Review: Tigris

22 November 2012

After that unpleasant experience at Borkonyha, I needed a re-affirmation of my commitment to Hungarian cuisine and restaurants for my last meal — and on Thanksgiving to boot. So I chose somewhere that has all the accolades: Tigris.

I had no booking, but there was a spare, un-made table for 3 that they happily put me into. I had offered to eat quickly, but they said: “no, you are our guest for the evening, you enjoy yourself.” Now this is top-class hospitality, and my faith in Hungarian restaurants returned in a flash.

I immediately relaxed, even though they turned away several walk-in parties. I felt a little guilty, but they told me to relax… 🙂

I began my dining experience this evening just as a very large group came in. Apparently this place, well-regarded in Michelin guide, does attract lots of foreign groups. But it does not detract from the service, as they seem to be used to it. This cozy little place that is reminiscent to a family trattoria is just perfect for this evening.

After an amuse bouche of local cream cheese with apples (yummy!), the starter for my Thanksgiving dinner was the humble garlic soup. This creamy version, cooked with almonds and a late splash of red cabbage, really hit the spot on a cool evening. Now as a garlic addict I could have used a stronger garlic presence, but this was pretty good.

garlicsoup

It worked with a nice Hungarian white they recommended. Mind you it was not the most expensive on the menu, but it worked well with this dish. I strongly recommend Hungarian whites as they are often too under-rated.

For my main I switched to a red they also recommended, one that accompanies my feast to the button. This beauty presented itself soon, a wonderful variation on mangalica. Now this was tons better than the variation I had for lunch…

mangalicaa

In this version, there was two very juicy pieces of loin, cooked perfectly — pink inside. The mangalica is such a sweet meat you really gotta eat it like that. And as an extra treat, there’s also two pieces of cheek. Now this was just heaven, melting in my mouth. The cauliflower, one of my very favourite vegetables, worked very well with the pork. The picture really, really doesn’t do this justice!

I was more than happy at this point, and I enjoyed a very nice glass of Tokaji to rest before my dessert arrives. I usually skip the sweet stuff, but one dish really caught my eye. It was the goat cheesecake with walnut ice cream. Wow…

goatcheesecake

This was pure heaven, the goat cheese unapologetically strong, tempered by the nuanced walnut ice cream. This was just fabulous!

After a nice pálinka to close the dining experience, I must say Tigris has totally restored my faith in Hungarian restaurants. The food fantastic, the service fantastic. It’s become my favourite restaurant in Budapest! Just look at some of the other dishes on their menu! I need to eat 3 or 4 more meals here to take it all in!

A must!

Tigris
MĂ©rleg 10,
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Borkonyha

Budapest,
22 November 2012

I had woken up surprisingly rested and at an okay time…am I gonna beat jetlag for once? No way, this is just a one-day reprise I think. I may as well enjoy it. Plus, it’s Thanksgiving back home in the US. I may substitute the local goose specialties for all the turkey people collapsing over across the ocean.

I was still rather happy after last night’s excellent meal at Carni di Hall. This time for lunch I chose to go to Borkonya (“Winekitchen”), a place I missed last time due to, well, intemperate drinking… It’s across the street from DiĂł, where I had a good meal a few months ago. This place has gotten many good mentions, so I was looking very much forward to this meal.

I arrived as it was opening and they put me down at an okay table. Service seemed okay at the beginning…but…I had asked for a recommended white, and they immediately went to the priciest item (4x the price of other wines). I gave it a go, and it was nothing spectacular. In fact, it was pretty boring. I would have sent it back, but my starter had just arrived, so…

My meal began with rabbit backstrap with cauliflower cream. I’m sorry, this was a disaster. The rabbit was fine but bland. The cauliflower cream was missing something, and it was strewn with annoying flakes of bread that just ruined the texture of the cream. Not a good start…

rabbit

I was not sure what chef was thinking here, but it’s possibly one of those cases of someone working on the line in a famous place with an ĂĽber-creative chef-de-cuisine, and thinks they can do as well on their own… I’m starting to think the New York Times was hoodwinked when they were here, or the lunch back-of-house crew is just not up to scratch… Either way, this was not going good.

So when I tried to order a specific red wine that was mid-priced, he told me it was not available — and again directed me to the most expensive (by far) item. I shook my head and they told me they had a similar item to what I was looking at, and they brought it. It was drinkable, but I didn’t realise how much they were gonna charge me for this glass until I kept looking through the winelist and saw the per-bottle price of this wine.

Now I am just fuming, and no matter how good the main course is going to be, this is not going to be a good meal. This one service just destroyed years of me praising Central/East European service staff. This one still thinks the foreigner can be ripped off. Absolutely angry.

My main course was a variation of the amazing mangalica. What could have been an amazing dish was basically down to poor execution. It looked nice and could have been something very special, but…

mangalica

The bottom layer was a black pudding that was nice. Now how can anyone screw up black pudding… The middle was a nice tongue, but I thought it was seasoned a bit poorly. And finally, the top Schnitzel layer was just dreadful, with the worst breading there. For a pork as flavourful as mangalica they should have gone katsu rather than Schnitzel. This may as well be any darn pork.

Again, I don’t know whether this is just poor execution and back-up service staff due to it being Thursday lunch, but it’s nevertheless unacceptable and ruins the reputation of a restaurant that could have been good. I for one will never step foot into this place again, as it brings back bad memories of dealing with waiters that try to rip you off. This is 2012, we can’t go backwards.

Avoid! KerĂĽlje!

Borkonyha
Sas utca 3
Budapest, Magyarország

 

 

Review: Carne di Hall

Budapest,
21 November 2012

First of all, I apologise for the lack of updating. Due to various technical problems I’ve not been able to log into this account for a few days. Now that’s fixed (thanks to some good people on WordPress, esp Kathryn), I can catch up.

I had a rough trip over to London from Newark. Traffic was a nightmare, took over 2 hours to drive there. In addition, I was somehow willing to torture myself with a radio marathon of Christmas songs…harbinger of a bad trip?

A bad flight with a dodgy piece of chicken (processed drumstick but the bone still there?)…what has happened to Virgin Atlantic over the last 2 years? This was disgusting. And by the time I got to London, I was feeling ill and burning up. Shit… And all the day’s plans scuppered as I slumped over in my airport hotel room… Lost a chance to dine with a good friend at The Shed in London. Next time, hopefully…

I was still not great when I got to Budapest the next day, and realised I should take it a little easy. Despite being assigned a non-smoking room in a non-smoking hotel, this place in Pest was not as advertised…ugh… But I decided to take the walk late that night to across the Danube to try Carne di Hall, which has many good reviews. But in the meantime, Budapest — already a stunningly beautiful city — is just mesmirising at night…

The walk in the chilly evening was just what I needed. Carne di Hall is an unpretentious restaurant with lots of cute porcine motifs in its decor — just what most people who are food-centric like! And this place was not to disappoint!

First of all, the service at this place was professional, friendly, courteous and informed — which is a treat alongside the good food. I began with the fish taster starter, and it was a choice combination. The tartar from local trout was fantastic and fresh, opposed by the intense and creamy pike-perch. But the star was the local baby catfish, fried up (a bonus, they tell me). Fantastic flavour combination, I must say…what a great start!

I do apologise for the rather dark photos again…my aversion to using flash indoors does it again. But rest assured it tastes better than my photos show! I was really enjoying this meal with some fine local wines. Please do enjoy Hungarian wines, both whites and reds. They are totally underrated but awesome!

My main course is a tribute to the porcine nature of this restaurant, trotters done “pĂ©knĂ©” style. I was really looking forward to this treatment of the humble trotter, and it was indeed worth the wait!

These two pieces of grilled trotters were melt-in-your-mouth level, as good as the trotter I have at the amazing Hakata Tonton. The potatoes with onions and bacon (!!) was an extra treat, and I just devoured the contents of the plate with much gusto!

I was in 7th heaven, and again goes with what I’ve said in previous reviews of food in Budapest (especiall this from Klassz), it’s nearly impossible to have a bad meal in this amazing food city! I highly suggest everyone make a trip here to try the food! I was too stuffed but ended the night with a much needed pálinka…

In the meantime I had been chatting with some Finnish tourists sitting at the next table and by the time they headed out (I declined joining them for drinks after due to being utterly knackered), they had become devotees of the pálinka! So I have done my job!

I strolled back across the LánchĂ­d (Chain Bridge) and enjoyed the beauty of Budapest at night some more. This is such a romantic town, it’s almost sad to be walking across this gorgeous bridge over the Danube alone. So after a brief detour (that I mentioned on Twitter), I headed back to the room for some much needed rest…

Oh, Budapest, I missed you…

Carne di Hall
Bem rakpart 20
Budapest, Magyarország

 

On the Road Yet Again…

As I finish packing for yet another trip (likely the last for 2012, thank goodness), it’s not easy for me to stay stoic about things. Several meetings planned for the trip have been cancelled — now why do people ask me to meet with them, and cancel later? So a good part of this trip will be wasted…and I just need to keep myself from wandering into a bar…

Because of the schedule changes, I shifted a few things around and decided to try to enjoy myself a little. In addition, the weekend within the 9-day trip I decided to travel somewhere that I’ve never been…a place I never thought I would go alone. It’ll be extremely difficult for me, and I’ll explain as I blog about it when I get there.

But it’ll be a very stressful trip. In 9 days I’ll be through 7 countries. At least I have a few really good restaurants booked during the trip, and that will be the saving grace. Aside from a few opportunities, I’ll be dining alone for most of this trip. It’s never truly enjoyable to dine day in and day out in fantastic manner by oneself. Like for my birthday meal and day after at Maaemo and Ylajali, I just wished I could have shared those evenings with someone. She was there with me, however, just in my mind. It made even such a wonderful dining experience somewhat sad…

And as I trek all the way to Newark again (it is absolutely the most inconvenient airport to reach), I can’t help but think that me and my beloved ex has never been so distant before since we met all those years ago. It seems she’s chosen to stop contact with me… I’d like to think it’s because having me in her life makes her remember the good times and how close we were; however, I fear that the real reason is that she really just don’t need me anymore, not even this amazingly close friendship we shared.

And that makes me infinitely sad.

There’s nothing I can do, nothing I want to do. I want her to be truly happy, and if she is truly happy like this — with her new guy, and having nearly no contact with me, so be it…as long as this happiness is true. I will willingly bear the pain.

I guess I internalise a lot of the pain since many of my close friends don’t share much concern over my situation. I’ve grown distant from many of my close friends over recent times, and I just don’t feel like the normal me anymore. Like any last joie de vivre has been extinguished. Even these trips, despite the awesome restaurants and so forth, has lost its excitement for me — even in anticipation. It’s so bad now that I dread going on these trips…

Oh well, that’s a full-blown midlife crisis at 40. Except I have no one to really lean on. This is why I vent via blog…but like the non-virtual world, I seem to be talking but I’m the only person that hears.

I guess I’ve become the proverbial tree in the “if a tree falls in the forest” question…

On the road yet again…sigh…

Whither to Move…Decision Made!

Some of you may know I have been contemplating a move for some time. I’ve had about enough of this Connecticut suburb, where the quality of life has dropped noticeably since I moved here just over 2 years ago. Crime has gone up, services gone down, and the drama at this apartment building is just too much. No way I will survive another summer construction season (with all the drilling and jackhammering). This morning’s false fire alarms was the last straw…

However, I had already put into play this move, and as of this morning, my mind has been made up — to a 99% extent, that is. I will be signing various paperwork to confirm this move when I get back from my next trip, to commence this weekend, 7 countries in 8 days…

Those who know me may be very surprised by where I am moving to…I’m not letting it out of the barrel yet, but it’ll surprise most of you. Let’s say part of the process is me getting rid of a lot of my private possessions, some that have been with me since the 1980s. I’ve been selling some, donating many of my stuff, from books to CDs to furniture to electronics. I am moving as light as possible this time.

I am also giving up my baby, my beautiful Audi A-4. This will be the saddest one, as I love this car. There’s good memories (driving 130mph on a winding highway in an unnamed place) and bad memories (breaking down on a holiday weekend on the NJ Turnpike), but it’s still my baby, and I’m saying goodbye to it…

There is still a chance I can be talked out of this move, if a better offer comes up. Who knows what opportunities will pop up in the next few weeks to alter this path. Those of you wanting to propose something to me, do it now, or it’s too late.

But I’m starting the process of packing up and relinquishing my stuff already, so it’s moving ahead. I feel somewhat relieved. I remember telling people years ago that moving to NYC was the worst decision I ever made. Not true. It was moving out of NYC to Connecticut that was the worst decision I ever made. I should have seen it back then, I was just too clouded at the time.

But I am making this move with a fresh mind and clear head, for once. Nothing is pressuring me, there is no alterior motive, and there is no other reason except for me wanting to do this. Again, it’ll surprise many, but I’m full of surprises sometimes…

Review: Longman & Eagle

Chicago,
9 November 2012

As I hinted in my previous entry about my days in Chicago, I did have one very good meal at the tail end of the trip. Last time I was in the Windy City, as I was trekking out to O’Hare during a horribly hot summer day, I stopped at the much-raved gastropub Longman & Eagle and had a wonderful brunch before flying out. This time, I chose to go there for my last dinner in town before heading home.

Longman & Eagle does not take bookings, so I made my way there early as it is ĂĽber-popular, and it is a Friday night. I was staying at O’Hare and it’s a bit of a hike back towards town, but it was worth it. Made it there at the brink of 5pm and enjoyed a cocktail while checking out the menu.

As the place was not quite crazy yet at this early hour, I decided to go one dish at a time and see where it goes. I had all night anyway, but wanted to head back early. Nevertheless, I started to feast slowly… The first dish was the venison pâtĂ©, which was extremely tasty and a great start. Not too rough nor soft, it worked well as a snack with drinks. A very generous brick!

A very nice start. I had been trying out some of the cocktails…yeah, I know, I’m breaking my own new rule already. Tonight’s gonna be a tough test for myself, to see if I can keep this under control. Making it worse I was also doing some tasting of bourbons and ryes neat… This place has an amazing selection of ryes, bourbons, whiskys, whiskeys, etc…it’s worth a trip just for drinks! It’s easy, it’s near Logan Square station…

The key is to pace, and I managed that pretty well in this dark and increasingly busy pub. My second dish was the crispy pig’s tail. This cute dish, with the shredded meat fried in a roll, was delicious. The pig’s tail was delicate and flavourful, but the package made it a little more special. Usually I am not a fan of meat being fried up in a wrap, but this worked really good.

My next dish was the lamb tartare with quail egg. Now this missed a bit for me, as the meat was not distinct enough, like they wanted to quell its taste. With the egg disconnected from the meat, moving it to top of the meat easily caused some loss. I think this dish needs a little re-think, to be honest.

My fourth dish, as I was getting full (alongside the bar), was the buffalo sweetbread. I wanted to compare it to Recette in NYC, where I remember me and Simon Majumdar had several helpings of the excellent snack. Unfortunately, the ones here was a bit on the skimpy side, and was falling apart a little. NYC 1 – Chicago 0 on this one, sorry.

I was starting to get a little disapponted with 2 less-than-expected dishes in a row, so I decided to call it a night on savouries. I saw a wonderful dessert, which they at first said they ran out of…thank goodness that wasn’t the case. This is the full description:

“Terrine of Heirloom Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Salted Peanuts, Espresso, Translucent Caramel, Brown Butter Chestnut Financier, Chestnut Maple Coulis, Salted Peanut Brittle”

Now what can I saw…wow. This was fantastic. The combination of flavours was absolutely mesmirising, although rich but not in conflict. This came close to being the very best dessert I have ever had… Readers may know I am not a big fan of desserts usually, so when I say this was hands down the best dish of the night, that’s saying something.

I had a few more drinks and the place was now totally hopping. I didn’t want to hold up the seat, so I stood as I finished two awesome glasses of iced coffee from the tap (what a great bloody idea!!!). I needed the strength to get myself back to O’Hare.

To be honest, this was a hit-and-miss night, but it’s always interesting. Longman & Eagle to me is clearly the best place for a serious food experience in Chicago (that doesn’t involve a chemistry lab) that I have enjoyed. I’m harsh on the dishes that missed because my standards for this place now is so ridiculously high. But heavily recommended for drinks and food, and just the scene. A cool place. I can’t wait to come back next time!

Longman & Eagle
2657 North Kedzie Avenue
Chicago, IL

Oh Chicago… [mini-reviews of Grand Duke’s, The Berghoff, and IPO]

I had continued with my very weird trip, arriving into Chicago on Election Day. Toronto was rather disastrous, and the negative effects of the trip continued. Though I felt a corner had been somewhat turned, I continue to worry whether a major setback will befall me before I make it home in the weekend. This is how little confidence I have in my own situation at this point…

Due to rather odd circumstances that I won’t get into here, I had the problem of switching hotels each and every night in Chicago. A mess to say the least. My first evening put me in a rather “roach motel-y” place near Midway Airport. When I had made my trip plans I had forgotten that a certain person’s hometown is Chicago and when he does win the election he’d be downtown. So that explains the 1-night exile…

Plus, it gave me the chance to go to one of the very few Lithuanian restaurants still around, Grand Duke’s, for dinner and to watch the elections. It turned out to be not so good of a night… The beer flowed all night, and I consumed maybe 6-7 litres of very good Ĺ vyturys beer… I had ordered two starters, with very mixed results. The smoked pigs ears were very good, although hard to eat with a spoon (!!); the garlic bread was disastrous. The service was very shaky to say the least… Friendly, but shaky. And of course they never warned me the kitchen was shutting down, and I had no food when they were closing down. Shit.

So as the elections were winding down, they closed. I had to cab it back to the hotel, find somewhere that still had food (not easy). So as I laughed at many of the election results (I had already tweeted that Obama had a clear path to victory weeks ago, I didn’t believe the media hype of serious late competitiveness), I was dying of hunger and had litres of beer destroying my stomach.

I had almost as bad of a night as Mitt and Paul thanks to that…

The next day I recovered enough to make my way to my 2nd hotel. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I had also caught a cold…aside from the stomach issues. I was now next to the river and that evening (snacked a little at lunch only) went to Bavette’s (which was the previous blog entry, so go read that). Went and tried to rest back at hotel but had a horrible sleep…

The next day I switched hotels again to the centre of The Loop but stopped at the venerable Berghoff for lunch beforehand. Bad move. They shifted a few of the good stuff off the menu and it was pretty lame for lunch… The beer was okay, but the sausage trio was disastrous. It’s worse than 3 different ballpark franks dumped on a plate with a mountain of artichoke salad. Awful, awful, awful. What a bad start… I should have known to avoid the tourist trap…

I checked into the 3rd hotel in 3 days in Chicago and tried to relax a little, still feeling rather ropey from the beer-acid attack and the now-somewhat-better cold. Tried to rest, but didn’t manage too well.

I met a good friend of mine for dinner that evening, but things ran rather late and we didn’t manage to make plans until many of the places in Chicago were not seating new customers…I had forgotten how early things shut down in Chicago mid-week. So we ended up at IPO — which has seen many, many mixed reviews. Someone’s opinion I trust had panned it, and I was concerned but we had little choice.

First of all, it was so close to the hotel lobby lounge that it seemed like an extention of it. That’s never good for quality of dining experience. The service started already shaky as the server didn’t seem to want to explain anything in the esoteric menu. We ended up sharing the scallops to start… Well, the excessive use of coffee and hazlenut made this taste like a real bad Starbucks experience. The scallops (2) were fine themselves, but everything else on the plate HAD TO GO. Who came up with this? You wouldn’t even do this when desperate in Kitchen Arena if secret ingredients forced something odd… What a bad start…

And of course when the plate was brought out, no description of it from the runner nor the server. I had to call the server over as he couldn’t be bothered. Ridiculous. Then the main course of sturgeon came for me. The food wasn’t bad here, as the flavours matched a bit more here. But frankly, it was nothing special and neither was my friend’s salmon. The side of asparagus was burnt to shrivels at points… And again, no description of the complex dishes by the server, I had to call him over to ask a few questions.

This is just crap service that made the food worse than it really was. I was livid, but just took a deep breath. After another questionable dish, the “Mexican inspired” dessert that made little sense, before we even managed to ask for coffee, the bill came — unasked.

This is when people walk out of restaurants and give a small tip. Ridiculous. Thank goodness good company kept the evening from being ruined…

Now the last full day I had all my plans messed up due to other problems that crept up and I had shifted to O’Hare. I ended up having a great last dinner in the one place I knew that would be good, and that shall be in a forthcoming review…

Needless to say, I got home in a few pieces, feeling just awful. This trip had been so trying and caused me endless grief, and I am still cleaning up the damage from it. I don’t know how much I have really recovered from all that happened, but I have a week before I hit the road again, so I have little choice…