Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kate's Ring Martini

I love a love story, and to me the wedding of Kate and William is just that. A beautiful and charming lady is marrying a prince....a handsome prince. And one whose mother had her own tragic fairy tale. I watched Princess Diana and Prince Charles wedding on TV that fateful year of 1981. No one could have ever imagined how life would have unfolded for them. We watched as she loved and embraced her children publicly and gave so much of herself as she tried to find her own identity. We've all shed so many tears with this family, both in happiness and sadness. Then when William gave Kate his mother's sapphire and diamond engagement ring, our hearts stopped. Diana's legacy and dreams came back to life. May this couple only know happiness and love and may their special day be be as enchanting as they are.

I saw this drink from a local establishment that was just brilliant all the way around. So, I toast to the lovely couple hoping all their dreams come true.

Kate's Ring Martini

(Created by Bar Director, Dennis Grant from Ceia Kitchen+Bar, Newburyport, MA )

Mixology & How-To’s:
* 3.5 ounces of Bombay Sapphire
* 1.5 ounces of St. Germaine Elderflower

* 1 ounce of Blue Curacao

* 1 ounce of Cointreau or Triple Sec

* Shake and Strain

* Rim Martini Glass with Sugar (the "diamonds") and float 1 ounce of Mionetto Sparkling Prosecco.

I used an antique rhinestone hatpin as a stirrer and added a splash of vintage lace just for fun. Cheers!

Ceia Kitchen+Bar
25 State St
Newburyport, MA

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Great Market Hall and Dinner in Budapest

The weather forecast for Budapest was 68 degrees F, partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain. There was no mention of wind. I was feeling positive and had my light jacket on and didn't bring an umbrella. You'd think I'd know better by now. Deciding to explore the pedestrian street of Váci utca, my friends and fellow crew walked toward the Great Market Hall. The market of each country has its own distinctive flavor. Even though I knew the market would mainly have fruits, vegetables, sausages and spices along with some local handicrafts, I wanted to see it, and hear the sounds and smell the aromas. Váci utca is lined with shops and restaurants mainly appealing to the tourist. Its liveliness is enhanced by the beautiful architecture of other eras. I couldn't help but notice that even the manholes are works of art, like bronze mats dotting the walkways. The Great Market Hall opened its large tile roofed building in 1897 and is the largest indoor market in Budapest. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
We were there on a Tuesday and I understand that Saturday mornings are the best time to see the most action of the vendors. There were fruits and vegetables. And of course, peppers and paprika. Some of the crafts were in the center of the first floor, but most were on the second floor of the massive building. You could get sausages of every kind and eggs already blown out and ready to decorate. There were gingerbread houses and houses made out of wood for games. I didn't get any of the Hungarian wine like Tokaji, but there was plenty to be had. I just got a few bags of paprika and saffron to experiment with in recipes back home. It doesn't take much to make me hungry, and we were all ready to sit and have a cappuccino and pastry after the market. We stopped at a sidewalk cafe overlooking Liberty Bridge and onto Buda. There were a few choices of pastry and I chose a half moon shaped one that had a nut mixture inside. I needed a little protein ;-) Just as we were finishing, a chilly wind whipped through bringing rain drops. We went inside as the waitress gathered up the cushions. I think the outside service was done! So were our plans to walk across the bridge to take a look at the Gellért Baths and walk up the Buda side of the Danube. Begrudgingly, back to the hotel we walked while bracing against the elements. I got a warmer jacket and my umbrella as we re-grouped to talk about dinner plans. We decided to try a restaurant that a friend had vaguely described. She couldn't remember the name and so described the location. We found what fit her description and weren't sure if it was the one she went to, but it looked good. The name was Sercli, which the waiter later explained is a slang word for the crusty heel of bread. They had an extensive local menu (click on the photo to enlarge) that seemed reasonably priced. With a modern artsy atmosphere, it was inviting. The walls had fun, simple drawings etched into them that were subtly placed throughout. The five of us sat and took a look at the specials as a carafe of house wine was brought. One taste of the wine and you knew it was Hungarian. The flavor was smooth and bold with more than a hint of cherries. And I love cherries! We saw so many things on the menu that we wanted try. To lessen the decisions, my friend Lenny and I decided to share a few. To our amazement, the kitchen split the servings for the soup and paté for us. Very accommodating....and plentiful. We started with a potato soup with bacon slices on top and fois gras served with onion jam and toasts. We were in Hungarian Heaven and started to forget about the chilly rain and wind. Then we had a daily special, of pork tenderloin rounds wrapped in bacon and topped with goat cheese served with roasted potatoes and a sour cream dip. The other choice was a lamb ragout with rosemary served with rice. How do you say yum in Hungarian?! I kept thinking I should distract Lenny so I could get my fork onto his plate of lamb ragout, but didn't get the chance. I loved the pork, but I know what I'm ordering next time. Without any room left for dessert, we asked for our bill. Figuring it out was no easy task. Mix jet lag with a currency that has a lot of zeroes at the end and well, one could work up an appetite by the time all was said and done. And in this restaurant, that is not a bad thing.

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Monday, April 18, 2011


I had never been to Budapest before this month. With its history as complex and spicy as a pot of Hungarian Goulash, I wasn't entirely sure of what to expect. In a country of just over 9 million in population, Budapest is the home to 1 million. I read and studied the guide books which show the grand architecture, tell of the layers of history and suggest hotels and restaurants, but you still need to be in a place to feel the vibe of it. I was glad I was there.

Historically, during the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Budapest underwent an unprecedented civic development that is still seen today. The grand palaces, castles, churches and official buildings are awe inspiring. Geographically, Budapest is divided by the Danube River and became one city from the 3 cities, Buda, Pest and Obuda after the Compromise of 1867. It sits on hot mineral springs and the name Pest, comes from the Slavic word, oven. I can't wait to go to the thermal baths that are one of the main attractions of the city, and confirm that translation :-) There are many thermal baths scattered around the city with one of the more opulent being at the Gellert Hotel. Politically, Hungary shed its communist ruling in 1989, which in historical context is very recent. Then during the economic buildup of Budapest, the recent worldwide downturn put a big hiccup into the growth process. My airline is the only airline to once again begin flying into Budapest from New York year round. This should be a big economic shot in the arm to the city and the country. When we arrived on our first trip to bring the inaugural flight back to New York, we were met with excitement and respect. Our hotel sweetened the pot with trays of pastries and coffee to welcome us.
We then decided to take a bus tour of the city, getting off at certain spots to acquaint us to the lay of the land. It was the first bus tour I've ever taken of a city, but it was a wise decision. As we drove around, we passed by diverse architecture and stopped at certain landmarks. We couldn't stop and get out at Heroe's Square that day because they were preparing for visiting dignitaries and rolling out the red carpet. It was a windy spring day as we made our way to Castle Hill in Buda. Buda is very hilly versus the flat landscape of Pest. It was also the more affluent of the cities. From Castle Hill there are sweeping views of Pest across the Danube. A café sits at the edge overlooking the magnificent city. There is a Hilton Hotel on the castle grounds that appears so out of place. We were told that when Zsa Zsa Gabor was married to Conrad Hilton, she insisted on having a Hilton Hotel in her native city. Remnants of a monastery curiously abut the modern edifice of the hotel. The golden light of the castle reflects in the hotel's stark windows. After exploring the castle, we were coming near the end of our 3 hour tour. We resisted any souvenirs, and actually the vendors are few and far between. After this long day we were getting hungry and had been dreaming about Hungarian food and its spicy reward. Since we had only arrived earlier in the day, we weren't sure where to have dinner. We knew it wouldn't be the English Pub or the Sinatra Bar. We were looking for pure Hungarian food in this city that is eager to please the western palate. Being the first crew of our airline to layover in Budapest, we were at the mercy of our hotel for recommendations that evening. They suggested dinner at Tigris Restaurant. The atmosphere was bistro-like and the staff spoke English. We found that many people in the city speak English, which we were grateful for. Give me a French menu any day and I'll know what to order, but my Hungarian is nonexistent....I'll try, but don't bank on any fluency! Even with an English speaking waiter, I ended up with a chalkboard special of Stuffed Pepper which wasn't what I thought I ordered at all. Before our meal, we were brought an amuse-bouche of a celery mousse topped with diced duck, which was delightful. My friends ordered Beef Cheek Stew with Sour Cream Noodles that I was eyeing. They graciously let me taste it and I wished I had followed the group and made that choice, too. Ah, I will look for this again! I think next time I'll be searching for a little less refinement and a lot more local flair. I want to taste it all, because it's not just about the palaces and castles. I want to dig in and feel the pulse and heartbeat of this city through its struggles and not just the accomplishments. Although, walking along the Danube at night it was hard to not be dazzled by the majesty of the accomplishments. I'm glad I'll be back.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Passage 53 Paris

There were conversations and phone calls between my friend, Helen and the Georges V concierge, Adrian. Times and days were discussed with the 2 Michelin star restaurant, Passage 53. Yes, they have been fully booked since recently being awarded their second star. I'm not sure if it was Helen's friendships with both owner, Guillaume and concierge Adrian that scored the reservation, but it seemed to be a don't ask, don't tell scenario. The next day my friends, Nancy, Helen and I eagerly left the hotel looking forward to the 9 course Degustation Menu. After arriving at this small restaurant in one of Paris' passages in the 2nd arrondisement, we were warmly greeted by owner, Guillaume Guedj and his brother Jonathon. As conversation was exchanged, we were seated at a cozy round table toward the rear of the restaurant and near a well worn spiral staircase. Guillaume asked if we would like to start with a glass of Champagne, which almost seemed like a rhetorical question as the glasses of bubbly spirits arrived. Toast! Guillaume then suggested a white Mersault wine to go with the meal. Perfect! The Chagall inspired charger plates were removed and then the gastronomic fun began. Since we had ordered the Degustation Menu, there were no choices to be made. They are all a sampling of the chefs expertise.Japanese chef Sato, intuitively, expertly and simply combined spices and flavors to artfully present them on the table. To say he is just a chef is to say ikebana is just flower arrangement. His Japanese sensibility delightfully mingles with the French. Bread and 2 butters immediately arrived at our table. One was spiced and was the deep orange color of Nancy's scarf. Our first course was brought, and then described by Guillaume as tiny fresh broccoli florets with cream. The delicate broccoli crowned a creamy base that reminded us of a panna cotta. After we finished and were still discussing the ethereal first course, a bright green, paper-thin radish arrived that enveloped scallops and watercress. Again, a simple combination of ingredients that spoke deliciously with each other. We were presented next with an oyster under a swirl of creaminess topped with caviar. Each course was beautifully served and complimented the preceding and following presentation. Next came a Langostine with Red Pepper Sauce and Orange Mousse. It was as tasty as it was lively to look at. Then the White Course was served, which was a white sauce, calimari with shaved cauliflower floweretts on top. The whiteness of each one was a blank canvas that became a masterpiece when layered with the others. The last fish course arrived of sole with a seaweed sauce, served with leek, radishes and romanesca. This led us into the meat courses, which began with a glazed onion. It was made very special by slivers of chorizo tucked between the layers. A nice surprise. A slice of Cochon de Lait with a fruit sauce perfumed with yuzu, which is an Asian citrus fruit, came next. It was served with asparagus and lentils and the combination was sublime. Our last meat course was a perfectly cooked slice of Lamb Filet Mignon with Anchovy Butter and Rosemary sauce, with a roasted potato wedge, and brussel sprout leaves. One would think that there couldn't possibly be room for dessert, but there was!! Each course was full of flavor and creativity, but the portions were just large enough to taste over the 2 1/2 hours of dining. The different desserts were brought all at once. There was a Rhubarb Yogurt Ice Cream with Litchi, Tarte Tatin, Milk Chocolate with Passion Fruit, and a slice of Dark Chocolate Tart. Each one was a unique finish to our meal. At the end, we ordered coffee that came with a mignardise of mini madeleines! We were so involved with our dining experience that we didn't realize until the end of the meal that each tray was brought down the narrow spiral staircase. The kitchen, where all of the magic happened, was upstairs. Heaven above, indeed! At the end, Chef Sato came down and met with us. I was in awe. Guillaume, Jonathon and the staff genuinely cared about the food, the diners and the attention to detail service. They bid us good-bye and said it would be a pleasure to welcome us again, and I know they meant it. They earned every star and then some. I will be back...soon.

Passage 53
53 Passage des Panoramas
75002 Paris 75002 Paris
01 42 33 04 35 01 42 33 04 35

Map location, here.
Closed Sunday and Monday.
Reservations recommended.

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