April 25, 2012

La Degustation Boheme Bourgeouise

One of the most interesting culinary experiences thus far has been at La Degustation; a noveou Bohemian restaurant located in the Jewish quarter. Although the food is based on traditional Bohemian and Czech recipes, the restaurant and its dishes are anything but. Everything from the sleek open-faced kitchen to the gastronomical tasting menu screams modern and invention. It was also dubbed the best restaurant of the Czech Republic in 2009 and one of two restaurants in Prague to hold a Michelin star. We stopped by for lunch to try out the "Degustation de Jour" which allowed us to select however many of the 7 dishes of the day. It was I must say a hit and miss type of meal. Who knows, maybe the food was a little "too innovative" for our taste buds but the quality of the food and its preparation were some of the best I have ever seen. 

Chefs hard at work
Amuse bouche of beef tar tar
Spring root with truffle
Duck liver with pistachio, raisin, white chocolate and gelatin
Case in point were the appetizers we decided upon. The truffle/vegetable dish was light and a perfect start tot the meal but even I couldn't get past the duck liver paste. It was served on a bed of gelatin and topped with an odd combination of white chocolate, raisins and nuts. All of which I would love as additions to a dessert but not with duck liver.

Handmade pasta with beef tongue
Fried fish over raspberry puree 
The pasta dish was served with a light soy sauce/vinegar mixture, something I had never seen before. It kept the pasta very light and reminded me more of a salad dish as opposed to a pasta dish. Not surprisingly, this was V's favorite dish as he likes anything resembling noodles. The fish, perhaps a cod?, was fried perfectly. The vegetables it was served with were pretty much raw and had a sharp bite to them which cut down on the greasiness of the fish (not that it was greasy to begin with). Once again, a very interesting and somewhat disconcerting combination of textures and flavors.

Pork bellly and polenta with berry reduction and cornflakes 
For our final dish, we both opted for the pork belly. This was my favorite although I couldn't understand why there were mini cornflakes on my plate. The polenta was absurdly creamy and resembled more of dense mousse than something made from corn. Everything balanced each other quite well.

Marzipan pastry
As a parting gift, we received these Neapolitan-like pastries which had something resembling marzipan in between the layers. It was a rather dense dessert but not overtly sweet and made for a lovely afternoon snack.

All in all, I can see why there so much hurray around La Degustation. Its one of the most unique culinary experiences I have ever encountered and is a refreshing change after plates on plates of heavy goulash with gravy. Even in NYC standards, I think the food is progressive and I appreciate the restaurant's constant attempts at innovation. Of course, I'm not saying I would always want to have a meal like this but I'm glad I did :)

April 22, 2012

The Cafes of Prague

After my plethora of Viennese cafe posts (which you can find here and here and here), you would have thought I was done with talking about cafes. On the contrary, I became a little obsessed after my visit to Vienna so I decided to scoop out the best ones in Prague. The best in my opinion, is Cafe Savoy. We came here twice for breakfast and once for an afternoon coffee and pastry. Almost everything was good minus a few slight misses. Cafe Savoy, now owned by the successful Ambiente Restaurant Group, is a Prague institution. It was considered a nouveau and decadent establishment in its day with its neo-renaissance ceiling (you can view some pics here). Now, its a somewhat tourist trap but still serves the best breakfast in the city.

+ the famous Cafe Savoy vanilla milk shake (very liquidy and different from your typical diner milkshake, good but probably wouldn't order it again)
+ the French breakfast which included french toast with maple syrup, sausages, french fries, a boiled egg, blue cheese (which I did not touch) and orange juice
I was very excited to see the french toast offering on the menu but alas it was not the usual Taphouse/Sabrina's type of french toast made with challah bread and covered in sugary/buttery goodness. However, it satisfied by severe brunch craving. The french fries were more like string fries and seasoned really well, and they even came with ketchup! (not something that happens too often in Europe). Not sure why this was dubbed a French breakfast as the only thing that was kind of French was the croissant but we were happy with the big selection of food :)

+Caffe au lait
+ Croissant (a part of the French breakfast)
+ Cheese omelet
+ Housemade bread with butter
+ A very exciting selection of mustards which came with the Prague sausages (not shown).
We also ordered the frankfurter Savoy, one of the cafe's specialties, but they really just reminded us of cafeteria hot dogs. They were also boiled like cafeteria hot dogs. What did make them different was the very interesting selection of mustards and fresh horseradish that came with the dish.  V was really not a fan although I thought they were fine. Put them on a hot dog roll with a bit of the grainy mustard and it would have been a rather classy hot dog.

Sausages & Poland

Oop, almost forgot to blog about one of the best eating experiences in Vienna. Viennese Sausages. The best (according to a trusted source) are the Bitzinger sausage stands located stand behind the Viennese Opera House and by the 100 year old ferris wheel (which we got to ride!). We tried the the Burenwurst (or Kolbasse) and another variety that was apparently spicier. We both liked the spicier one better. Best part was the amaazing beer that it was served with. Apparently, the sausages' fat content is so high that you need to drink coke or beer with the meal to prevent indigestion. lolz. Either way, it was delicious. Somebody *cough* liked them so much that he ate them three times in less than 24 hours. 

Weird that one of the best beers I've had in Europe came from a sausage stand. hehe.
MMMM. Rows on rows of sausages. 
So yes, these are hands down the best sausages I have had in Europe. They easily surpass the sausage stands in Wencelas Square. Although the sausages my mom and I recently tried this past weekend have come a lot closer. Did I also mention that V and I fell into a food coma nap for three hours immediately after? Well no one said all of these foodie adventures are easy. Ok so that should wrap up all of Vienna's eats.

Moving on to Krakow, Poland! The city was absolutely adorable and we did manage to get a lovely tour of the square market and castle. But of course, we spent most of the time eating a lot of meat and pierogies.

On our way to the market square, we passed an adorable bakery bustling with people (who were Polish!) so we figured the place must be legit. I bought a box of cookies for my mom and then we tried a sample of everything that looked good.

Pastries from a very famous bakery (who's name I have of course forgotten), from top left to bottom right: apple cake, chocolate wafer, tiramisu tart, chocolate tart, meringue cookie

April 18, 2012

A little bit of nature

Scenes from the countryside of Germany!

After the hustle and bustle of some rather metropolitan European cities, I managed to escape to some peace and quiet in the Black Forrest of Germany (erm plus a detour in Zurich). Specifically, I got to see the quaint town of Titisee along with the "mini" city of Freiburg. 

But first, a few quick eats in Zurich: 

Macarons!!! I was so excited to see a Laduree in Zurich. I had no idea these places existed outside of Paris. Granted this one was much tinier and only sold the mini versions of macarons but still...I told my friend to get the caramel (best flavor!) while I opted for two more adventurous ones: chestnut pear and plum. 

We had lunch in Zurich at HITL, apparently a very popular lunch destination. There is option of a buffet downstairs or a sit down upstairs. I kind of hate buffets so it was a good thing we had made a reservation. I had the brown rice with wild mushrooms which was pretty fantastic.  After lunch, we were in a food coma for the rest of the day and could barely muster the energy to explore the rest of the city...but I did manage to accomplish my main mission: buy chocolate.

With my remaining 20 something Swiss francs, I went and bought about 10 bars of chocolate. Needless to say, it is some AMAZING chocolate. Don't worry dad, I'm saving you like 6 bars.

In Freiburg, I also got to try the delicious looking concoction on the right called a "flame cake" or tarte flambee (not sure what its called in German). It comes from the Northern part of France, specifically the Lorraine region. Its very thin bread dough covered in creme fraiche, lardons aka bacon and thinly sliced onions. It was fantastic. And according to wikipedia, "it is one of the most famous gastronomical specialties of the region". Nice. There's a nice recipe for it here. I'm hoping to try making it when I get back to the states. 
Ok so the pictures aren't very good, blame it on the awkward lighting but doesn't that cake LOOK good?
Apple cake on the left and an original Black Forrest Cake in the Black Forrest. Whaat. So yea my mind was blown as this cake pretty much destroyed all previous conceptions of a black forest cake. I've never ever ever ever liked any desserts with cherries on it but who knew it would taste so good when it was made with fresh cherries?? And the normal icky icing was replaced by a light, creamy mousse that rounded out the darkness of the chocolate perfectly. So ok maybe I didn't eat Swiss cheese in Switzerland, but this is a lot cooler :)
+snowballs in vanilla sauce with caramel
+...erm another rendition of a snowball?
+ onion soup with homemade croutons
+ not shown because I devoured it too quickly: trout mousse on rye bread and a liver/apple dish

Apparently my step-sister's friend is a total foodie and I was super lucky enough to be in town when he was hosting one of his famous dinner parties. Four (and a half) courses of authentic German cuisine (unique to the Titisee region?) plus loads of delicious wine and I was full to the brim by the time the 3 hour affair ended. Sadly, I was too busy eating to take pictures of all of the dishes but I did remember to get a picture of the soup and the dessert.

German snowballs are a culinary treat consisting of whipped egg whites (among other ingredients) and they are quite difficult to make so I was extremely impressed  by the dish along with the homemade caramel sauce and vanilla sauce.  Have I even had homemade vanilla sauce with real vanilla beans? don't think so...

All in all, a quite satisfying foodie weekend. For those who are confused about where Titisee, Germany actually located is (like I was), you can check it out here and see that it is about 1.5 hours north of Zurich and right by a GORGEOUS man-made lake.  And because the entire place is just too pretty, I had to post a  picture or two.

So much pretty in one picture.

April 17, 2012

Czech Round Up

I found a random sampling of food pictures in my albums from the past few weeks. Since there's no particular theme, I figured I would post them all together.

#1) BEER 
The X33 at U Medviku. One of the strongest beers in the world. I think it was almost 20% alcohol? Either way, probably the best beer I have ever tasted since it was so sweet. U Medviku is one of the more famous micro-breweries in Prague. the X33 is one of their most famous beers. They have another version in a smaller bottle that's apparently even stronger but it was all sold out when I went. I also bought a few bottles of a lighter version for my dad...perhaps x16? can't remember...

The "kolac": a traditional Czech pastry filled with either sweet cheese, poppy seed paste, apple filling or plum jam (or any combination of the 4). You can find these almost anywhere whether it be the corner bakery or the supermarket. The best ones I've sampled are from Country Life, which is an organic mini version of Whole Foods right by our flat. Kolac also spelled Kolache is apparently a big deal in Oaklahoma and Minnesota (random). The NYC version is pretty much a donut with strawberry filling. Personally, I think the Prague ones much better :)

The weather has been sporadically getting warmer. With that a bunch of ice cream places have become increasingly more popular. My favorite thus far has been Cream & Dream which is about 30 seconds away from my flat.  Although their selection is smaller than Zoom (another ice cream place), I think the quality is much batter. We sampled a small bowl of caramel which was quite tasty.

I forget the name of this place but you can buy a tiny (and I mean tiny) scoop of ice cream for 10 cents hence I thought it was worth mentioning. This place is located under the tunnel right by the secret garden in Wencelas Sqaure.

Crepe time! My roommates Czech buddy came over and made us a HUGE stack of crepes. It was quite an epic moment. Also great hangover food. We ate them with nutella, homemade jam, sweet yogurt, lemon & butter and cinnamon sugar. I was quite happy to discover that crepes are kind of a big deal in Prague. You can buy them almost anywhere since there is a crepe stand on every other block. They are made fresh to order and you have your selection of various fillings from nutella to strawberry jam.

I've gone back to Bake Shop a few more times. Apart from Paris, this place definitely has the best croissants that I've had. Since my first visit, I've also tried out the quiche, an apple and cheese croissant sandwich and some macarons.  Surprisingly this is one of the few places in town that actually sells macarons.

April 16, 2012


So much fresh produce and so much color!
The Naschmarkt has put every other market I have ever been in to shame. 1.5km of produce, meat, spices, candy, cheese, wine, coffee and prop-up eateries. Sit-down restaurants serving sushi, sausages, pizza and everything in between. Fruit stands selling the most exotic fruits I have seen since coming to Europe. Asian stores stocked with every variation of soy sauce imaginable. Gyro stands paired with fried noodles and a whole bunch of olives and feta counters. 

And lots of dried fruits and sweets.
We dried some dried kumquats from a stand which had a very intense citrus flavor. 
Handmade pasta freshly made in this makeshift dining room/kitchen. SUCH GOOD PASTA. 
We passed by this pasta stand and just had to stop. The pastas were all freshly made and next it to them were an assortment of sauces including wonderfully aromatic pesto and the classic marinara. We opted for some tagliatelle and prosciutto ravioli. The owner took our selection and immediately bustled off to the kitchen. Behind the pasta counter was a dining room kept warm by heating lamps. 

And the pasta. WOW. I think this was the first time I had pasta cooked truly al dente. The marinara sauce was light but surprisingly flavor. It was an epic moment. 

Stand upon stand, and deli upon deli of cheese, wine, and cured meats 

We also knew that we had to sample some of the plethora of meats and cheeses...with wine, even though we really know nothing about wine. We settled on a great spicy chorizo that and truffle cheese paired with honey. The wine shop was quite accommodating and paired our snackies with a lovely red and white. Best part is, we got to eat it all on a barrel. :D

A sampling of
+ Chorizo
+ Truffled Cheese with honey
+ Red & White wine
...all on a barrel. SCORE. 
Apart from my absolute adoration for European cafes, I think the Nachmarkt was definitely my favorite foodie experience of the city hence why I saved it for last! Now I'm on to a whole bunch of Czech adventures and then some brief posts on Italy (why they are brief, I will explain later). But for now, auf wiedersehen Vienna!

April 2, 2012

The "Commercial" Viennese Cafe

Aida self -classifies itself as a "Konditorei" which is differenct from a "kauffeehaus" due to its interior design and targeted clientele. Its easily recognizable bright pink and brown themed colors and upholstered chairs are reminiscent of a 1960s American diner. Meant for ladies to gather and chatter, it is a contrast to the austere "intellectual" environment of the kauffeehaus.
Those who know me well know that I hate chains. And yes Aida is a chain of espresso bars (26 in all) located in Vienna, Austria. But maybe I mean more like American-style chain eateries. This is Europe after all...chains could have a whole new meaning. Right? Even if people say Aida is the McDonald's of Viennese cafes...

A local Bohemian specialty...pretty much a little pastry filled with sweet cottage or perhaps ricotta cheese.
Mozart Cake, designed after the "Mozartkugel" - a chocolate truffle filled with green pistachio marzipan and nougat. We were lucky enough to try both the cake and truffle version :) And this might have topped the apple strudel. 
Overall, not a shabby experience. The Europeans sure know how to do a proper dessert...is it weird that all of these coffee houses defined by experience more than the Hofsburg Palace? hmmm...

April 1, 2012

The "Modern" Viennese Coffee House

The plush and sleek interior of Cafe Museum featuring Julius Meinel coffee. 
Considered a "modern" cafe at the time of its inception (in 1899), Cafe Museum, was frequented by the likes of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and a plethora other artists and authors who I do not recognize...well at least I managed to pick up two people through my classes in Prague :) We made a quick stop here on our way to the famous Viennese "Naschmarkt" Saturday morning. Plush red booths, marble tables and waiters dressed in black vests and bow ties. Most of the patrons's faces were completely obscured by the massive newspapers they were reading supplied by the cafe. Too bad we can't read German otherwise it would have been the ultimate authentic cafe experience.

An overflowing cup of hot chocolate. 
And then there was the Sachertorte, a famous chocolate cake founded by the 16-year old baker apprentice, Franz Sacher.  Not too shabby getting an internationally acclaimed cake named after yourself at that age. [According to Wikipedia], an authentic Sachertorte is only made in Vienna (the city of its founding) and Salsburg. Obviously, we were going to have ourselves some sachertorte.

The "Classic" Viennese Coffee House

Vienna, the city that defined the cafe culture. Copied worldwide with varying degrees of success and variation, the Viennese coffee house is still an authentic and local cultural experience in its own right (not just my opinion as its considered a cultural experience by UNESCO as well =p).  Delectable pastries, handcrafted coffees and an environment of ultimate lackadaisicalness. Within the small center ring of the city known as Wien 1, you will invariably stumble upon a famous cafe on almost every block.
+ Veal shank with lima beans
+ Veal schnitzel with potatoes
When you think Viennese cafes the first place that immediately comes to mind is Cafe Central. However, visiting the "ultimate classical Viennese" cafe required a brief lesson in the history of cafe culture. Founded around the mid-1600s, the first coffee house was created by an officer of the Polish army. However, the concept of a coffee house reached its apex in the 19th century during an age of enlightenment thinking, nationalistic renewal and artistic creativity. It was the place to go to consume the latest international news, read progressive journals and discuss the meaning of life. The classic cafes including Cafe Central also featured live piano music in the evenings and the occasional literary reading. We however came here just to eat dinner :)

+ Cafe Central Cake
+ Hot Chocolate
+ Mozart Coffee