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Brussels – L’Huitriere

Posted by jwpiper on February 11, 2009

I wasn’t scheduled to return from London to Brussels until rather late, so I lamented having to eat in the airport instead of getting a proper meal on my last day in Europe. I always check to see if I can hop an earlier flight, and at the check-in counter they insisted that they’d closed reservations for the flight. But my rule of thumb is to always try to get to the gate. And I did – in time to make the earlier flight and make time for dinner in Brussels.

Based on the time and where I was staying, St. Catherine’s area seemed to be the only place I could squeeze in a meal. I was hopeful that Rugbyman Two would have foie gras, but alas, they didn’t. So I wandered the street until I found an interesting enough looking restaurant to try. It wasn’t until I handed the hostess my jacket that I noticed that L’Huitriere had been awarded a Michelin star in 2007.

Before the meal even started, I was presented with a small bowl of gray shrimp – another Belgian delicacy that I generally seek out. I’m never quite sure the proper way to eat these, as every culture has their preferred method with such a beast. In the south of France, pop their heads off and eat the whole remainder of the shrimp. In East Asian cultures, I’d expect they’d either eat the whole animal or at least suck out the brain after popping off the head. In the USA, they’d peel off the whole shell and eat only the body with no shell. I’m always torn between the three and really generally do whatever I fancy at the moment, which in this example was a combination of all three to be honest. In truth, I think the heads need to be either eaten or sucked out, and what to do with the body depends on you preference for texture. I did think the shrimp begged to be dipped into a nice mayonnaise, but my request was either forgotten or misunderstood.

I paired a Jupiler with the meal – the everyman Belgian pilsner. It is a nice clean pilsner: a true session beer which is better than Stella Artois and head and shoulders better than Stell Artois in the USA. I found the Hoegaarden to be more complex and interesting as a pairing at Rugbyman Two than the Jupiler this evening.

The lack of a warm, seared goose liver foie gras was a bit disappointing. But not to be entirely denied my desire, I ordered the Terrine de foie gras d’ Oie & sa confiture d’ oignons, a previously formed and cooked foie gras pâté which is then served cold in a block on bread with caramelized onions. It was rather tasty and quite full-flavored (I assume duck livers), but not at all what I was really craving. C’est la vie.

For my entree, I decided on Skrei aux jus de moules, mousse de trois legumes, or baby cod in the juice of mussels with a three potato mousse. It was delicious and clean, but as per my general dislike for cod, should I make the dish, I would likely select a different mild fish. In truth, it was quite good for cod, including the texture which was very moist and tender for cod.

The name of my dessert has escaped me – it is a classic French dessert of ice cream between two doughy pastries and topped with a Belgian chocolate sauce and toasted almonds. It was decadent and rich and finished the meal nicely.

In all, the meal was excellent, and I wouldn’t say the restaurant doesn’t deserve a Michelin star, but I’ve had better meals in Brussels in my opinion. I am likely to attempt a dish inspired by the cod in my own kitchen in the relatively near future. Next time I’m near St. Catherine’s in Brussels and Rugbyman Two is out of foie gras, I’ll likely be dining across the street.

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Westvleteren – St. Sixtus

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Every trip I take to Belgium involves a stop in Westvleteren at In de Vrede at the very least and a stop St. Sixtusabdij to pickup a couple of cases of the monk’s brew in the best case.

Having successfully transported several cases of the great elixir over the last several years, I figured I’d share my now tried and true method as well as some of the stumbling blocks I’ve met along the way.

First is reserving the beer. The availability of each type of beer is announced on this page. This is a recent addition which augments the old way of calling in and navigating the phone message system to determine the same information. Indeed, even with the phone system, the English translation is a relatively recent and welcome addition. After you’ve determined what beer they’ll have and that you’ll be available to pick it up, you have to call back at the specified time to reserve the beer. The number is on this page. They have one line open between the hours of 09:15-12:00 (which is 03:15-06:00 EST), so it can take several hours or commonly several days to get through. Once you’ve connected, you must give a vehicle registration to associate the order with. More recently, when originally it took pleading and explaining, it has become much easier to just give them a name. Now they even store this information. In fact – the brother in charge of the reservations seems to remember me quite vividly at this point, laughing at me and my antics on my last call.

Once the beer is reserved, you’re given a time slot to pick up the beer. Even if you get through on the first day, a lot of the slots fill up. The system is clearly designed to accommodate locals and not a more broad audience like the beer has attained. Getting to the abbey is also not the easiest thing. For this, I strongly recommend driving. This may be obvious since you’ll be transporting 2-3 cases of beer, but my first visit was via train and taxi/bus. It was a pain and took forever and wouldn’t be easy to get beers back, so I won’t even describe the process. It’s a beautiful country drive whether coming from Lille, France or Brussels or Antwerp. Fitting in some of the picturesque old towns, like Ghent or Brugges is also recommended on the way to or fro. Once you get to the abbey, there’s a circle drive which leads to the building where you can pickup the beer. You give your registration number or your name and phone number and they’ll check their list, give you the beer, and take you inside to pay.

So now you have the beer. The last question is what’s the cheapest, safest, easiest way to get it home? After trying several transport strategies including a suitcase with a specially created foam insert, I’ve settled on Brouwerij Bosteels plastic crates. These will either have Tripel Karmeliet or Kwak labels on them. If you pick them up from a distributor, they’ll run you €2.10, but I’ve also gotten them for free at a supermarket. Other crates will also work, but be sure they’ll fit all the bottles before you risk it. Every neighborhood in Belgium has a day when used cardboard boxes will litter the streets (it’s called garbage day); I like to grab a healthy looking box, buy a box cutter and some tape, and make a top for each of the crates. This approach will also allow you to save some money on the Westvleteren wooden crates which would be entirely useless for safe shipping. These run €9.60, which ends up being more than 20% of the overall cost if you don’t return them.

Flying the beers back can also be an adventure. Give yourself plenty of time to check the beers in. Depending on what airline rep you get, they are fairly likely to have no idea what to do with you, even when you talk them through it because you have much more experience with it than they. They may even be adamant that you can’t fly with the beer. Stick to your guns and wait them out, insisting that they go through the proper channels to find the proper protocols. Now, clearing customs can also be interesting. I always declare the beer and the true value, and that’s never the problem. From experience, I will be taping the whole crate (or at least the holes and labels, so at US customs they won’t wonder about the liquids or amount of beer. Using the uncloaked crates has gotten me two stops at border control and one bottle stolen by a airline baggage person.

So, that’s what I do. It’s not too much of a hassle and if you’ve got the time and will be in or around Belgium anyway, I’d say it’s 100% worth it to pick up some Westvleteren 12 or Westvleteren 8.

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Brussels – Brasserie Cantillon

Posted by jwpiper on February 10, 2009

Based on what I’d heard about the place and how much I love their beer, Cantillon was a must stop while I was in Brussels. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit it into my day, but I was committed to at least peek my head in.

The brewery is just outside a shopping district in Brussels where every street was double parked on both sides. Needless to say, I spent a good bit of time to even find an illegal parking spot within a couple of blocks of the brewery. Finally, I approached the building which gave no indication that it was open, but a push on the door revealed a strange old industrial building.

From how the brewers spoke with me, it was clear that they’re used to relative newbies. They kept referring to “real” and “traditional” lambic trying to feel out my familiarity with their style. It took some insistence before they were made to understand that not only do I enjoy their style of beer, I love their beer!

The sister of one of the brewers started my on my self-guided tour through the brewing process. As I’d been told, this brewery tour isn’t quite like every other tour I’ve been on. But more than that – being there was a unique experience for me. I felt like a guest in their home – like they had opened up a deeply personal part of their lives to me. And indeed, with the reverent way they speak of the beer and the brewing process, brewing is exactly that for each of them.

They spoke of leaving the beer to its natural course and not modifying or manipulating the process in any way. It reminded me of how the first “brewers” thought of beer: as a gift from God. Indeed, it’s been theorized that manna was an beer-porridge. For millennia didn’t know what turned sugars to alcohol – they were just thankful for it. Not too different than my experience that day.

After the unique tour, I was treated to several small samples of their standard beers, including the gueuze and kriek. The other couple that wandered the brewery more or less alongside me were stopped there. However, I was also treated with a sample of a rhubarb lambic which they had “brewed on a whim” – it was so clean and a natural combination. They were out of the faro which is also usually part of the sample list, but when I asked if they had any young lambic, she wandered off and came back with a pitcher of it. It was so delicious, I had to buy a full glass. I finished out my day with a bottle of the St. Lamvinus. This seems to be a very well respected beer which I’d never yet tried partly due to the prices in the US, which can exceed $40 a bottle.

I had committed on this trip to spend more time with the lambics. I would love to have a closer look at Drie Fonteinen or Frank Boon’s operation, but my trip to Cantillon was one of best beer experiences I’ve had. Indeed, the young lambic was one of the best beers I’ve ever had. The respect the Van Roy’s have for beer demands equal respect from any visitor.





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Brussels – Rugbyman Two

Posted by jwpiper on February 9, 2009

Having been tipped off by a colleague that the best place for seafood in Brussels is near St. Catherine’s church and having also gotten the heads up from the folks I met at Kulminator, I had to check it out. So it was my first stop on my way down from Antwerp.

I had been told that one side of the road is a more refined experience (and thus pricier) than the other, so my natural inclination was to find the cheaper side and eat there. As I was looking at the menus, I happened upon my new friends, so I decided to pop into the same restaurant. Plus, the place where they were had goose livers on the menu: an Belgian speciality I’ve been searching for. Alas, after sitting down, I learned they were out.

I pieced together a simple meal from the menu. I started with Le cappuccino de bisque de homard a l’Armagnac, or lobster bisque with brandy, which was bright with a bit of spice and some nice lobster chunks. The lobster itself wasn’t terribly impressive as compared with the Maine lobsters with which I have the most familiarity. Served alongside the bisque were several chunks of perfect french bread.

My second course was Le tartare de saumon et thon rouge, ciboulette et concombre, or salmon and tuna tartare. This was the highlight of the meal: its simplicity highlighted the freshness of the fish and the bright onions and refreshing cucumbers were an excellent accompaniment.

I finished with La surprise normande flambée au calvadose, an apple pie flambé in a Calvadose syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream, which was rather rich and sweet.

In all, it was a very good meal, but given the amount of food I consumed, probably not worth the cost. I don’t know that the prices across the street were as substantially different as was described to me, but they were definitely better. Again, I’d also personally steer away from the Belgian lobster. It was good, but not as good as its much cheaper counterpart on the northern Atlantic coast of the US.

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Antwerp – Bolleke De Koninck

Posted by jwpiper on February 8, 2009

Well, before leaving Antwerp for Brussels, I had to give their legendary local beer a crack. And what better way to do so than in a local neighborhood pub? Based on what I’ve heard about Antwerp and De Koninck, I figured I could get it in just about any bar, so I ducked into one for lunch. I decided not to get to fancy and to order “De Koninck and Croque Monsignoir”. Well the ham and cheese sandwich was delivered without incident, but to go along was a tonic water. Glancing around proved that this bar didn’t serve De Koninck at all.

So I decided to drive the streets until I found a place with a De Koninck sign. Boy was I in for a surprise. The bar I found had three people there who were evidently celebrating one of their birthdays by drinking an absolutely excessive amount of good Belgian beer straight from the bottle. Ever had a Duvel out of the bottle? That’s one carbonated beverage. This time, I ordered “bolleke of De Koninck”. After berating me for my poor Flemish and teaching me the proper pronunciations and phrasing, I was presented the object of my search – a bolleke. De Koninck proved to be a very drinkable beer – nothing too special, but an easy daily drinker. Several stories in broken English, overly friendly hugging with strangers, and €1.60 later, I was all too ready to move on with an experience I won’t soon forget.

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Antwerp – Afspanning ‘t Waagstuk

Posted by jwpiper on February 8, 2009

As an interlude between visits to Kulminator, we grabbed a bite at Afspanning ‘t Waagstuk. Given that the place is better known as a bar with food, I took the opportunity to try a classic Belgian dish: stoemp. Actually, while the decision was somewhat motivated by my recent experience in Amsterdam with the Dutch version of this dish, I was also influenced by the fact that there wasn’t much more compelling on the menu.

If ever there was peasant food – this is it. Basically, it’s mashed potatoes with spices. In Holland, even with it all gussied up, it really wasn’t anything too special. Indeed, it screamed peasant food with dressing. But here, at ‘t Waagstuk, we had a simple rendition. It looked like a hefty pile of mashed potatoes with some green vegetable topped with a nice thick piece of bacon. Well, that’s exactly what it was. Except the potatoes were nicely spiced (there was nutmeg among other things) and the bacon was deliciously smoked.

I enjoyed a bottle of Cantillon Gueuze 100% Bio Lambic alongside it, which was nice to cut the heaviness of the dish.

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Antwerp – Kulminator

Posted by jwpiper on February 7, 2009

Given its reputation as one of the best places to have a beer in the world, I had to give Kulminator in Antwerp a visit while I was in Belgium. Stepping in, the bar appears tiny. There were probably 5 tables with about 5 seats each and another 5 stools at the bar. It was fairly empty when I arrived in the middle of the evening, so I grabbed a seat at an empty table and tried to scrounge up an aged bottle menu.

After one of the friendly proprietors dropped it off, it took me a while to figure out what to order. There were a ton of interesting beers of many vintages, and mostly at pretty reasonable prices. In the middle of the bar is a large book of beers which declare that in 2004 or thereabouts they had some 4500 beers or somesuch. I doubt the list is up to date, but clearly they’ve got a ton more beers than on their normal menu. A visit to the bathroom proves that probably half of the space in this bar is taken up by the beer itself. The properietor even pulled down a Three Floyds Darklord and a Sam Adams Trippelbock just to show he had them. It actually begs the question whether Delerium Cafe’s Guinness Book of World Records title is appropriate. Seems Kulminator is your best chance at finding just about any Belgian beer just about anywhere in Belgium. My personal favorites which are tough to come by even in Belgium include Westvleteren 12 (didn’t notice if they had the Blond or 8 as well) and several Struise offerings.

I met some folks who I ended up spending the rest of the evening with, and met back up the next day in Brussels. We enjoyed some delicious beers at Kulminator – some aged, some fresh. And I’ll be trying to work in visits to Kulminator on any future Belgium trips.

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Brussels – In ‘t Spinnekopke

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

Many of my best and most memorable meals in Brussels have been courtesy of a tiny French-speaking restaurant on the south-west side of city center.

The attitude is completely as you would expect out of a restaurant near Paris. The food is completely Belgian. And therin lies the charm. I don’t care you could smack me and spit in my face… if you feed me food like that, you’re alright by me. It’s just a bonus that they do none of the above (except purvey incomparable food) and equally fortunate that they’ve begun to recognize me, the self-proclaimed king of self-branding.

I start with an apéritif of Drie Fontenien Oude Kriek. For my meal, I order the same thing Andy did on his first visit: Coq Spinnekopke. It’s roasted leg and thigh of hen in a beer, cream mushroom sauce paired of course with pommes frites. Should I attempt this at home, as I very well may, I would try to crisp the skin on the hen before adding it to the gravy. That was just about my only suggestion for improving on the succulent, rich dish. I paired it with a Rochefort 10.

So worthy an apéritif sticks in your mind even after the meal, so when I saw sorbet a la kriek on the dessert list, I had to see what that was all about. First taste: “holy crap!”. This is perfect. Sour, a bit sweet with chunks of sour cherries, and more cherry pit flavor even than the beer. Perfect, I say.

In ‘t Spinnekopke you’ve bested yourself yet again. I will be back and not soon enough for me.

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Amsterdam – ‘t Arendsnest Nederlands Biercafe

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

My wanderings on my first night back in Europe bring me to yet another clearly neighborhood brown cafe, ‘t Arendsnest Nederlands Biercafe. Sitting at the bar and looking at the taps and bottle list give a quite different impression than the last one, however. I look and look for a familiar name or label, but other than a couple Dutch macros and La Trappe, there’s nothing familiar. Wow, here’s a biercafe with a truly local beer list. Nothing from outside Holland’s borders. And thus, it gets much more respect than In de Wildeman. There seemed to be enough interesting offerings on the list to keep me sampling for some time.

I ask the bartender for something high gravity. He perks up, after some back and forth about what exactly that means (obviously not a clear translation) and offers me a Russian Imperial Stout. Funny – it was this label on the tap handle which had captured my eye: Brouwerij de Molen Rasputin.

Any future Amsterdam trip will surely find me here. It’s proximity to Central Station only make it more of a lock.

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Amsterdam – De Roode Leeuw

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

On the recomendation of the bartender at In de Wildeman Bier Proeflokaal, I walked to Restaurant de Roode Leeuw for dinner. I was looking for a typical Dutch dining experience.

Perhaps it’s the dark wood or the red velvet seats, but from the outside, this looks like a fancy establishment. When gestured to seat yourself and approaching the table with the paper placemat and thick paper napkins, a different impression is given.

I order the Stomppotten, a traditional Dutch stew over mashed potatoes and vegetables and an Amstel. The Amstel is much better than the light version available in the US, but still quite bad. The Stamppotten is clearly a modern interpretation of the traditional dish. The stewing beef had been removed from the stew for finishing, the bacon was grilled dry, and smoked sausage all served over two different mashed potato stacks: one with carrots an brocoli and the other with cut cooked spinach(?). The waiter sparingly poured the stewing gravy over top. It was then that I decided Dutch food, while eu sunstabtially better than German is still too much thus influenced. Big and fatty and still a little bland except the sausages. The meal wasn’t bad… But if you’re going to modernize a classic, crisp the bacon, caramelize the sausage, and give me some texture on the stewing beef by grilling it after removing from the stew.

I won’t be seeking Dutch food anytime soon. Not terrible, but not good. As my colleague Bart says, Dutch food is peasant food. There isn’t a string culinary tradition. I will say, though, based on my experience in a hospital cafeteria, they can bake bread. The kind with the perfectly crackly crust and light, clean center… the kind no one in the US seems capable of baking to save their lives.

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Tripel Karmeliet (Session 24)

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009


I’m working at a substantial disadvantage here on this my first contribution to the Session. First, I’ve no one to share my tripel with. Ridiculous, you say, and you’re probably right, but the fact remains that my tripel was not shared. I am eager to begin participating in this beer blogging community, so I say psh to the rules. Instead my post will be: Two Tripels on Two Nights in Two Countries Enjoyed by One.

I find myself in this seemingly lonely predicament because I’m on a business trip in Holland and Belgium. Ok, I guess that’s where the “disadvantage” becomes a distinct advantage. Belgium is my hands-down favorite place to travel alone. And while it’s a very sharing culture, circumstances have caused me to drink these beers alone.

So, I turn my attention to the first in my pair of beers: Tripel Karmeliet. My first experience with this beer was at Jan’s house in Belgium. And my thoughts towards tripels have never quite been the same. It’s complex fruity, yeasty, biscuity flavors are what make it so special. Unfortunately, bottles and taps in the US have ranged from bad to decent, but never as good as every bottle I’ve had in or around Belgium which have been spot on delicious. This time, it’s served at 45 degrees at Wildeman Bier Bar in Amsterdam.

Appearance
4
Pours a clear golden color with a nice thick white head and plenty of bubbling.
Smell
3.5
A little bit of sourness – sour apples. Some warm, yeasty, earthy notes, but the sour apples dominate. It’s not acidic, and a little sweet.
Taste
4.5
This is where this beer shines and what separates what I get in the states (even in its best form) from what this beer is in Belgium (er, Amsterdam). Quite sweet with hints of the apples from the aroma, but there’s a lot more complexity. The sweet honey and bready flavors dominate with the sour applies playing third chair.
Mouthfeel
4
Rather carbonated – perhaps a bit too much. It does serve to make the beer a little less serious.
Drinkability
4.5
The alcohol is well hidden and the flavor is delicious. It’s touch not to order.
Overall
4.15
A wonderful beer – certainly one of my favorite tripels, if not my favorite. It’s a shame it doesn’t travel well, the examples I’ve had in the US vary greatly. And nothing is quite like it is fresh in Belgium or surrounds. The one thing I’d change would be to dial back the sweetness just a bit.
Price
€3-3.50/33cl. The normal Belgium price for this in a bar. I’d say it’s worth it, or buy it in a store for closer to €1. It is usually about $9/750ml in my area in Ohio. Get a good example and it’s worth it, a bad example and definitely not.

My second tripel is Westmalle Tripel with 5 years behind it poured at Delerium Cafe in Brussels. My first encounter with this beer I had a substantial case of palate fatigue, but this beer still stood out. Enough to make it something of a ritual whenever I’m in Brussels. Each subsequent time it has been more of a treat. This time there were delicious port aromas and flavors, plenty of estery fruit flavors, balancing bitterness, but also some oxidation. Although this would likely rate in the high 3’s, I won’t rate the beer here since it’s the only one in 6 or so bottles I’ve had with this problem. Actually, it was something of an anti-climactic finish to the 2 on 2 in 2 by 1 session.

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Amsterdam – In de Wildeman

Posted by jwpiper on February 5, 2009

After a ridiculous delay travelling to Europe and a rerouting to Amsterdam through Manchester rather than flying to Brussels and driving, I finally arrived in Amsterdam. I’ve never known Holland for it’s food, and never loved it’s beer, but hey it’s me… I’ve got to try both out.

I start by heading to In de Wildeman Bier Proeflokaal. I’m not sure if this would classify as a brown cafe, but it seems it should with the old wood interior, simple menu, and neighborhood feel. Most everyone there clearly frequents the bar quite often, and each is greeted with a familiarity by both the bartender and each of the other patrons. Seems I’m the only one left out, but a mix of friendly smiles, mumbled Dutch, and general indefference serves to keep me at ease and feeling generally welcome.

The majority of the Dutch beer on the menu is either uncompelling or unfamiliar, and after my travels, I’m not willing to lay it all out there quite yet. So, I go with a Belgian favorite, Tripel Karmeliet. Yes, exacly as I remembered it.

To go with the back half of the Karmeliet, I order a plate of Old Spekled Hen Cheddar cheese, thyme crackers, and apple chutney. Wow, a better pairing than I anticipated… The spiced chutney actually worked quite well with the sweet beer.

To finish, I ordered La Trappe Quadruple. In the states it’s always incredibly metalic and I’ve yet to enjoy it. Well, I had to give it a try in it’s homeland, and was again pleasantly surprised. Surely not as good as the other quads I’ve had (Westvleteren, Rochefort, Chimay, Struise). But very good nonetheless and a bit of a bargain in Holland where Belgians are a good euro or two more than they’d be across the border.

In all, a good experience. I’d likely consider making it my regualar bar if I lived locally. As a tourist, I was a but unimpressed. The selection was good, especially for a Dutch bar, but not as good as next door in Belgium and more expensive.

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Cleveland Airport – safety second

Posted by jwpiper on January 29, 2009

There are lots of benefits to living in Cleveland. One minor example which only surfaces periodically for a few months a year is that air traffic control will land and take off plans in any weather. It’s nice to have a minor hub for a major airline in town, making travel easy, but the periodic snow dumps we get could be a real pain if Cleveland were a more major hub. As it is, we fit just the right profile to be important enough to fly in crazy weather and unimportant enough to make that possible.

I don’t even know how many inches of snow we got over the 24 hours previous to my landing, but visibility was about a mile and the runway was a complete mess. To put the weather in perspective, after landing, it took me 3 times as long to drive home as it usually would. In truth, they did close the airport just before we landed and again just after we landed. But at most cities, either our flight would have been cancelled in the first place or we would have been rerouted to another city. But not Cleveland. The picture above is outside my window of the snowplows only a hundred or so yards away from the plane on one of the runways.

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Boston – Ten Tables

Posted by jwpiper on January 29, 2009

Whenever I need to be in Boston on a Tuesday night, Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain is the first place I call. I think I first found out about it more or less simultaneously through Zagat and a friend who lives in Jamaica Plain. Generally, I’m relegated to 9:30 or 10pm seatings, as the restaurant has a strong local following and is limited to 10 tables. It is truly a neighborhood restaurant while simultaneously offering some of the best fine dining in Boston – and certainly at the best prices. The Tuesday 4-course wine pairing menu is a paltry $42.

The chef, David Punch, specializes in good, clean food made with local ingredients. Some of the plates are familiar and homey and others are combinations which wouldn’t necessarily have crossed my mind. All are well considered and executed – I’ve yet to have a course which didn’t impress. Stan Hilbert is a refreshing sommelier – passionate, real, and unhaughty. His pairings are always equally well considered, and the two along with the rest of the team create a unique experience which I look forward to on my currently frequent trips to Boston.

This Tuesday started with moules mariniéres, mussels in a crème fraîche with taragon, shallots, parsley, and wine, paired with a 2006 Muscadet Sevre et Maine Domaine de la Batardiere. The mussels were huge and succulent and the wine bright and minerally. The second course was a garbanzo bean and chorizo ragout paired with 2005 Ad Libitum, Domaine la Grange Tiphaine. The stew was fresh with a rich earthiness and spice lended by the spanish chorizo and begs me to attempt it at home. The third course was an herb roasted all natural culotte steak, escarole potato cake, and fourme d’amber butter paired with 2003 Saumur, “les Vigneaux”, Chateau la Tour Grise. The pair was perfect, and the wine gives an extreme IPA a run for its money alongisde a blue cheese. I’ll be seeking it out in the near future. The final course was a cheese, Ste. Maure de Touraine, paired with a 2003 Vouvray Moelleux, Domaine Lemaire Fournier which was a nice clean way to end the evening.

Between this location in Jamaica Plain and the new restaurant to be opened in Cambridge in a matter of weeks, I think David is building a reputation for excellent food. And atmosphere they’ve created results in a memorable dining experience. If I were local, it would be tempting to make it a weekly ritual.

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Boston – Green Dragon Tavern

Posted by jwpiper on January 27, 2009

Most of my trips (even before I realized it) to Boston include a visit to the Green Dragon Tavern. Its proximity to The Union Oyster House and North End paired with cheap lobster make it a must visit. The beer isn’t much to speak of, but usually, there are specials for 1.25lb lobster for $13/14 or if not lobster rolls for $13. I usually opt for the steamed lobster, but today I had to keep my fancy clothes on, so I went for the less-likely-to-make-a-mess lobster roll. Lots of prime lobster meat just barely held together by mayonnaise with just enough celery for crunch in the nook of a tosted roll. Pretty delicious.

The space is cozy, the service fast and curt. With the money you save, get some pricey oysters next door at the Union Oyster House or finish your meal with a half mile walk to Mike’s Pastries in North End for some delicious cannoli and coffee.

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India – Summary

Posted by jwpiper on January 25, 2009

I left for India cocky and proud. The food there taught me a lesson in humility. It is fitting that my last post was after eating at Nazim’s, because this was the meal which started it all. For days I insisted on my normal response to a solitary meal which tweaks the old digestive system – keep on eating as soon as possible as if nothing happened. Turns out this isn’t the best course of action when you have a serious bacterial infection in a foreign country without clean water or facilities. Lesson learned. Well, kinda. Turns out it was something of a good idea to keep eating since my trip was cut short, but that’s a different story.

Keeping on the topic of food, my final days in India were much more of a roler coaster gastronomically speaking. A return trip to Karim solidified it as the best food of the trip. On another day, after eating the worst meal of the entire trip, the Bengali Sweet House (click here to see it on a map) provided a tasty redemption. There I sampled a cardamom nut ice cream served with sweet noodles, good gulab jamon, and the tasty carrot dessert with crushed cashews. Other restaurant experiences in Delhi varied from terrible to decent. At the worst, gravies left out warm all day below a boil at what turned out to be a cockroach infested restaurant (Kake da Hotel) couldn’t have possibly helped my stomach. And the pizza I had at an Indo-Italian (aka, bad Italian) restaurant certainly wasn’t the best way to end my trip to Delhi, but that’s a different story.

The hotel in Chennai, however, provided some good recovery food with fresh yogurt and fruit (something which didn’t often present itself in Delhi) – including pommegranate seeds, apples, pears, passion fruit, pineapple, figs, papaya, etc. Of course, eating a kilogram of fresh fruit caused some discomfort for the rest of the day before my return trip to the US.

Aside from the food, the biggest differences I noted upon landing in Chennai were the blue skies and slightly more orderly traffic. Delhi had some beautiful days while we were there – but never did you see the blue sky or bright sun. Everything was filtered through the thickest brown fog – much worse than anything I’ve seen in LA and purportedly worse even than the largest cities in China. The food was also certainly different, but my exposure was limited because the trip was shortened and my stomach demanded a respite from the deluge I had thrown at it for more than a week.

In all, this will be a memorable trip. I won’t soon forget the auto-rickshaw (or “auto”) rides which started with me getting punched by a beggar and almost ended in a wreck or fight in the street. I won’t soon forget that its possible to fit five people onto a small motorcycle. I won’t soon forget that large Indian travelers don’t have the same arm-rest etiquette as large American travelers do, nor that seat 22F on the Boeing 777-200ER does not allow you to stretch your legs during the 14.5 hour flight from Delhi to Newark. And I won’t soon forget that any travel case devoid of a powerful anti-biotic is one which shouldn’t touch down in India.

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Delhi – Nizam’s Kathi Kabab

Posted by jwpiper on January 15, 2009

Kanak, always looking out for my gastronomic needs, wanted me to sample typical West Bangali food, so we sought out Nizam’s which was promised to serve food typical of the Kolkata (Calcutta) streets. After a short (Delhi standards) drive into downtown Delhi, we arrived to a large commercial area. Some meandering through streets brought us to the restaurant.

Since the restaurant wouldn’t serve alcohol, we went to an upstairs lounge across the street, Knight World Cuisine Lounge, where I was committed to again have the typical Indian experience. So we took an Antiquity Blue, domestic whiskey, on the rocks. In South India, I’m told this is pronounced “Auntie-Kwe-Tee”. I found it to be just terrible, so after polishing that off, we moved on to a domestic rum, Old Monk. I’m told there is no drink more typically Indian. For a cheap rum, it actually wasn’t too bad. The backdrop of paid karaoke singers completed the modern Indian experience quite nicely. Listening to American music sung above the recorded synthesized background music was a treat in itself.

For dinner we ordered double chicken double egg rolls and mutton biryani. The rolls were chicken kebab with fried eggs, pickled red onions, and fresh chilies all rolled up in a flakey butter naan: an oily, rich delight. The biryani was served alongside curd (this stuff was like a cross between yogurt and cottage cheese), and a chicken gravy (or curry, as its called in the rest of the world). With the curd and gravy mixed in, this was easily the best biryani I have ever had. Kanak rates it a 5/10. Huh? I guess I’ll see later. The highlight of the biryani was the generous spicing with whole cardamom pods and cloves which lended an exotic flavor to the whole bowl, but also resulted in the periodic explosion of flavor in the mouth.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should mention that this food has given me a terrible case of the runs the next morning. Completely and utterly worth it.

See Nizam’s Kathi Kabab on a map.

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Delhi – The Great Kabab Factory

Posted by jwpiper on January 14, 2009

We tried another kebab restaurant on a recommendation. Only 2.5 km away, it took the obligatory 20-30 minutes to reach. It turned out to be an all-you-can eat type of restaurant, similar to the Brazilian churrasco restaurants which can commonly be found in the States. We went the 100% meat route for the kebabs, and were treated to a variety of preparations.

The salad course, consisting of cucumbers, papaya, and tomatoes with a strawberry dressing was fresh, bright, and quite good. The produce is very good at the restaurants we’ve been frequenting, with the exception of the lettuce which no one eats for fear of parasites which attack the brain. Huh? The interesting drink for the night was a buttermilk with chopped mint leaves. Buttermilk has never been my favorite, but this wasn’t offensive. I ended up drinking a couple of sweet lime sodas instead. The search for Kingfisher Strong continues.

Following was the deluge of kebabs, starting with a Kaloti kebab. It seemed to be a puréed lamb pâté which was pan-seared to a crispy exterior. The texture was sublime and the flavor spiced, rich, and enticing. In addition to this came tandoori chicken, a mint chutney rubbed chicken preparation, chicken tikka, tandoori mutton chops, a fish meatball preparation, and likely several more that I’m forgetting. Alongside were severed several dosas and parathas. To supplement, we ordered tandoori prawns which were incredibly succulent and tasty in their crispy spice rub.

I could have continued in this vein for the whole night, but the next course was a dahl and biryani course. Kanak ordered a paper thin paratha for me, which ended up being a good way to not eat too much bread with the ridiculous amounts of food I was consuming. There were two dahls served – a brown lentil dahl and an orange-lentil dahl. The orange lentil dahl had flavors quite reminiscent of the yellow lentil Ethiopian dish I love so much, Kik Alicha. The brown dahl actually wasn’t as wonderfully earthy as my first experience at the Indian Pub, but was still pretty good. The biryani wasn’t exceptional, but the paneer dish was welcome.

To finish, there were four dessert choices, and I decided to sample them all. First I tried a shaved carrot dish which turned out to be the gem and the only one I greatly enjoyed. They shave the carrots and cook with sugar for hours and hours, making a pleasantly sweet and subtle dessert. Then I tried their firnee which was not nearly as satisfying as Karim’s and a pistachio custard which I was excited upon seeing, but ended up lacking complexity or much flavor. Finally, the gulab jamon was simple and not terribly compelling.

If a return were ever to be in my future, I would gorge myself on the kebabs and leave all the other stuff behind. The restaurant was good, but not great, especially on the heels of my visit to Karim’s, and it seemed substantially more expensive.

See The Great Kabab Factory on a map.

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Delhi – Karim

Posted by jwpiper on January 13, 2009

It started as an innocent drive at 20:30 filled with the now usual though comical and scary adventures of driving in Delhi traffic. A few new observations: 1) Green arrow means yield; red light means go. No, I’m not kidding or exaggerating, that is quite literally the rule – at least at this particular intersection. 2) It is perfectly normal for a passenger to get out of a vehicle and cross traffic to walk off the road. First I saw this on city roads – ok, whatever – but then on the highway. 3) If you miss your turn and there isn’t oncoming traffic immediately apparent, it is recommended to drive the wrong way on a road in hope of finding a place you can flip a u-turn. As soon as a wall of oncoming traffic comes racing toward you from around the corner you were blinded to, calmly stop, lay on your horn, open your door, yell to the car(s) who followed you to back up, and backup to make enough room so the angry drivers, presumably in the right of way, can move around you slightly for you to maneuver through the cars to continue on your wrong way. And finally, 4) if you get to your destination unscathed, it was a successful journey – there are no points for finesse.

We exited the car and began walking, guided by our companion who I found out later hadn’t been to this restaurant since 1983. We meandered through the narrow walkways immediately greeted with the smell of stale urine, the sound of beggars and street vendors, and the sight of litter. Soon the smells mixed with varyingly pleasant aromas of street food, though today wouldn’t see me consume the risky morsels.

Finally, we were under the large yellow sign announcing this landmark restaurant, Karim, which has been serving classic Delhi food since 1913. The best restaurant in the worst neighborhood. The decor could be described as classic Hindi movie or straight from an early James Bond scene representing middle eastern establishments. Whatever the surrounds, this restaurant can’t have a more cult following – clearly not a tourist trap, just the best no frills food available in Delhi.

The meal delivered on the promise. We started with minced lamb kebabs, tandoori chicken, and a whole tandoori fish – all brilliantly executed, crispy and succulent with bright and savory flavors. Following was chicken briyani, raan (mutton) in a rich gravy, and pillowy roti. To finish, we each polished off classically subtle firnee presented in an earthen vessel which served to remove some of the moisture from the pudding, giving it an pleasant gelatinous texture.

This was easily the best North Indian meal I can remember ever having and rivaled some of the homemade South Indian meals I savored in my childhood – but with delicious meat. Indeed, the memories flooded back as I finally felt truly comfortable eating Indian cuisine with my hands for the first time since those days. It conjured a warm, homey feeling which undoubtedly contributed to my enjoyment of this meal I won’t soon forget.

See Karim Restaurant on a map.

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Choices, choices

Posted by jwpiper on January 13, 2009

What kind of crazy life do I live that I’m sitting here in Delhi, torn between two ridiculous beer trips. On one hand, after hearing news of the Kate the Great release, I was strongly considering a short beer vacation and visiting Ebenezer’s Pub and Portsmouth Brewing. On the other hand, I was just told I may need to go to Belgium for work that weekend. I’d love to do both, but come on – even having this internal conversation is completely unreal – especially just hours before what promises to be an excellent dinner in India.

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