It feels like it is always winter in Warsaw. The city is flat, like a prairie or steppe. Once a beautiful city, Warsaw was virtually razed to the ground by the Nazis in 1944 in brutal reprisal for the Polish resistance. It was rebuilt by the Communists into squat utilitarian concrete blocks. Only the old town, also destroyed by the Nazis, has been reconstructed in a painstakingly exact facsimile of the beautiful gothic historic center that used to exist. Warsaw’s streets are broad and straight, and an icy Siberian wind sweeps from east to west.
I was in Warsaw most recently in December, with my mother. It was brutally cold; a dull leaden sky hung low over the city, through which one could occasionally catch glimpses of the sun, a distant icy disc. It snowed every day. The snow blew down the tram lines and squeaked underfoot. Softened by years in temperate Seattle and gentle, gray London, I was so cold. Moisture from my breath condensed and froze on the scarf I had wrapped around my face. I breathed in shallow little gasps. I was too cold to think, too cold to talk. It was in Warsaw that I discovered I have Raynaud’s disease, in which decreased blood flow to the extremities causes them to turn white and numb. My mother and I would set out to walk the city. I would last twenty, maybe thirty minutes before my toes would lose sensation, and then start to ache. There was a narrow window of time, at this point, before the pain would become unbearable and I would have to stop somewhere warm.
On Saturday my mother and I took the tram to the corner of Jerozolimskie and Marszalkowska and then walked to Nowy Świat on our way to the Old Town. It was early afternoon, past lunchtime; we had maybe an hour more of daylight. My mother had a destination in mind, U Kucharzy, in what used to be the hotel Europejski, one of the few buildings that survived the Nazis. A wonderful example of Art Deco opulence, the Hotel Europejski stolidly faced its arch-rival across the street, the elegant Art Nouveau Hotel Bristol. The Gessler group has taken over and renovated what used to be the vast kitchens below the hotel. They’ve kept the massive oil stoves, the tiled walls, and the checkered floors. On a far wall in a small dining room is an enlarged black-and-white photograph of the hotel in its heyday, thronged with people in elegant formal dress. From a distance, they almost look real. Continue reading
Whenever I come to New York, I have every intention of eating out as much as possible. Usually what happens, however, is I gorge on bagels and smoked sable from the Polish district in Greenpoint (which my mother buys in bulk, and which is one of those foods that permanently alters your DNA so you crave it forever), and/or I stay at home and eat my mother’s delicious cooking. Last Monday, however, friend K asked me, “Have you been to Ippudo?” “Iiiipppuuudddoooo,” crooned friend C, her eyes glazing.
Ippudo is a Japanese chain founded by “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara. There are 43 shops in Japan, but according to Ippudo’s website, New York is Ippudo’s first international outpost. I love noodles in soup, and for me, ramen is like the Holy Grail; I will go on the modern-day equivalent of a knightly quest if good ramen is promised at the end of it. K claimed this was “the best ramen.” She was right. Continue reading
There’s a good reason why you start a Mexican meal with a shot of tequila and a bite of bracingly sour, salty lime. The two open your palate, preparing you for the subtle, delicate, complicated flavours that follow. Which brings me to a myth about Mexican food. This myth is that Mexican food means flabby flour tortillas and great big larded heaps of beans and rice and loads of cheese and two sauces: red and green. This could not be further from the truth. Mexican food – real Mexican food – is about slow cooking, refined flavours, and balance. Above all, balance. In fairness, I think that thanks to chefs like Rick Bayless and the prevalence and huge popularity of taco trucks lately, most people know this, or are learning it.
This is the story of Taco Monday, as it was told to me by my one of my favourite Seattle dining buddies. Continue reading
Apparently as the universe’s idea of a joke, I’ve been sick more or less nonstop since my return from the Caribbean nearly two weeks ago. ENOUGH ALREADY, UNIVERSE. I GET IT. Anyway, the subtler nuances of food and wine have pretty much been lost on me. The only thing I want to eat is hot soup. Preferably spicy.
Now, it should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read my blog that I am (perhaps inordinately) fond of chilis. So of course I love Korean food. There is some fantastic Korean food in Seattle, but in London there’s a lot of not-great Korean food, and even more not-great quite-pricy Korean food. For this reason I keep coming back to Asadal. Continue reading
Kateh sits in a enchanting little lane in Maida Vale, not five minutes walk from the no-man’s land where the Westway meets the A4 (the fitting setting of J.G. Ballard’s Concrete Island). Globe lamps hang outside and there is a silvery olive tree in the front garden. Inside, the restaurant is narrow and Continue reading
It’s official: London has discovered brunch. Even two years ago, you couldn’t find brunch anywhere except hotels, and said “brunch” consisted only of fry-ups (coyly masquerading as “English breakfast”), granola bowls, and the occasional forlorn Eggs Benedict. All that has changed, and as an American (i.e., brunch addict) I’m ecstatic about it. So when friend C turned up on an early Sunday morning flight from San Francisco, brunch was the Thing To Be Had. And, judging from the buzz, NOPI was the place to have it. Continue reading
Al Waha is a west London institution. In 2008, Colin Firth called it his favourite table in London (cue photo of Colin Firth looking impassive, clever and hot as ever). Reportedly, it’s the only Lebanese restaurant listed in Charles Campion’s 2006 London restaurant guide. All this, and more, I learned Continue reading
Les parents love les bistros. So, on our last night in Paris, we decided to try the ambitiously named Bistro des Gastronomes. Bistro des Gastronomes opened quietly in the 5th arrondissement in January of this year. It’s a funny place. Consider: (a) a hot young chef (he most recently worked for Christian Constant *swoon* and at Chez Michel) (b) reasonable prices (at €35 for three courses it’s a bit splurgy for me, but not if les parents are buying); (c) a good, fairly central location; and (d) very good food. A recipe for success, non? Continue reading
Three minutes after I got to Au Passage restaurant/wine bar, I started to fret that taking my parents there was a mistake. Let me explain: Au Passage is a hipster spot. Located down a slightly grungy alley in the 11th arrondissement, Au Passage looks and feels like a dive bar. The tables and chairs are a mish-mash of club chairs and hand-me-downs, the bar is fully stocked, the playlist seems to consist of nothing but the White Stripes, and the menu is 10 or 12 items scrawled on a chalkboard. In other words, it’s the kind of place where I feel right at home Continue reading
I am meat-drunk. I feel like I have been larded with drippings and slathered on toast. You see, I had brunch at Hawksmoor Spitalfields today.
This is not brunch for the fainthearted or weak-willed. There is no heart-healthy option. Nor is this brunch for vegetarians. No. This is brunch for meat-eaters and boozers, and I love it. Continue reading