C.K. Dezerter

On a recent business trip to Krakow I was looking for a good lunch spot to eat some dumplings and other local specialties and I was recommended this place.

It’s only a block off the main square but that basically keeps it off the tourist map and yet still very conveniently located.

The food and the ambience was great. At lunch only a few tables were occupied so I took the one by the window which allowed for some people watching.

I basically knew I wanted to have dumplings. I think I got a mixed portion and they were delicious.

I also wanted to try some other local specialties and so I got the chicken liver and the herring. Both were very tasty but, in spite of the fact that they were appetizers, the portions were huge so I quickly regretted ordering two things and I ended up not finishing the huge plate of liver.

I would definitely recommend this place for a local no-frills spot away from the tourists. Don’t get me wrong, the menu is in English and Polish, so it’s not like it’s a hidden locals-only spot, but I was the only non-local in there at lunch so it seemed pretty authentic and the prices were very fair as well.

Tosokchon Samgyetang

Get ready for very very very long lines here, unless you time your visit appropriately: but the reward is a healthy and delicious ginseng chicken cooked the traditional way like they do in Korea – in a dense rich broth that bubbles inside a stone pot and with plenty of side dishes too!

This is what the place looks like from the outside:

Granted I visited this establishment near Gyeongbokgung Palace on Xmas day, I got there JUST in time before a tour bus pulled up and dropped off 50 Koreans that stood in line for an hour braving the bitter cold. But don’t let the tour bus fool you. It’s not a tourist trap, it’s just a very old place that has gained a great reputation and therefore ended up on some must-go-place list in Korea.

Here’s what the line looked like when I walked out after my meal:

The inside of the restaurant presents itself like this (see pic below), and you can choose between regular height tables and chairs or traditional short tables where you sit on the floor cross legged.

In the middle of the atrium there is a HUGE pot of shredded Ginseng root that burns and gives the whole restaurant the right smell.

And then of course there are the chickens. The menu only has two types: the regular white chicken or the more expensive and rare black chicken. All chickens are the small Cornish Hen variety and every order gets you a full one in your personal pot, but they are much much smaller than the chickens you might be used to so fear not: You can do it!

There’s only 4 dishes to choose from and they start at 16000 won (about $15) and go to almost double that, in the following order: white chicken (see picture below), white chicken with extra ginseng dried roots to sprinkle, black chicken and black chicken with extra ginseng dried roots to sprinkle (see next picture).

The extra ginseng root you receive to sprinkle on your dish looks like this (it’s small but makes a sizeable difference in the price):

Along with your meal you get tea (of course!) as well as a shot of ginseng liquor. If you like it you can buy a whole bottle in a gift bag for less than $10 when you leave.

Here are some of the side dishes you get. All you can eat Kimchi of course!

The menu is small, only 2 pages, with a brief history, explanation of how to eat it (in Korean and English) and the four options available (plus some side dishes).

On the way out admire the huge ginseng roots on display and the liquor bottles they make (and sell).

Definitely worth a visit if you are in the mood for a healthy chicken soup. Can’t beat it if you feel under the weather or if it’s cold. Prob wouldn’t wanna do it on a hot summer day. Definitely make sure to go early for lunch, like 11-11.30 or so, before it gets crazy busy!

Mushroom

Mushroom is an amazing food experience if you love… you guessed it, mushrooms!

Basically this Moscow restaurant (5-10 min from Gorki Park) makes almost every single dish (including desserts!) using some type of mushroom. That alone is so unique that it’s worth a visit!

If I had to categorize it (which I did have to) I would say it’s fusion-italian-french, simply because there are lots of pasta dishes, some pizzas and a whole truffle menu (including a season set with black and white truffles).

The quality of the food is great and the decor and atmosphere are very nice too so if you want something cool, original and different for a change you should by all means visit. You won’t be disappointed!

I usually don’t post multiple menu pages but since I find this so interesting I decided I would so that you can see the variety and creativity that goes into cooking everything with one (family) of ingredients.

Here’s the main room with open-kitchen and wood-fired brick pizza oven in view next to the bar.

Okay I failed miserably by starting with a dish that had no mushrooms in it, but tuna tartare is one of my weaknesses so I had to indulge. Exquisite.

Another weakness of mine is pizza and although I wasn’t going to, the smart waiter totally upsold me… What was I thinking ordering pizza in Russia??? I don’t know! This one is definitely disappointing by any Italian standards (the crust just was not right, way too crispy, more like flatbread) but the porcini mushroom and ricotta toppings were quite delicious and since we ordered it as an appetizer it was a good little forest into the mushroom world.

Bruschetta with salted milk mushrooms sour cream and horseradish was much more along the lines of what I should have ordered (and so should you!).

Timber mushrooms with crispy eggplants and tomatoes was ok but not incredible.

This wild mushroom cream soup was absolutely amazing! A must!!!

Tagliolini with porcini and truffle sauce also kept the standard very high. Creamy, buttery and delicious. Borderline French I’d say…

The truffle honey cake was as decadent as it sounds.

These two little truffle chocolate balls were offered to us as a complementary treat with tea and coffee and were as good as most European chocolate is.

This would not be my choice italian restaurant (although I wouldn’t go and eat Italian in Russia to begin with!) but the novelty of a single-ingredient-focused menu got my attention and curiosity and the meal was all in all very enjoyable and tasty.

This restaurant is part of the more popular (and upscale) “White Rabbit” restaurant.

If you are a high roller and feel like splurging the white set menu with 5g of white truffle will cost you about 5-6 times more than the average entree while the black truffle (also 5g) about 3-4 times. If you don’t want the set you can also order truffle as an appetizer by the gram (95 Rubles for black and 270 Rubles for white).

Meauxbar

After working with U2 in New Orleans my crew and I definitely needed a well deserved meal to celebrate and although there was no time to hit the usual restaurants everyone knows about, we decided to try something that got good reviews and was on the way to the airport.

Meauxbar is sort of a farm to table bistro with some very interesting dishes. Nothing fancy but good food and nice atmosphere in which executive chef John Bel and his team provide sober renditions of inventive dishes that are a joy for the palate and are easy on the eyes and the body.

I’m a lover and a connoisseur of burrata and I have had some incredible ones in Southern Italy (where burrata IS from), some really bad frozen ones in Italian restaurants around the US, some decent ones from stores, farmers and restaurants. Well let me tell you, this burrata was one of the best ones I’ve ever had in the US! I don’t know how they do it but I asked the waiter and he said it was not imported from Italy but made by a nearby Louisiana cheese maker which really surprised me. Served on a bed of summer squash, sunflower seeds and peaches vinaigrette, honestly this burrata was so authentic tasting that it might as well have been served on a bed of rocks and it would have been delicious anyway!

Would have been a shame to be there and not have some gulf products so we tried the special of the day (scallops on a bed of kale and rice) and the Gulf Fish courtbouillon, both very good.

The $35 pre fix lunch came with a dessert and I had the fennel mousse which was truly exquisite as well!!

Sugarfish

Sushi master chef Kazunori Nozawa was also known as “the Sushi Nazi” because allegedly he used to throw people out of the restaurant if they asked for dipping sauces or tempura or for a “California rolls” (apparently even famous people like Charlize Theron got thrown out).

After having run a restaurant in Tokyo with his mother he opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles in the mid/late eighties and  Sushi Nozawa quickly became a world renown restaurant. In 2012, after 25 years, he retired from making sushi and opened Sugarfish, for which he and his sons still select the freshest fish every morning.

Sugarfish has become a hit and has 10 locations in Los Angeles and one in New York. The first ever location is now closed so I visited the second location, which is now the oldest one and is located in Marina Del Ray, near Venice Beach.

When I tried to visit the New York location in the first month it had opened there was a 3 hour wait, so I ate somewhere else. But in LA it’s much easier to get a table or a seat at the bar (although it’s not really a sushi bar, as the kitchen is off to the side). Expect a wait of at least 20 min (we waited 30 min on a Monday night at 9.30, which is a very off time…).

The food is amazing and surprisingly affordable. The omakase (or “Trust Me” as it’s called) is only $35 and there is a light version for $25 and a version with two extra specials for $45.

The fish is super fresh and the preparation is truly great. For example the salmon, and the eel were some of the best salmon and eel I’ve had and the large scallop had a tangy bite to it which was a bit of yuzu ponzu on it. Even the sushi rice was tastier than most: it is warm-ish and harder, almost “al dente”, I’d say, and with the right amount of vinegar. The only bad thing about the rice (and about the whole experience) is the consistency of the rice. The taste is great but you can’t pick up a piece of sushi with your chop sticks without dropping some rice on your plate. It’s impossible. Maybe I should have tried the old school japanese way (by hand)… And forget about picking it up and flicking it over to dip the fish in the soy sauce (which is the way you use soy sauce on sushi, fish side down!). It’s impossible! That was a drag but the taste of the fish made up for it. 

For a place with 10 locations I was amazed at the quality.

La Condesa Irina Lazaar

This is a little hidden gem in Bogota, Colombia. It took me about 5 visits to Bogota to discover this place, not even my local frieds knew about it and at the time of this writing it doesn’t even show up on Maps or Google Maps if you search for the name, even though it’s been open for 7 years already!!!

This is a lunch spot ONLY. Reservations recommended. Open Mon-Fri from 12 to 3.30 only, the place serves mostly the political crowd of the nearby city hall and offices (the corruption must be adding to the flavor ;-)). It’s closed Saturday and Sunday and it’s nestled inside the old beautiful, historical and slightly sketchy (at night) La Candelaria neighborhood.

American-Mexican owner and chef Edgardo Areizaga is a really sweet guy and a jazz lover, so if you are in a jazz group or on tour there make sure you stop by and bring him a CD! He’s got great food stories and even produced a jazz CD of a local trio that he wanted to support. What a guy!
He mentioned to me he wants to start opening other restaurants and cook less so try to go soon while he’s still there doing the cooking (although he said if he hires other chef they have to be better than him…).

La Condesa Irina Lazaar serves no wine (except for one local brand of Rosé -although you can probably bring your own wine and have them uncork it) but they have beer and other drinks (none of the amazing Colombian juices though). You walk in to a small dining room with about 8-10 tables and one step up, almost staged, is a big open kitchen where you can watch the chef and his two assistants prepare your food.


The restaurant has no menu but when you walk in Edgardo greets you and tells you what’s good that day. When I arrived he said the steak, the pork chops and the salmon were the thing to get today and he told us to sit down at table 7 by the window. A few minutes later he came to the table and said “I’m making you the steak and I’m making you the pork chop and I’ll make you a little sausage starter”… he kinda ready our minds… hmmmm… why argue?


The italian-inspired sausage starter with tomatoes was actually amazing. The steak cooked rare was delicious, juicy and tender. The huge pork chop was a tad dry if you ate it without the marbled fat around it (which I was at first trying to do to be “good” to by body) but when I cut into the fat and ate the meat and the fat together all the flavors and the consistency came there beautifully, with the right amount of juice and meat. Both mains came served with potatoes and a good salad and the appetizer was served on a bed of delicious cooked tomatoes.


The only dessert available was a chocolate cake which was very good, but I don’t think it was made in house…

This is probably too gringo if you are looking for local food but otherwise definitely worth a visit… and if you are a jazz musician especially so!!!

I Love Paris

Who says you can’t eat good food in an airport? At Paris CDG you can! This stupidly named restaurant is in Terminal 2E and is the latest venture by Le Grand Véfour chef Guy Martin. It’s by far the best food I’ve ever eaten in an airport. That’s for sure!

Mushroom mousse for starter.

A burger cooked rare (because in Europe you can and you should!) with cheese and good fries.

The uniquitous Floating Island dessert you find in so many Parisian restaurants. Basically fluffy white egg beaten with sugar over a bed of caramel sauce and hazelnuts. Delicious.

52

This unassuming almost bistro-looking place surprised me with their presentations. I stopped here for a quick dinner before going to a show at New Moraning jazz club, in the heart of the Harlem of Paris. Affordable, beautifully presented and very tasty food!

When in Paris you must have escargot (snails!) and it’s not your thing or you don’t want a whole plate full of this dish is perfect because it had only one snail served inside a hollow breaded crispy shell with lard emulsion and some good raw ham right on top. Very classy!

Albion

Opened in 2011 by a kiwi and brit who came from the highly regarded Left Bank restaurant Fish La Boissonnerie, this place offers some great fish preparations (after all you are in the Poisonnerrie neighborhood) served in a casual setting and to a very local crowd. Very centrally located, a block from the subway and affordable, the restaurant also has a small wine shop.

€28 for appetizer and dessert or €34 for main and dessert. If you are two people I suggest you do one of each so you can share an appetizer and share a dessert and still have one entrée each, so you can try more things!

Great lunch spot!

Although it doesn’t look like it, that is an octopus salad and it was rather good. It certainly is no match to the octopus in Spain or Southern Italy but I did appreciate the different take on the preparation of such a delicacy.

Beautifully played salmon with bonito fish skin flakes and ratatouille.

Amazing dessert made with rice pudding, citrus and exotic fruit (mango, passion fruit) and gentle layers of creme brûlé crust.