A Feast Through Eastern Europe, Part 7: Budapest and Paris
We loved everything about M Restaurant (Kertész u. 48), including the goose leg gobbled in the photo above. We’d arrived into the city at dusk, showered, and headed out a bit weary after a very long ride in a van (from Skopje). We were going to eat at Carmel Pince, which was close by, but we were turned away at the door -- it was Sabbath, and pre-reservations were necessary. We asked a passerby for advice, and he steered us across town to what turned out to be a stretch of numerous outdoor cafes lined up one after another. A few of the places looked all right, but it was too touristy a spot. So we stopped a couple who looked like they might be a Hungarian version of us, and explained that we were looking for a regular place, where locals go, and where the food was authentic and tasty. To the couple’s credit they took quite a bit of time deciding, discussing among themselves pros and cons of various places, and eventually came up with M -- which was right by where we’d just walked from. It turned out to be exactly what we were looking for.
Artwork on the walls was done by a Serbian artist friend of the owner Miklos -- he drew everything Miklos had wanted to put into the room. A guitarist played upstairs and the crowd was composed of Pest locals.
Below is what the goose leg looked like before we devoured it. It was to be served with cabbage and noodles (also pictured), but as a favor to us the manager put a taste of another entree on the same plate: Piglet belly (obscured in photo by plum sauce), and a wedge of scrumptious potato pie.
After dinner we walked the streets and came upon an atmospheric courtyard in the old Jewish ghetto (yes, you’re right, it is self-indulgent of me to include this):
People love Argentine steaks all over the world. This restaurant is in Pest:
Gundel used to be the hottest upscale spot in Budapest; now its’ less expensive next-door sister Bagolyvár is more popular. We ate lunch at the latter, and while the bread, Dreher beer (Hungary’s best), and chicken paprikash with dumplings were fine, the barbecue pork didn’t taste nearly as good as it looks; and it doesn’t even look that good. We were underwhelmed.
One of Hungary’s national desserts, somlói gaqluska (rum-soaked sponge cake, chocolate sauce and whipped cream), which we sampled at Bagolyvár, was a soft, sugary glop. We saw better-looking renditions elsewhere.
The finest all-around meal we had in this city was at Aranyszarvas (Szarvas tér 1), set in an 18th century inn at the foot of Castle Hill. More specifically, on the site of the Szarvas tavern, from 1705, where the modern Serbian alphabet is said to have been developed. We selected five mezze (from a list of 17) to start. Going counterclockwise from the clump of salad: Duck liver pâté; potato rösti with creamed celery (the only miss, as it was cold and, as you can see, slightly burned); peppers stuffed with goat cheese; mangalitsa ham (from wild boar); and a spicy sausage from “grey cattle”, which was further translated for us into “ox”. Mostly hidden from view by the salad garnish is a quenelle of spicy cottage cheese spiked with paprika and onions, and another quenelle of creamed duck cracklings.
Main courses were roast wild duck with fried potato dumplings, and veal paprikash with a most delicate spaetzle spruced with fried eggs. The saffron-looking nest atop the veal is composed of chile-pepper threads.
Eyeleks are small, take-out cafeterias frequented by the working class. This is one that we’d hit up late at night after we’d cycled off dinner. On this particular evening we tried a couple of triangles of potato rösti, a fried pork fritter, and a bowl of potato soup with peas.
My orange rental bike, in the forefront of this sculpture-turned-rack in Pest (below), was in great shape and easy to ride long distances on. We rented them from Budapest Bike http://www.budapestbike.hu (Wesselényi 18) -- ask for Gabor, who can be of help in all sorts of ways. I should mention here that I didn’t take any freebies or discounts on this trip concerning food, bike rentals, or anything else, so my endorsements are, if nothing else, sincere.
Which reminds me -- I neglected to mention the name of the houseboat hostel in Belgrade: Yachting Club Kej. It was such a cool place to stay, and the people who run it so very kind.
Below:What rental bikes in Paris look like -- the ones you pick up and return at all different locations in the city. Time for Miami Beach to consider this system:
This is the first thing we saw upon exiting the Paris subway stop nearest the apartment we were staying at:
Our French friend, whose name happens to be France (seriously), met us by this cool restaurant called Carpe Diem, just blocks from the Moulin Rouge. Great looking menu and wines, and I spoke at length with the chef, a young guy from Morocco who had received quite a good training in Paris thus far. Alas, the restaurant was closed, so my wife and I grabbed a gyro across the street (we arrived kind of late). That was our great Parisian dinner. Then we walked across town with France to meet another friend, Salomon, at Le Café Marly, located in the Palais du Louvre and facing the illuminated pyramid. But the café was sort of dead; compared to lively Budapest, Paris seemed lethargic. It even looked old -- wouldn’t you agree?:
So we ambled to a nearby bar called La Fumiére for drinks -- and where, ironically, smoking is not allowed. Salomon then took us on a freewheeling car tour of nearly every famous site in the city, which took about an hour. Next day we had time only for early croissants before heading towards the airport -- but first I snapped a photo of just-awakening Paris from our apartment window.
Parting shot:How come M.I.A.’s new terminal didn’t come out looking this good?
-- Lee Klein