Dinner at Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle


Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle is an amazing little Italian restaurant in old East Berlin that I went to once two years ago and have been gagging to get back to. The experience I had the first time there was something remarkable -- a table of 8 people I didn't know (one couple was a newly introduced friend of a friend who invited me along), and we never saw a menu. The food just came, and came, and came. I think we were there for six hours. Now, the food was absolutely amazing, but of course the experience was made that much better by the people and the wonderful time I had. So of course, I had to go back.


This time we were a smaller group; only three of us. And without knowing the owner, we got 'regular' service, which was just great, especially considering we had to communicate in engligermaspanitalian! The food was very good, and each dish was somehow unique. I wouldn't call this traditional Italian (although perhaps it is, from some part of Italy I don't know), but it was all very good.


Unfortunately I forgot the proper camera, so these are iPhone photos. Not the greatest so you'll have to use your imagination.


Kinda forgot to take a photo of the shared appetizer before it was nearly entirely devoured. All the menu called this was Salsiccia e formaggio alla griglia, or "grilled sausage and cheese". I suppose it's their little secret just what the sausage and cheese is, but let me tell you -- order it. It's fabulous. And it's served with this spicy sweet chutney thing that's to die for. YUM!



Salsiccia e formaggio alla griglia

My main course was Gnocchi di patate e zafferano con stufatino di coniglio, or



…"Potato gnocchi with saffron and… stewed rabbit? Rabbit stew?" Not sure, and I didn't really taste any rabbit, but the saffron gnocchi was delicious. Perfectly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth smooth, just lovely.



Gnocchi di patate e zafferano con stufatino di coniglio

Overall a very good meal. Not the same memory as before, but one really shouldn't expect to re-live those kinds of memories. Definitely a restaurant worth visiting if you're up for good Italian in Berlin.



Dinner at Al Contadino Sotto Le Stelle Auguststr. 34 10119 Berlin alcontadino.com +49 302819023





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rating: 4 feet




verdict: I really really wanted to come back and rate this one 5 feet. If I'd only been there this one time, it'd get only 3. So I'm gonna split the difference and go with 4 here. It really is a good restaurant, I was just expecting more from it that night -- probably unfairly so.

Dinner at La Fée Verte


Somethin' tells me mom's not gonna approve of this one…


La Fée Verte translates to "the green fairy". Called so because, apparently, that's what you see when you drink Absinthe [Wiki link]. Absinthe has been illegal in the United States since 1915, but the French drink it and are still around, thank you very much, so how bad can it be. Right?


So yes, this restaurant serves absinthe -- alongside some pretty yummy food, mind you. So let's start with the starters, shall we?


OK I gotta start blogging sooner or taking notes. This was… um… onions. And, cheese? Baked, with some kind of sauce. Look this isn't the absinthe speaking OK, this is what happens when you post a week after you eat. It was good. Don't seem to recall it being remarkable, but it was good. Alrighty then.



Some kind of onion appetizer thing

Next up, the main course. This was a very tasty…



…lamb burger, a bit dry, but chock-full of flavor. I don't think I set it down once I picked it up; it really was quite tasty. The layered roasted veggie thing looked like it could be delicious, but it was served cold, and frankly just didn't appeal. Straight from the oven it was probably lovely.



Lamb Burger and vegetable… thing

OK now to the important bit. The absinthe.


There's a routine involved in serving and consuming absinthe, and all any of us at the table knew of it was what we'd seen in movies. Which amounts to pretty much F-all. "I think the water goes in that fancy dispenser"… "I'm sure they're gonna set it on fire"… "You're not really going to drink that, are you?" and so on.


Since I was the only one at the table brave stupid brave enough to try it, we didn't get the fancy water dispenser (and yes it's for water). Instead I was served a normal glass with a bit of the green glowing drink, a special spoon with a sugar cube balanced on top, and a carafe of ice water. They poured the absinthe into the glass over the sugar cube, then let it sit for some time before bringing it to the table. We asked if it was meant to be ignited, and they said you could if you wanted to… so we tried (obviously). Unfortunately I guess the alcohol had evaporated from the sugar, or the match wasn't hot enough, but we failed where caveman succeeded millennium before. So, pitch the fire, in with the sugar and water, and mix mix mix.



Absinthe

The result is a cloudy white drink. Certain biological components of the absinthe are not soluble in water, so they come out and cloud the drink. Or something like that. It has a pungent anise smell, and equally strong flavor. I love black liquorice, so the flavor appealed to me, but I guess you'd have a hard time with this if you only eat red vines.


Overall, well worth the experience and sure I'd have it again. I didn't see any green fairies, nor did I cut off my ear, but I did fall asleep in the cab on the ride back to the hotel. Absinte-1, me-0.



La Fée Verte

108, Rue Roquette 75011 Paris, France

www.feeverte.net
+33 1 43 72 31 24





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rating: 3 feet

verdict: It really gets the rating for the absinthe. The food was OK, but the absinthe experience great. I'll probably go again just for the green fairies.



Acorn House


(catching up on posts so this is slightly out of sync and is from Saturday night in London)…


This restaurant came highly recommended (by the same friend who pointed me to flat white, so who am I to argue!), so for my last dinner in London, which was to be with friends who live there, I requested that we dine at Acorn House. It's walking distance from the King's Cross/St. Pancras train station, which happens to be the London base for the Eurostar to Paris.



Acorn House

Acorn House is unique in that the chef makes exceptional efforts to be 'green' about everything that comes in and out of his restaurant. I picked up his cookbook, and the forward is written by Jamie Oliver who goes as far as to call him the "original green chef". A big part of this is purchasing local, sustainable ingredients, and only buying what's in season. The menu is actually updated twice a day to accommodate!


My appetizer was a fantastic goat cheese on toast with a pistachio pesto (!) and a very sticky, very black, balsamic drizzle. It was absolutely divine, and so unfortunately I had to eat the whole thing. Hate it when that happens.



Goats cheese, toasted sour dough, wild garlic & pistachio pesto

Next up was a pan fried sea trout, which was good but honestly a little fishy. I didn't find the dish to be remarkable, although the presentation was very nice. My friend had the pork belly with feijoada which he really enjoyed, so perhaps I'd try that next time.



Pan fried sea trout, zucchini, lemon & ‘Cassini’ olive oil

Of course this was accompanied by a fine bottle of wine. Like the rest of the menu, they go to great lengths to find quality organic wines, but even here there was the 'next level' of organic; biodynamic [wiki link]. It's a holistic approach to growing the grapes, and since everything else about the evening was so green (yes I took the train to get there!), I decided that we had to try one of these special wines. I must say the wine was superb. I won't try to review the wine here as this meal was now several days ago and I didn't take any notes, but again it was absolutely delicious; enough so that I photographed the label so I could track it down later.



Domaine Granges de Mirabel Viognier, Coteaux de L'Ardeche, France

Overall a good meal and an enjoyable, learning experience. I'll likely go again, preferably in a different season just to see how the menu has changed.



Acorn House 69 Swinton Street London WC1X 9NT



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rating: 4 feet




verdict: I love the 'green-ness' of the place. It's a great idea who's time has come, and the quality of (most of) the food shows it. I'll be back in a different season, and I did buy the cookbook so look forward to trying a few things at home.



Dinner at Tom's Restaurant (aka Tom's Place)


Ah, another superb meal in London. This trip is turning tragic!


Tonights choice was Tom's Restaurant, as recommended by an expat friend here in London. We started upstairs at the bar for a drink and snack, then moved to the main restaurant for dinner.


Upstairs vibe was chic and modern, packed with the good looking set of Chelsea. We ordered drinks and a bowl of chips (that's French Fries to you, mate) which were fat and crisp and fluffy and lovely, as well as a small order of their Parmesan Risotto, which was tasty but uninspiring. The flavor of the parmesan and creme fraiche was very nice, however the risotto itself was chalky and undercooked. My friend who joined me for dinner that night is a huge fan of risotto, and didn't think much of it -- and it's one of those dishes I've tried cooking many times and have gotten truly right only once or twice, so I know it's not easy to get perfect. Unfortunately, they didn't quite get it right here.



Chips and Parmesan Risotto



Downstairs however was a completely different story. The food we ate there was to die for. Even though we'd already snacked, I couldn't resist the Seared Foie Gras with Duck Egg, Bacon and Balsamic Jus. While I'll be the first to admit the photo doesn't make it look terribly attractive, and my friend compared it to a Denny's Grand Slam (it's the biggest damn egg I've seen on a plate in a while), it was utterly delicious. The richness of the foie gras with the depth of flavor from the duck egg, combined with the saltiness of the thick cut bacon was, without question, heaven on a plate.




Fois Gras with Duck Egg, Bacon and Balsamic Jus





I can't talk about this dinner without telling the story I twittered on yesterday, involving dumping a glass of water in the name of art. (If you don't follow the twitter yet, subscribe!). I commonly will use a wine or water glass at a restaurant as a makeshift 'tripod'; just something to balance the camera against. As you can imagine most restaurants are quite dark, making photography difficult. So I usually use a glass as a balance point. Which of course I'd been doing throughout the evening here, as I always do. Now I can't quite say that I didn't realize my water glass had been filled, because I watched it get filled. But in the heat of the moment of seeing a photo I wanted to make, I grabbed the glass and flipped it upside down. The full glass. And naturally dumped an entire glass of fresh, cold water all over our table, the floor, and of course -- my leg.



And the photo didn't even turn out that great. :( All in the name of the blog!



But back to the food. Main courses came, and they thrilled nearly as much as the starter. I had the Duck Confit, and my friend dined on Filet of Beef. The duck was superb, with gorgeous crispy skin and delicate fat, the meat perfectly moist with the chewy edges I adore so much to accompany the fatty skin. It was served with potatoes and artichoke hearts, and the artichokes themselves were nearly as good as the duck. Eat your heart out, vegetarians -- nothing makes a perfectly good vegetable even better than coating it in duck fat!! The steak was apparently superb, a point worth noting because my friend doesn't eat rare meat. It's been a point of contention between us where I'm always chiding him for taking a perfectly good steak and murdering it on the grill. He admitted that he had been slowly going more and more red on his meat, and that while this particular steak -- ordered medium (and served French medium, not American medium) -- was the rarest steak he'd ever eaten. And he loved it. Good on you man!




Duck Confit





Fillet of Beef





Tom's Restaurant (aka Tom's Place. Seems to depend on where you look. And Tom's Café is a different restaurant)

27 Cale Street

Chelsea, SW3 3QP

Tom's Kitchen

+44 207 349 0202





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rating: 4 feet




verdict: Absolutely superb. Great ambiance, friendly service (both in the bar and the restaurant), and of course great food. The only reason it's not getting a 5 feet rating is the risotto. But definitely, without question, go.



Belgo Centraal


My first meal in London did not disappoint! A good friend took me to a Belgian eatery tonight, called "Belgo". They specialize in mussels, and it's one of those things where if you'd asked me what I was hungry for, I wouldn't have come up with this in a thousand years. But as soon as he mentioned their specialty, I was suddenly salivating for those plump, delicious orange jewels, with some perfectly crisp Belgian frites and a cold beer to wash it all down. He even tried to tell me other things they served. Why bother? I mean really. YUM.


He warned me on our way there that we may have to wait for a table. He'd checked online and no reservation was available until after 9pm. But he insisted it was worth the wait, so off we went. We were told it'd be a 10-20 minutes wait by the hostess, and saddled up to the bar.


One little bit of "false advertising"… at the bar upstairs, they have an impressive display of bottled beers. However they only actually server from a limited selection in that bar. For the real menu, you have to go downstairs. Owell, two Leffe Blonde's please. The Palm (a beer I've only ever seen in Holland) would have to wait until later. It's a furnace upstairs as the kitchen is right below you with an open ceiling, so all the heat gets trapped in this little waiting bar. But hey, that just makes the beer taste that much sweeter!



Leffe


The beer menu. Impressive.

Our table was ready in under 10 minutes, and we were pointed downstairs by host#1 where hostess#2 took over and guided us to our table. It's a packed place, picnic bench style seating, loud and pungent of cooked mussels and spilled beer. It couldn't be more perfect if they tried.


I ordered a starter "Salad de Poire et Stilton" and the mussel pot "Mariniere Traditionnelle". Both were delicious. The salad was refreshing and just enough to get the belly started, and the mussels were cooked to simple perfection. The fries were deliciously crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, served with a bit of Belgian mayonnaise. To be completely honest my bowl seemed to be from the bottom of the basket; all the small bits. But they were still delightful and nothing to complain about.



Mussel Pot. Fabulous.

On the way in and out, you pass the kitchen. We took a little walk over the catwalk to peer down to the inner workings; busy place.



Kitchen


And from above




Belgo Centraal

50 Earlham Street

Convent Garden, London, WC2H 9LT

www.belgo-restaurants.co.uk

+44 207-209-3212





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rating: 4 feet




verdict: Delicious. Absolutely would go again. If you like mussels, this is the place to go. Their beer selection is mightily impressive, just head downstairs to drink it!



Saltgrass Steak House, Texas


Since I was stuck in Dallas overnight, I made the best of it and found me sum good eat's!


I posted a few of these photo from the restaurant last night; now posting them together properly.



So this is the place. Real Texas. I guess. I wouldn't know Texas if I was there. I mean, it's SNOWING after all!


So. This is a jalapeño. Stuffed with a whole shrimp (see the tail?). And Jack cheese. And fried. I mean… seriously?! (yeah… it was good)


OK this is what I came for… meat! T-bone steak, served rare. Really, really good beef. Marbled beautifully. Delicious.


Saltgrass Steak House, North Arlington (it's a chain)



2200 East Lamar Blvd. Arlington, TX 76006



(817) 640-3880 http://www.saltgrass.com





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rating: 4 feet

verdict: That was a damn fine steak. I'd definitely hit that again!



Kumako Ramen, San Jose


This is one of my locals; I figured I should start singing some of their praises, too!


In the heart of Japan Town, Kumako Ramen is a great location for a hot bowl of ramen on a cold evening. Like tonight. A nippy 54ºF is wonderful cold-walk to hot-noodles weather!


They bill themselves as "New York Style Japanese noodles", whatever that means… guess I'll have to have ramen next time I'm in NYC to compare! The noodles are good here, and consistent. I wouldn't call them amazing, but since I keep going back they must be doing something right. The menu offers traditional ramen bowls as well as some 'fusion' types, like Curry Ramen I enjoyed tonight. A bit of an Indian-Japanese marriage of flavors, with a touch of spice. Nice!




Kumako Ramen

211 Jackson St.

Japantown, San Jose, CA 95112

+1 408-286-2111

http://www.japantownsanjose.org/kumako_ramen.htm





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rating: 4 feet




verdict: saddle up to the bar, say hi to Art, pick something spicy and order a cold beer to go with it!



Yakitori [update] (was: Teppanyaki)


One night in Harajuku we got a recommendation for a teppanyaki place (hey I can't keep all these names right… so sue me!). The map was scribbled by a guy in a store for us, and it wasn't much to go on, but we found it!



the "map"

Verdict? It was good -- real good. The fried chicken was to die for. The chicken and onion, delicious. A kind of korean beef/rice/kimchi bowl was amazing. And the fried squid balls… well… ok maybe not so much. But we tried whatever we could figure out from the menu! Delicious.


As you can see in the pictures, the place had a great atmosphere. The walls were wallpapered with menu items and descriptions, the tables low and the rickety stools even lower. It was packed with mostly young people, but also a few suits. Our waitress was very helpful and knew a few words in English; enough to help us figure out a few things to order. There was one very excitable server with enough metal in her face to trigger a TSA security alert, and she kept coming by yelling at us in Japanese. We never did figure out what she wanted.











Name: Unkown name… see the sign below and translate it for me!

Address: some side street in Harajuku



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rating: 4 feet




verdict: great food, fun ambiance, if you can find it and figure out what to order, do it!



UPDATE!


I went back to Harajuku this morning and found the restaurant. I still have no idea where it is on the map, but here are some photos. It's still called "squiggle squiggle line" until I can get someone to translate for me.



yeah that's right… I had the picture upside-down before. Get over it.


Japan Land


Flight was fine, easy enough (or as easy as 12 hours in the air can be). Met up with a colleague at the airport and we rode the JR line train into Tokyo station. Nearly missed our stop… oops… guess we both figured EVERYONE would be getting off there! Good thing we asked.


From the Tokyo station we were both too hungry to wait until after check-in to eat, so we wandered until we found a row of restaurants. Nothing in English, no pictures, all Japanese in the joint's… perfect!


We ended up in a sushi place (honestly didn't even know what kind of restaurant we were in until they handed us a picture menu). A huge pile of sushi and several beers later and we rolled on out and off to our respective hotels.


We had some great sushi, including hamache, amaebi, some unidentified white fish, maguro, whale (!! -- although we were assured it's imitation, and it some other guest called it 'bacon'. OK we have no idea what it was, but it was tasty), and the winner of the night -- horse! Yes, horse. At least that's what he said. Red meat, served raw, very fatty, and unbelievably tasty. We ordered seconds.


Washed down with a beer or three, and we were two happy boys in Tokyo-land.


I couldn't tell you the address of this place, but there is a name on the first photo. If you find it, go!




Kassen Ichiba (ok for all I know that could say "eat here, gringo!")









rating: 4 feet




verdict: Try something you've never seen before, it'll be good! Honest!














A Slice of New York (in San Jose)


This place offers a serious NY slice o' pie (that's pepperoni, not blueberry), and what is this "Manhattan Special"? An amazing coffee soda, imported from NY and reputedly impossible to find in CA. Except here.





A Slice of New York

3443 Stevens Creek Blvd

San Jose, CA 95117

Tel: +1 (408) 247-5423

http://www.asliceofnewyork.com/





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rating: 4 feet




verdict: Real good, real authentic. The boys at the oven are from Brooklyn. Tributes to heroes of 9/11 on the wall. Feels like the real thing.