Review: Rosenstein

22 April 2017

I barely slept thanks to the growing jetlag…it always gets worst for me around day 4 it seems… Nevertheless I dragged myself up as I had a lot to do, especially now feeling this is the last time I’ll ever come to Budapest. So I wanted to revisit both Kerepesi and Farkasréti cemeteries — two of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe.

But that meant a crap load of walking as they are both large. And since they were across town from each other, my joints could just stiffen badly on the long trek between them. I was knackered when I was done, so I wanted some lunch. I couldn’t get a booking at the popular restaurant near Keleti Station, Rosenstein, when I asked, but will try a walk-in.

Luckily people were just finishing up, so they gave me a table. Ordered some wine and a first course, just to see how much room I had for another. This came very quickly.

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Mmmm…this was delicious! Carp soup with not just roe but milt, as well as maw. Just awesome stuff. Best thing I ate in all of Budapest to be honest! I was happy enough to order another dish. At first I thought of the mangalica, but I thought it rather odd to eat pork at a Jewish restaurant on a Saturday (it’s on the menu tho!), so went with the venison.

Took awhile, but it showed up looking good…

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Tasty stuff, good meat. The veggies were also very good. Enjoyed it, and it filled me up just perfectly. I thanked them and headed on out for the walk back to the hotel. Oh my feet, but this was a nice surprise.

I’d recommend this place, but do make sure you book early — it’s extremely popular with locals!

Rosenstein
Mosonyi utca 3
Budapest, Magyarország

Review #2: MÁK

21 April 2017

After a wonderful evening of dining and drinking with dear old friends, I sadly left Prague and headed to Budapest for a short trip. My Budapest plans had all fallen apart after I planned the short stay, so I was in a bit of a foul mood. But one thing that’s certain, I was looking very forward to feasting in Budapest again.

The flight got in mid-afternoon so not much to do but unpack and sort some logistics for the rest of my trip — which will take me to another 5 countries (having just arrived in my 3rd). Then I headed out to dinner somewhere that I had pretty good memories of, MÁK. My previous meal here was very enjoyable so I decided on a return visit.

I got there on the early side, weaving through the hoardes of tourists, the annoying amount of anti-EU propaganda (utterly ridiculous stuff) plastered on every billboard, and the massive amount of construction that made it a headache for pedestrians. Enjoyed a drink and decided on the tasting menu, but asking for one wee change. They were game so I was happy.

The night started off pretty well and soon the amuse arrived…

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A duet of contrasting flavours, the front was based on egg and cod, the rear one on prawn and garlic. Not bad. Then a bigger amuse, butternut squash and chicken liver.

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Again, not bad, but it’s nearly the size of a dish in a tasting menu, so that seemed odd. One very annoying thing is that as there was PA music in the dining room, there was an unpleasant amount of hip-hop bleeding through from the kitchen. The bass was ridiculously loud I thought there was a drummer rehearsing at first. This really shouldn’t be happening, Friday night or not!

In any case, then the first course on the tasting arrived based on asparagus (it’s in season)…

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I wrote down “meh” on my notepad about this course. The asparagus grilled (both white and green) was charred, which is fine for me as long as it doesn’t turn stringy. But the other components, such as the nettle, didn’t add much. Anyway…

The wine pairing has been good and generous, I must say. Last time I was here I wasn’t thrilled with the short pours, so this has improved. I’m hoping the food is on the same trend as last time. The next course was the one I switched. Originally sweetbread, I opted for this instead — mackerel.

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I love mackerel but this was a cry for help… The fish was cooked poorly, the taste was sickly sweet. And my goodness that skin was DISGUSTING. If you’re not gonna make it edible, please remove it! It was like trying to eat your window curtains… What a disastrous switch! Mel -1 so far… I should have read my own review because I forgot last time I thought their mackerel wasn’t great either — but this was…ugh…

I left the skin on the plate in a prominent way, hopefully to convey a message…but prolly didn’t. And the runner, whenever he puts something down, he starts to snap his fingers and/or clap like he was in a club or something. Sigh…is Budapest’s brain drain getting worse again? I wouldn’t be surprised with this awful political environment.

In any case, let’s hope this below-par dinner gets better (like last time). Next course was the so-called special course (not listed on the menu) and it was…well…

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Their take on the Waldorf Salad. I won’t say any more. This looks like something from the ala carte menu with the key ingredient removed. Huh? At this point if it wasn’t for the good wine pairings I would be pretty ticked off. Compared to my last visit this is awful… Next up, octopus…

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Nothing to write home about, not stringy but not snappy. Again, very “meh” as much as I hate that word, it really sums it up. And now in mid-bite that club-happy runner places new silverware on my table. In mid-bite. Okay, the FoH training here is really fallen apart. I’m now in the very disappointed mode.

One funny thing was that when one of the wines was being introduced to me, there was something that made a historian like me chuckle. If you want to know more, let me know, but basically somehow TRIANON ended up as an issue in my wine pairing…how amazingly Hungarian is that? Sigh… Oh well, next course.

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Always my favourite, mangalica. Good dish, finally, though not thrilled about the cooking method. Nevertheless the pork was of excellent quality, lovely flavours. And the peas really added a nice touch. Finally! Took long enough.

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After a wee beet and berry pre-dessert, we moved to the main dessert and I was a bit puzzled…

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Yeah, I won’t say much more, except that there’s green apple and mascarpone involved…

This was a rather disappointing dinner I have to say. FoH failures were unfortunate, but today the kitchen was just not there. Compared to last time I was here this was not good. I hate when I like a place and return for it to turn so rubbish…

The only consolation for the night was chatting with the manager, and having a few very hard-to-find tipples. Lovely brandies made from celeriac (!) and beet closed the night. Saved it a little. But still, I’m very disappointed that a place like this turned so bad. Is it the Friday/weekend disease with staffing? Who knows, but it’s not a great start to my time in Budapest…

In any case, I doubt I’ll be revisiting this place. A shame, really…

MÁK
Vigyázó Ferenc utca 4
Budapest, Magyarország

Review: Portfolio

20 April 2017

The next day I was really hampered by jetlag and boozing a bit more than I’ve anticipated, but I had a busy afternoon and needed to fuel up. Lunch today was at a place called Portfolio. It’s not been given as much Michelin love as last night’s disappointing dinner at Field, but that doesn’t bother me due to Michelin’s general failures in the region IMHO.

I chilled out as I arrived early and ordered from their lunch menu. Enjoyed a nice glass of wine as my starter arrived, asparagus soup.

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Nice, as asparagus is in season and is everywhere on menus. The cold asparagus, both white and green, worked well with the tableside poured cream soup. Nothing too special, but it was solid. Then the main course, and it was far larger than I anticipated.

And to my many bunny-owning friends, as a bunny lover myself, I’m sorry for this…

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Leg of rabbit. This was rather big, probably from a Flemish Giant (yes, I know my rabbit breeds). Nice, perhaps wee overcooked, but pretty good. Lots of meat, and the knife provided was not very useful, but I managed to finish it. The spinach was good, but the stuffing was dry and crusty and mostly abandoned.

Not bad, so I went for a dessert — which had an intriguing mention of chilli, so…

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Well, if it was there it was beyond understated. The chocolate and coconut aspects were nice, but I really wish the chilli came out — as that really makes chocolate enjoyable. Oh well.

I had a coffee and finished up. It was a pretty solid lunch, quite better than last night’s dinner I have to say. Now for a busy afternoon, including a revisit to Olšanské hřbitovy

Portfolio
Lannův Palác
Havlíčkova 1030/1
Praha, Česko

Review: Field

19 April 2017

I had made my way to Prague the next day with a rather ugly hangover…stayed way too long last night drinking after that wonderful meal at Seven Swans. Nevertheless, was good to be in Prague again. I needed a wee kip so managed to do that until I had to meet a dear old friend for a few drinks. Those moments are just priceless…

Anyway, afterwards I headed to dinner at recently-awarded 1-Michelin eatery Field in the Old Town. Ran a little late but table was welcoming, and the martini was good enough as I went through the menu. I reluctantly went with an ala carte menu as some dishes looked extremely tempting, so I chose my items and chilled.

Enjoyed the cocktail as a series of amuse bouche was presented…

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Generally pretty good, the cod roll with roe was nice but the duck liver and cherry was probably the best of the lot. So far not bad.

I had asked for a pairing for each of the forthcoming 3 courses and they were all generous pours, so that was much appreciated. First dish was the cold starter, and my choice was the aged beef.

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Honestly rather bland, nothing really stood out, which was too bad; it almost seemed it was a completely different line that put the amuse series together. If anything the usage of cream was a little excessive (some of it was hidden by the “hay”). The broth was nice, where you really enjoyed a strong mushroom essence. But the “hay” on top did not really help. Anyway, a rather meh dish, let’s see what the second — the warm starter — brings.

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Crayfish with nettle. I have to say this was a bit of a surprise, as we got a nice serving of wakame and samphire. This would have been an awesome dish if it wasn’t for the sour cream overdose. It just ate into all the other flavours. You really don’t want a dish dominated by sour cream when you have good things like on this plate. Oh well…

Was a little disappointed so far but the drinks were nice. I was chilled out and the main course arrived, and I had good expectations as the server really upsold this item — and it was featured in the tasting menu too, the heifer.

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Well, it was disappointing. The rib was overcooked, bland — again! In such contrast with the amuse segment! And the unintended green crust didn’t help but add an annoying layer of misplaced texture. Compared to that amazing rib from last night in Frankfurt, it was not even close, despite both being 1-Michelin… And the tongue? It was so over-flavoured you’ve lost the unique taste of tongue. It could have been tofu as far as I could tell. This was disappointing…

I hinted to my server that the dish didn’t really work for me, I really wish they didn’t end up comping me an after-dinner drink (I bought a second round to not seem like a moocher); however, the server turned stone cold after that point, borderline unfriendly. Didn’t really appreciate that. I ended up moving to the bar to have a last drink because of that, and the server did not acknowledge me once despite walking past me multiple times. What is with this attitude? Sulk instead of taking constructive criticism? A great reason why this place should not have gotten their Michelin star.

I wonder if this place believed its post-Michelin hype too much, because this was really not Michelin quality to be honest. It’s not bad, but so are scores of other places in Prague. But compared to places all over central-east Europe that don’t have stars, this place doesn’t even reach those levels, and insults so many other kitchens and FoHs that break their backs on a daily basis to improve just to touch that one star.

A great example of how subjective, and often off, Michelin is. You can do much better in Prague, and so can this place.

Field
U Milosrdných 12
Praha, Česko

Review: Seven Swans

18 April 2017

I had a long 2-day journey that culminated in dinner in Frankfurt. Left home on Easter Monday morning for LGA, and spent the day zipping through Queens and Long Island in a rental car that I thought was gonna fall into pieces Blues-Brothers-Mobile-style every time it hit one of NYC outer boroughs’ ubiquitous potholes…

I got it eventually to JFK somehow in one piece. Then a rather peaceful but painful red-eye where I didn’t eat nor drink anything but my small bottle of water and zoned out by listening to music and keeping my eyes shut. No sleep, but I didn’t feel as bad as I usually do after shorter-than-scheduled red-eyes to Europe.

Got to Frankfurt, and thank goodness my room at one of the airport hotels was already ready by 1030am…so thankful for those moments. Decided to keep myself awake and I headed out for a long day hiking around Frankfurt’s historic Hauptfriedhof. Spent a few hours wandering around many historic and beautiful graves, anything from Dr Alzheimer’s to a Confederate general’s aristocratic family tomb.

I was knackered and headed back to the airport to take a much-needed shower. Ended up soaking in the tub to soothe my painful legs, joints, back, etc… Then got myself ready and headed into town next to the historic cathedral for tonight’s dinner at Seven Swans.

A cool little place, I started at the ground floor bar — which you know took cocktails seriously. I enjoyed one (a good boulevardier) before I went up the lift — to have it open INSIDE the kitchen. One of the fun bits of this place, as you then have to walk down half a floor to the dining room. Cute little place.

The tasting menu presented itself and I was pretty happy with it. Happily went with the pairing. I was hungry, as the only food I’ve had since Easter (it’s Tuesday night) was a bad burger at JFK. Soon a quick item followed, a nice clam broth.

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This was followed by a snack featuring calf’s head with a tasty “green sauce” made of 7 herbs. They do like their green herbs here. Tasty start. With a nice pour we began with the vegetable and cream cheese dish.

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Love the baby vegetables here, wonderful earthy flavours. They seem especially proud of their vegetables here, and they should be. Excellent peas too, and the goat cream cheese was very delicious. A good start!

After a little while the place was full. I had a nice little alcove table, so that was a nice way to both be in the room and to hide from the other 2-tops. Next up was char.

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Excellent stuff, fabulous radish and beans. The char was split in several preps, including a tartar and a very low temp smoked method, all under the good piece you can barely see. Excellent variety! I’m impressed with this place!

Another good pour and we move onto a surprise course — parsnip soup.

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A bit meh, as it is basically parsnip soup. But one thing that’s getting to me is the pace. It’s very, very slow, as at this point it’s been over 2 hours already since I started on my cocktail. But it’s felt less dragged on, because they time the wine pourings very smartly — unlike other long tasting dinners where they leave you high and dry for 20 minutes on between courses. Here they pour big and early.

The next dish features the “wooly” pork (mangalica) and malt — and lol they said don’t Google it before you eat it because it’s rather cute. Lol.

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But this was a wonder of a dish. The bun and pulled pork was excellent, with just a bit of acid to make it more interesting with the bun. But that rib…oh my was it good. The best rib I’ve had in years, and that includes some amazing BBQ places in the US. This is awesome… I love mangalica in any shape or form, but this was done so nicely…

I was really enjoying this dinner despite the pace, as the kitchen is fabulous and service friendly and excellent. Then we moved to the last savoury dish, the wild duck.

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Wow, this was also fabulous. I was told this is the first part, which is a mince in its own marrow — plus marrow on top of it (as you can see). Absolutely intense and beautiful stuff. Wow… Then part two, the breast.

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Fabulous again, lovely cooking of a beautiful piece of wild fowl. They told me the hunter they got this from is one of their reliable guys just about an hour outside of town. Apparently one of the diners got lucky and found a shot. But the dumpling was filled with marrow as well, and the sauce was also intense and just mind-blowing. Wow… If this 2-parter isn’t one of the dish of the year, it may be that this entire meal could be one of the best of 2017!

After a little rest a pre-dessert of basil flowers and berry sorbet. Then the full dessert, based on hazelnut and honey.

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Not bad, oddly acidic at first but it somehow quickly balances itself out in your mouth. Good stuff.

Now I really enjoyed that meal! I took a coffee and usually I’d do an after-dinner drink, but I decided to shift to the cocktail bar again so I settled up and thanked the excellent team who took care of me. Amazing kitchen.

I then had a not-so-smart night in the bar until it closed, doing way, way too many drinks. For someone lacking sleep this was not smart at all, considering I had a morning flight to Prague…

I’m gonna pay for it badly tomorrow…but damn, this restaurant is FANTASTIC!

Seven Swans
Mainkai 4
Frankfurt-am-Main, Deutschland

A Tale of Two Steakhouses in Illinois — A Modern Day Horror Story

1-2 April 2017

I headed out of Chattanooga and back to Birmingham, where I took the last flight out to Chicago. Yep, this three-headed trip started in New England, then the Deep South, then to the Midwest. A great look at Trump’s America… I had a long day in the Chicago area and scooted out west and closed the day in the Rockford area.

I was hungry and planned to be at a place called Josef Steakhouse & Oyster Bar. Not many choices in town, and this didn’t start too well as it was basically empty when I arrived. I happily sat in their “wine bar” section on a hi-top.

An okay martini in hand before the starter arrived…

1-beets

Beets…yeah… This actually looked less disgusting in the darkness. Very boring taste. After the beets I had in Providence at Persimmon, this is just awful. Sigh… Oh well, I’m here for the steak anyway.

2a-ribeye

Huh? This is a 16oz ribeye? It was cooked pretty well and tasted good, but this lollypop look always tells me they trimmed excessively — probably post-weighing. Really disappointing stuff. And considering this is one of the most expensive steaks I’ve had in the past few years? This thing was $68. Yes, you read that right… This is Rockford. Rockford.

I voiced my displeasure and my poor server had to be the go-betweener with the kitchen and higher-ups. Management was rather rude at the end too, which bodes poorly for this place. Ridiculous. AVOID!!!

The next day I had a long trek through eastern Iowa beating the ugly storm into the Quad City area. Tonight’s stop is Moline, on the south side of the Mississippi River. Next to my rather charming hotel is another steakhouse that I hope proves to be better, Bass Street Chop House.

I got there early and was given a booth near the bar. Already happier, more old school here, not trying to pretend to be hip like last night. I enjoyed a so-so martini and ordered. A bottle of wine tonight as hotel was across the street, so no worries…

I enjoyed some of the wine and a bowl of the boring free soup before the steak arrived…now this is more like it!

smoked ribeye

Sorry, I had to cut into it for the temperature before the photo; it does not look like this out of the kitchen! But a good steak, the size was far more accurate! This ribeye was smoked slightly, so that gave it a nice little touch.

sides

Some corn and spinach and it rounded off the evening. Compared to last night’s steak it’s a huge difference. This was 18oz compared to last night’s 16oz. No way the difference was only 2oz. What a joke that place in Rockford is…

Anyway, dessert was just finishing up the wine. It got a bit busy in the bar area so I thanked my server and meandered back to the hotel. Long day tomorrow, trekking down the Mississippi into Missouri before heading back to Chicago to fly home the next night…

Not a bad steak, but these small city steakhouses are always going to disappoint in some way. Tonight was far better, so that’s fine. But with Josef the night before? Avoid, avoid, AVOID!!!

Josef Steakhouse & Oyster Bar
6860 Spring Creek Road

Bass Street Chop House
1601 River Drive
Moline, Illinois

PS: AVOID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Review: St John’s

30 March 2017

After my 2 nights in the Providence area I headed off to Cape Cod, to be greeted by foul weather and mediocre food (tho a pretty good stuffed Quahog). Oh well… Then after a very unpleasant stop in Baltimore I headed to Birmingham, Alabama. Yep, New England to the Deep South. I had a really long day but was rewarded with some fine BBQ from Big Bob Gibson Barb-B-Q in Decatur in the north of the state.

I took off from Decatur early in the morning as I had a few stops to make, and there appears to be extreme weather heading into the area, so wanted to clear out of north-west Alabama and southern Tennessee before it rolls in. A long day rolling through the area closed with a beautiful but annoying drive through the Cumberland Plateau along the scenic Tennessee River to Chattanooga. Beautiful, but always marred by trucks causing massive back-ups thanks to the steep winding hills.

I headed to dinner a bit earlier than expected, even as I crossed back over a timezone. Tonight’s destination was St John’s in downtown. All I’ve read about Chattanooga this is clearly the best restaurant, so I was excited. I got there and chilled out. I ordered a cocktail and a snack and just relaxed…

The cocktail was quite interesting, called The Forager, it was similar to a Manhattan but with the addition of some type of mushroom syrup, which was quite interesting. Then the snack…

01-crawfish fritters

Mmm, some excellent crawfish fritters, really enjoyed these. Full of flavour, as good as anything I have far further south than this. Quite nice. A good start! I ordered my courses and chilled, finishing the cocktail and enjoying a glass of crispy sauvignon blanc. Then the starter came and I smiled.

02-crab salad

This was a special, a crab salad with strawberries and white asparagus. Extremely tasty, nice bunch of Dungeness crab from the Pacific North-West. Really nice, worth bypassing many of the excellent options available as a starter. I then switched back to a cocktail, a more mediocre one called Low Rider, before my main arrived…

03-pork shoulder

This pork combination was good, but not as good as the previous items — nor the amazing pork at The Salted Slate a few days earlier. The shoulder was good though at points a little dry. The belly was excellent, really rich. A good assortment of stuff on the plate, esspecially the beets and radish, though I wish there was more of the excellent risotto.

I was pretty happy and decided to have a liquid dessert, which was a gin cocktail with peas called The Sweet Pea. Oh btw here are the pix of all three interesting cocktails…

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Nice, and I like the use of so many fresh ingredients with all of the cocktails. Not sweet, not fruity, just perfect. I really like this place! Aside from a table of middle-aged, well-dressed drunks nearby, this was a really good dinner. It more than exceeded my expectations for Chattanooga, and it may be worth a return trip!

St John’s
1278 Market Street
Chattanooga, Tennessee