Monday, June 30, 2008
After my lovely cigar on the Solarium, I decided that it was time for some grub. I had spent the entire day running around the city and just wasn't up for another excursion - especially when there's a restaurant down the street that makes great meals.
Actually, I thought for a few moments about trying the Korean BBQ joint across the street but then realized what tomfoolery that would have been. When in France, eat French.
Since I had been to Chez Pierrot before, I knew what to expect: wonderfully home style cooked food without pretense. I arrived around 10pm and was the only person in the house. It wasn't necessarily an off night since half the tables were full about an hour ago when I passed by while walking around the neighborhood.
Mushroom Soup amuse bouche
My last dinner in Paris and the pressure was on to choose the right items for a most memorable meal. The last time I was here the Blanquette du Veau and onion soup were most so delicious. As the lady came I asked her for a recommendation. Straight away she recommended the duck confit but for some reason, I asked for a second recommendation. The second recommendation was the filet of beef. I stalled again which led her to believe that I didn't want the duck.
The truth is, I wasn't sure what I wanted. I just wanted to make the right choice. But after non-stop meals of steak, perhaps the filet would be overkill.
Soupe a l'oignon gratinee et ses croutons. 9.70€
Things started out with an amuse bouche of mushroom soup. Light, flavorful, delicate and a nice way to start off the meal.
The onion soup arrived next and was blazing hot. The biggest problem with onion soup is the temperature. It needs to be served blazing hot but then you have to wait awhile or risk burning the roof of your mouth. I choose to risk the burns - and lost.
The soup was good. Carmelized onions, red wine, baguettes and cheese. It was good but different than the last time. In February, Chez Pierrot made the best onion soup I had ever tasted, with just the perfect amount of cheese. It was robust in flavor and delicious. This time is was good, just not as good as the last time.
Tres tendre filet de boeuf et son foie gras sur toast, accompagne de pommes sautees et haricots verts.24.90€
Finally, the main course arrived: the filet of beef. It was beautifully done. Cooked au point, it could have used a little more salt but it looked wonderful - and the slice of foie gras on toasted baguette: sexy. Potatoes were expertly done and the beans still had a nice snap to them. The plate was executed beautifully.
My problem was that I was indeed suffering from beef overload.
Meal after meal of beef, and this last one was just too much. I was craving variety. Yet I gave my body more of the same. I should have ordered the duck.
In the end, the meal was good. Perhaps not as revelatory as my last visit, but still very solid and delicious cooking. I just made the wrong choices for my palate that night. Reviewing the menu later, there's a couple of items I wish I could have tried, like: Beef Bourguignon or the Mixed Grill, or the Fricasee de St. Jacques - that would have been nice.
Oh well, c'est la vie. Until next time!
9 rue Amelie
01 45 51 50 08
During my last (and first) visit to Paris in February, I was unable to eat a proper Steak Frites. Sure, I went to Le Recrutement (terrible) and Brasserie d'Ile Saint Louis (not bad) but neither were truly memorable in a positive way, leaving me wanting for the definitive Steak Frites Experience.
Since I'm handicapped on my knowledge of Paris, I turned to more knowledgeable resources, namely Mark Bittman's article in the New York Times naming the Top Five Steak Frites in the city, for guidance. After researching the locations, I chose the one most readily accessible.
Across from the Palais d'Congress and up the stairs from the Porte Maillot Metro station is Le Relais de Venise. The weather was cool but sunny enough to enjoy an outdoor table.
First things first, where's the bathroom? Inside and up a very narrow staircase to the second level dining room and into the back across from the staff locker room are the two customer rest rooms. Typical European with individual stall/rooms.
Romaine Salad with chopped walnuts and horseradish vinaigrette.
Returning from my sojourn, I sat at my table and was queried as to my beverage preference. A red wine would be nice and off my waitress went to do something or other. A menu perhaps? Truth be told, I would never see a menu that day.
Evidently, menus are not necessary here as the choice is simple: steak and frites. Le Menu starting with a simple romaine salad with chopped walnuts and horseradish vinaigrette, along with some water and a bottle of Chateau Le Videau Cotes de Bourg. Perhaps not the Chateau La Tour, but not bad either.
Chateau Le Videau Cotes de Bourg
Not long after my drinking began did the steak arrive. A relatively small serving of perfectly au point meat slices covered in an herb butter sauce and a half plate of fries. The steak was beautifully cooked and had decent flavor and while the fries were freshly made, I found them to be a bit thin and slightly soft - as though it just wasn't cooked long enough to crisp.
To be honest, they were pretty good but my preference for thicker and crisper fries makes it tough on any frites.
Le Steak - Round One
When my steak first arrived, I thought the portion was a bit meager. That changed as I consumed the contents of my plate. When nearly done, I realized that the portion was pretty decent and probably just right with dessert. I wasn't expecting another helping of steak frites.
Making her rounds with silver platter in hand was our waitress. With platter in one hand and tongs in the other, she was ready to stamp out any remnants of hunger that her patrons may harbor. In a flash, a complete second serving of steak and frites appeared on my plate. Voila!
Le Steak - Round Two
If round one left me slightly wanting, round two was too much. However, by this point, I had drank so much wine on an empty stomach that it really didn't matter: I was inebriated. My judgment was hindered. The world was a funny place. I ended up calling The Bob in Hawaii to see what was going on and compare notes on recent females, as well as make plans for my visit to Honolulu next month. Good thing I was sitting because I probably couldn't walk very straight.
By time dessert came, I couldn't remember much about it much less eat any of it. But I think I had a profiterole.
After a few minutes recuperation and paying my bill, I headed back onto the wild streets of Paris with a skip in my step and slight blurriness in my vision.
Le Relais de Venise
271 Bd. Pereire
01 45 74 27 97
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The wood burning fireplace.
Robert et Louise is the reason I'm in Paris.
The steak has been on my mind since February when I made two trips here eating the duck confit and entrecote when I should have eaten the cote du boeuf. Don't get me wrong, they were both great but the true piece de resistance is the cote du boeuf. And this time, I won't miss.
Some of you might be thinking that I'm joking, or just being dramatic when I say that I cam to Paris just for Robert et Louise.
Originally, I had no plan of visiting Paris this trip, but the memory of the beef keep nagging me in the back of my mind to the point where it seemed absurd that I would be in Europe and not made the side trip to Paris. I mean, considering the cost of a separate trip to Paris, a side trip to the City of Lights seemed downright sensible.
And since I hadn't yet visited the Eiffel Tower, now would be my chance.
It's a good thing I checked the Internet for hours of operation because I was originally going to stay in Zagreb until Monday and then fly back to the United States on Tuesday to get home in time to host my annual Fourth of July Party. The problem is: Robert et Louise is closed on Mondays. Merde.
So, if I trim a day off of Croatia and fly to Paris on Sunday afternoon, I could make it to Robert et Louise before their 11pm closing time. It was risky. The timing of flights would have to be perfect. One mistake and the whole Paris trip will have been for nought.
In spite of the God-awful crowds at Zagreb Airport, I just barely made it onto my flight to Frankfurt. The connection to Paris was smooth and by 8pm, I was rushing towards the Gare Est on the B Train from Charles du Gaulle. After checking into my hotel, a quick rinse in the shower and a change of clothes, I was on my way and made it to the restaurant by 10pm. Whew.
Cote du Boeuf for two
The bar area was packed - which meant half the restaurant was jam-packed. Everyone was watching the Euro Cup Finals between Germany and Spain. Luckily, there was a small two top available in the back next to a table of eight. I massaged myself into the chair with a split view of the kitchen, the fireplace and occasional glimpses of the game whenever someone moved their head.
Ordering was simple: I'd been dreaming of the sausage so give me that. No can do, mon cheri. They were out of the sausage, but I should try the boudin noir because it's excellent.
Now, I wasn't too pleased. I really wanted the sausage. I had been dreaming about it. I needed it. And I typically hate boudin noir, or blood sausage. It's too mealy for me. Can't stand it. But these guys were raving about it. Maybe I just have never had real boudin noir.
But it was excellent. Creamy without being mealy with a definite taste of vinegar. Roasted on the fire, it was delicious. Not firm but just right. I really liked it. I didn't want more. But I would order it again.
Salad, sel gris and freshly ground black pepper.
Finally, the beef came and it was huge. And rare. And mean looking. This was beef that was about business. It wasn't fooling around. The large ripples of fat stared menacingly at me, as if taunting me to tear into them.
My only wish for this beef: I wish they used a heavier hand in seasoning. More salt would have worked to pronounce the beef flavor. As such, it was a bit muted resulting in a heaver use of sel gris. But the results aren't the same.
Otherwise, the meat was good. For France.
I hate to say it, but the meat is simply better at home where I can buy incredible quality beef direct from the farmer who raised the cows. American beef is more flavorful than French, but this was still great steak. I'm now just able to discern a difference.
You may be wondering why I decided to order the Cote du Boeuf for two instead of the entrecote for one - am I a glutton or something? Well, maybe.
But seriously, I've had the entrecote. I wanted to see what the Real Deal was all about. There's no way I expected to finish it. In fact, I took the center cut of the ribeye home and tossed it into the fridge for a later meal. Whatever the case, I was done.
I've been learning over the past year that I'm really not a dessert person. Sure, I love a good ice cream, but it's not necessary after a good meal. In fact, I'm starting to prefer skipping the dessert course entirely. Maybe a small order of salty french fries to cleanse the palate, please.
As I was sitting there: digesting, one of the staff came up to me to tell me that they were now closed and would I mind terribly if people started smoking. While I'm against cigarettes personally, I'm even more against draconian laws designed to prohibit adults from making personal choices - smoking being one of them.
Of course, let them smoke. In fact, bring me a cold beer so I can smoke my cigarillos too! I sat there for at least another hour enjoying several Montecristo Havana cigarillos and ice cold Heinekens.
It was a beautiful way to end an evening. Go fuck yourself, California.
I'm back in Paris for a couple of days and decided to stay once again at my home away from home at the Best Western Eiffel Park Hotel. It's part of the Paris Rive Gauche chain and I really liked it last time and the rates were good this time. There's a new French-Algerian girl working the reception desk and I'm even back in the same room again: 206.
It's nice to return to familiar surroundings but I was hoping to try out a different room. This time, it's really like returning to your flat after months away on holiday. Just wish the bedding was more than foam core.
With the severe heat and dips into cold air conditioning, I contracted a cold in Croatia that I'm trying to stay ahead of. I also was bitten by a spider on my inner left thigh. At first I thought it was a simple mosquito bite, but after two days of constant itching and that tell-tale hardening of the skin - not to mention tonights' new twist that makes it stiff to walk, it's got to be a spider bite. Damn spiders.
I'm a bit low on the antibiotic side. If we were still in Copenhagen, I could have borrowed some Avapena from the girls. Since I'm too stubborn to treat it and am determined to "tough it out", I'll probably end up dead in a day or two from poisoning. Well, if one MUST die, might as well be in Paris.
I've come to Paris for one reason: to eat at Robert et Louise again. This time to try the Cote du Boeuf. Originally, I was planning on staying in Zagreb until Monday. Then I found out that Robert et Louise is closed on Mondays, and since I want to be home on July 1st, I needed to come in a day early.
The next problem is that I wanted to bring some baguettes from Stephane Secco home with me. Secco is closed on both Sundays and Mondays. That means I had to get a later flight through Frankfurt instead of the non-stop from Paris - just so I could buy baguettes in the morning.
In the meantime, I've got my goals set up:
1 - Visit Pierre Herme for macaroons
2 - Visit the olive oil shop in Bastile
3 - Visit our friends at Soluna Cafes
4 - Hunt down tasty steak and frites
5 - Find Absinthe
6 - Look at books
7 - Visit Leticia
Okay, perhaps I'm not too serious about Number Seven, but the rest I've got to jam in for tomorrow. Otherwise, I'll work on meeting more girls on this trip. I've already got one number...
Cappu-Sara: a most compelling reason to move to Zagreb.
Happily, the heat has abated here in Zagreb, making much more enjoyable to go out, walk around the city and tour its' sights. It's a pretty city. Small, compact, but quite pretty. Take the funicular to Upper Town and see the city spread out at your feet. Lovely.
Too lovely are the women here. Every few steps, it's "dobra dan" (meaning: "hello" in Croatian). I've said it a lot in this city. Gobin keeps asking me when I'm moving here. I might be crazy, but I'm not that crazy - this isn't Mexico City, afterall...
But it certainly is tempting.
Whatever the desire may be, I still have more Empire Building to do at home in Maryland before I can start setting up worldwide outposts just to sarge women.
My time here is coming to an end. I will be heading to Paris this afternoon and while I am enjoying life on the road, I'm starting to long for the comforts of home. My bed sucks so i really don't miss that. I've got friends wherever I go, so I'm not missing that either. I don't have a steady woman at home either, so I'm not missing anything there. The food has been excellent on the road, so I don't miss that. Gee, maybe I really don't miss anything and am just feigning that longing for home because everyone else feels that longing for home.
Okay, so the real reason I "need" to get home is because I'm running out of money. If that were constant and never-ending perhaps I would never return to the United States.
The main market here is amazing. The produce is beautiful. The meats look stunning. The seafood immaculate. I saw a piece of tuna that just looked stellar. I wanted to buy it. So many ingredients that I wish I could try.
Instead, Eva cooked lunch for us. Croatians are interesting. Unlike America (and perhaps the rest of the world), there's no set time for meals. Lunch easily means three or four o'clock in the afternoon and nothing else the rest of the night. Perhaps this is a better way to eat. Whatever it is, it certainly is a lot to eat. Lunch spreads are not simple salads and light sandwiches, it's full-blown, multi-course meals. Meals so large, they're best capped with an afternoon nap. Perhaps this is how Spaniards live too?
Lunch started with a simple salad of spinach and arugula with a light vinaigrette, sliced fresh tomatoes with basil in olive oil and balsamic, and some roasted scallops on the half shell. Amazing. Next up, a bowl of langoustines stewed in tomatoes and pasta. Delicious. Little, tiny langoustines that you peel off the tail shell and suck the heads. Fantastic. But that's not all, next up was a meat course. Roasted pork wrapped in pancetta in a tomato cream sauce with gnocci.
Dios Mio, this is some serious eating. Hearty meals here seem commonplace. These are American-sized meals and after a week in Copenhagen eating very little for way too much, it's a shock. American-sized they may be but industrially processed they are not. Advantage: Croatia.
So much food I've taken to multiple laps around the town square each evening.
Some of you have been wondering where the images are? While on the road, it's a bit harder to upload images to the blog, as well as keep up with the adventures. I've got more images as well as reports coming after I return to the United States.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I read somewhere that Croatian chefs and restauranteurs are rather exasperated by their peoples' eating habits. Unlike the United States where we eat Three Squares a day - all within specific timeframes, it seems that the average Croatian eats whenever they damn well please. Which means if he's hungry at 2pm then that's when he eats. Damn what the Americans do.
It's like the French. Try eating dinner at a restaurant in Paris before 7pm and you'll know what I mean.
In Croatia, there's breakfast and then lunch just kinda happens somewhere in the middle of the day - and never around noon as it would in the United States.
On a typical day in Zagreb, we would depart Eli's Caffe around 3pm and make our way to the Casa de Orosi where Eva was busy preparing us what I've come to believe is the typical "Croatian Lunch".
And it's not for the feint of heart.
Croatian cuisine is a mish-mash of Balkan, Mediterranean and Italian influences. Seafood, tomatoes, pastas, meats, olives, veggies and cheeses all come together on the Croatian table. If you're like me and enjoy a variety of flavors and textures during your meal, Croatian food is absolutely sublime.
Throughout my stay, we talked of visiting classic Croatian restaurants like Balthazar. But with Eva cooking such wonderful food at home, why bother?
Since I spent my mornings availing myself of the runny yogurt, granola and octopus salad at the complimentary hotel buffet, I don't know what normal Croatians ate for breakfast, but by the 4pm lunch, I was hungry. It seems that Croatians wait this long because they know they're not going to be disappointed.
Our meal started off innocently enough. Some fresh baked baguettes served with premium olive oil, tomatoes in balsamic and basil, some delicious fried white fish and a zesty arugula salad. Vegetables so fresh that you just cannot get enough. More oil on the bread, more tomatoes, more salad.
Then there's the scallops roasted on the half-shell with butter, lemon and parmesan cheese. Immaculate. So divine you've given up propriety to slurp the remaining juices from the shell (thank God they're close friends).
Toss in some salty olives and you're just in heaven. It's beautiful. You're in the middle of the Capital City, it's hot and barely breezy with a bottle of Ozujusko beer in your hand and you couldn't want for more. In fact, you're so lulled into submission that gorging on the rest of the tomatoes is a luxury worth killing for.
But it doesn't stop there. Suddenly, you're jerked from your submission with the arrival of the langoustines. Bathed in a succulent tomato sauce, you can't believe your eyes. There's more. You're already full. You've eaten too much bread, tomatoes and olives with scallop juices. Deep in your heart, you know you shouldn't go on, but you can't say no. The lure of the langoustines are too much for one man to resist.
It's a messy operation as you tear apart the langoustine and suck the juices out of its' head. The zing of the tomatoes paired with the creaminess of the tomalley: Oh God - it's too luscious for words.
The mixture of tomatoes and langoustine juices trail down your forearms and you want to just lick them off with your tongue. It's what Jesus wants you to do. But then you remember that you may be close friends, but that would still seem weird as you reluctantly slow your pace by reaching for the napkin.
Getting the slightly mealy meat out of the shell is tricky business. It's not as easy as shrimp and not as simple as lobster. It's tricky, but in desperation, you make it work.
Moments later, a bowl of freshly boiled fettuccine lands on the table. It's meant to be mixed with the sauce and eaten. The combination of langoustine and pasta is perfection. The only problem is that you're reaching your breaking point. This sustained level of eating frenzy cannot continue unabated without serious repercussions. It's time to slow down, say "thank you for the meal" and be done with it. Sensible minds will prevail!!! - at least until you're handed your next bottle of Ozujusko.
In the world of high-end, fine dining, you become accustomed to a certain pace between courses. Here in Croatia, it's a rapid-fire staccato and suddenly: BOOM! Another course lands in front of you. Your full stomach wants to reel back in horror, begging you to say "no." That is, until your eyes are enflamed with images of succulently roasted pork being served with gnocchi and pancetta - and who wants to say "no" to pancetta?
Smashing. The pork is decadently tender, the sauce delicate with the pancetta adding a delightful saltiness offset by the gnocchi. The meal is too much for this hapless traveler, but it would be wrong to say "no" and not experience this taste of Croatia in all it's glory. After all, this is the food that led a nation to victory.
Later, as we lounge in the parlor, nearly comatose, with music videos from Italy's GAY.tv lulling us into an afternoon nap, I ask Nik if this is the typical Croatian meal. Evidently, it is. For this American, it seems excessive. But when you realize that breakfasts are small and they won't eat a meal later (what we call "dinner"), this kind of meal seems perfectly reasonable.
Afterall, we'll be up and about in an hour and heading out on the town until late. Not a bad way to live in the Capital City.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Nik Orosi - three time Barista Champion of Croatia.
The heat has abated slightly here in Zagreb, but fucking hell this city is ablaze with women.
On my first real day exploring the city, no matter where I go, or what time it is, the women here are absolutely stunning. Especially around Trg Bana Josip Jelacic, which is the main square where most of the city's trams make a stop. Day in, day out, the locals come and go - and with the heat of summer, the girls are out and about in proper hot weather attire. Lovely.
It's times like this that makes me wonder why I ever thought about getting serious with someone.
I seem to go through phases of: "yes, I'm ready to get serious and commit to her at all costs", only to be denied and go back to the chase, then later find myself ready to get serious, turned down and then back to debauchery, and while I can enjoy the kind of debauchery that is senseless and commitment-free, it would be nice for that person to finally accept my proposal and get down with it so I can give up this life of crime and punishment...
Everywhere you turn, it's fucking hell this, bloody hell that, unbelievable this, Iesu Cristo that. Some of them smile, others flirt and yes, some of them ignore me in this funny game of Serial Pursuit.
With sights like this, it's all too easy to miss those "significant architectural achievements" this city is known for. Why pay attention to flying buttresses when there's a whole lotta shakin' going on down low?
It's unfair, really.
After a long stroll through the city, and a zig-zag course through Jelacic Square, I finally make it over to Eli's Caffe where I find Nik and Sara serving a continuous flow of the city's moneyed and connected. The owner of the nations' Ferrari dealership is here having his morning coffee and waiting for his Bentley to arrive and whisk him back to work. The President of Croatia also comes in from time to time, I'm told. Not too shabby for a little, tiny espresso bar. Nik's buddy Gobin, the Indian guy who grew up in Manila and is here to marry a Croatian girl, stops by for a chat and I notice the Manila accented English straight away. It's a slightly sing song-y dialect that's impossible to miss if you've spent any time living in that capital city (or, in my case, having dated one too many of those fabled Alabang Girls).
3pm signals shift change at Eli's and as Ines takes over, Sara goes off to who knows where and Gobin departs with a cryptic "meeting" to attend, we head back to Nik's house where Eva has prepared another lunch of Mediterranean specialty.
This time, it's Macedonian Paprika, or something like that. Basically, it's sweet peppers stuffed with rice, ground pork, spices and a tomato sauce. Hit it up with some Tabasco and it's fantastic. I can't get enough. After a quick nap on the couch, we hit up some crepes with Nutella and then we're off to visit Nik's mom.
Nik's mom somehow broke both of her arms while we were in Copenhagen. She's doing fine and soon we're off to visit another lake and then back to the shop by 7:30pm to close and then another walking tour of the city.
As we're walking and gawking, Nik points out the best pizza in Zagreb so we swing in for a pie. They're using a coal-fired over at 288C, which is a bit cold (I think) but the Cappriciosa pizza is tasty and the crust has great flavor. I think if it were hotter it would be better, but it's pretty darn good. Not as good as Salvatore Cuomo in Tokyo but pretty good still.
At ten o'clock, Jelacic Square is hopping. In fact, this whole downtown area is hopping. People are everywhere: walking, eating, drinking, meeting - and it's only Thursday night. By the trams and near the statue of Josip Jelacic, young people stand around waiting for their friends who are traveling on the trams to hang out. It reminds me of the late 1980s, before pagers and cell phones when my friends and I would agree to meet at a certain place and a certain time to hang out. Watching them hanging out waiting is a fun reminder of old times. That sense of anticipation before heading out into a night of trouble.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
And like The 4th of July in America, everything is closed.
Today, Zagreb seems like a sleepy town. It's calm, quiet and relaxed. It seems like a nice place to live. Nik assures me that by tomorrow the frenetic craziness of life in the capital city will return, and what have been easy commutes across the city will become traffic gridlock best beaten by bicycle, foot or street trolley.
The only problem with today has been the blazing heat. Hot, humid, heavy - it's nearly unbearable, like an average summer day in Baltimore.
We start off by heading down to a city square where the official independence day ceremonies are taking place. There's lots of police, lots of military and lots of pomp and circumstance. After a moment of silence to remember those who gave their lives for Croatia's independence, we listen to the president of Croatia give a speech before heading to the grocery store.
I always find it interesting to visit the markets to see just what people are eating. Life in Zagreb is pretty much like everywhere else. The proximity to Italy means some really nice prosciutto but there's still a lot of packaged foods to go around.
Back at Nik's flat, Eva prepares us what is an "average" sized meal for Croatians. After meager eating in Copenhagen, I'm nearly shocked by the amount. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful. But when you go from eating a bit of yogurt and granola in the morning to a large spread, it's surprising.
First course was a platter filled with fresh cherry tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and basil, with olives, capers, baguettes, prosciutto, smoked cheese and local beer. To be honest, that would have been enough. It was delicious. But that was only the beginning.
Next up was a simple pasta salad with tuna and mozzarella. Tasty. Third course was the meat. The nice thing about Croatians is that they love their meats. No finicky tastes here, just large portions of meat. In this case, a platter of roaster pork loin and potatoes with just a touch of rosemary. For dessert, just a taste of chocolate napoleon wafers for good measure.
After a bit of lounging around the flat for digestion, I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon nap because of the stifling heat and then in the early evening we headed down to check out the action at Lake Juran.
Lake Juran is a state built lake that offers something for everyone. There are areas for windsurfing, sculling, exercising, mini-golf, beachfront, nude sunbathing, running, cycling - you name it, and this lake has probably got it. It's immense and it's complete with nightclubs for the evening hours. And since it's independence day, it was packed to the gills.
The best part of the lake are the women. Sitting there with a cold beer in hand, all the beauty of Croatia lies before you. It's a wonderful thing.
More to come.
In the Mercedes leaving Copenhagen.
My week in Copenhagen is now past. I had a nice time in Denmark. One filled with twists, turns, surprises and friends old and new.
The worst part of the trip was the cost. There's no other way about it, Copenhagen is frakking expensive. More expensive than Paris. More expensive than Tokyo. About on par with Moscow. It's horrifically expensive and I don't look forward towards going back because of the cost. Five dollars for a Coke isn't unusual. Three dollars for a Snickers bar or tube of Pringles is about right. Ten dollars for a beer is the norm. A seven dollar espresso isn't worthy of a raised eyebrow.
Even the rather average meal we had by the canal cost nearly one hundred dollars for three courses. Never mind the cost of a taxi. They say everything in Copenhagen is nearby. Well, for roughly twenty dollars a cab ride from the DGI-Byen Hotel to Cafe Europa - it may be nearby but it certainly isn't "affordable." For twenty bucks, I can get from the Lower East Side to Central Park in New York City, or from downtown Baltimore to my home in the suburbs.
Even a simple hot dog on the street cost in the vicinity of five dollars - and I can't say it was that much better than a Sabrett on the streets of New York.
Another downside of the week (and also because of the cost of hotel rooms) was that our old barista crew from last year were now scattered all over the city. Combine that with larger entourages and the experience gets diluted. Last year, when everyone was staying at the same hotel and only had their coaches with them, the only choice was for everyone to get together and go out as a group.
This year, with both larger entourages and groups of friends, we found ourselves scattered about with Team Africa going one way, Team Mexico going the other, Sanders going off to meetings and myself running off with Sylvia, Adrianna and Ana for most of the week.
But it still was fun, just in a different way. Lots of events and parties to attend. Even the Ambassador from Mexico hosted a number of us at her house with an open bar and lots of finger foods. While I wished she offered us a traditional Mexican menu, the Danish inspired seafood and local produce menu was certainly delicious and I only wish that it wasn't a diplomatic event because I really wanted to chow down hard on the salmon, which necessitated the expensive dinner by the canal before missing the girl in the pretty floral dress at the Kontra party afterwards. Merde.
The just plain weird part of my week came early on while strolling along Istengade and being propositioned by a local hooker. I couldn't help but ask how much (500 Kroner) and kept on trucking after finding out the price. Turning the next corner, I was accosted by two undercover police officers who wanted to know who I was and what I was talking to that girl about. I got nothing to hide, so I told them she propositioned me for sex. They told me then that prostitution was legal in Denmark and that they were trying to get to the pimps. A bit frazzled, I thanked them for letting me go and went on my way with my bag of groceries.
It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that maybe they thought I was the pimp.
Imagine: me, a pimp. Well, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing...
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In spite of the terrible cold which rendered me chilly all week, I had a nice time in Copenhagen. Most of my time away from the World Barista Championship was spent walking and touring the city with the girls. Nyhavn, Christiana Free Town, The Little Mermaid. The Queen's Arrival. The Changing of the Guard. Falling asleep in a local cafe. Walking along the lakes. Arguing with Sylvia about who should do what and who did what wrong (I'll let you guess who was the wrong party). Good times. Fun times. Odd times. Sad times.
The Copenhagen adventure is over and now I move forward - even if it isn't with as an assured step as before.
The 50 Kroner ($10) Cappuccino.
It's famous in the coffee world. It's even mentioned in the Time Out and Lonely Planet guidebooks. It's owned by the 2001 World Barista Champion, Martin Hildebrandt.
But as everyone in the know will tell you: don't got there for the coffee.
Take the cappuccino above. First off, it's pretty darn expensive by any standard. Ten Dollars. Yowza. For ten bucks, you'd expect cappuccino perfection. And while you get something that looks pretty with its' latte art, the rest falls flat. Drag a demitasse spoon through the foam and you'll see: it's a latte with that prerequisite micro-thin layer of foam.
If you're looking for a coffee mecca, there are other places to go - including Europa's sister company: Kontra Coffee.
But what you do go to Europa for, night after night after night, is the food.
It's truly delicious and exquisite. In fact, their smoked salmon salad is the best salad I've had anywhere.
Adriana and the Vegetarian Salad - King Trumpet mushrooms served with apples baked in thyme, mixed salad with Dijon sauce, organic lentils, grains beans & roasted nuts, honey glazed apricots, bread & butter. 135 Kroner (for the salad, not Adriana)
The girls and I made our first visit to Europa on my second night in Copenhagen. It was slightly chilly but they had blankets to warm the girls (none for me since I'm male and designed to suffer). While the girls had a beer each (42 Kroner), Adriana had the vegetarian salad (135Kr) while I had the Lamb Special (195Kr), the Ingefaer-lime Limonade (50Kr) and the cappuccino (50Kr.).
I tasted the salad and it was very good, but my lamb was beautifully done. Cooked au point to perfection and served with fresh greens, herbs, roasted potatoes, asparagus and the surprise sweetness of pomegranates. Amazing. Ingredients so fresh and alive that they popped on the palate. This is the kind of eating made for excitement.
It was a lovely evening in the waning sunlight with good friends, but the lamb, a salad, a limonade, cappuccino and three beers cost me $120! I was quickly learning that Copenhagen was not going to be a visit on the cheap.
But the food was good, the company was excellent and I was still flush with cash.
Sylvia and The Bread.
As the week progressed, it seemed to evolve around Europa. At some point of the day or night, we would end up there. One night was a night of drunken debauchery as Holger celebrated Germany's victory in the Euro Cup. We would also end the week there for the WBC Barista Party where the staff would float around with trays of food (the lamb chops - yum!) and beverages.
It was then that I wished I had more time to chat with the cute server who was quite friendly and more than happy to bring me a Coke from the bar. Thank God for you and if you ever visit America, I will be a happy host and tour guide. You know who you are.
Something else I wanted to mention that was notable at Europa but not limited to Europa. Compared to the "Customer service at all costs" attitude in the United States, server attitudes in Copenhagen sucks. Perhaps it's the lack of a tipping culture or (as one friend put it) that Danes are just frank and matter-of-fact about everything that it comes off the wrong way, but I couldn't help but develop the impression that the presence of customers was just off-putting and a bit too much of an imposition on the servers.
Weird, but I was actually glad the tipping culture didn't exist because the tip would have been small indeed.
Shane, Imma, Sanders and John.
One of our excursions to Europa was after a cafe crawl with the African Contingent. Again, more amazing food. Sanders' description of the yogurt made it a "must taste" and it was truly special. Smooth, creamy, delicious and perfection with the maple syrup. God, I have to remember to do that at home.
It was good to catch up with returning champions Francis Njobu (Zambia) and John Muli Makaw (Kenya) who both had won their national championships for the second year running. It was also fantastic to meet Peter Musana, the first Ugandan barista champion. A truly pleasant and humble man to be around.
John, Claire and Francis, 2007/2008 Zambian Barista Champion.
The Yoghurt - strained with fresh fruit and maple syrup.
Smoked Organic Salmon Salad - smoked salmon serve with mixed salad with Dijon sauce, organic lentils, grains, beans & roasted nuts, smoked cream cheese, lime, fresh herbs, bread and butter.
Ever since I watched Shane and Drew order yogurt and fruit plates for breakfast in Minneapolis, I've been trying to think more carefully about what I eat, so I thought I would go for the salmon salad. I'm certainly glad that I did. Without reservation, that had to be one of, if not the best salad I've ever had anywhere. It was perfectly balanced with greens, grains, salmon and citrus. Unbelievable. I want to recreate it at home, it was that good. From now on, whenever another salad crosses my plate, this will be the benchmark I hold it to. Fresh, light, seasonal and filling. They offer two sizes and this one is the smaller. Can't imagine what it would be like to eat the larger serving.
Chicken Sandwich - organic rye bread, chicken marinated with basil vinaigrette, grilled pancetta, tomato, fresh herbs, curry sauce & mango chutney.
Chicken Sandwich - on organic wheat bread.
Burger Europa 1989 - slices of filet beef from Danish Jersey young cattle, matured by Europa 1989 standards, salad, tomato, pickled cucumber, barbecue marinated onion, cheese & grilled pancetta. Served with baked lemon marinated potatoes, fresh herbs, barbecue sauce & aioli.
At the end, if you ever make it to Copenhagen, it's worth eating brunch and lunch at Europa. In fact, if it should be a must. Start off the day with one of the two brunch selections (I would probably choose Brunch 2), then go off and walk around the city for awhile. Trek up to see the Little Mermaid. By the time you walk there and back, you'll be plenty hungry and then try the Organic Salmon Salad. Afterwards, take a stroll along the lakes and visit some shops in the north section of the city then walk back for an evening meal with the lamb, or whatever special they're running (it'll be worth it, guaranteed). Sit outside with some blankets, have a few beers and smoke a couple of Havanas and you would have spent the perfect day in Copenhagen.
It certainly will not have been cheap, but it will have been delicious.
1160 København K, Denmark
+45 3314 2889
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
My taxi dropped me off at the wrong hotel, allowing me the opportunity (and pain in the ass) of touring the center city with all my baggage in tow. From this short stint, Zagreb seems like an energetic and young city. Optimistic and eager. Granted, it's a superficial characterization and one that will be tested in the days to come.
For first meal, the desk clerk here at the Best Western Hotel Astoria recommended pizza from Capuciner Pizzeria Spaghetteria. I ordered a small pizza for 30 Kunas topped with mushrooms, ham, bacon, cheese and tomato sauce. The crust was nicely done but the toppings were a bit on the heavy side causing the pizza to be a bit on the moist side, but still quite tasty with a Coke.
Tomorrow it's off to Eli's Cafe to visit Croatian Barista Champion Nik Orosi on his home turf and then somewhere to do laundry.
Everyone needs a little voice to help guide them through the pits and falls of navigating relationships. In my case, I need a big "What the fuuuuuck are you doing???" from my voice and I'm glad Syl was there today to throw things back in my face with classic lines such as: "Well, that's not her problem. That's your problem (pendejo)."
It sucks when your voice is without mercy and relentless.
My problem is that I always want to be right. It's a serious design flaw in my genetic makeup. Sure, there could be smoother steps towards resolution and a continuation of a relationship, but I'm determined to be right and I'm ready to prove it - even willing to end and destroy a relationship completely in my pursuit of winning (it's that winner takes all and unless you've won you've lost kind of mentality).
It's dumb, stupid and childish and I absolutely refuse to calculate how many relationships I've wiped out because of it.
What makes it worse is when your opponent is relatively a mirrored reflection of your own personality and character flaws because as the two of us rush headfirst in a game of chicken, expecting the other to blink and give in, the only thing that happens is a horrific crash where each of us is wrong and neither wants to admit it.
With the help of La Voz, I decided today that I would be the one to blink. I'll give in. I won't pursue the "I'm right" line because, in the end, complete and utter destruction is not what I really want - it's what happens because I'm too blinded by fear to see it coming.
So today begins with a New Deal. I've gone ahead and put my egotism aside. Admittedly, it's not the deal that I really wanted. It's by no means ideal. The deal I wanted to push would have achieved everything I wanted but not what she wanted or was ready for. Today's deal gives us the hope for a new beginning - and maybe that will be enough for two Ariens (who are both always right) to have a fresh start.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Sylvia and Adriana ready to start the days' adventure.
Here are some random scenes from my visit to Copenhagen. It's by no means a collection of visitations to the city's great tourist spots. Hell, I wouldn't know where those were anyway. In fact, if it weren't for the girls, I probably wouldn't have visited half of these places and would have ended up hanging out at some coffeeshop or restaurant shooting the shit with the staff.
On one day, the plan was rent some bicycles and hit the streets. One problem: a couple of the girls had never ridden a bicycle before. Even though Copenhagen is a very bicycle-friendly city, it's still a city filled with cars, trucks and buses hurtling down the streets and the possibility of getting smushed by one of them when you're balance is dodgy and that you might forget to brake in a panic is very high indeed. Happily, we decided that by foot we would travel.
And a good thing too. Because the other idea was for me to pedal a tandem bike. And while I certainly would have given it a heroic effort, we might have been killed too.
Holger and his machine at Kontra.
The first couple of days were spent touring the various coffeeshops of Copenhagen. It's nice to go to any city and find one place that makes quality coffee. In Copenhagen, there are a couple of choices: Coffee Collective, Estate Coffee and Kontra. Well, Kontra is more of a roastery slash retail shop, but it's a good place to hang.
In front of Coffee Collective
Troels and Beer.
Not a smart way to start your day.
The difference between hanging out with the girls versus hanging out with the boys is that the girls drink far less. Usually when traveling, the mornings start out with freshly ground, French-pressed coffee. On one morning, we headed over to Shane's room where they were flowing the absente. Not the smartest way to start your day on an empty stomach. Luckily, I made it over the girls' hotel without getting run over and I don't think they could tell of my condition.
Ana and Adriana by the lakes.
Bisecting the city is a collection of lakes. They're pretty large and we spent an afternoon walking along its' banks. Overall, Copenhagen is a nice city. It's a bit monotonous in its' seemingly Cold War Era apartments that continue in never-ending rows of sameness. Add to the fact that it's pretty chilly even in June and it's just not a place I would choose to live. I'd like it to be just a few degrees warmer. It would make strolling by the lake perfection.
The Queen of Denmark arrives for work. It was quite anti-climatic.
As we toured the city, we came upon a group of well-dressed soldiers and tourists (not so well-dressed) waiting for something to happen. Evidently, the Queen of Denmark was coming to work and this was her official welcome ceremony. I envisioned her chariot arriving and the Queen stepping out and waving to her constituents before ascending the stairs into the palace.
Instead, a couple of Bentleys came zipping by and sped through a gate and into an inner courtyard. We didn't get to see the Queen and the soldiers saluted.
It was grandly anti-climactic.
Obsessed with Mermen: look closely in the water.
It seems that Danes are obsessed with Mermaids and Mermen. Along the canal someone has sunken statues of a merman and his six sons. I don't know why. It's kinda cool. Interesting to say the least. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to throw money in for good luck.
Team Mexico - Adriana, Felix, Ana, Sylvia and The Opera House.
The Changing of the Guard. Neat.
The Changing of the Guard happens every day at 11:30am. Don't be late. Not because you might miss it (it takes quite a bit of time for them to actually change all of the guards) but because you'll have to fight hundreds of other tourists for a good viewing spot. All around me are other tourists fighting, straining and elbowing to get a better view so they can shoot their photographic memories with long zoom lenses. It's one reason why I only use a 20mm prime lens. I don't have the ability to zoom. If I want a close up, I have to move physically closer. If I can't then I don't worry too much about the image.
This typically means that I get to enjoy the moment more rather than viewing life through a viewfinder (I've done enough of that in my lifetime). I've also come to realize that my friends don't want to watch a slide show. Hell, even I can't stand viewing numerous photographs of my own trips. I mean really, how many photos of the Eiffel Tower does one need to see before they believe you visited it?
Maybe it's just me, but I was slightly disappointed by the Changing of the Guard. It could be my penchant for perfection, but I expected to see these razor sharp soldiers in perfect marching unison and everything aligned. The steps were slightly off and even a couple of their big hats were slightly tilted. It ruined the effect for me.
The Little Mermaid and Felix - I really didn't want to know.
At one point we're arguing (and with a woman it's less about "arguing" and more about "being told") about how some of these expectations are only in fairy tales, while we're traveling to the other side of the city to see the statue of The Little Mermaid. I'm living in a Faerie Tale but we're going to visit The Little Mermaid??? There's something ironic in there somewhere.
The Little Mermaid was a lot smaller than I expected. Faerie Tales must have something to them because there were a lot of people visiting Ariel (but where was Eric?). Somewhere I was expecting a funny crab to jump out of nowhere singing "Under The Sea."
Hiding from the elements on the open seas.
About to get hit in the head in Nyhavn.
From there, we jump on a boat that takes us out to a fort in the middle of the harbor. The trip there is the downwind leg, which means the trip back is the hairy one. The city of Copenhagen is pretty chilly to begin with. Get out on the water and into the wind and it's at least a ten degree difference. The trip back is fun but miserable. Fun because the spray in my face reminds me of my days sailing on the Chesapeake and along the Molokai Channel. Miserable because it's cold as shit and I'm without my foul weather gear.
Sylvia points the way for more hot dogs.
Evidently, Danes are obsessed with hot dogs. And so too is Sylvia. Danish hot dogs are pretty interesting fare. I've tried them and while they're good, I can't get crazy about a hot dog.
The spiral steepled church. Nice.
At one point, we made our way down to the Free Town of Christiania. It's kind of like a glorified shanty town where cameras are not allowed but marijuana is. It's an artist/hippie community and everyone seems pretty laid back and easy going - even though it looks like the roughest part of Denmark. Perhaps that old saying is true: alcohol makes nice people into assholes and marijuana makes assholes into nice people.
Not to say these people are assholes, just that they're laid back and unlike the violent masses I suspected from the news reports.
Ana in Christianshavn.
It was a good week reconnecting with friends in Copenhagen. Lots of parties. Lots of drinking. Lots of fun. But of all the photos I shot in Denmark, this is my favorite one. It's slightly out of focus. It looks sad and bittersweet. The blocked sunlight from the buildings, along with the graffiti gives it a grey and dirty look. The wide angle of the lens gives it a distant quality. All of which seemed poignant for that day.