Having just returned from a trip to Europe which included stays in Berlin, Helsinki, Milan, Greece and by accident, Qatar, I feel compelled to describe to you my sensational dining experiences along the way.
The story actually begins in my original home of Los Angeles. I now spend nine months of the year in the Philippines having moved there in 2012. The other three months I spend in Los Angeles from which I take various side trips. Although I enjoy eating in the Philippines, the town I live in there lacks a restaurant with my absolute favorite food which is Indian. In Los Angeles, I am always looking for the very best Indian restaurant, and my current pick for the top nod is Anarkali Indian Restaurant on Melrose Avenue.
Anarkali Indian Restaurant, Los Angeles
A friend turned me onto this eatery. The interior reminds me of an Indian palace with chandeliers and booth-like tables which foster an intimate experience. The lighting is subdued helping to make the ambiance quiet and comfortable. The service is attentive without being oppressive. We have been there twice and each time we ordered a superb combination plate, the “Anarkali Dinner For Two” for $49.95. It consists of samosa, mixed grilled chicken tikka masala, sag paneer, vegetables, tandoori chicken, coconut curry, rice, raita, dessert, and drink.
I recommend the mango lassi for a beverage—a tasty blend of yogurt and mangoes. I chose the medium spicy option for the food and did not regret it. The chicken tikka masala includes among other ingredients lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, and ginger in an orange creamy sauce and is excellent. The sag paneer, spinach with Indian cheese, seems almost pureed and is also wonderful. The rayta is a very nice side dish combining yogurt with cooked vegetables. The condiments, onion chutney, curry sauce, and masala sauce were perfect with the naan bread. The only item I could fault unfortunately were the samosas which I found to be too bland and too homogeneous, both in taste and texture.
For those of you venturing to Berlin, do not pass up the Restaurant Hof swei at the Movenpick Hotel in the center of the city. I stayed at the Movenpick and I strongly recommend doing likewise but that is for another post. Airy and atmospheric and featuring a movable glass roof, the restaurant specializes in contemporary Mediterranean and Swiss cooking.
Restaurant Hot zwei, Movenpick Hotel, Berlin
They offer a splendid breakfast buffet for 22 € with so many delectable items to choose from. The regular meals are generous with quantity so you won’t go hungry taking that option.
Three menu items really caught my attention. Their Swiss style rosti potatoes are somewhat equivalent to our potato pancakes but better. Fried in hot butter and goose fat, they are crisp on the outside and soft within—fantastic for potato fans! Do also try their muesli yogurt which is very tasty and creamy with blueberries and lingonberries–fiber galore! Another group of entrees I had never even heard of let alone tasted was based on their curryworst. To prepare it, they take pork sausage, steam then fry it, soak it with curry ketchup and finally top it with curry powder.
Venturing outside the hotel, one night we followed up on a recommendation and headed to Restaurant Maximilians Berlin featuring Bavarian cuisine. Located on the ground floor of the Quantmeyer-Haus, a wing of the Kontorhaus in Friedrichstrasse, Maximilian’s restaurant offers homemade Bavarian specialities and freshly tapped beer.
Restaurant Maximilians, Berlin
Two of us opted for their Weiner Schnitzel with Bavarian potato salad for 19.80 €. I was most impressed with their potato salad. Unlike its American counterpart which often includes eggs, mayonnaise, onion, celery, pickle relish, bacon bits and more, Maximilian’s potato salad was made up of just mustard and vinegar. Nonetheless, I loved it. The schnitzel made from veal was lightly breaded and had a nice texture. However, I felt it needed a little more seasoning. Another of our party ordered their Bavarian sausage parade consisting of veal-Palatinate and “Nürnberger Würstel” pork sausages, served with Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes for 14,80 €. I took a bite of one of them and it was tasty.
Heading northeast over the Baltic Sea, we landed in Helsinki for the wedding of my friend’s son to a beautiful Finnish girl. For our first dinner, we chose Ravintola Tori for what is described as “the best meatballs in town”. It is located at the beginning of a street called Punavuorenkatu. Five of us chose the meatballs, called “Torin Lihapullat”, and were not disappointed. Although Finland, like the other Scandinavian countries, is known to be expensive, the price for this dish was a very reasonable 14 €. It consisted of a large serving of meatballs with brandy gravy, and lingonberry sauce, all served on top of creamy mashed potatoes. I tried to separate the lingonberry sauce from the rest as I do not like to mix salty and sweet sensations. However, a more experienced Finnish diner informed me that it should all be mixed together. I tried that and was surprised to find out that it worked.
Ravintola Tori, Helsinki
One person in our party went with “Talon Hampurilainen “, the house burger with bacon, cheddar, and fries for 16 €. The dish looked great when served and stealing one of his steak fries, I decided it was the best I ever tasted. I’m going with that dish next! (Unfortunately, never got back there).
I am staying at the Klaus K Hotel and while I find it a bit inferior to the Movenpick, their breakfast buffet is superb and more distinctive than the Movenpick’s. They have two fabulous fish, smoked trout and smoked vendace caught from Lake Pielinen. In addition, one can choose perfectly done scrambled eggs—fresh warm bread that you can slice yourself—four types of jam including rhubarb—sliced salami and pork—four types of cheese including bread cheese (which I decided I didn’t care for—too bland)—a vanilla and berry yogurt which you can mix together along with various toppings including powdered hemp protein—and various pastries including a very nice not overly sweet cheesecake.
Klaus K Hotel Breakfast Buffet, Helsinki
Following the wedding at the church which is part of the Suomenlinne Sea Fortress on a small island reachable from Helsinki by ferry, the reception took place at the Pirunkirkko Banquet Hall which to me looked like it could have been an old Viking great hall. Along with some delicious salads, the main course was reindeer served with tasty reindeer gravy.
Pirenkirkko Banquet Hall, Suomenlinne Sea Fortress, Helsinki
For the next three days, we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the bride’s parents in the city of Jyvaskyla, 168 miles north of Helsinki in the heart of the lake country. The food was fabulous with items prepared differently than what I am used to. I really enjoyed a meat patty that taste-wise, seemed part burger, part meatloaf.
Flying south and radically changing countries, cultures, personal demeanor, and taste sensations, I arrived for my first visit to Milan, Italy. A very substantial city with wonderful architecture, it also boasts some of the best food in the world. I am staying with a very good-natured Italian guy, the boyfriend of my girlfriend’s cousin, who, for my first dining experience here, took me to La Taverna, whose pizza he describes as “the real thing”. One review described it as “the best choice if you want to have the flavor of Napoli in Milano”—in fact, the birthplace of pizza is Naples.
My friend recommended I try the “Quattro Stagioni” (Four Seasons) pizza consisting of pomodoro (tomato), mozzarella cheese, prosciutto (ham), funghi (mushrooms), carciofi (artichokes), and olives. Although advertised as thin crust, I found it to be a medium crust. Although I did like it very much and it was such a healthy choice, I would give a slight edge on taste to Spontini’s pizza (covered later).
La Taverna Menu
The next day we took a trip up to the wine country and had lunch at the Trattoria Pautassi in the picturesque town of Govone. It was clean with a modern interior. We split what was called “The Tasting Menu” for 30 €. Included in this was their ravioli. With small shells, it was the best ravioli I ever had.
Back at my host’s apartment, he served up an array of appetizers including various cheeses (giglio-sardo, fontina, mozzarella, and gorgonzola), cooked and uncooked salami, raisin bread, focaccia, and grilled pepperoni in olive oil and vinegar. However, his specialty was pesto, and I would also rate it the best pesto I have had with no hesitation. He used thick pacchori pasta and added basil, garlic, pinoli (pine nuts), pecorino-romano (Italian sheep’s milk cheese), parmesan, and olive oil—fantastic! On my last night in Milan, my host whipped up another good one—risoto a la Milanese. Bright yellow, it was rice with cheese, a little champagne, and saffron.
I did have one more pizza experience and it was a novel one. We went to the infamous Spontini Buenos Aires, a place that serves only one pizza, the “Marjherita”. In Via Spontini no. 4, on the corner of Corso Buenos Aires, they serve a new modern version of the thick Sicilian pizza, the “sfincione”, a specialty of Palermo with a light base. It’s left for a long time to rise, and is cooked in a wood-fired over and topped with just a few ingredients: tomatoes, onions, and anchovies. It was oily and thick, and honestly, it was tastier than the one at La Taverna.
Spontini Buenos Aires, Milan
I left my generous Italian hosts and flew southeast over the Adriatic Sea and met my brother’s first wife at the Athens airport. I am now staying in her nice condo in Saronida, Greece. My only other time in Greece was 43 years previous in 1973 when my mother and I traveled here to see their wedding. I can feel the difference being in Southern Europe, a region and people that by reputation are more open, more expressive, and more passionate than their northern counterpart. Plus, I am now right on the beautiful Aegean Sea and it is warm with wonderful refreshing breezes.
Having to deal with the distraction of a vandalized suitcase and with disposable cash not in abundance, I am finding the Greek part of my trip to be simpler and more casual. My host prepared some homemade moussaka, a Greek specialty which I remembered from my previous trip. I really enjoy moussaka but add a caution that it is a very rich dish. My host advises that in order to avoid using excessive flour, one should cook the olive oil to a very high temperature, and put in 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour. If you gradually add lukewarm milk while continuously mixing, it will cause the flour that is there to expand. Recipes for it are as follows:
One sunny day, after a tour of Athens and the Acropolis, we found ourselves in one of the main Athenian attractions—the Plaka. With its narrow winding streets, big crowds, and touristy shops, it also features some good restaurants. Very hungry from all our walking, we located one of the best ones, Thanasis. Some have said it has the best souvlaki in Athens. However, I took my host’s recommendation and we split their excellent kebab meal, which she says derives from an ancient Armenian recipe. It combines elongated half beef, half lamb patties, with onion, slightly cooked tomatoes, parsley, red paprika, and some secret spices, served with pita bread on the side. We also ordered a white sauce called tjatsjiki, which is yogurt with chopped cucumber and crushed garlic, to spread on the patties. Combined with some decent French fries and cold Fix beer, it really hit the spot and was reasonably priced! Interestingly, while walking through the Plaka, I saw a sign advertising Movenpick ice cream (from the previously mentioned Berlin hotel).
Thanasis Restaurant, The Plaka, Athens
The next day, after visiting the magnificent Temple of Poseidon, we went swimming and then rounded the peninsula ending up in the town of Lavrin, once a major source of silver. Here we went to a small restaurant named Kafeneio where we had a wonderful late lunch of octopus, calamari, and sardines, accompanied by bread and ouzo (a licorice-like drink and another Greek specialty). They were kind enough to throw in some sweet Mastiha liqueur gratis. Such a Mediterranean experience!
There was still one more Greek delicacy I remembered and needed to taste again to make my stay complete–souvlaki! Fortunately, on my final night in Greece/Europe at a lively outdoor plaza in Saronida, I had a scrumptious pork souflaki. The pork was thinly sliced, with tomatoes and onion, and the same wonderful tjatsjiki sauce.
I begin my flight back to my home base in the Philippines today. Although I love Arabic food, my 50-minute stopover in Doha, Qatar will not permit me the time to indulge that desire. But I was wrong!
My flight from Athens to Qatar was late, causing me to miss my connecting flight to the Philippines, and I was given free lodging and food at the Hotel Musherib in Doha.
Although not spectacular (practical for missed flight holdovers), the hotel and food were decent and the staff was very gracious. Last night I had a good lamb curry and this morning, a solid breakfast buffet. My steak for lunch, although a little tough, was flavorful.
So my trip comes to an end (barring any more misadventures) and probably none too soon as I have probably put on at least 15 pounds since the beginning of it. I hope you enjoyed this post and that you are fortunate enough to visit some of these wonderful eating establishments!