I had a moment yesterday in Budapest…a food moment. And I’ll never forget the feeling.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve ever been quite as floored by something I ate, where the flavors of a region and the world’s passion for food all just made so much sense.
It was our last night in Budapest and Teagan and I went to a spot called Cafe Kör on the recommendation of The Cipher Podcast Producer Josh Kross. “If you don’t eat at Cafe Kör in Budapest you’re doing it wrong,” he commented on a FB post. “Ok buddy,” I thought…”Let’s see what you got.” We walked by Kör in the afternoon to peek in and it seemed traditional, if not touristy – just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Basilica – but too nice for the quick lunch we were shooting for in the moment and planned to come by at night.
We came back at around 9:30pm, after a rejuvenating end of the day at the Rudas Baths. We ordered a bottle of Cuvee from Eger. It was dry and tart, typical of the area just outside of Budpest and the way I like it. We ordered salmon carpaccio as an appetizer, that covered the plate to the edges. It was excellent and substantial. The waiter, sensing that I wanted something traditional, was pushing me towards the beef tenderloin goulash as my main.
Here’s the thing though: I know it’s Hungary’s most famous dish, but whenever folks talk about goulash, I’ve never felt very excited about it. Stew with vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices? It’s always sounded so…pedestrian.
I’d had an outdoor market’s goulash the day before, but it was served in a fresh bread wrap and it was chicken-based. I dug it, but it was as memorable for the heavy metal music blasting from the stand I bought it from as it was for bold flavors that lingered on my breath for the next couple hours. In short, pedestrian.
Grudgingly, I ordered the Goulash at Kör and questioned that it was served with potato croquettes rather than noodles. But when the food arrived and I started eating, something amazing happened…
As I got into my second and third bites, I started to notice the temperature of the beef. It was hot when it first touched my tongue and my instinct was to back the fork away and blow on my food to cool it off. But then I realized that the heat quickly quelled and that this was in fact perfectly hot. (Hot food?! What a concept! It’s crazy to consider what a lost art this is at many restaurants.) I found confidence in knowing that even though the first touch was hot, it would never be too hot. Again, it was perfect.
And I got to dwelling on the optimal temperature that lasted nearly through the whole meal. I marvelled at how difficult this must be to maintain in a dish that while essentially braised for hours, was spread on the plate, in optimal fashion for cooling. And how did the beef attain such a pleasant chew within this process??
Then I thought about the spices, the sauce and the over-arching confluence of flavors that was before me. Cubes of beef simmered in a brown sauce of onions and peppers, seasoned with paprika and other spices, with the soft and crispy croquettes on the side. My amazement for how perfectly cooked this dish was, then was overcome by how distinctly it tasted and I began to realize that perhaps this is why goulash is so globally ubiquitious whenever the topic of Hungarian food comes up.
So I just kept eating, and sipping my wine and the intensity of the experience kept building. My brain was slowly unfolding into a complete understanding of everything contained within this dish…how the croquettes soaked up the thick stewy sauce, how tender the beef was, the balance that the paprika and the braised vegetables operated within and how it was STILL hot!
It was fairly powerful and I got emotional. My eyes got watery at the thought of this incredible experience as it was happening. I thought about the formative moment Anthony Bourdain describes in Kitchen Confidential, when an old fisherman in the South of France fed him an oyster right out of the water when he was a boy and how a light bulb went off in his nascent culinary mind (these days, I take Bourdain’s work with a grain of salt, but there’s no denying the impact of Kitchen Confidential.) This felt like my culinary moment of the same kind.
My loving partner smiled and laughed as she watched me go through the motions I just described above and it was just a spectacular affair. It felt good to be this affected by food and it re-ignited a passion inside of me. I want to replicate that moment again – badly – and it’s only been 14 hours since it happened.
But this is why I travel. To experience how people live around the globe…And from the standpoint of food, to step outside of my delightfully rote Whole Foods, Mexican food and sushi intake. And now on a train to Prague, I’m inspired. Three days into this trip and I’m in love with the world again. Oh how I’ve missed it.
Culture Collide descended on SF for the first time in it’s 5 year lifespan. The LA-based music/culture festival has a SXSW-style setup, with panels in the early part of the day, followed by happy hours and shows from the late afternoon into the evening. The festival was headlined by Cloud Nothings and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, along with a slew of bands from around the world. I was there for the panels, to try and get a feel for the nexus of music and business in San Francisco, but what I got was much more than that; Music, Burritos and Beer reigned supreme and here’s a slew of awesome quotes to help tell the story of the festival’s 1st year in SF.
On Music and Business
“Tech is human…Let’s use it to strengthen the human connection instead of use it in place of humans.” — Grammy award winning audio engineer Starita in his keynote address.
“Your tour is now navigated by your fan base” — Shazam’s Jeff Roberto speaking on artists and touring.
“15 years later, we’re still undecided on how we feel about streaming. It’s not doing it for the recording industry. I buy vinyl and listen to digital streaming, but fundamentally, its not working for artists. Its not perfect, theres a lot to be done, but i remain optimistic.” — NoisePop’s Kevin Arnold
“Asking how many pennies per stream misses the point. You have to engage fans.” BandPage’s Doug Scott
Question: What will Mission burritos looks like in 2067?
“They’ll be wrapped in gold”
“Doctors will realize the health benefits of burritos” – Broke Ass Stuart takes the cake.
“Shrimp do not belong in burritos!” — @BurritoJustice
SOMA’s Cellarmaker Brewing Company just celebrated their 1 Year Anniversary and the lines were out the door to get in for the weekend celebration. It’s no surprise as the creation of Connor Casey and Brewmaster Tim Sciascia is making some of the most innovative beer we’ve seen in the Bay and beyond.
Casey runs the day-to-day and he’s youthful and unassuming. You can tell he loves beer, has a vision and is realizing it daily at the Cellarmaker facility on Howard St. A veteran of the wine industry, Marin Brew Co and City Beer Store, Casey with the help of Sciascia (whom he met at Marin Brew Co.) are doing everything they can to stand out. “Of our 100 first batches, 73 have been unique beers” Casey tells me. That’s kinda mind-blowing.
There’s really an absence of flagship beers, but their Coffee & Cigarettes Porter with smoked malt is about as close as they get right now. “We get just-roasted coffee from Sightglass (conveniently around the corner) to use in the batch.” The freshness comes through in the flavor and there’s currently an Imperial version of the brew right now, which recalls the fond flavors of a chocolate covered espresso bean (yes, it tastes as good as it sounds).
But for me, the thing that they really do well, is harness their hops to create complex and interesting flavors that make you come back for more. On tap right now, the Christopher Riwakan is a single hop pale that uses rare New Zealand Riwaka hops.
The Double Dobis IPA uses 100% Citra hops and the finished product is immaculate. It comes out kinda cloudy, which adds so much depth and character to the brew, without it tasting like the hop explosion that is typical of DIPA’s. It has an earthy aroma that hints of lemongrass and the output has a tropical quality that truly highlights all that is wonderful about Citra hops.
Do yourself a favor and hop over to Cellarmaker at 1150 Howard St and indulge. The beers are always rotating and they have a big TV for sports (it’s also killer pre/post-game spot for Giants games.) Cheers!
The winner of Five Thirty Eight’s “Burrito Bracket” was crowned today and it was none other than my neighbor down the hill, La Taqueria in San Francisco. To have an idea of how meticulous this challenge was for correspondent Anna Barry-Jester, 67,391 establishments were evaluated and 64 were chosen for Jester’s cross country road trip. In the end, my local haunt was the winner and after seeing my Twitter feed dominated by burrito shout-outs, I decided to make my way down the hill (it’d be rude not to.)
While I expected a massive line of techies and scenesters who wanted to instantly get a taste of America’s best burrito, the line was super tempered and it felt like just another lunch hour at La Taqueria.
I ordered the go-to carnitas burrito Dorado style (rolled on the grill for a bit after it’s complete):
I made sure to congratulate the staff (I’m kind of a regular) and snapped a photo of two burritos just before they were rolled to capture what 538 called “A technical marvel”:
I will say that the carne asada burritos that were on the line after these looked far meatier, but I ultimately have no complaints with the amount of carnitas in my burrito. Here’s an inside look:
Also, the thing that I didn’t see talked about enough on the 538 coverage, was the heavenly green salsa they have. It’s one of the most perfect blends of spicy and flavorful smooth salsas I’ve ever had. I recommend using it liberally:
If I had one knock on this particular trip, it’s that my burrito fell apart towards the end, but I can probably attribute that to my own user error in unravelling the foil to take the 3rd photo on this post and then wrapping it back up like shit:
Lastly, La Taqueira’s owner Miguel Jara claims that “The atmosphere at the taqueria makes for a better tasting burrito.” And he’s not entirely wrong. There’s always a different slew of Mexican musicians in there playing and on this particular day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the musician get this many tips. EVERY table gave him multiple dollars. He killed it.
And there you have it folks. America’s best burrito is officially at La Taqueria in San Francisco, even though their tacos are better (but you didn’t hear that from me.)
It’s an overwhelming idea, to think about visiting one of the most culturally significant and tumultuous cities in America for the 1st time in your life. The thought of “How the heck have i not been here yet?” lingering in your conscious. When people you’ve met all over the country and the world always say “That’s one of my favorite cities,” it makes you wonder what exactly makes it so wonderful. And in all honesty, it builds a bit of anxiety, cause you don’t want to go to NOLA and end up missing whatever the charm is or whatever that ONE thing that makes New Orleans so awesome is. This anxiety (fear?) is likely what led me to decide to make my first 2 day stop on a cross country drive, where everywhere I’d been up to that point was for a one day trip.
Not knowing much about the city, i logged on to AirBnB and booked an apartment in the French Quarter, a block away from Bourbon Street. “That’s where you’re ‘supposed’ to stay, right?” I thought to myself, whilst keeping the promise of figuring out what “it” is in NOLA with every decision. I fired off a few texts to seasoned NOLA veterans with “send me your recommendations” and off I was, rolling in just in time for dinner following the 8 hour drive from Atlanta. My apartment was a quaint unit, tucked away in a courtyard that despite being near the loudest street in the city, was pleasantly quiet. My host pointed out the hurricane doors on the unit:
I strolled out onto Bourbon Street amidst a mass of drunks enjoying themselves following the week’s annual Jazz Fest. I walked around the French Quarter for over an hour, trying to understand how Bourbon St breathes in relation to the surrounding area. It didn’t take long for me to realize that unlike most of these people, I wasn’t really in New Orleans to get blitzed, but rather to get a glimpse of a city that i was sure i would hope to visit again and catch up on my writing & upcoming travel plans. I retired into a large seafood house on the outskirts of Bourbon St and drank Jefferson Rye and Voodoo Bengal pale ale over oysters and Creole shrimp.
The Creole flavors were out of this world, the type of sauce that balances spicy and bold flavors impeccably and lingers on your palette long after you’re done. I left relaxed and a bit parched, but felt content to discover the ups and downs of Bourbon St for another hour with a “big ass beer” before turning in.
I had a full day ahead of me on Monday and my quest to understand the NOLA paradigm began. I settled into Stanley Cafe on Jackson Square on a recommendation from a friend who called it “the best breakfast i’ve ever had.” A bold statement which had to be investigated.
Jackson Square is a bustling plaza, likely the French Quarter’s largest and it boasts a colorful population of artists, fortune tellers (yes, fortune tellers…lots of em), performers, tourists and vagrants. A lone stool at the end of the breakfast bar helped me circumvent the line immediately, which looked to be a 30+ minute wait. I ordered eggs benedict with fried Louisiana oysters. Yes please:
The hollandaise sauce was light and agreeable along with the three thinly sliced Canadian bacon discs on each english muffin, but the fried oysters…oh the fried oysters! THIS was a Benedict and something about having oysters for my last two meals in a row put a huge smile on my face.
As for the coffee, I couldn’t even tell you how many cups I had. In New Orleans, it’s customary to infuse the coffee grounds with a plant/herb called chicory. The result is a creamier bodied blend, with a smooth chocolatey taste which feels far less acidic.
I talked to a couple at the counter who told me to check out Frenchman St, which was in the Marigny neighborhood that was also on my radar. Frenchman St was littered with restaurants, music stores and jazz clubs and even on a sunny Monday afternoon, the music was playing everywhere from the street musicians along my walk, to the clubs/eateries along Frenchman. While there were clearly tourists perusing the area, (likely spillover from the nearby Farmer’s market/bazaar along the water) it felt like I was somewhere between where the touristy French Quarter tapered off and a pseudo-suburban village picked up.
I ventured deeper into Marigny to a coffee shop for the next few hours, only to arise with the hunger of a thousand southerners. After dilly-dallying up and down Frenchman St looking for the right spot to eat, i decided to go back to that Farmer’s Market and hunt down the local favorite, a Po boy sandwich. The market had a food boulevard of sorts and I posted up at a stand called N’awlins:
I sat by the kitchen and listened to the cooks talking about cooking, paying rent, saving money, their families and having a few laughs. I had a bowl of seafood gumbo with andouille and a sautéed crawfish Po Boy sandwich that’ll go down as the best thing i had in the city. The “CEO” of the place, Arthur “King Creole” Humphrey, came out and asked me “How you doin’ oer there son?” I nodded and put a thumbs up as i took a bite of the buttery sandwich with the sexiest balance of mayo to hot sauce. Right on cue, King Creole replied with “We Got Da Kind Dat Stop Da Baby From Crying!”…I didn’t really get it and he must’ve noticed the look on my face cause then he asked “You know how to stop da baby from cryin’, right?” I made another puzzled look and in perfect rhythm, the King said “Put food in his mouth! Hahaha!” What a cool dude and a helluva sandwich.
I was spent and it was barely 6 o’clock so I strolled along the river and made my way back to my room. But in a turn for the best, I decided to go on a run instead of sitting around. I’d been eating like a pig for the last 3 days and hadn’t exercised a lick.
My run took me along the Mississippi and then i got lost somewhere in the CBD (Central Business District). I looked down on my phone’s map and realized I wasn’t far from the historic Superdome, so to there I ran. When I arrived, the surrounding area was a ghost town. With football season over (The Saints play in the Superdome) and no major events on the horizon, there was no reason for anyone to be around. The nearby Smoothie King Center (yes, that’s what it’s called) where the NBA’s Hornets play, was also empty and i felt like the last survivor in a zombie apocalypse in that moment.
I walked around the building, admiring the changing colors on it’s facade with the sunset sky in the foreground and i couldn’t help but think of the thousands of families who came to the Superdome for safe harbor when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005. My mind was blown when i replaced the lasting image of this building during Katrina in my head:
with this image that was now before me:
The breathtaking grandeur of the Superdome started opening my eyes to a rebirth and the strength of this city & its supporters following a devastating Hurricane which claimed nearly 2,000 lives, flooded over 80% of the city and caused over $81 billion in property damage. Think about that…$81 billion?!?! When I juxtaposed the idea of a city in shambles with this beautifully renovated facility, it represented a Renaissance and a transformation of a city that i would learn more about later that night…And with the emotional visit to the Superdome under my belt I ventured home, showered, packed to leave the following morning and readied myself for a walk to the finest beer pub in the state of Louisiana, Avenue Pub.
Avenue Pub is a bit Uptown, well off the French Quarter on St. Charles St and came highly recommended. I hadn’t realized what a craft beer mecca it was until i was reading about it on my 35 minute walk, but suffice it to say this beer geek was happy. I felt like most everyone I had talked to so far was also a tourist and I really wanted to post up at a bar top and meet some locals. Turns out this was just the place for that as I sat at the bar drinking Envie Pale Ale’s from the fantastic Parish Brewing Co in Broussard, LA. I met a dude named Phil, who grew up in St. Louis and had lived in NOLA for the last 6 years working as an attorney. Our interests were similar: beer, sports, cities and it was cool to compare living in New Orleans with life in the last two cities i had lived in, New York City and San Francisco.
The bartender was cheerful from the moment I walked in and there was a chef whipping up southern pub grub (I had 5 small crawfish pies. They did not suck.) In fact, everyone at this bar was cheerful. There were people watching playoff hockey (LA Kings fans?!), other folks who wanted to talk about beer and random barflies who clearly knew the ropes at Avenue Pub.
Phil took off and this older biker looking dude had moved into the stool next to me. We started telling our stories to each other, like where we’re from, where we’ve been, you know… typical bar fodder and he soon introduced himself to me as Beast. Beast was a bartender at a new Italian restaurant down the road and had moved to New Orleans 8 years ago, a few months after Katrina hit. Naturally i was curious about the role that Katrina played in his arrival and Beast had a wealth of modern history to tell. He arrived here a seasoned bartender and applied for a job at the House of Blues. They hired him on the spot and asked him if he could start that night. Turns out a lot of the food service industry had been hit hard following Katrina. The House of Blues company for one, offered a job relocation to any HOB NOLA employee at another HOB location across the country to get away from the Katrina aftermath along with their families.
Beast was part of a food service and culinary landscape that had been drastically altered after Katrina. Up and coming chefs who had to claw to get positions on the line of New Orleans’ finest restaurants were now finding it easier to slide into a notable spot in the years following the disaster. As a result, the beautiful food of the city was blossoming; mirroring the city’s growth into 2014 during my visit.
But as people came to New Orleans following the disaster, even more people left. The metropolitan area’s population had dropped from 489,000 pre-Katrina to 369,000 post-Katrina. Low income families had relocated to other large cities like Houston, Atlanta and Dallas. The crime rates in those cities grew as the rate in New Orleans dropped historically. And through this conversation with Beast, I finally started to understand this city. Namely the transition and subsequent Renaissance that it’s been undergoing since the tragedy that struck 9 years prior. The dead space that I saw on my walk between the French Quarter and the heart of St. Charles St to the pub made more sense now as there were clearly areas that had yet to be re-developed. And the whole time, everyone who was there couldn’t be happier. This city withstood a catastrophic hurricane, but it’s people and culture had shown the strength to carry on and tout the things that endear the city to them and make it what it is: Food, music, culture, the people themselves and a prevailing attitude that’s as steady as the bridges that bind the city from end to end.
Even though I’ve left New Orleans, I’ll be thinking about how full of life the Superdome looked even in the absence of people. I’ll be thinking about oysters, that crawfish sandwich and sublime coffee. I’ll be thinking about Beast, that Pub and what lies in the outer extremities of the city that I didn’t get to know. But that’s what makes a great city so great…that it leaves you with a feeling that you can’t wait to go back. One love.
The RoadTrip Soundtrack has new additions from the last post:
While my first post in 3 months should probably be about the new Daft Punk album leak that dropped today, i think i covered how i felt with my genuine music-gasm tweets as i listened to it for the first time earlier today. Instead, i want to talk about a sandwich….About how i truly feel like a free individual when i can hop in my car and drive to the Inner Richmond just to have a crispy duck vietnamese sandwich from Cafe Buhn Mi on Clement St…
Look you guys, everything about this sandwich is perfect. Eating it is a joyous experience from the first to the last bite. There’s generous strips of perfectly breaded crispy duck over a light spread of garlicky mayo. The vietnamese slaw and carrots give it that fresh crisp and the jalapeños sandwiched betwixt it all, kick up the spice of the sri racha (also one of God’s perfect creations) that i lather on once the sando is in front of me. The roll has the right amount of crisp and just adds to the theme of “crispy” duck. You see…it’s not just the duck that’s crispy. It’s the bread, the slaw AND the duck. Good god. And there’s this sweet duck sauce that just mixes so well with the garlic mayo. This is a top 5 sandwich in SF, perhaps of all time and easily #1 in the vietnamese category.
It’s not often that a sandwich makes me feel this way. Where once you’re eating it, all you can think about is how perfect of a creation this is and once you’re done, all is good in the world. This is the sandwich that makes me feel free, it’s the sandwich that reminds me of what a beautiful place the world is. It could bring peace to the world, but i’m not sure if we’ve tried that strategy yet…. I love you crispy duck sandwich from Cafe Buhn Mi!