Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Schnitzel, Strudel, Und Dumplings, And The Wurst

This may be the very first vacation where I've gained weight while traveling, thanks to spending a month in Austria and its environs. It's not that I haven't walked a great deal, I have. It's the food. Yes, I have been known to brag about eating my way through Europe, and you might see more than 2 roasted potatoes on my plate at one time, but I shared them, and never before wore them on my way home.

Austria and for that matter, Eastern European countries, as well as the Baltics, are bastions of meat and potatoes, or in this case, dumpling sorts of countries. I'm thinking that harsh, cold winters and unfavorable soil conditions may be to blame, but for whatever reason, these countries never seemed to get beyond root vegetables and cabbage, when it came to vegetable varieties. Leafy greens seemed  to be reserved for wilting in pre-made sandwiches, or as accents for nondescript salads.

If you look through a menu as many times as we did on this trip, you will see at least 2 or 3 schnitzels, made of veal, pork or chicken. The Milanese certainly made a lasting impression on Austrians for these dishes.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Irati Taverna Basca

No mater where you go in Spain, you can always find small bites in bars, served alongside wine and cava, the Spanish version of champagne. Most restaurants serve a few tapas, but few tapas bars serve full meals. Luckily for visitors to Barcelona, you can find both full meals and the traditional Basque tapas called pintxos, pronounced pinchos, at Irati Taverna Basca, on a side street just off La Rambla in Barri Gotic.

Although banderillas, small pickled items including olives, small onions, anchovies and peppers on wooden skewers, can be considered both tapas and pintxos, what typically differentiates the two is something as simple as a slice of bread. The sausage above are pintxos, although they would be called tapas if just the sausages were served in an oven baking dish, the same can be said of the tortilla espanola to the right, an egg and potato omelette. Most of these and the following can be found just about anywhere.

Iberico ham; red Piquillo peppers, usually stuffed with tuna or cheese; cheese with fruit preserves and nuts; mini croissants with meat; pickled, white anchovies; or smoked salmon are common enough ingredients. Irati stands out in the less typical, and more creatively thought out combinations of ingredients.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" or the simple salmon pintxo in the foreground on the left. They are mere distractions. The real stars of this plate are the 3 pintxos at the back and on the right of the plate. I cannot enter the doors of Irati without ordering them. I stopped counting at 5 servings of each. Please don't ask me which is my favorite, because I couldn't possibly choose. They're like triplets,  each with their own personalities, and each one as precious as the other two, just different. 

The purple color of this pintxo is created by combining minced red cabbage with crab. It's topped by anchovy, fried Padron pepper, a slice of Piquillo pepper, tomato, and the ever so over-the-top squiggle of cream cheese.
This crab salad made with mayonnaise and crab is topped with shredded egg white. So very simple, but very satisfying for taste as well as eye appeal. Most patrons seem surprised that the topping is egg white and not cheese.
For anyone with a sweet tooth, this cream cheese pintxo, covered in a thin layer of blueberry preserve, is a life raft in the savory sea of pintxos at Irati. I take it as my last bite and treat it as though it were a dessert. Although I have been to Irati at least half a dozen times, I have yet to try their full meals. I never seem to be able to get beyond the pintxos bar and into their dining room. The following is a photo essay of some of the other pintxos:

As you walk up La Rambla from the water, to find Irati look for the Dragon Lantern on your right and walk down the stairs, then turn left. Within 2 or 3 blocks, you will see Irati on the left.

Irati Menu

Carrer del Cardenal Casanas, 17 
08002 Barcelona, Spain

Monday, June 26, 2017

It's All Greek to Me

Unless you have a Greek translator along for your journey, it might be impossible to write the name of your restaurant in English. I've gotten around that by displaying photos of the restaurants' signs along with the food photos.

Our first restaurant in Athens was near our hotel 18 Micron Str., located slightly northwest of Monastiraki Square, but more about that later. This trip we are eating modestly and trying to taste a wide variety of classic Greek dishes. On our first night we ambled around the corner and were accosted by a waiter eager to gain our patronage, as is the custom. We declined the invitation but took a menu and checked out other establishments for 30 minutes before returning.

Since more vegetables are on my radar for desirable foods, the selection of Santorini fava seemed a fine choice. They were not  green,
                as I had expected, but very pale. The color did not affect the familiar pungent taste. The pureed fava  was topped with marinated red onion, oregano and parsley. It was good although the portion may have better suited a table of 4, so it was generous. I made an effort to eat it as it was intended, with a squirt of lemon, but preferred the beans without lemon. Less olive oil would have made the lemon unnecessary.

The second starter we tried was a Russian Salad. It was great for a potato fix. For a man who cannot pass up an order of meatballs, Greece is the place to go. The excellent  fried meatball appetizer satisfied my husband's desire for meat.

My entree was the rustic sausage that came with French fries. Again there was oregano or perhaps marjoram used to flavor the meat, along with paprika. They were flavorful and distinctly unlike any other sausages I have tried during my travels to other European countries.

We tried a Greek beer named Mythos that had a stronger hop taste than we prefer. After dinner the waiter brought  a  dessert that I cannot identify with any certainty. My best guess was that it was made with course grained semolina, sugar, and cinnamon.

The following evening we stayed even closer to the hotel by eating across the street at Oineas, a bright, airy place with sage green furniture, advertising art trays, posters and product containers displayed everywhere.

The 75 year old owner had been collecting product containers, posters, metal advertising signs and ad art, since he was a teenager.

Even the bathroom area was very cluttered with advertising posters for cosmetic products, as well as tins and  bottles.

The food was classic yet distinctive, like the decor. Classic Greek recipes were tweaked into versions appealing to modern palates.

The bread was good on its own, but even better with the black olive tepanade that was served alongside it.

Fix, another Greek beer was on offer, so we tried it and had several more during the trip. Our first course consisted of mussels in a lemon grass infused broth. Great idea.



My man about town ordered the pork fillet covered in a mixed mushroom port sauce, then topped with thinly sliced and fried onion rings. Our conversation ground to a halt the minute he took a bite, so we can safely surmise that it was delectable.

The roast lamb was excellent with the decidedly "gamy taste" that I prefer, yet find very seldom. Unfortunately, it was bathed in olive oil and even though delicious, I've decided to pass on lamb again unless it's grilled, The potatoes, however, can swim in olive oil with no complaint from me, unless someone refuses to pass the salt.

On our return to Athens, after 4 nights on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, we came back to Oineas. We started the feast with scampi and what I believed to be an eggplant sauce. It was so good we slathered the leftover portion onto bread.

I tried the lamb ribs because they were grilled and not oily. It was the perfect choice for me, and the French fries were flawless, although too few in number. The thyme sprinkled over the meat and the spicy yogurt sauce only added to this flavorful lamb selection.

My husband ordered the veal chop and was similarly satisfied with his choice. He received a perfectly cooked medium rare chop. We were recognized by several waiters and the owner as being returning customers. They rewarded us with a complimentary dessert of house made cheesecake with mango and chocolate sauce.

Right alongside the ancient Agora near its museum, there are many restaurants that, as you might expect, are geared to providing tourists with quick meals. We stopped by Antica because we were more interested in a rest than food, and requested one Greek salad and 2 forks.

With a lifelong avoidance of feta cheese, it took some culinary courage to taste this dominant ingredient, but I managed and was rewarded with a sweeter, creamier, less crumbly version of what had passed for feta the first time I tried it. I'm no longer worried that I may have to eat it again, and may actually order it intentionally.

It's embarrassing to admit to going to the next restaurant, Bairaktaris, 4 times on this trip. At first it was only for a drink, then it was to try the pork gyro which was ordered by another customer and looked so good I wanted to sneak a photo of it.

We ordered a bean soup and an order of moussaka before sharing the gyro. It was a very good and filling meal. My husband had wanted to order a 4th plate but our waiter dissuaded him because he knew that the portions were so big. We over tipped him in gratitude.

The restaurant seems to be comprised of several buildings taking up the entire northeast corner of Monastiraki Square, so our next sojourn was for filtered coffee (American style, brewed) and tea. We walked around to the side and sat there for a change of pace. The name and menu were identical. This was also on the side street that takes you into the Plaka without having to climb steep streets or stairs. For a quick diversion, one may stop by The Cathedral of Athens, a modern Greek Orthodox cathedral, with a lovely mosaic on its facade.

Finally, on what we had thought would be our last day in Athens, we returned for the meatball and rice dish we failed to order and the last time we ate at this restaurant. Trying to keep it light, I ordered 2 salads, mixed, and a plate of beets. Both filling, but nothing really special to an avowed carnivore.

Luckily for me, I was offered a taste of the meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and served with rice. They were so full of flavor they could have been made by my grandmother, the benchmark by which I judge all meatballs.

After planning our route to several Greek islands, we discovered that we would need to spend one more night in Athens, in order to leave Greece for our next destination, so we ended up in the Psiri neighborhood again. We went to a taverna, The Psiri Grill House, on the street leading northeast of Iron Square.

It was mild weather, so we sat outside. After being seated we realized that sitting opposite one another was going to be problematic since the chairs on one side of the table were actually in the street, so we sat side by side while I took these photos. A word of caution, the chairs were leaning against our table.

After perusing dozens of Greek menus, I was almost giddy to find a restaurant that served lamb souvlaki. All I had seen for weeks were souvlaki made from either chicken or pork. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We started our meal with hummus accompanied by a tasty little flat bread, and a tamboule salad, made with bulgar,parsley, tomatoes, onions, and mint with a lemon and olive oil (what else?) dressing. they were both refreshing on a hot day.

This restaurant provided me the perfect meal for our last evening in Athens. If we had discovered Psiri Grill House sooner we could have gone back several times. It's on our list for our next trip to Athens. The interior space was appealing, so a table there would be desirable.

Souvlaki was the last item on my bucket list of what I had hoped to try eating in Greece. By the way, when you order a "chop" in Greece, you may expect a bone, but you can find a sliced fillet instead as seen in the photo of the pork chop ordered from this restaurant.

In my strong drive to find a classic lamb souvlaki, to round out eating my way through Greece, I failed to notice the broad selection of seafood being offered by this restaurant. I can't wait to try some.