Review: Villa Berulia

28 January 2018

I got back across the Atlantic to be greeted by chaos at JFK. I guess I’ve been lucky, as JFK has been so good the last few years with international arrivals (except the lengthy walk…btw not fun when you’re still in some pain), but this time for some reason pretty much every Delta flight across the Atlantic landed at the same time. Immigration was a mess, and many of the scan machines were broken or in the process of crashing. Then major chaos at the baggage area with multiple flights using the same belts, delays compounded by the massive immigration back-up. Oh Delta, you screwed this one up…

I got the hell out of Dodge and into Midtown, not helped by the Tunnel repairs. Luckily I stayed on the East side, my old hood, as the West Side was a total mess with the Grammy’s. Those folks taking the train from JFK are in for a hell of a surprise…

I chilled out at my hotel for a bit before I headed south by a few block to one of my old haunts, Villa Berulia. This old-school Italian-Croatian restaurant has been around for decades, and has a serious following. I’ve never reviewed it cuz…well, it’s a regular (until now, since I’m so far removed from NYC these days…). I arrived early on a Sunday night and was a little surprised that no one remembers me. Was it the beard?

I sat down and enjoyed a nicely-made martini. Then, not needing a menu, I placed my order. Odd that my server seems to not remember me, despite having served me dozens of times over more than a decade, and the fact I was answering partly in Croatian… It’s the beard…

I’ve not eaten since that absolutely excellent evening last night at Rijks, so I was hungry. I relaxed and soon my starter arrived, and I smiled…

1-oysters_edited

A dozen rather tasty oysters, but like usual they didn’t really shuck it. Thank goodness I’m good at it, but with a butter knife you can only do so much — especially when you’re hungry. I’ve not eaten since that awesome dinner at Rijks last night (I don’t eat on planes anymore). Good stuff, enjoyed these. It’s been awhile since I’ve had raw oysters (tho this brought back memories of those nice wrapped ones at Calla’s in Den Haag).

I finished them and then they brought out a nice Croatian wine…odd, they still didn’t remember me! Then the main course, something I’ve ordered dozens of times here…

2a-veal chop_edited

This is their signature dish, the veal chop. It’s always a monster, and it’s always fantastic. Juicy, cooked perfectly, and gloriously fatty where it needs to be. I spent the next half hour devouring this monster, enjoying a nice Croatian red along side. Mmmm, fabulous.

I finished it and then the dessert trolley was carried down (steps), and I surprisingly went with a cake…

3-cake_edited

Mmm, worked perfectly with a rakija they brought me. Odd, at this point I’m having nearly the same meal I usually do for the last 12 years and they still don’t remember…then I finally reminded them. Sigh…

Anyway, I left happy and slowly walked back to my hotel. So good to not have to limp! But sigh, home tomorrow…

Villa Berulia
107 East 34th Street
New York, New York

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Review: HanTing

26 January 2018

I had a pretty productive day in Den Haag, despite the limp. It’s better, but still a bit trying. But still fuelled on by last night’s nice dinner at Calla’s, and definitely not by the bad lunch I had…

I chilled out in my room a little, doing some late travel logistical stuff before I headed out to dinner. Now I usually avoid non-indigenous ethnic cuisine when I travel, but for some reason I decided to make a booking at HanTing. Reading all the descriptions online I figured it was more fusion than Chinese, so went with it.

I was wondering why the restaurant lost its Michelin star from the time I booked it, but that’s never a good sign. Possibly because of a format change announced on the website? In any case, I arrived a bit early on a cool evening and was promptly seated at a table with two rather voluminous ladies that reeked of tobacco…great…

Then before I could do anything, including take a sip of water, the amuse tray was brought — and placed right on the fork so the handle popped right up. No care at all…hmmm… Anyway…

AB1a-tray

The wee pumpkin soup was not bad, the cherry macaron too sweet for before dinner (would be good later), the beet was mushy, and the weird cream again best saved for dessert. A bit inconsistent, things are all over the place so far… And of course they brought me my menu as I was working on this, in mid bite. What is the rush? Sigh…

I put the menu away and finished the amuse. Then looked over it and placed the order. And also got a half bottle of white to go along with it. I have a weird feeling about this place that’s preventing me from ordering more… Then after quite a long time a second amuse arrived — pork belly.

AB2-belly

Well, this must have sat around for awhile… It was chewy, mushy and awful frankly. Seriously this should have been brought out maybe 10 minutes earlier. This is just rubbish… And of course the first dish came out in about 2 minutes…wtf…

01-hamachi morel

This was supposed to be hamachi and morels, but was a very weak dish. The horseradish saved it a little, but the dish was pretty boring. Fish was okay, but the morels were pretty poor as were some of the other elements. Beautiful plating is not an excuse for mediocrity in taste…

Of course the wine came AFTER the dish…a half bottle of pinot gris. The sommelier kept trying to upsell stuff but I went with this one. The whole things had a weird odour…then I realised, it’s chlorine. After the first glass I asked to switch glasses, and it was exactly the same. It must be how they wash the glasses…this is AWFUL! Destroys nearly anything you want to taste in wine!

My goodness now I can see how they lost their Michelin star! How did they get one in the first place? Ugh… Then dish two arrived…

02a-urchin marrow

Not bad, so that’s a good change. The langostine worked in this also, but there seems to be contrasting flavours here and there, and a rather tasteless chawanmushi… Why do people try to make it without learning that it’s NOT THAT SIMPLE when you have it in Japan? Like the boring one at Konstantin Filippou the other night… And this wasn’t helped by the chrorinated wine…

I was pretty much deflated by now, but at least the odour of heavy tobacco from next to me have departed. I’m sorry, but fancy clothes does not make you classy… Then the third dish, the duck…

03a-duck

Again, lots of odd, clashing flavours here. The duck was not very good, but the offal on the side was a pleasant surprise; the heart not bad, the tongue was the best. The jellyfish thing on the side was hacked into bits and hard to eat, which kind of defeats the purpose of it.

And by now I’ve finished the white and had ordered a glass of grenache, which came in YET ANOTHER CHLORINATED GLASS. Ugh…I felt ill… Why did they clean their wine glasses like this? It DESTROYS THE WINE! I was totally deflated and wasn’t even looking forward to the final dish, the lamb, when it appeared…

04a-lamb

Meh, meh, meh… The lamb was just boring, which ever way they chose to cook it. I really had lost all hope in this meal I barely ate this. I just needed a strong drink to fuel my way home after this disaster…and of course I forgot until after I ordered about the horrible chlorinated glass problem…and of course that wrecked the tipple…

And just to make things worse, it took me EIGHT tries to get my bill. After rushing me at the start now this? This is a total shitshow. One of the worst dining experiences in many years. Avoid at all cost. No doubt how they lost their Michelin star, but how did they get one in the first place?

Just awful…a total shitshow…

HanTing
Prinsestraat 33
Den Haag, Nederland

Review: Calla’s

25 January 2018

Ugh…after the utterly disappointing evening at the previously amazing Konstantin Filippou, I really did not need my alarm going off before 4am… My foot was a little better but didn’t want to risk it so used the equally-disappointing Taxify to get me to the airport. Of course it had to give me major problems…

And, as if Vienna couldn’t get rid of me quickly enough, some total dumbass rolls his heavy luggage over my foot at the check-in area…

After a good kip I got to Amsterdam, and thank goodness my foot was good enough to walk the long, long corridors at Schiphol to the train station, where I hopped on the Sprinter to get to Den Haag. Thank goodness my hotel was next to the train station and happily checked me in early…

I explored a part of town, albeit slowly and with the same annoying limp, but I’m sick of letting pain stop me…though I know I’ll pay for it later (like I said to myself in Cairo). A good little exploration but I skipped lunch, so everything is riding on dinner tonight at Calla’s.

Calla’s was not too far from my hotel, a quick tram ride away, and I walked into the 1-Michelin restaurant and sighed…a long flight of stairs. I made it up slowly and parked myself at my table. Quiet night, but that usually means good service. I accepted their house apertif, a vermouth spritzer, and they soon began the amuse selection…

AB1-cheese

First was some cheesy bits, which wasn’t bad. Worked well with the spritzer. Next up some morsels based on mushroom and tapioca, which was wee salty. Then the last were mussels, which was quite good. A satisfactory start, and then the menu was presented. I happily went with the full tasting and pairing, sensing a good night. Frankly it can’t collapse as bad as last night…

I relaxed before a nice pinot gris from Alsace was poured, and the first dish is presented — mackerel.

01-mackerel

Not bad, beautifully plated, but the mackerel was decidedly mild…okay, flavourless. Really not strong like mackerel should be. But the roe helped this dish along so it wasn’t a bad one. A generous pour of a chablis and dish two appears…

02-oysters

Oh this is excellent. These oysters are wrapped by a wonderful slice of beef, all with a touch of mild horseradish. Fabulous stuff, especially for those of us who love to taste our oysters. Really excellent stuff here. That cheered me up very quickly.

I was still the only diner; in fact, only 1 other party came in the time I was there. They did say this is the slow season, explaining this while pouring a nice chenin blanc before bringing my third dish, the cod.

03-cod

Again, fish on the bland side. But overall not bad, the brandade that included eel and duck liver was quite a nice addition that gave this dish some life. Then with another generous pour of a pinot noir I sensed the direction is shifting. And certainly, as next up was sweetbread.

04b-sweetbread

Good dish, worked nice overall with excellent quality sweetbread (though not easy to see on this photo). Lots of other elements here, the onions being a good part of it. Not bad at all. Then a very nice pour of a cab franc we have roasted pigeon.

05-pigeon

A really excellent pigeon, the best of this trip. Far better than the one at Opus the other night in Vienna for sure. Top quality meat, cooked perfect, with the cheese and chicory adding an extra dimension to the wonderful bird. Nice end to the savouries!

I relaxed and they gave me a little time to relax too, which is wonderful. I love it when they adjust by actually watching their customers — this is a sign of truly good service. Then my server came and poured a crispy sweet anjou that was utterly drinkable before he presented the first dessert…

06-cheese

Mmm, he brought a plate that featured white chocolate and mango, then my nose alerted me to more — as the Vacherin Mont d’Or is scooped…oh my… This was lovely, the awesome combination that highlighted the fabulous cheese… So nice!

At this point I had halted the wine pairing and asked for a calvados to accompany my last dessert, which is based on prunes…

07-prune

I’ve never been a fan of prunes, even if they’re pruneaux d’Agen, so this was probably wasted on me. Was too, well, pruny for me… The calvados worked well here tho, so I had another with the last treats…

end

A pretty good night, I’m pleasantly surprised. Some of the dishes were on the mild side, but there were some fabulous items like the beef-wrapped oysters and the lovely Vacherin, as well as the pigeon. It’s too bad so few diners were here tonight, but this place is a winner. Good food, excellent service, comfortable surroundings, it should attract far more diners — especially in an international place like The Hague.

But a good night has to come to an end, so fuelled by the calvados I managed to limp down the stairs, head back to the tram, avoid a bunch of drunks and get back to my hotel. A pretty good evening I must say. Very much recommended.

Calla’s
Laan van Roos en Doorn 51a
Den Haag, Nederland

Crazy, Complex Cuisine Loses — the Berlin Edition (Review: Bandol sur Mer)

22 January 2018

I felt a bit better in the afternoon, but still miffed my previously planned day in Berlin is wrecked. The ibuprofen was working well enough I was limping far better this afternoon. By dinner time I risked getting across town on my own and with this limp.

Berlin’s U-Bahn system is easy to use albeit some of the stations are shockingly bad compared to just a few years ago. I mae it across town and walked the few blocks to my dinner destination, the 1-Michelin restaurant Bandol sur Mer. Most comments are that it doesn’t look like a Michelin place, as it’s a small, non-descript place that seems to be popular with local hipsters.

I got there and was seated and I chilled out. I looked over the menu and they offered 2 different tasting menus, of which you can expand — and incorporate from the other. So I did just that, and asked for pairings. Then I just chilled out before the amuse started arriving. Nice and quick, but not too quick, which is a good sign…

AB1b-caviar

Caviar on a kohlrabi chip, a delicious start to be sure. Then a French toast with cured yolk…

AB2-french toast_edited

This was rather acidic at the onset, but it evolved into something really nice taste-wise, helped on by the chestnut and turnip. Not bad. I relaxed with some wine and bread when the first dish appeared — rock crab.

01-rock crab

This was just too crazy, way too many things on this plate. I really wasn’t sure what I was eating with the white from Hesse. Frankly I tasted all sorts of things, and pretty much no crab. This is why so many kitchens have a mantra about the number of ingredients per plate. This is just overkill…

I finished my wine and was still puzzled at this dish when the second appeared, cod.

02-cod

Not bad here, but again the philosophy here is just to pile it on. Liver sauce was interesting on the fish, but again I retreated to the Spanish verdejo just to get my sensibilities back. This is a bit too nuts for me…

They poured the third wine, a nice sangiovese blend from Tuscany and we have the pike.

03a-pike

Now this was excellent, the creature was of fabulous quality, lightly seared. The natural flavours came out great here. The dashi wasn’t bad, and some good veggies.

zzz

You can see the flesh of the pike here, it was excellent. Excellent dish. Then with a sauvignon blanc from Pfalz we have salsify.

04-salsify_edited

Again, too much going on. The fermentation and pickling is too extreme here, trying out-Dane the Danes. This was just a plate that’ll make you pucker…ridiculously sour everywhere. No balance whatsoever except from the wine, which was quickly drained… The goat milk cheese dumpling was the only saving grace here, and helped to quell the extremely sour items.

I’m not very enamoured by the cooking philosophy here to be honest. It’s pushing things to such limits that you lose the balance and the natural flavours that good ingredients should boast. It’s like they are trying so hard to masque natural flavours, except for that pike, by overwhelming you either with extremes or massive conflicts. Sigh…

05-pike-perch

Next up was pike-perch, which was not as good as the pike. The skin was lovely, the fish itself good. It didn’t need all the additional bells and whistles, at least I didn’t. Too much on it again. Then with a syrah from Pfalz poured we get to the lamb.

06-lamb

Hmmm…this salt lamb was on the boring side, especially compared to dinner 2 nights ago at Spondi in Athens. A rather tasteless piece of meat, and the sunchokes I needed to push aside considering I didn’t need a bloat this evening… Another weak dish…

Well, that was the end of the savouries. I’m not impressed by this evening, as you can see. What was also disconcerning was that the table across from me one of the diners was in the loo twice for 20+ minutes at a time…didn’t even want to think what was going on…

Anyway, I also failed to mention that it took quite a long time for the lamb to come out, as the speed of the meal went from Autobahn to massive traffic jam in all of a sudden… The crowd has thinned, yet the pace slowed dramatically. I was losing patience as the dessert took ages to come out…

07-dessert

Again, way too sour, most of the elements (again, too many) were from too sour to way too sour. No balance whatsoever. It’s like the chefs are taste-blind to it. This is the modern salt disease… I was done…

I asked them to call a taxi for me, as to not risk walking back again (with more airport issues tomorrow). I headed out disappointed. The usual issue in Berlin — the traditional places excellent, the modern places too crazy. When you try to out Dane the Danes, it don’t work well — especially when you have a diner who isn’t fond of modern Danish cooking. People seem to like this place, but not me. Sorry.

A disappointing end to Berlin, but of course I’ll be back…the city, not this place…

Bandol sur Mer
Torstraße 167
Berlin, Deutschland

Simple, Regional Cuisine Wins — the Berlin Edition

21-22 January 2018

I survived the trek to Berlin, thanking my lucky stars we landed at Tegel because of the minimum amount of walking you need to do there to get to the taxi rank. There is no airport as convenient as Tegel anywhere in the world…

One of my problems as I arrive in Berlin as I was running low on ibuprofen, as I didn’t expect to have needed so many! So I was rationing them until the Apotheke near my hotel opened tomorrow morning. But I still needed to go get dinner, and I had targetted something during my trip planning that was a quick 10-minute walk…

Of course now that’s not a 10-minute walk, but nearly a half-hour limp. But I got to Marjellchen and was given one of the last tables they had that wasn’t booked this early Sunday evening. Marjellchen styles itself as a restaurant serving regional cuisine of former German lands to the east, especially in historic Prussian lands. Interesting, reminds me of Jarema in Kraków in how they keep the cultural legacy of lands now lost to history and politics and human movement (forced or whatnot).

I relaxed and ordered a beer and looked over the extensive menu. I then ordered a few items and relaxed. It was not a fun walk out here, having to stop a few times, and I hope this was worth the pain. Then soon the starter arrived.

A-01-eel

First up was a salad with some nice smoked eel in “Königsberg” style. Not bad. I love eel, so this Baltic smoke was always welcome. Then the main course was on the large side coming in a big ol’ pot…

A-02a-Wildpfeffer

Wildpfeffer in “Mazurian” style here, a nice game stew with a lot of potatoes to keep one going. Good on a cool night definitely. A simple meal done very well.

A-02b-Wildpfeffer

No dessert for me, but I needed booze to make that walk back with this bad foot, so had some potato plonk to fuel that stressful walk back. I thanked the proprietor and headed out, limping my way back to my hotel. The usually-less-than-ten-minutes walk took over 20, wee improvement from the first leg, but glad I made it without much damage…

The next morning the foot wasn’t that much better, but I was totally out of meds for it, so had to find an Apotheke anyway… I picked up enough ibuprofen and walked to another popular local restaurant for lunch, Dicke Wirtin.

The “Fat Landlady” was a famous place for decades for drinking and eating, and when I got there I noticed a TV crew was setting up. Seemingly they were gonna film a short segment… Nevertheless I took a seat in the back and ordered. Beer in hand, I swallowed the meds…yeah, I know…

I was chilling out when one of the field producers approached me to tell me I may end up in the shots, and I said fine. Not a word was spoken in English, of course, so thank goodness my German was good enough. Then my starter arrived…

B-1-sausage_edited

Mmm, a wonderful sausage to get me going. Plus, I needed food for that ibuprofen (beer is not a good idea). I ate the delicious sausage with gusto.

As I was chilling out with my beer the same producer returned with a document…ah, the release form. She was quite surprised reading what I filled out as I don’t think she suspected I was an American tourist who was able to answer her verbal questions earlier with no hesitation…

B-2-Königsberger Klopse_edited

Then my main course arrived, Königsberger Klopse, and I smiled… A hearty dish of meatballs Königsberg-style (man, they really miss their former imperial city don’t they…) and I started to enjoy them. The feature was being filmed and I’m sure I got into the frame a few times, but I just concentrated on the food…

That was enjoyable. I ended up having a few special brandies, from hazelnut to apricot, to help me get my foot going. The walk back to the hotel was not as bad as earlier, so that was much appreciated.

Well, two nice regional local meals in Berlin, something I really love to do when I am in Germany. I somehow always feel at home in this country, especially at the more local places, and I’m so glad my German is still good enough so I don’t need to speak anything but German at restaurants, pharmacists and elsewhere…

Marjellchen
Mommsenstraße 9

Dicke Wirtin
Carmerstraße 9
Berlin, Deutschland

Review: Spondi

20 January 2018

The day in Athens was basically wasted as I did not want to pressure the foot much more, knowing I have to deal with airports tomorrow. After that filling nice lunch at Telemachos I just relaxed in my room catching up on reading…which isn’t ideal for a nice Saturday afternoon in Athens, but what can I do?

In the evening my dinner destination was the trend-setter for Athens dining for some time now, the 2-Michelin trailblazer Spondi [Σπονδή]. I got to the restaurant by taxi (which I loathe to do since I so like to walk usually…) and of course more steps… I gingerly went down and got to my table and not moved for the duration of the dinner…

The martini was in hand, albeit a tad sweet (it was their special version) it did its job. I looked over the menu and decided to do ala carte tonight instead. Too tired for another tasting menu, especially considering last night’s somewhat disappointing return to Funky Gourmet. I ordered and relaxed…

The restaurant filled up quickly this busy Saturday evening and was glad to see that, as long as service kept going smoothly. The amuse series began with beet gnocchi, which was quite nice in broth.

AB1-beet

Next up was a wee croqueta of smoked cheese…

AB2-cheese

Good stuff. I chilled with some of the assyrtiko poured and enjoyed the bread before my starter arrived…

1-dory_edited

Hmmm, this was a bit small of a serving of John Dory. Smoked nicely, cooked in salt afterwards. But it was such a puny dish, so un-Athens-like in size especially considering my lunch… Oh well. I nursed my wine and asked for another to pair for the main course. I drank, drank and drank, and my main course still never came…

After nearly 40 minutes it finally appeared…geez, what a wait. But it’s a dish that a Greek kitchen cannot and must not get wrong…

2a-lamb_edited

Lamb. Excellent stuff, they certainly know it. Still unhappy about the long wait, but this was very tasty indeed. They could have trimmed it less and featured more of the excellent fats on this lamb, perhaps they did it to please foreign palates.

2b-lamb shoulder_edited

The cold shoulder slices on the side were also excellent, rounding up an excellent tasting of milk-fed lamb. A good end. But for some reason I decided on a dessert, so I ordered. First came, thankfully faster, a pre-dessert of lemon sorbet. Then the dessert…

3-puff pastry_edited

A “puff pastry” in their special way. Reminds me of the dessert at Varoulko last year… Of course I had a nice aged tsipouro with it as well. A nice rich dessert to close a night that redeemed itself. Chatted with some folks sitting nearby before they told me my taxi was here, so I limped up the stairs and into the busy Athens evening for the ride back.

An okay night, some probs, some lovely moments, which is par for the course I guess. The lamb was a particular highlight, and the service very friendly, but not very efficient. I wouldn’t put this at 2 Michelin stars to be honest, but it’s a good place and has helped to set a bar in Athens for many others.

Thank you Athens, sorry I couldn’t do much this trip. Off to Berlin in the morning, foot permitting…

Spondi [Σπονδή]
Πιρρόνος 5 [Pirronos 5]
Αθήνα, Ελλάδα [Athens, Greece]

Review: Telemachos

20 January 2018

My second and last day in Athens started as poorly as you can imagine, limping around my crappy hotel room. Last night’s somewhat less-than-expected dinner at the previously-amazing Funky Gourmet was disappointing, as I purposely timed my Athens stay to catch their post-holiday re-opening. But we must go on.

Foot was not great, but it wasn’t gonna stop me from walking a few blocks to lunch. Well, it almost did, but I’ve become a master of the slow limp… Lunch today was at a meat-specialty place just north of Syntagma called Telemachos [Τηλέμαχος]. I got there on the early side for lunch this Saturday late morning, so it wasn’t very busy.

I took a seat way inside and relaxed with a glass of wine and looked over the menu. I had decided until my server came and told me the specials, and everything got thrown out the window. I changed things up and ordered. I chilled out with my wine until a wee amuse came.

AB

A simple cucumber and cheese nibble, not bad. I worked on my wine until my salad arrived…

1-salad

Geez, this was huge, the items in huge chunks. I should have broken up the feta a bit more, but was hungry so attacked this with some gusto. Then my main course came and goodness, I should have guessed the portion size…

2-goat

This was the day’s special, braised goat with linguine. The meat was fabulous, lovely deep flavours. The linguine itself in a meat ragu was tasty. But this was huge… I ate about 2/3 of it and took the rest with me.

I limped out of Telemachos pretty happy. It’s somewhere I’ll check out again next time I’m in town, as it has a good menu and tasty interpretations of classic dishes too. Now for that slow limp back to the hotel…

Telemachos [Τηλέμαχος]
Panepistimiou 10 [Πανεπιστημίου 10]
Αθήνα, Ελλάδα [Athens, Greece]