Saturday, December 19, 2009

Belgian Beer - simply the best!

Note: A slight change in scenery. This post is from my recent trip to Belgium.

I admit, before my trip to Belgium I only had a passing knowledge about Belgian beers. Mainly the brands I see at the liquor store - Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, that's about it. (For some reason i actually assumed Stella was a British import). However, after a week going around the country drinking at different pubs with my friends Luc and Carl, highlighted by our visit to St. Sixtus abbey in Westvleteren, I have seen the light.

Beer is to Belgium as wine is to France. Beer drinking culture pervades this tiny country of 10.6 million people, with 150 breweries producing about 800 different types of specialty beer ranging from the world-renowned Trappist (brewed by monks inside monasteries), lambic (“wild” beers produced by spontaneous fermentation), and kriek (lambic beer mixed with cherries, a “ladies” beer), to mention a few.

In short, Belgians appreciate variety and high quality stuff, and despite the relatively high alcohol contents of their beers they rarely drink to excess nor get drunk.

One of the highlights of my week-long trip in Belgium was sampling a wide variety of their home brews with my friends Luc and Carl, both of them beer connoisseurs whose houses are equipped with beer cellars. Their precious bottles reside there awaiting to be popped open on some unknown date for a special occasion.

Thanks to these two beer masters who served as drinking buddies and teachers, my beer adventures were loads of fun (as you shall see), and my crash course in Belgian Beer 101 ensures that I will never order a Bud Light again. Ever. Nor a Heineken ("80% Marketing, 20% Beer", sniffs Carl).

Follow our adventures in this beer slide show that I created. Note that each beer comes in its own distinctive glass with its own logo. Serving a Westmalle in a Chimay glass is guaranteed to incur the wrath of Belgian beer fans. Drinking from the bottle (as we do here) is an even bigger no-no. No plastic cups, por favor.

Pictured: Kwak beer served in its distinctive tall round bottomed glass, held in place by a wooden stand. Read a fantastic anecdote about this drinking adventure here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Saegreifinn's World-Famous Lobster Soup (plus some Mink Whale)

Note: A slight change in scenery. This post is from my recent trip to Reykjavik, Iceland.

I knew vaguely that Mark Bittman was a food writer for the New York Times, though I never really followed his blog posts. And then I saw a couple of episodes of the TV show "Spain: On the Road Again", where he and three cohorts (including the actress Gywneth Paltrow and famous chef Mario Batali) savor culinary delights all throughout Spain. Oh, so that's him...then I promptly forgot what he looked like. Honestly, what male would take their eyes off the lovely Claudia Bassols for one second to look at some guy?!

My opinion turned in his favor though, when R. sent me his review of the seafood restaurant Saegreifinn. Bittman raved about the lobster soup at this rustic shack situated right by the harbor in downtown Reykjavik. My appetite was whetted further after reading yet more press about Saegreifinn - see owner Kjartan joking around with a journalist in this Three Sheets Iceland video, as well as a Amateur Traveller podcast mentioning Saegreifinn and yes, the lobster soup.

Scanning the assortment of fish skewers on display, the mink whale caught me eye - I asked the lady manning the counter what it tasted like. She replied, "Somewhere between beef and liver". Though not especially fond of liver, my adventurous instinct was unable to resist such a novelty, thus I decided that mink whale it would be. You know, in the spirit of "When in Reykjavik...". And of course, a steaming bowl of lobster soup each for R. and I, shivering as we were from the freezing temps.

(Note: Before you hate me, mink whales are not endangered, and it is legal to eat them).

The much-hyped, world-famous lobster soup lived up to its billing. Slightly sweet, filled with chunks of local lobster (see pic). The mink whale? Well, the waitress' description was right on target - it looked like beef and tasted like liver. Neither great nor bad, though we both agreed that R.'s grilled cod was the tastier dish between the two, and that Saegreifinn's reasonably-priced seafood is a welcome departure from most of Reykjavik's dining scene where sticker shock is the norm.

On the way out, guess what I spotted tacked on the wall by the door - a yellowed newspaper clipping of Mark Bittman's review, no less. Well done, MB. Maybe now I'll pay closer attention to "Bitten". Just maybe.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

I say Macaron, you say Macaroon

As I was preparing for my trip last year to Paris, a friend alerted me to the sumptuous macarons at the French pastry retailer Laduree, raving about the smooth, creamy fillings of said confections. For some nebulous reason, I absentmindedly thought she was referring to coconut macaroons, which are delicious and which I heartily consumed in the past, and thus although I wandered along the Champs Elysees I neglected to make a visit to Laduree's pastry shop. Six months after returning from Paris, by happenstance I read a blurb about the newly-opened Macaron Cafe serving those tiny delicacies did my mind wander back to that conversation, and I realized my colossal blunder and vowed to rectify this error.

Located in a somewhat nondescript part of Midtown, Macaron Cafe is pretty easy to miss unless you are looking for it, as I was. Once you step inside, however, the vibrant colors of the paintings and inviting couches entice you to stay, relax, have a nice cup of tea accompanied by whatelse? - the lovely macarons, of course - which come in sixteen different flavors. Enthralled at the choices, I stood in front of the glass counter, pondering which varieties to sample, debating inside my head, "I want this. No, I'll try that one instead", all the while conscious of the French female attendant's amused gaze upon me. Couldn't help wondering if she thought I'd say "Give me one of each (all sixteen)". Finally I selected the pistachio and tiramisu, and savored each tender, chewy bite. Sweet, yet not cloying. Why, oh why, are they so small???

If I hadn't been in a rush to get to an appointment, doubtless I would've stayed and noshed on more macarons (not good for someone trying to shed pounds), so I settled for buying a twelve-pack box as a present to my friend. So far it sits inside my refrigerator, untouched. Hopefully, midnight cravings won't hijack the macarons from their intended receipient. As for Laduree, I heard spring time is lovely in Paris...

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