And so we ate…. In Budapest

This has been such a powerful trip so far, it just doesn’t seem right to mix food observations with broader perspectives.  So, we’re separating them.

Big tastes first… this is the height of the strawberry season and they are red and so deicious.  The food is heavy (though due to Tauck guests’ feedback, they have added vegetarian options throughout, thank goodness!).  Everyone knows about the pastries in Europe (particularly Hungarian and Viennese).  But, we certainly weren’t aware of the prominence of ice cream concoctions.  Think the biggest sundae imaginable with extra scoops and toppings and more elaborate and you will begin to understand these delicious works of art!   Only ordered it once but, more to come! Lots of pork, lots of duck, salmon (mostly smoked and outstanding), scampi several times.  Oh, can’t forget the bread.  If you are on no carbs, you are in trouble.  The Kempinski restaurant in Budapest actually had a wall of bread.  And, while we did not sample them all, what we had was fantastic.  Finally, local beers are amazing and we think Wayne has sampled them all so far—and the steins are large!
OK.  Now the specifics.  Our first meal in Budapest was on the Danube river cruise.  We are not big fans of buffets but this one was lovely.  Particularly memorable was the veal goulash with light and airy spaetzle.  Very delicious in small quantities because the dessert was displayed close by.  Among other pastries, the introduction of strudel!  Oh my.  In this particular meal, it was cherry strudel, but since then we have had apple and chocolate.  So flakey, so buttery, so delectable.  The cardiologist we were dining with went back for thirds and new friends have been popping Lipitor like there’s no tomorrow!

Next meal of note… lunch on Thursday.  We were still stuffed after the grand buffet, so stopped for a bite at Gerbeaud (a Budapest open-air art deco café since the 1850s).  Our meal was not significant in terms of quantity—we both had salads (ah, nice to be in Europe where it is completely safe to eat greens ); a new friend had a beautifully constructed smoked salmon tower on an exquisite split mini-loaf of multi-grain bread.  But the dessert (ordered by one of us in our family—guess who) was the piece de resistance.  Ordered to satisfy an urge for one scoop of vanilla with hot fudge—it was four scoops with not only hot fudge but spectacularly designed whipped cream, sponge cake and two chocolate cigars.  Self-restraint was not really in the cards.

We had vowed there would be no dinner.  But, alas, that was not to be.  We headed over to Dio (which means “nuts” in Hungarian, which we were to eat another meal, but we went anyway).  Fantastic!  We did decide to limit ourselves to two courses, not including the delicious bread of course, with butter so creamy and delectable you could eat it with a spoon (after smearing it on your hips).  Wendy chose the breast of duck with Tokai wine and date barley risotto—the duck was superbly succulent and perfectly sliced and arrayed across the risotto. 

It was accompanied by a plate of beautifully grilled vegetables which we had requested.  (We originally asked for cabbage but the chef informed us it wouldn’t be appropriate—in other words it would “compromise the integrity of the dish.”)  Wayne ordered the paprikash veal stew with egg noodles (because you can never have enough goulash in Hungary!). It was delectable but the translation of “noodles” wasn’t quite right as this was more like a puffed egg soufflé then noodles per se. 

We ended the meal with chocolate strudel served with blackberry mousse and cappuccino.  (By the way, the cappuccino/coffee course is served separately.  As our guide informed us, once you have a table for dinner, it is yours for the evening.  The coffee course enables you to stretch that out and is generally accompanied by additional sweets.)
Friday, was the day of our “wow” meal in Budapest (not that the preceding meals were shabby). After Kabbalat Shabbat services, we treated ourselves to dinner at Onyx restaurant.  The “most famous” restaurant in Budapest (and also reputed to be the most expensive), Gundel is located next to the zoo and owned by the Lauder (as in Estee) family.  We purposefully chose to bypass that restaurant for Onyx which had been touted in the NY Times best restaurants in Budapest post (frequented more by locals than tourists).  It was truly a special meal.  The room was intimate (12 tables—30 guests) and the service wonderful.

Wendy started with Tokai sparkling wine “The Royal Court”” Kiralyudar 2009 and Wayne had, yes, a beer.  This was a meal of countless courses—starting with an amuse-bouche of miniature chilled tomato soup accompanied by a stacked canapé of watermelon sliver, feta, and sardine adorned with a miniscule square of balsamic vinegar gele and a wisp pureed of tapenade.  For the next course, Wayne had  “bean soup” (sic) with langoustine and bacon—this was more like an simplified bouillabaisse but was tasty--regardless of the name.  Wendy’s next course was several spears of grilled white asparagus garnished with a simple (yeah, righ) bergamot sabayon.  Very delicate and delicious. Accompanying this course was the first round of bread.  A bread “sommelier” wheeled over a cart allowing us to choose from among all or several of the following:  multi-grain bread, parmesan cheese crisps, Hungarian white bread and an assortment of focaccia puffs (“pog’csa”) including, but not limited to these flavors:  beetroot, bacon, cabbage, and olive. They were all extraordinary—and I say this from experience—accompanied by that creamiest of butters again (pork pate and cottage cheese were the other choices.)

OK, moving to the mains.  Wayne chose tenderloin of beef with ravioli stuffed with confit shoulder of beef serve with goulash jus.  This was, by far, the best steak either of us had ever eaten.  Upon inquiring whether it was from Hungarian beef, we were told “no, it’s from the United States.”  LOL, it was great. 

Wendy had sole with lemon mousseline, carrot textures (this is directly from the menu, folks), pistachios, and clam sauce. The carrot textures component was a swath of pureed carrot with different shapes and presentations. It looked like a little carrot town! The combination was light and extraordinary.

Palate cleanser next—elderflower granite with essence of grapefruit foam.  Doesn’t everyone?

We had to have dessert and Onyx did not disappoint.  Wayne had Tainori chocolate, violet—an amazingly configure chocolate fantasy including chocolate mousse, a chocolate cookie coil, and a chocolate ice cream cigar. 

Wendy chose a 21st century take on the classic Somlo sponge cake—a beautiful brandy snifter with layers of dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate cookie, and whipped cream. 

Mere mortals would have been done by this point; but Wendy noticed that those who ordered coffee also had a cookie cart.  So, with my decaf (why bother) cappuccino, I had a choice of at least a dozen different cookies (no limit)—two types of exotic macarons (including poppy seed), several 21st century Gerbaud delicacies-chocolate/walnut/apricot concoctions—almost too beautiful to eat. We could go on.

Suffice it to say, our meal at Onyx was truly memorable and, luckily, we’ve done a lot a walking the past two days in Bratislava and Vienna with more walking to come because those calories need to be burned…but it was so worth it.  I could say we will never eat again, but that’s simply not true!


wendy and wayne

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