Saturday, July 28, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
We started the day off with a visit to the Central Market, which is like a farmers market. The basement is where you can locate the seafood, 1st floor is dedicated to fruits/meats/spices, and you can find all types of souvenirs on the 2nd floor. It was fun to walk around the floors to check out the different types of local food. Chili peppers seemed to be a popular spice, as you can see many strings of them hanging from various vendors. The 2nd floor was definitely a tourist trap with over-priced souvenirs and handicrafts but it was very fun to browse. My favorite part of the building was the mushroom exhibit on the 1st floor. Apparently mushroom grows wildly around Budapest. The massive display of mushrooms had detailed information about them so that consumers would know which are edible and which are poisonous. You can pick mushrooms off the streets and bring them into the market to pay someone to identify which ones would be safe to eat. It was truly an interesting sight to see.
After lunch, we ventured to Castle Hill on the Buda side and walked around the area surrounding Fisherman's Bastion. From the terrace, you get a panoramic view of the Danube River and the Pest side of the city. Right next to Fisherman's Bastion stands Matthias Church (named after the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus). The church has a gorgeous diamond-patterned roof, but unfortunately it was under renovations when we were there so you can hardly see it under all the scaffolds. You can still enter the church to admire a number of relics and the beautiful gothic interior.After another delicious dinner at our family friend's restaurant, we went on a night cruise on the Danube. As I mentioned before, the sun sets at a later time in all of Europe during the summer, so there was still light when we first got on the boat and you could soak in the beauty along the Danube River. Soon the sun set and the dark sky was illuminated by the glows of the bridge and beautiful historic monuments. It was definitely worth the trip if you enjoy a relaxing ride with a view.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Szeged (XI. Bartók Béla út 1) is a traditional Hungarian restaurant, located very close to the famous Gellert Hotel (known for its thermal hot springs/spa) on the Buda side. It serves cuisine from its namesake city in southern Hungary. Its most well-known dish is the fish soup, made with tasty chunks of fresh catch of the day simmered in a tomato-based soup with a multitude of spice. The soup is thick, its density borderlining on stew, so if you order a bowl of the soup, it could almost be a meal, especially since you'll be eating a lot of bread and using the bread to wipe every last drop from the bowl! And if you like spicy, be sure to ask for the hot pepper sauce and put a healthy dollop into the soup.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Saturday, July 21, 2007
The service was quite friendly as well - the waitstaff all spoke great English and made good suggestions. The clientele seemed to be mostly younger, probably college students who are trekking through Europe. There were some local folks as well, but all in all, unfortunately I didn't see anyone worthy of giving this restaurant a Q... Still recommend it for the food though - it's a convenient stop after a long day of sightseeing in Florence.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
We were there for lunch and they had some great set menus that ranged from about $15-20. It came with soup, appetizer, entree, rice, and dessert. The appetizer was a light salad with chopped salmon on top - it was very refreshing and reminded me of Japan. For entree, my mom and I chose sushi while my sister chose chirashi (bowl of rice with sashimi on top). Our sushi came with a bowl of rice as well, and it was made exactly how I remember them in Japan, with thin slices of seaweed, egg, topped with salmon roe. Although the slices of fish on my sushi were quite thin, they were pretty fresh. We ended the meal with some ice cream with meringue. Overall, the meal was probably the most authentic I've had on this trip - more so than any of the Japanese restaurants I went to in Europe. Not only was each dish prepared with great care, but also the entire menu really paid attention to the Japanese concept of seasonality so that everything was very light for the hot summer weather. So if you are ever in Marrakech and find yourself wanting a break from Moroccan food, Tatchibana could be a good choice.
Friday, July 13, 2007
When we first arrived at the restaurant, we were invited into a dimly-lit, richly-decorated space that was a cross between a Moroccan palace and a trendy New York club/restaurant. We started off by ordering some house cocktails while they served us three different kinds of bread. My sister ordered a pastilla (or bastilla) with chicken for appetizer, which she really loved (so much so that she ordered a second one later). I got a small sampler plate of various ingredients such as cheese, tuna, etc. stuffed in phyllo (or filo) dough and they were very tasty. While I opted to go with a traditional tangine for entree, my sister went for steak which she has been craving. My tangine was served with a flair (see pic) but I thought the meat was a bit tough. My sister's steak, on the other hand, was prepared well and the fries were accompanied by three deliciously-flavored mustard.
As our meal started to wind down, the performance began. As the music started, a number of belly dancers strutted their stuff around the restaurant. The dancers were all very beautiful and sure could move their hips. They not only mesmerized all the men in the room but also captured the attention of the women. It was a lot of fun and everybody seemed to have a good time. The trendy restaurant attracted a chic clientele - almost everyone was a tourist or expat but it was certainly a happening place to be.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
We went to La Finca de Susana (C. Arlaban, 4) for lunch. The restaurant was very highly recommended in the Let’s Go Guide for having “delicious fine dining and swanky surroundings… at an extremely low price.” Well, Let’s Go got two out of three right: the restaurant had a nice atmosphere, and the price was indeed really low: the lunch prix-fixe menu was 8.50 euros for appetizer, entrée, dessert, and drink. Unfortunately, the food left much to be desired. My sister and I got the quiche for starters while my mom got a salad. Both were pretty bland but we tried to eat as much of it as we could. But when the entrees came, we gave up – they were all so bad that we just couldn’t eat anymore. The tuna was rubbery, and the veal was so tough you’d think it came from old jerky. All of us barely touched our food, which was pretty unusual for us. We unanimously agreed that this was the worst meal we’ve had so far in Europe (and it’s still true even as I’m writing this two weeks after…) Maybe we caught it on a bad day, but we certainly do not plan to try again.
Monday, July 9, 2007
One of my greatest regrets in Bilbao is going to see the Guggenheim. The attraction was to see one of Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpieces. Alas it was such a disappointment once you enter in the museum. The only artworks that were even worth looking at are visible from the outside so don't waste money on a ticket. It is 12.50 euros for the regular entrance fee, but if you are a student who is under 26 years old the prices drop to 7.50 euros. Audio guide is included. Like I said, don't waste your money on a ticket. Just go to the front of the museum for the cute dog, known as “the puppy”, to take some nice pictures. It is a gigantic wired puppy piece decorated with an array of flowers that supposedly differ in color as the seasons change. Just take your digital camera, zoom, and click. Believe me, you don’t want to go in to look at the horrid “modern” art they have. It really lacks any pieces of work that are worth the fee. I cannot begin to describe the bitterness, anger, and frustration that I felt when I toured this horrid museum.
My experience at the Guggenheim really marred my impression of Bilbao but the city did have other redeeming qualities such as the food, the hotel, and the ambiance. We ate at two restaurants near the entrance of the museum. The first place was Serrantes III, where we were able to try a unique dish of “barnacles” at an exorbitant price of 150 euros per kg. They were delectable, but I am not quite sure they were worth the price as we found them in the fish markets later in Barcelona to be much cheaper. We only had some snacks/tapas at this restaurant because the prices were ridiculously high. Fortunately we had passed an Asian restaurant earlier on the way that looked much more reasonable so we went back there for lunch. It turned out surprisingly good (and it's almost right across from the main entrance to the museum). For those of you who speak mandarin, the supposed Japanese restaurant that was run by Chinese/Cantonese people named the restaurant Tamaya (Ta-ma-ya). Can we say a little ironic and maybe a hidden message? ^_^ Refreshingly, this restaurant was actually pretty decent and for a great price. Their lunch “menu” was 13.50 euros; which included appetizer, rice or noodles, a main course, dessert, and drinks. Usually the entrees for such a low price would be either horrendous or extremely tiny or both. This place was wonderful because I had a nice plate of shrimp tempura, a mediocre fried rice, a generous amount of peking duck, violet ice cream, and water. As for my sister and mom, they ordered sushi, stir-fried instant noodles, enormous sauteed shrimps, fresh fruits, and tea. For the price of 13.50 euros, we constantly talk about this diamond in the rough. Once you come to Europe you will find out that there are really no delectable Asian restaurants, nor are they all at reasonable prices. We often wish to find a place like this in Europe, when we think about it we say “ta ma yah!” (those of you who speak Mandarin will get it) ^_^.
The ambiance of Bilbao is also pleasant because they have a lot of intriguing architectural splendors as the city tries to fit into the setting of Frank Gehry’s design. The bridges over the rivers are very modern and nice to look at. As for our hotel, we stayed at the Hesperia Bilbao, which was located across the river facing the Guggenheim. It was a pretty nice hotel for a very reasonable price, but I must say I know why it was not that expensive for a four-star hotel! They trick you to come to Bilbao to suffer and visit the abhorrent Guggenheim museum that they recognize as their treasure. What a mockery! I would never come back to Bilbao because of this abomination! I recommend you to stay in San Sebastian to bask in the splendid city and stay close to the ethereal beaches.
Um, okay... Thanks, Sis, for your candid review. I guess I'll see your posts again the next time you really hate a place!
Sunday, July 8, 2007
After we were already nearly full on tapas, we passed by this restaurant called Irutxulo that showed a picture of fresh uni (sea urchin) on its menu and I knew I must try it! I was very curious to see how the Spanish would prepare uni. The uni was mixed with some crab and then it was steamed and lightly flavored. The presentation was beautiful – they were served in three shells garnished with some salmon roe on top. The dish was interesting, but I would still prefer raw uni typically served in Japanese restaurants. I was happy that I was even able to get uni here though! We also ordered a number of other dishes since their seafood looked so fresh (since we were only in San Sebastian one day, we needed to squeeze in multiple meals). We had some grilled shrimps, which were very good and cooked to perfection. We also ordered some fish, which was lightly battered and served with a tartar sauce on the side. It was good but nothing too special. The kitchen also surprised us by giving us a dish of baked scallop with vermicelli, which was very nice of them. Irutxulo also made a very nice sangria – a bit on the sweet side but very fruity and delicious.
After lunch, we walked around Old Town a bit more and enjoyed some gelato. We also decided to do the touristy thing and took a ride in one of the mini-trains that toured around town. It was a good way to see the entire coastline when you are too lazy to walk. :-) We wanted to have dinner at La Perla Restaurant because it was supposed to be good but it wasn’t open for dinner until 9 pm! (I guess it’s not that unusual in Spain for restaurants to open so late…) Unfortunately we couldn’t stay that late so we ended up just grabbing some sandwiches at the La Perla Café, which was on the terrace and had a nice view of the ocean. We can’t wait to come back to San Sebastian again!