Thursday, July 26, 2012
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As many of my readers will already know I have a certain calm obsession with burgers that borders on lunacy. I have literally driven hundreds of miles in my quest for the perfect burger. In England, this is not an easy chore. Couple that with my hatred of chain restaurants, save In-n-Out Burger in the U.S. and I don't find it easy to feed my addiction. That is, until now.
London has been going through a growth spurt. Not in economic terms, or even housing, but in two of my favorite foods, Mexican and burgers. And it couldn't of come too soon. After being in the UK for almost two years I have not had nearly enough of either of these foods. As a boy growing up in California my taste buds are supremely adapted to both burgers and Mexican. And just like a bodybuilder has something called muscle memory, where if he's taking time off and then gets back to the gym his muscles will remember what it's like to grow, and do so much easier than someone just getting into the sport, it is the same with my taste buds. I can spot perfectly cooked and prepared burgers and Mexican easier than almost any other food. And, before the naysayers and negative nellies tell me I have no taste and that burgers and Mexican are for morons, believe me, that's not the case, you simply have not had enough of either food. Done well, there's almost nothing better than a burger on a brioche bun, or a slow cooked pork burrito.
Feeling the craving wash over me one evening in London I decided to abandon my dislike for chain restaurants and give Byron Burger a try. And I'm happy to say that I can now add this flouroshing restaurant to my list of burger dealers in London. Bryon still does not come close to equaling the Holy Grail of burger chains, In-n-Out, but they do a very, very good job.
Both the classic cheeseburger and regular burger are exemplary examples of this, my favorite foods. The burger meat is juicy and flavorful. The buns are soft and not stodgy. The fries were delicious! However, I was a little disappointed in the onion rings. The first batch were cold and were sent back only to be replaced with oily, stringy ones that lacked crunch. I realize it's hard to make onion rings that have a perfectly hard, crunchy exterior and soft interior, while still preserving the texture of the onion itself. Most restaurant onion rings are made so that the onion itself almost always comes out when you bite it, leaving you with just the crunchy batter. And at Bryon it was the same.
The service also left something to be desired. It was sloooow! I mean, sloth slow. But it was made up to us when our server told us that the whole meal was comped due to the bad service and cold onion rings.
Byron stacks up very well against my favorite burger joint in the UK, Gourmet Burger Kitchen. This growing chain is the closest I have found to burger Nirvana. Byron is slightly cheaper and I like the interiors better. However, when it comes to taste GBK knocks it out of the park. Byron still has a lot to learn from GBK. Their burgers, fries and onion rings are perfect, classic examples of how to prepare all of these dishes. Marry that with their stellar rewards program and sheer volume of burgers on their menu and I'm afraid I just can't justify giving Byron a higher rating than GBK. In a pinch, and if there's no GBK around, try Byron, you won't be disappointed.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
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There are certain things you do in life because it reminds You of a different time and place. Eating at Dojo Noodle Bar in Cambridge is one of those things for me.
Having studied at Cambridge University in the summer of 2001 and eating at Dojo on several occasions, I knew this was one of the best places in town to get good, honest food, with college portions. So when two of my alumni chums visited my wife and I from the US Dojo was one of our first stops on our reminiscent journey of that month long summer semester.
Dojo is situated on Mill Lane, about 50 yards from The Mill, our other local haunt that has just undergone a major and quite frankly, way overdue refurbishment. The wait for a table at Dojo was how it always is, long. With reasonable prices and ginormous plates full of delicious food, Dojo is a haven for broke college kids looking to score a good meal.
On this day though, 11 years after the three of us had studied there, we weren't quite as broke as we used to be and our pockets were slightly weightier, making it possible to actually splurge a little and buy a drink. :) When our table was ready we looked over the large menu and ordered. Within minutes five plates of piping hot Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese noodle dishes were brought out to us.
And oh, it was so good. Just like I remembered. However, I can't say it's the best noodle dishes I've ever eaten. Quite the opposite actually. But for what it is, it seriously fits the bill.
When our plates were sufficiently licked clean and our bellies couldn't take anymore, we started the long journey around the streets of Cambridge to reminds ourselves of how much fun we had all those years ago. A lot has changed in Cambridge. The clothes are trendier and the young people there seem to be too smart for their own good. And I'm not just talking about book smart, I'm talking street smart. Everything is questioned and thought out in almost insane detail.
Cambridge remains one of my favorite places in Europe. And Dojo remains one of my all time favorite restaurants, for good, healthy, inexpensive food that is quite frankly, belt busting.
Monday, July 2, 2012
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After eating an incredible meal at O Paparico in Porto, my family and I were deeply looking forward to another fabulous dining experience. This time at Porto's only Michelin starred restaurant in The Yeatman hotel. Overlooking the city like an emperor, The Yeatman is a magical place just outside of the city center. Surrounded by port houses, The Yeatman is one of the most spectacular places I've ever been to.
However, we didn't get to enjoy its reputable restaurant because after 1.5 hours of waiting for a table, we had enough and decided to leave. It was an unfortunate experience. One that, according to the hotel manager, never happens. He apologized profusely and made us a reservation at Rui Paula's DOP. And I am oh so happy he did.
DOP is an entirely different dining experience to O Paparico. Not better, not worse, just different. Rui Paula has elevated seemingly simple dishes into gastronomic juggernauts. Take for instance, my Duck Magret with Foie Gras and Mushroom Risotto, which was perhaps, no scrap that, IS the best Mushroom Risotto I have ever eaten. I have nothing to equate it to as this dish simply has no equal. I would eat it five times a day if I could. Served with Freeze Dried Blueberries that contrasted very nicely with the deep, intense flavors in the Foie Gras, this is a dish that could stand up to anything served in London or New York.
I think it's fair to say that all of the diners felt the same way I did. Whether it was the Monkfish with Lime Risotto or the decadent starter of Foie Gras in a Port Sauce with Chicken Thigh Confit, Rui Paula has definitely created a restaurant that can cater to the most demanding foodie.
When our meal was ending we were treated to Mr. Paula himself coming around to each table and asking us how we enjoyed our food. It was close to midnight, but he still took the time to ensure each dining experience was the best he could offer. After complimenting him on my Mushroom Risotto he simply said, "Thank you very much. I'm going to go home now."
And it is this incredible sense of modesty and professionalism that has attracted me to the restaurants in Porto. And despite our mishap with The Yeatman, I'm sure the experience is the same there. Maybe I'll get to find out next time.