cook screwed up somewhere this Mothers Day Sunday… Anyway, an okay dish.

I was way full now, so just a liquid dessert. But they were getting busy again and the bar was full, so I just took one and settled up, knowing that with a reduced train schedule if I miss my train it’ll be a half hour before the next one, so…

But overall a rather good dinner. Denver, you are tasting pretty good.

Mercantile
Union Station
1701 Wynkoop Street
Denver, Colorado

Review: Parker’s Bistro

12 May 2017

One of the things I really wanted to accomplish since I began this travel barrage is to see my country as thoroughlly as I can, and one of those things mean visiting all 50 states. I flew into South Dakota, which is #48, for a short stay last week.

Immediately after landing I drove west, enjoying the beautiful views of this beautiful part of the country. I arrived at the state capital Pierre, which boasts one of the most beautiful Capitol complexes I’ve seen. Such a beautiful place, if it wasn’t so isolated I’d visit far more…

I stayed at an excellent B&B, Hitching Horse Inn, which had a very congenial host — a perfect way to end the long day enjoying a few drinks chatting. A good prime rib at the Mad Mary’s and a long walk around town I needed a good night sleep since I’ve had about 2 hours of sleep in the last 2 days…

But since my trip was so short I had to wake up early again, and was on the road by 6.30am. I headed south-east towards Yankton, the capital of the Dakota Territory. The views were different as I used more small roads, but were as interesting. I love the solitary long drive through new roads… I explored Yankton, Vermillion and then jut down to Iowa for a quick stop in Sioux City before cutting north into Minnesota, before arriving back at Sioux Falls just for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at Parker’s Bistro, which drew my attention as I was doing research for having the most interesting menu in town. I walked there from my hotel on a sunny warm day, and as I anticipated, everyone was sitting outside. I happily stayed inside, though it was still very warm.

I looked over the menu as I was served a nice cocktail. They have a good list here. Then I ordered and chilled out. The place seems to be very busy, as outside was packed. But as I was near the entry area, I was starting to hear of folks grumbling about not getting seats outside. Then the starter appeared…

1-chislic

Of course I couldn’t come to South Dakota and not eat chislic — the localised version of what started out as shashlik, brought over supposedly by immigrants from Crimea. These were pretty tasty, though the fries weren’t really needed. The chimichurri added a little interesting kick. Not bad, a good food start…

But that’s saying more than everything else. It looks like the bar got hit with a lot of orders from outside and are totally backed up, and my section has 1 overworked server. It is a sunny, warm, Friday night, so I was watching a shitshow getting worse as the night went along…

It took quite awhile to get that second cocktail, as well as my main course.

2-pork

This was supposed to be cooked medium-rare, but was closer to well-done by the time it arrived at my table. Friday night shitshow strikes again… It tasted interesting as it was bourbon and vanilla brined, but again it being overcooked kinda ruined the dish. And the horrible black rice and pistachio salad was just disgusting…yech…what were they thinking?

At this point I finished the pork and called it a night. I could have stayed for dessert and/or drinks, but with things looking as chaotic as ever, I decided to head back to the hotel. I can imagine this place being good, but really, avoid these places for weekends — especially after the college school year is over and the place is lacking servers.

Parker’s Bistro
210 South Main Avenue
Sioux Falls, South Dakota

PS: I ended up going back out later and seeing a really cool little place, so decided to park myself at Prairie Berry East Bank, and enjoyed quite a few surprisingly nice local wines. Yes, local wines in South Dakota. Mostly grape, but at the end I had a pear wine — notoriously hard to make without it being way acidic. Excellent.

Review: Noord

7 May 2017

I hadn’t planned on eating in Philadelphia for this quick overnight trip, as I was just in town for a memorial concert. But I decided to try Noord, a place my timing had never worked with. Lots of praise for this place over the years and I was looking forward to trying this much-loved neighbourhood Dutch cuisine magnet.

I swore when I sat down because I forgot it was BYOB. Damn it Philly, you have the most stupid licensing laws… So I just had coffee with my dinner…yeah… I ordered and chilled out. Very quickly my starter arrived.

1-mustard soup & scallop

Mustard soup with scallop and roe. Well, it’s pretty normal, nothing special. Scallop not bad, but the roe fell into the soup which wasn’t a bad thing to happen. So-so, but that’s all you can expect from the soup.

I chuckled at the menu as some of the Dutch items were interesting, but found it funny with addition of other things not quite Dutch — such as a Norwegian salmon dish written with its Finnish name. I guess only a very few would have caught that…

In any case my main, a traditional Limburg dish, arrived — konijn in het zuur — rabbit in sauerkraut.

2-braised rabbit

First of all this was the sourest sauerkraut I’ve ever had, I could feel my teeth. I’ve eaten sauerkraut in buckets over the years, from Stuttgart to hapukapsas in Estonia. Nothing like this. Was not edible to be honest. One of the probs is not having booze to help balance the acid. I picked off some of the less-damaged veggies and the meat. Overcooked for the most part, sadly. I ate it but with little joy…

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I’ve had horrible luck with Philly places and this is no exception. I think it’s best I stay clear of this town, or just go have a cheesesteak instead…

Noord
1046 Tasker Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Review: EquiTable

2 May 2017

A very long afternoon wandering around Zürich and I was knackered. And tomorrow I head home after a long trip. I’m worn out. My hotel near the train station is a total joke. Apparently they did not have an iron that day… The room looked like something from National Lampoon’s European Vacation…

In any case I went to dinner at another of Zürich’s 1-Michelin restaurants, EquiTable. I was early, so I ended up in a gin bar around the corner called 4 Tiere, and was pleasantly surprised by their gin selection and their dedication to classic cocktails (including many that have fallen out of favour). I enjoyed the very floral gin in my well-made martini. But dinner calls, so I headed around the corner.

A chic little place, I immediately liked the place once I sat down. Friendly and efficient service meant things moved very well as the place got more busy.

bread service

First up was the cute bread service, including a cut-your-own-sprout thing. I happily went with the full tasting and pairing and I felt good about this already.

AB1a-spinach root

The first amuse is a cute spinach root. Tasty too, a nice presentation certainly and delicious. Next up some freshly cooked asparagus.

Ab2a-asparagus

Mmm, in season as it’s on the menu everywhere. Some linseed sauce on the side, not necessary, produce was excellent. And finally, a croquette.

AB3-croquette

Nice, it’s basically their version of a black pudding, filled with blood and rice. Very nice start! We soon moved into the main menu, starting with a fine local Gewürztraminer blend.

01-char-beets

This is a nice presentation of char and beets. Lovely flavours and great visuals, the roe was also excellent. Great balance of flavours! Only problem was the bowl made it hard to eat at the end. But a good dish!

I’m pretty happy so far and my expectations are much higher now. With a good pour of a local white we move into dish two — the rabbit terrine.

02-rabbit terrine

Again, I’m impressed by the balance here, as there are some strong flavours but they don’t cancel each other out or clash. Strong cooking skills and understanding of flavours, the rabbit was lovely. The liver was a nice surprise. Sorry this photo doesn’t really show that as it’s hidden under all the really good local produce! In fact one great part about this place is how good these produce tasted. And a perfect pairing.

I’m really liking this place now, may be challenging Seven Swans in Frankfurt for the best meal on this trip. With a bubbly poured the next course appeared — the risotto.

03-buckwheat risotto egg

Well, it’s actually buckwheat with lots of grains and nuts — all under the herby egg. Not bad, the dish grew on me more with each subsequent bite. I really missed having more grains and nuts in my diet this trip, especially when not talking about the bread service. With another good wine pour we have the next item — pike perch.

04-pike-perch

Something I’m very familiar with as it is ubiquitous in north-east Europe, this was actually not that good. For some reason there was a strange flavour infused in the fish that just triggered “cheap tartar sauce” in my head. I hate tartar sauce in every shape and form, it’s the most hideous addition to food ever invented. So this didn’t do well in my head. The broth was good so that helped to “wash” some of that flavour away…

That was a hiccup in the cooking for me, but the service has been spotless. Another excellent wine pour and we moved into the meats — starting with veal rib.

05-veal rib

This was excellent, lovely garlic coming out perfectly. Good texture, wonderful use of mushrooms. Just excellent cooking here, lovely flavours overall. I’m happy again! Then another red, this time from Austria, we have our last savoury course…

06-old milk cow_edited

Wow. This is so amazingly tender and flavourful. This is meat from an 8-year-old milk cow. Amazingly good, better than any other old cow I’ve had in the past. They managed to bring the texture to something akin to a younger cow but the depth of the flavour is just excellent. Mmm…still drooling thinking about this dish. Tho the veg tasted funny…I got that weird “tartar” taste again… But that beef, wow… Easily one of the dishes of 2017!

Had a wee rest before we moved to the cheese course, and it was another fun one…

07-cheese

The watercress was nice, with apricot and others too. I like the balance with the paired grenache. Good stuff, the kind of cheese course I prefer to be honest. A pre-dessert of oates and honey and we moved to the closing number.

8-white chocolate

This was a fabulous dessert, from the white chocolate foam to the grass sorbet. Just lovely tastes everywhere, and you know I rarely praise dessert courses… A fine Mosel icewine to pair and it was a wonderful closing number.

I enjoyed a local firewater and chatted a bit with the staff and chef and thanked all of them for a fabulous night. Aside from 1 or 2 minor hiccups, this was excellent. Some fabulous dishes, the 2 meat courses were just awesome. Can’t praise this place enough, from the service to the wines. Very happy with this.

I have to say Zürich is getting a very good reputation for food in my head! Excellent, highly recommended!

EquiTable
Stauffacherstrasse 163
Zürich, Schweiz

PS: I headed home the next day knackered and hungover having returned to 4 Tiere for several drinks. Bad idea… But I ended up doing my “catatonia” thing for the 8.5hrs flight to JFK. Then running across Queens to LGA for a flight back home…

Review: Sein

2 May 2017

Liechtenstein has its charms, but I needed to get back to Switzerland as I have a lot to do on the final day of this trip before heading back across the ocean.

I made my way back to Zürich by bus and train around midday and enjoyed some spectacular views from the train of the snow-capped mountains and pristine lakes. I had a little free time so I dropped into Sein near the train station. Sein is one of Zürich’s Michelin-starred restaurants (1-star), but I happily sat at the bar and looked over the cut-down lunch menu.

I decided to just have some ravioli stuffed with veal and chilled with some wine. It soon appeared.

ravioli

Very tasty, I enjoyed it. Rosemary butter and some hot pepper oil. Cooked perfectly and a very nice filling, though they could have let the oil be a bit spicier. Done well. Satisfied. A simple dish that already whipped everything I had in Liechtenstein.

I need to come back here for a proper meal one day… Now off to a long afternoon…

Sein
Schützengasse 5
Zürich, Schweiz

Review: Marée

1 May 2017

I will tell you right now, getting from Skopje, Macedonia to Vaduz, Liechtenstein, is not as easy as it sounds — especially on a public holiday in every country en route. I headed out on a flight out at 4.30am (ugh…) to Ljubljana then to Zürich, then by train and bus to Liechtenstein. I somehow made it there by midday. So how many people visit 4 countries before lunchtime?

But Vaduz, already a tiny town, was shut down this May Day — Vaduz, this great centre for celebrating the worker… Everything was shut. I ended up paying a ridiculous amount for the most disgusting lunch…cost more than nearly every meal I’ve had since Hungary… Welcome to Liechtenstein…

But a nice afternoon of strolling I headed out for dinner. Tonight’s destination is Marée, the 1-Michelin restaurant at the Park Hotel Sonnenhof up in the hills overlooking central Vaduz. That meant a hike up… A beautiful but steep hike… Got there eventually, knackered, but was treated with this view. Too bad it was raining, so couldn’t sit on the deck…

Walking alongside the cute modern art I went into the classy restaurant. I was seated in the nice dining room overlooking the town, another wonderful view. I ordered a martini and looked over the menu. I heard a discussion by one of the servers explaining what they should do when someone orders a gin martini with a lemon twist (as opposed to olive and vodka stuff). My German is far more functional than it’s been in awhile, odd…

They brought out a nice martini and I decided to go with the tasting menu, despite several ala carte items looking even better. But let’s see what happens. Funny I was overhearing both standard German and local dialect, as well as Italian and French from staff and adjacent tables. They didn’t ask me about language, so we spoke German only all night (tho I did interject in Italian later with the Milanese server). I’m surprised by that, and I’m surprised I could hold my own, make jokes and ask questions about ingredients…

After I finished the cocktail the food began to arrive. First up was a series of amuse bouche…

AB

Tasty stuff, especially the carrot foam with a spicy kick. The salmon was okay, a bit acidic. The “Asian style” quinoa not bad, but I always chuckle when something comes “Asian style”… A nice bread selection later we start with the dinner.

The first wine, which had a good pour, was an Argentinian white — which joined the first course, tuna tartar.

01-tuna tartar

Not bad, but the sauce was crazy salty. But tasty stuff in general. The next dish, with a Sicilian white, was something I really anticipated…

02-morel onions

Well, it didn’t live up to its billing. Morels were listed as the first ingredient but were sadly lacking. It was almost all onion… I wanted the morels dish in the ala carte and went reluctantly with the tasting hoping it would be enough here, but nope. Disappointing…

After that letdown I was starting to worry a little, as the other dishes did not look that interesting. With a Swiss chardonnay poured, we have sole rosettes.

03a-sole

Sole is never one of my favourite fishes, but this wasn’t bad. Cooked very well and sourced well, but again for me it’s one of the most boring fish. The pate was okay but bread was soaked… Sigh… Next up, with a red from Baden, was the quail.

04a-quail

Pretty good quail, cooked well. Not as good as at Costes Downtown from a week earlier, but not bad. The risotto on the side was really weak tho… I wonder if the holiday curse is hitting with some of the cooking… Oh well…that’s the end of the savouries already…

I’m in the Alps so I was also anticipating the cheese course. They had a selection of raw milk cheeses, but sadly only 1 local Liechtenstein, and the rest came from Switzerland to France…

05-cheeses

Not a bad selection, but with so much cheese I ran out of crispbread by half way and it was filling me up so much. Amazing when the cheese course is always the most voluminous of all courses in tasting menus in this region… Anyway, I was counting down to finishing this meal at this point, as service has also gone from quick and excellent to slow and spotty…

06-strawberry-rhubarb

Last item was a good strawberry and rhubarb dessert. I enjoyed it and was gonna ask for an after-dinner drink but it got so chaotic I decided to call it a night. Some good spots, but a mostly disappointing night. Again I think we paid for the view…

It was a fun walk in the dark down the steep hill back to the centre. Nowhere to stop for a drink as everything is SHUT. Great. Back to the room and to catch up on some sleep I guess…

Marée
Park Hotel Sonnenhof
Mareestrasse 29
Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Eating in Skopje…well…hmmm…

29-30 April 2017

I left Belgrade a bit sad because the town had really grown on me. I could see myself coming back sooner than later. I got to Skopje and there was little sign of the chaos that gripped the city centre less than 36 hours earlier. My hotel was a block from the parliament, where all the mess occured, and yet it was very quiet.

I had a late lunch at what is considered the best place for local cuisine, Stara Kuќа. Not too busy, but still enough smoke to annoy me. Oh, a few days in Belgrade, where they have good filtering systems and put people in different areas, is now gone I guess.

I grabbed a beer and the house casserole special…

grne stara kuka

Well, it was okay, but nothing special. Pork and chicken in a pot full of vegetables. Mopped it up with bread. Very filling, but had enough of the smoke despite it being an outdoor seating area.

I headed for a walk around town and was shocked at how gaudy all the “Skopje 2014” monuments looked…it looks like a bastard child of Athens and Almaty, with a lot of Vegas thrown in. Dreadful stuff…what were they thinking? And how much did all this cost? And they don’t fix the roads… Sigh…

Anyway, then I went back to the hotel and had to deal with the stupid heat (hotel’s AC wasn’t on yet, it’s not May yet…). Took awhile to cool down. I headed out to dinner to where I read had good food, so let’s see what happens.

Distrikt is a restaurant in the shiny new Marriott, which was part of this “Skopje 2014” project. I sat inside, which was empty (as opposed to outside, which was full). Had a quiet time, and enjoyed some local wine. I wasn’t too hungry thanks to the heavy late lunch, so just a simple main course.

rabbit stew

The rabbit stew wasn’t bad, full of root veggies that I appreciated very much. Nice tasting, nothing special, but a good dish. Unfortunately despite the solid, friendly and very knowledgeable service at first, it collapsed later on as I could barely get anyone’s attention. A fruit salad and drink later I headed out, shaking my head at the bill that was about twice as much as something similar in Belgrade…

I didn’t do much rest of the evening, just took a few laps around the centre to shake my head at what a friend said resembled the “rub and tub pool in Vegas” — I had to agree…sigh… Also watched the Klitchko fight in a local pub with the locals, which was fun.

The next day was a bit more chaotic. I had a nice wander in the old town, which had far more character but for some reason had far less help from the government. Just terrible planning and vision really. I stopped off at one of the iconic places in the old town, Destan.

kebap

They only serve kebap and that’s what came…but it was such a flimsy order for the cost I didn’t bother to get more. Tourist trap… I headed out after choking from the smoke (outdoors, but when everyone around is smoking, even the servers…). I headed out of the old town and stopped at the first place I saw, Mal Altan.

Friendly service in an empty place with a view of the Kale (fortress), so that was nice. I chilled and enjoyed some wine and had some smnoked ribs…

smoked ribs

This turned out to be the best thing I had to eat in all of Macedonia. Tasty stuff. I wish I had more of these… I thanked the friendly server and headed out.

Walking around a bit more I headed back and switched hotels — to a place on the edge of town. Reason? One, my flight tomorrow leaves at 4.30am! (U. G. H.) Two, I’m having dinner there, so…why not. The place is called The Hunter’s Lodge Kamnik. It has all the stuff hunters like, but since I have no gun and the hotel didn’t list what it can provide, I just killed the afternoon drinking in the bar chatting with staff…

1-bacon wrap

That merged into dinner and frankly it was not good. The starter was basically bacon-wrapped dates, which is a good drinking snack. I was getting looped anyway… The main I went with the duck…

2-duck

It was so ridiculously dry and almost sawdust at points I ended up abandoning half of the dish. I had enough anyway, and needed to get a few hours of sleep before that stupid flight out pre-dawn. So I thanked the excellent staff, gave up on the food, and retired…goodness, this is beyond “stupid o’clock” — a phrase my mate Simon Majumdar likes to use for early flights. This is just bad…

Well, a quick trip into Macedonia. Sadly it won’t warrant a return. Food was mediocre at best, the monuments gaudy, and sadly it was more expensive than Podgorica and Belgrade — and the quality far worse. Sorry, Skopje, but good luck.

Stara Kuќа [Стара Куќа]
Филип Втори Македонски 14

Distrikt
Плоштад Македонија 7

Destan
Казанџиска

Mal Altan [Мал Алтан]
Црвена Скопска Општина

Kamnik
Skopje [Скопје], Macedonia [Македонија]