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3 Weeks of Excessive Eating in Europe


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Berlin - Days 16 and 17

Berlin is a fascinating city, one that I took a liking too. It's beautiful in parts but also raw and filled with an urban energy that Amsterdam and Vienna did not have. We stayed in Pranzlauerberg, an area that reminds me of the Village in NYC but perhaps not with the same critical mass of people. In fact, I was shocked at how uncrowded Berlin was. I would later learn that population growth in the city is near stagnant.

Pretzels at the Brandenburg Gates

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I feel like this picture really encapsulates the version of Berlin I saw. Young guy, wearing a new NYC baseball hat, pedaling around an old bicycle selling traditional pretzels. Surely the guy is a tourist attraction in himself, but somehow it felt very appropriate.

For all the newness and rebirth, however, this city is one that, rightfully, includes memorials to the past.

Holocaust memorial

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Preserved section of the Berlin Wall

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Our hotel was conveniently located near Prater Beer Garden. I had read about this place before coming to Berlin and definitely wanted to visit. I didn't even realize until just before we arrived there that Anthony Bourdain had eaten here on an episode of No Reservations. Since following in Bourdain's footsteps is something I'm wont to do, I was near giddy when we arrived and I saw the spread.

This place is awesome. Great setting of young folks and old, single diners and families. The food was delicious, the beer so crisp and cold. Oh man. After all the fine dining I'd had over the past two-and-a-half weeks this was so satisfying. A feast for two was €17 plus beer.

Happiness

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Much sausage, pork loaf and steak, kraut, potato salad, and beer were consumed. Some corn, pickles, and pretzels were thrown in for good measure.

The next day we broke up our sightseeing by having a nice lunch at the two-starred seafood restaurant Fischer's Fritz. It's kind of like the Jean-Georges of Berlin such that they offer a great lunch special, three courses for €35.

Bread service

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A generous basket.

Mussel and mushroom salad

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Interesting combination. Nice amuse.

Starters

Fried prawn and young garlic soup

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I didn't try this.

Sturgeon carpaccio

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Very delicate. I would've liked a bigger hit of acid, but I think its absence was a purposeful study of understatement.

Smoked eel tartare, mint gelee

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Both this dish and the carpaccio tasted very Scandanavian. The restaurant Aquavit rushed to mind for me.

Cubes of bluefin tuna

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As portions were very small here, sharing was a bit difficult. This dish looks very Jean Georges to me.

Mains

Fish with porter sauce and fresh sauerkraut

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For the life of me, I can't remember what the fish was. It was all about the bitter-sweet-salty beer sauce.

Snapper

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Pretty plate, but I didn't try any.

Octopus

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This was some kind of crazy dish I didn't understand. Somehow there's gnocchi in there and a bacon vinaigrette. It was on the far side of the table so your guess is as good as mine. My friend liked it but I think it was a little difficult to get his head around (and he was the one who was eating it).

Whole fried John Dory

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This dish was presented and carved tableside. It also offered the most fish for the money, even if it was the simplest presentation. Served with an herb butter and a side plate of salad. This was really tasty.

Champagne custard-mousse, peaches en gelee

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Very successful pre-dessert.

Desserts

Orange panna cotta

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Nice and light.

Frozen cafe macchiato

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A signature dessert here. My friend enjoyed it.

Warm chocolate cake with passion fruit

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A bit pedestrian, but I like the chocolate-passion fruit combo; it's a new classic.

Cheese

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I was very surprised that the restaurant rolled out the full cheese cart for my friend who selected cheese from the dessert menu. No supplement or anything. It was his first experience with the cart, so that was fun.

This meal was a very good value. It won't floor you and the portions were rather small, but it's enough for a very enjoyable midday break.

After a long afternoon of sightseeing, a snack was surely in order.

Currywurst

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Hmm, strangely delicious. A simple wurst is chopped up, topped with curry powder and curry-infused ketchup. I had tried to visit the stand Bourdain visited on No Reservations, but its early closing time (even in the summer?) made it impossible for me to go. A solid grilled wurst was also consumed at this point.

Dinner on this second evening would be at Gugelhof, a famous, if touristy, restaurant in Pranzlauerberg.

Tarte flambee

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Rustic and yummy.

Top coming off the baekoffe

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This is an Alsatian pork and white wine stew that's baked sealed in a bread crust. It was actually quite light owing to the white wine that the dish is cooked with.

Pork

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This was a primeval piece of meat. It was my friends, but after he took off most of the soft meat, I dug in there for the skin and gelatinous bits. Yummy. A huge portion.

I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of the fondue I ordered. It was an overwhelming amount of cheese and pretty much killed all of us. Strongly seasoned with kirsch, I believe.

To full for dessert, we stumbled back to our hotel. The next day would mean an early wake up for the last stop on my journey, Vienna.

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Great report, BryanZ! Thanks for sharing it. I need to document my eating in Vienna last summer. Looking forward to your last stop!

(We had currywurst in Vienna but were not very excited about it but it may not really be the thing in Vienna. At the stand where we had it they put dry curry powder on the sausage and then topped with ketchup---was the dry curry and the ketchup mixed together in Berlin? I love streetfood, diner food and sausages, etc but I didn't really like the combo of unmixed dry curry powder and ketchup...)

We had lots of other great sausages including the classics and kind of funny (to me) but very delicious Kasekreiner; a sausage stuffed with cheese.) Served on a great Semmel (roll) and topped with mustard, these were addictive.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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We had currywurst in Vienna but were not very excited about it but it may not really be  the thing in Vienna.  At the stand where we had it they put dry curry powder on the sausage and then topped with ketchup---was the dry curry and the ketchup mixed together in Berlin?  I love streetfood, diner food and sausages, etc but I didn't really like the combo of unmixed dry curry powder and ketchup.

This did have curry powder sprinkled on top of it but was moistened by a curry-infused ketchup. I liked it. Maybe I have base tastes.

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Days 18-19 - Vienna

Vienna is a city of neo-this and neo-that. It looks old and almost feels old but actually isn't. With that said, it is quite beautiful.

We did not partake in a starred meal in Vienna, instead opting for a heurigen, a wine garden, on one night and the opera on the next. This did not leave time for a multi-hour, multi-course affair.

A heurigen is in many ways like a German beer garden, except in this Austrian iteration local wine is served. The food offerings are also a bit more expansive. Food is ordered cafeteria-style from sufficiently onery Austrian marms with little to no English. It took me a stress-filled few minutes to finally understand the ordering system, but once I ordered a portion of the beef tongue I think I marginally thawed my server's heart. She was proud of me.

The particular wine garden we went to was located in Grinzing. Yes, Grinzing is uber-touristy, but my friend really wanted to go to this particular town. What can you do? It was still quite yummy. The wine, however, was terrible. We tried both the local white an the local red. Unlike the local wines of Spain, France, and Italy, these were rough.

The plate of food I shared with the young lady of the group was literally overflowing with Austrian goodies.

Dinner

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You can't see it all, but there's ribs, pork belly, beef tongue, hashbrown potatoes with bacon, sauerkraut, and sausage here. It was rich food, but so satisfying. Dessert was a slice of various pork parts set in gelatin and apple strudel.

The place, again, was touristy, but I enjoyed the experience. Dining outside, eating mass quantities of heavy food and drinking awful wine was satisfyingly enriching.

On our tour through the center of Austria we made a couple of stops for pastry, something Austria is quite well-known for.

Sacher torte at Cafe Sacher

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This was fine, but since I'm neither a huge chocolate fan nor a huge cake fan the subtleties of this were lost on me. We also had a cafe melange, "the" coffee drink in Austria (or something to that effect). I thought there was way to much whipped cream and other "stuff," but then again, I drink my coffee black.

Between our two pastry stops we passed by St. Stephen's cathedral. It towers above the center of the city. The inside, as one might imagine, is very grand and ornate.

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Much better was the pastry we had at Demel, a famous Austrian sweets shop.

Passion fruit cake

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Great balance of flavors and a nice, light texture. Can anyone identify that fruit on top? I had no idea what it was.

After the opera that evening, in which Placido Domingo sang, I would retire to my room for my last night in Europe. On Day 20, my birthday, I would fly home. It was a whirlwind trip and one that I feel very fortunate to have gone on.

Since being home I've been eating almost nothing but Asian food. It's what my body has been craving. Spicy, sweet, sour. Lots of Thai, Vietnamese, Sichuan, and a bit of Korean and Japanese thrown in the mix.

I'd like to thank everyone who has been reading along. Double points for those of you who commented and asked questions. And, of course, I'm happy answer any others still floating around out there.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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Days 18-19 - Vienna

Much better was the pastry we had at Demel, a famous Austrian sweets shop.

Passion fruit cake

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Great balance of flavors and a nice, light texture. Can anyone identify that fruit on top? I had no idea what it was.

That's a cape gooseberry. It had become the new topper for desserts here. I have to say I actually enjoy them.

Thanks so much for a wonderful way to spend my lunch hours. I have loved taking a vicarious tour through you.

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Paris - Days 11-13Le Comptoir du Relais, the incredibly popular bistro (and hotel) run by Yves Camdeborde.  Unfortunately, due to a bizarre technical mishap the photographs from this meal, and an entire day of Paris sightseeing, were lost.  And so my fervent documentation of this entire trip was for naught.  Lisa, feel my scorn.  I'm kidding, kind of.

The cooking here is obviously very solid, perhaps a half-step better than other affordable Parisian bistros I've been to.  One of the servers was very dismissive and, despite the efforts of her younger, friendly colleagues, put a slight damper on the meal for a couple of my friends.  I would return here, however, as the pig's trotter dish I had--slow-cooked, shredded, formed into a rectangular loaf, chilled, sliced, the aggressively crisped in pan--was excellent.

Thank you for this exciting, palate-whetting journey!

I was let down by the missing Comptoir pictures, though.

That is my favorite dish there. I always tell myself I'm going to branch out, but I am too drawn by the delicious fried tacky, meaty pig's foot.

Did you try the first course "carpaccio of calf's head"? Stunning hot carpaccio of thinly sliced tête de veau. I would sell my soul for it.

On the other hand, the wine list is listless.

One thing that surprises me is your unequal treatment of food and wine. Wine is not just an afterthought or indulgent splurge...

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One thing that surprises me is your unequal treatment of food and wine. Wine is not just an afterthought or indulgent splurge...

I like wine as much as the next guy, maybe more. I'm even starting a cellar and I've amassed what I consider a pretty good collection for someone only a couple months in with very limited resources.

To be honest, wine in restaurants, and especially European restaurants, is simply too expensive. It's certainly not an afterthought--I wish it was a forethought--but traveling on my own I was stretching my budget as it is. To put it in economic terms, I get significantly more value out of €100 worth of food than €100 worth of wine. In addition to the expense, my mother is not a big drinker and we're unlikely to finish multiple bottles of wine over the course of a meal. I'd rather have a couple glasses of different things.

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I'm with you on that one. I drink much more wine at home than at restaurants, because when a bottle adds $50-$100 to a $100 bill, it just makes me consider whether it's worth it. And to me, I'd much rather pay a little extra for some more food than pay for what (in my price range) rarely ends up being an exciting bottle of wine.

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The particular wine garden we went to was located in Grinzing.  Yes, Grinzing is uber-touristy, but my friend really wanted to go to this particular town.  What can you do?  It was still quite yummy.  The wine, however, was terrible.  We tried both the local white an the local red.  Unlike the local wines of Spain, France, and Italy, these were rough.

The Wachau Valley, an hour east of Vienna, is Austria's Napa. That's where the good wine is. :wink:Gritsch Mauritiushof wines are very good, as are Kalmuck.

Yay, Demel! :smile:

Edited by Rehovot (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...

Boy, am I late to this fantastic party. Bryan, you've outdone yourself once again. I'm jumping the puddle later this year, so this report comes with much welcome from me. I'm actually taking a huge shot to the wallet as the majority of my trip will be on the British pound. But, a few days in Paris are in order, so any up-to-date tips would be appreciated.

A few notes:

1. Glad to see you enjoyed Carre des Feuillantes. Did you sense some Mediterranean/Spanish influences in Dutournier's repertoire? I did when I was there.

2. As between the two Constants, did you prefer one over the other?

Lobster salad

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This was really good.  Great balance.

Is that a band of mayonnaise ringing in the lobster?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Sacher torte at Cafe Sacher

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This was fine, but since I'm neither a huge chocolate fan nor a huge cake fan the subtleties of this were lost on me.

The first time I had the Sacher Torte was after having a weinerschniztel the size of Texas and right before a performance of Elektra at the Weiner Staatsoper. Honestly, I don't think I remembered a bit of that performance. But the cake - not being a cake person either, I just remember wanting to scrape out the apricot jam filling.

Much better was the pastry we had at Demel, a famous Austrian sweets shop.

Passion fruit cake

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Great balance of flavors and a nice, light texture.  Can anyone identify that fruit on top?  I had no idea what it was.

Gooseberry.

Double points for those of you who commented and asked questions.  And, of course, I'm happy answer any others still floating around out there.

Straggler here. Happy 22nd. I can't wait to see what you pull out on your 23rd next year. Remind me in the invitation to your party not to eat for a year before. :wink:

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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A few notes:

1. Glad to see you enjoyed Carre des Feuillantes.  Did you sense some Mediterranean/Spanish influences in Dutournier's repertoire?  I did when I was there. 

2. As between the two Constants, did you prefer one over the other?

Is that a band of mayonnaise ringing in the lobster?

The food did have clear Mediterranean influences. Not quite Provençal, so I can see where one could definitely see Spanish influences too.

I much preferred Violon d' Ingres, but the restaurants are hardly comparable. One is nearly fine-dining, the other is a super casual, very affordable bistrot.

I can't recall specifically, but mayonnaise seems reasonable.

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Bresse chicken

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This dish carried a slight supplement.  While not as good as the chicken at Cafe Constant, this was a nice piece of meat.

Do you mean, "...not as good as the chicken at Violon d'Ingres?"

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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