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Friday, June 28, 2019

Wiejskie Jadło

I have long been a fan of Polish food, at least of the variety available in the United States. Perhaps I should specify “Chicago”, since I have a difficult time getting particularly excited about any of the Polish food I've had in Greenpoint (now Peter Pan Donuts – that's another story!). So when the New York International Opera Project (NYIOP) engaged me to play for their auditions in Kraków, I was thrilled to finally have a good reason to go to Poland (and getting paid is one of the best reasons to go almost anywhere in my book) and try the cuisine at its source. It did not disappoint. Poland is a land of real food, in the same way that Spain is.

On the evening of my first full day in the country, I had the meal I had been dreaming about. Poznań is Poland's 5th -largest city, with a charming old market square (stary rynek). And just off that square is a gem of a restaurant called Wiejskie Jadło. Its name is Polish for “rural food”, and it lives up to every promise contained therein.

Żurek is one of my very favorite Polish creations, a tangy soup made with fermented rye. Add kielbasa, potato, and some hard-boiled egg (żur z kiełbasą, ziemniakiem oraz jajkiem) and you have... my kind of dish. Marjoram is the perfect herb to round out the flavor.

When I saw golonka pieczona z sosem śliwkowym i zasmażaną kapustą (roast pork hock with plum sauce and sautéed cabbage) on the menu, I knew I had to order it. It fulfilled every expectation, and then some. It's huge, so you'd best be hungry.

A complimentary glass of house-made cherry liqueur accompanies the check – another detail that reminded me of my beloved Spain.

The menu is large and varied, and I would suggest going with a group, if you can, and order one of their combinations so you can try the greatest number of dishes. Poland is, in general, a bargain for Westerners, and the prices here are eminently reasonable.

The restaurant itself is comfortable, with a pleasant rustic décor, and the multi-lingual waitstaff could not be more pleasant and accommodating.

Wiejskie Jadło
ul. Stary Rynek 77
Poznań 61-772 Poland
+48 61 853 66 00


Friday, March 30, 2018

Restaurante La Chabola

It has been quite some time, I realize, since my last post. Since then, I have endeavored to keep all information here as up-to-date as I can. Sadly, this has, for the most part, consisted of noting when places have closed. Of the places I have come across in the meantime, none have inspired me to marshal my intellectual energies sufficiently to actually write a post. That is, until yesterday.

I am, once again, in Asturias, in the north of Spain, and yesterday was my birthday, This coincided with Santa Jueves (Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, a much bigger deal in Catholic Spain than it is in the United States), so my close friend José Ángel had the day free to take me driving around the province. Naturally, I wanted to head to the mountains, but that was not a firm plan since there was supposed to be a lot of rain and snow. The weather surprised us both and was lovely (except at the highest altitudes, where there was rain).

Our route took us along the Senda del Oso, a marvelous hiking and biking path built on an old mining railway along the Trubia and Teverga rivers. Around lunchtime, we reached Samartín/San Martín de Teverga, a cute town full of tourists and day-trippers, all of whom, obviously, had the day off, too. This scene did not suit me at all, but we needed to come up with a plan fairly soon before every place stopped serving lunch. We left the car on the south edge of town, where I noticed (well, it was a hard to miss) a church and a rural hotel down the road a bit to the west and suggested we take a walk.

And just as I had already strongly suspected, past the church was a restaurant that appeared quite promising, an establishment called Restaurante La Chabola.

We entered, and were seated immediately. What followed exceeded my highest expectations... I'm glad to know that my instincts have not completely deserted me! The menú especial that day was €18 (since it was festivo, their menú is mostly likely cheaper on weekdays), which included the standard first course, second course, dessert and bebida. Upon consultation with our helpful and knowledgeable server, José Ángel and I, naturally, ordered in such a way as to maximize the number of dishes we could try.

For our primeros, we had arroz meloso con pitu y setas (rice with chicken and wild mushrooms) and pote asturiano.

Arroz meloso is the Spanish equivalent of risotto. Like risotto, it's made with short grain (paella) rice, and although the cooking process is simplified, the result is almost identical: just creamy enough to hold the rice together, with each grain distinct and en su punto. The combination of chicken and wild mushrooms – clearly local ingredients – and a bit of saffron could hardly be improved upon, nor could the preparation. One could easily pay upwards of €20 for a dish of this quality alone at other restaurants in Asturias... it's almost astonishing to find it as part of a daily menú.

The pote asturiano was everything it should be. It's the asturiano answer to caldo gallego, and the ingredients are similar, yet completely asturiano: berzas (collard greens), potatoes, fabes (the large, white haricot beans that star in fabada asturiana), morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, and tocino (pork belly). All the ingredients were top-quality, and the kitchen clearly knows what its doing. Possibly the best pote I've ever tried.

Rollo de bonito and caldereta de borrego were the segundo platos.

Normally, rollo de bonito consists of chopped bonito (a fish of the tuna and mackerel family), jamón, hard-boiled eggs and seasonings held together with bread crumbs (a la meatloaf), then rolled out and rolled up into a cylinder, fried, and sliced into rounds. As José Ángel quickly pointed out, that is not exactly what was served... it was more like an “albondiga de bonito” (a bonito “meatball”). Nonetheless, he was quite happy with it, and it was indeed delicious.

Caldereta de borrego (stewed lamb, though not particularly young lamb) reminded me a bit of the cabrito at Casa Juanín, especially in its intensity of flavor. It was excellent, although I did find myself wishing I had heeded our server's recommendation of codillo asado (roasted pork hock)... I feel sure she had my best interests in mind and that it was spectacular. Next time.

Postre was flan (very good, though not quite up to the gold standard of Isabel's) and arroz con leche. Having lost most of any sweet tooth I may have had as I got older, I never expected the dessert to be my favorite dish of many great ones, but it was. This was one of the two greatest rice puddings I have ever tasted, the other one being at Casa Gerardo in Prendes (the one I make at home following a recipe from Casa Gerardo is a close third). It is clearly made old-style, reducing the milk with not-so-very-much rice for 2-3 hours, stirring it almost constantly. It was beautiful, causing me to practically well up – a reaction I am not accustomed to having when it comes to desserts. The browned bits are part of the quemado (burmed) sugar crust:

In fact, I like the food and the natural setting here almost as much as Casa Juanín in Pendones, and there is really no higher praise than that.

Restaurante La Chabola
La Plaza, 15
La Plaza 33111 Teverga, Spain
(+34)  985 76 41 36

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hoagie Haven

I cannot go to Princeton, it seems, without making a pilgrimage to Hoagie Haven, and last night was no exception. I was there in an official capacity - one of "my" singers is singing Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with the Princeton University Orchestra tonight, and I was her "set of ears" out in the house for the dress rehearsal. But after the final Abschied was taken, it was hello, Hoagie Haven time!

This place never, ever disappoints. They crank out consistently wonderful sandwiches and hoagies of all sorts, and have been doing it for over 40 years. For me the star is the cheesesteak, and, predictably, my favorite is the bacon cheesesteak:

It differs from the classic Philly cheesesteak in a couple of respects - the slices of, um, "steak" are left intact on the grill, rather than being chopped up, and they use provolone instead of the echt-authentic Cheez Whiz. No matter... it's still one of the great sandwiches on the planet as far as I'm concerned. And their prices are eminently reasonable.

They also make the best breakfast sandwich I have eaten anywhere, in case you happen to be in the vicinity before noon: egg and sweet Italian sausage slices (grilled together) on a kaiser roll. It ain't no Egg McMuffin, that's for damn sure.

God, I hope these guys own the building they're in... As Princeton gets more and more twee (and EXPENSIVE) - as if that were even possible - businesses that cater to regular people are fast disappearing (the exact situation that has made Manhattan so unpleasant these days). It would be a tragedy if this place didn't have some protection against the kind of skyrocketing business rents that is killing NYC.

Hoagie Haven
242 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08542


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bhutanese Ema Datsi

Until last week, I had never tried Bhutanese cuisine before. In fact, I had never even thought to look for it. But when Charles, author of the wonderful blog United Nations of Food, mentioned Bhutanese Ema Datsi to me during a recent return trip of his to NYC, I knew immediately I had to try it. For me, it’s the most delightful new food find in many months.

It can take the food rather a long a time to emerge from the kitchen, but it’s worth the wait: everything is quite obviously freshly-prepared, and all flavors are clear and vibrant. The menu includes Indian, Tibetan, and Bhutanese specialties. Foregoing the Indian dishes for the time being, we began with shabaklep, Tibetan beef patties. These are first cousins to momo (also on the menu, naturally) – fried, good-sized flat dumplings. (More illustration of the perils of trying to take pictures of food in dimly-lit restaurants... sorry about that!)

The dough is a bit thick for many sensibilities, so be sure to eat them while they’re still warm – the dough can get a bit chewy when they cool down. The ground beef filling is subtly but nicely seasoned, which leads me to believe I will actually enjoy the momo here (I have yet to try any I actually like… they’re always too bland for me). They’re served with a side of a truly spicy red pepper sauce. Overall, delicious, and a great way to start.

Ema datsi (or ema datshi) is usually referred to as the Bhutanese national dish. I’ve certainly never had anything quite like before. Spicy green peppers are cooked with onion, garlic, and... wait for it... cheese. Not paneer-style cheese that is cut up and left intact in the dish, but melted cheese that forms a key element of the sauce. I have never seen cheese used this way in other Asian cuisines before. Traditionally, this dish is made with yak’s milk cheese, but since yak’s milk cheese is not imported to the U.S., feta is often substituted. I’m not quite sure what they use here... if I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to guess Velveeta. Some may find the suggestion heresy – all I know is that it was utterly delicious. (Most dishes are served with your choice of rice. I highly recommend getting Bhutanese red rice, which can be seen in the background.)

The spiciness of this dish is considerable. It’s such a relief to go to a restaurant that is not afraid to serve spicy food to Westerners!

By contrast, the dish of puta buckwheat noodles (okay, you Spanish and Portuguese speakers, stop laughing!) was soothing and delightful: thick-ish buckwheat noodles (thicker, at least than Korean naeng myun) tossed with butter, scallion, and strips of omelet.

Meals here are served with a bowl of lovely, mild seaweed and milk soup:

There are several Bhutanese thalis on the menu. A thali is a meal consisting of a selection of small dishes, named for the round platter on which it is served (I will get a picture of it my next visit). Upon the recommendation of the extremely helpful waiter, we chose the sekam thali, which features as its centerpiece a dish of what the menu calls “dry pork” curry.

In this case, “dry pork” is cured pork belly, rather like an unsmoked, unsalted bacon. Sautéed with potato rounds in a curry sauce, it is hearty and satisfying. Also on the thali (on the left in the photo) is kewa datsi, Bhutanese potato cheese curry. This is as mild and soothing – yet rich enough to be interesting – as the ema datsi is bracing. Bhutanese red rice rounds out the thali triumvirate.

Prices are quite reasonable, and they’re open until 11 p.m. every day, 12 midnight on weekends.

Bhutanese Ema Datsi
67-21 Woodside Ave., Woodside 11377

(7 train to 69th St., walk 2 blocks south on 69th, then turn right)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taqueria con Servicio de Bar “La Cabaña”

I’ve had tacos at quite a few places in Mexico – including some really great ones – but last night I was introduced to a place that outshines them all: Taqueria con Servicio de Bar “La Cabaña”. (Yes, that’s how the name is printed on the awning, and the only way one can find it listed on the internet.)

Located in the neighborhood called Azcapotzalco, it’s not exactly a place the casual tourist in Mexico City is likely to go, and I’d be hard pressed to recommend a special trip there. But damn, these tacos are good. Proof that all you need for great food is good ingredients and careful, competent preparation.

So, a quick slideshow tour showcasing the highlights... first up: longaniza and lengua.

Longaniza is a a type of sausage, crumbled and lightly fried. It was a deeply flavorful, pleasant surprise. Its companion in the photo is beef tongue: tender, moist, perfectly prepared. Both are simply stunning.

The obligatory pastor:

Every taco place in the city serves pastor (except the ones that specialize in other types), and, except for El Hequito, which is in a class by itself, this is surely among the very best. Beautifully marinated, spit-roasted pork with just enough char to make the texture interesting.


Another outstanding offering – slices of beef short ribs, utterly tender and delicious.

Chuleta con queso:

Marinated pork chop meat is lightly grilled, then cheese melted over it. Perfectly tender, and incredibly delicious. These may be the greatest tacos on the planet (with the longaniza and lengua here giving them a run for their money).


"I can smell your brains."

Considering the widespread fame of tacos de sesos, I felt I needed to try it in a place where it was likely to be excellent. And for brain tacos, it most likely is excellent. But I’ve never been much of a brains fan (at least when it comes to eating them), and I believe I can now safely cross them off my list of things to order again.


Cecina in Mexico is not the same as cecina in Spain, where it is beef that has been salted and air-dried, producing something akin to a beef equivalent of prosciutto (the deep, almost purple color is quite amazing). In Mexico, it is beef that has been salted and marinated, then cooked. In two nights worth of experience here, I’d have to say it’s a bit hit-or-miss. The first night, it was moist, tender perfection... the second night, a tad dry. Still, a taco well worth eating. (The picture is from the second night.)

The greens that accompany every taco order:

Lime wedges, cucumber slices, and pápalo (sometimes called “Bolivian coriander” – I can't make this stuff up...).

My friend Miguel loves the flan here and assures me it's some of the best in town. Before ordering it, you should know that, like cecina, flan in Mexico is rather different than flan in Spain. In Mexico, it's sweeter. Much sweeter. When I tasted it, I was fairly certain it must be made with sweetened condensed milk, and some recipes I found on the internet for Mexican flan confirm this. It's quite good... just far too sweet for me.

The prices are quite reasonable, and it’s open very late. It’s also locally quite popular: at midnight on a Friday night, there was not an empty table in the place.

Taqueria con Servicio de Bar “La Cabaña”
Eje 3 Nte (16 de Septiembre) 36 – Centro de Azcapotzalco, Azcapotzalco
Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal, México
(+52) (55) 1742 1343

Friday, July 10, 2015

Mom's Dutch Kitchen (CLOSED)

Do you remember Dutch Pantry? It was a chain of roadside restaurants that used to dot highways in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and other locales. They served Pennsylvania Dutch-inspired family fare, sold kitschy Pennsylvania Dutch-themed souvenirs, and were built to evoke Pennsylvania Dutch barns - complete with hex signs! The chain collapsed in the late '80's (there's a fascinating nostalgia website devoted to Dutch Pantry here), but somehow a couple of Dutch Pantries managed to survive and continue to operate in Pennsylvania. I've eaten at the Clearfield one a couple of times on road trips in the past year. The former glory has faded a bit, but it's still one of the best roadside options you'll find on Pennsylvania's I-80.

That is, unless you're passing by Danville. If you are, a meal at Mom's Dutch Kitchen is obligatory. It is the real home-cooking counterpart of Dutch Pantry. AND you can get scrapple here (for you scrapple fans), which was never possible at Dutch Pantry.

No Pennsylvania farm breakfast would be complete without a nice slab of scrapple (and a bowl of sausage gravy):

The menu is large and varied, but for the real experience, stick to the homey items, like meatloaf, which is fantastic. It's accompanied by stuffing and real mashed potatoes, and yet another side dish of your choice. In the Dutch Pantry tradition, I got spiced apples - freshly made, and delicious. Soups are also great... their white bean with ham is stellar, and I got a bowl of chicken noodle soup that was more like a dish of grandma's chicken and noodles, moistened with a little broth. Delightful.

None of those photos turned out to be usable, unfortunately. I had better luck the evening I ordered country-fried steak. That's not something I would normally think of ordering outside of Texas (where it is, of course, called "chicken fried steak"), but when I read that they top it with sausage cream gravy here... well, how could I resist? I'm glad I didn't. (How do you make real mashed potatoes even better? Top them with sausage gravy, too!)

Dutch Pantry was famous for its apple fritters. When I spotted them on the menu at Mom's, I had to see how the compared. There is, in fact, no comparison whatsoever: Mom's Dutch Kitchen makes the greatest apple fritters I have ever had. Just light enough to be fluffy on the inside, and just crisp enough on the outside for the perfect texture contrast. Sprinkled with powdered sugar, they are one of the world's few perfect desserts as far as I'm concerned.

If that doesn't tempt you, they also have a great selection of Amish pies. If you've never tried shoo-fly pie, this just might be the place to do it. I did, and it's great.

Open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, and located at the PA Rt. 54/I-80 interchange, Exit 224.

Mom's Dutch Kitchen
25 Sheraton Rd, Danville, PA 17821

Friday, July 3, 2015

La Polar

My second trip to Mexico was drawing to a close and I still hadn’t tried the famous birria. David and Guadalupe assured me that the place to go was La Polar... and all of Mexico City seems to agree with them.

It’s been around for over 75 years, and birria is pretty much all they do. It’s usually described as a “spicy stew”. I would take issue with the description “spicy”, but it is tasty.

Soon after ordering, the condiments arrive:

Limes, chopped onions, avocado, and a mole-like sauce of chiles, chocolate and other spices.

Then the stew arrives:

Essentially a large bowl of stewed mutton in a light broth seasoned (very lightly) with cumin, some onion, oregano, and bay leaf, it is both hearty and soothing. I have to admit, though, that I didn’t find it very exciting. Good, but I’m not eager to have it again. Perhaps it’s better in its home territory of Jalisco.

The place is huge, and has a real party atmosphere. Be ready for a non-stop barrage of strolling mariachi musicians. Open until 2 a.m. every day.

La Polar
c/Guillermo Prieto 129 – Col. San Rafael, Delegación Cuauhtémoc
Ciudad de México, Distrito Federal, México
(+52) (55) 5546 5066