Thursday, May 29, 2014

If someone would have told me I’d find modern dining comparable to NYC here in Warsaw, I would never have believed him/her.

But Warsaw continues to surprise me! This spring, we dined on some fantastic raw oysters, foie gras, escargot and grilled sweetbreads at Brasserie Warszawka, which recently received a Bib Gourmand in the 2014 Michelin Guide Europe. We had three courses and a juicy bottle of French Gigondas red wine at a third of the price we would pay in NYC! We enjoyed our meal at the Brasserie so much that we returned just two weeks later and have recommended it to all our friends.
A fantastic dinner of French classics such as foie gras, raw oysters, escargot and sweetbreads.
During the past year, I’ve also dined at two spectacular, modern restaurants and wanted to share my experiences and photos with you. I feel like I’ve only hit the tip of what fine dining could be and WILL BE in Warsaw.

For my birthday dinner last May, I was looking for a nice place and stumbled upon this article: 5 Best for Fine Dining by Warsaw Foodie where Nolita was listed. I liked the menu online as well as the name (named after a neighborhood in NYC), so I made a reservation for us.

When the server at Nolita showed us to our table for two right in front of the open kitchen, I thought this was the best birthday present ever! I’d rather have a memorable meal than a physical present any day.

My husband decided to splurge since it was my birthday in our new city, so we started with raw French oysters with yuzu salsa and glasses of bubbly champagne. Next, the chef sent an amuse-bouche of creamy porcini mushroom soup in the most darling, tiny glass bottles.
For our appetizers, I selected the decadent foie gras with rhubarb sorbet served in a tiny canning jar and homemade brioche while Jason had the scallops. I was in heaven!
Appetizers and entrees at Nolita.
Throughout my birthday dinner, I watched chef and owner Jack Grochowina and his all-male team cook and plate the restaurant’s dishes. I love the “dance” that happens in a well-run kitchen! I dreamily reminisced about my long days in the professional kitchen.

Grochowina worked at the Ritz in London for several years and later returned to Warsaw to become the chef at Amber Room, another fine dining restaurant. (I had a girls’ lunch at the Amber Room not too long ago, and felt the restaurant seemed more “old boy’s network” than anything. Not impressed!)

Prices of appetizers range from 13 to 59 zł, and main courses cost from 70 to 129 zł. Nolita was the perfect choice for our date night and special occasion. But the price is a bit steep to make it a monthly occasion, unfortunately.

Even Nolita’s dessert impressed me! A sweet, but tangy rhubarb parfait with rhubarb ice cream for me, and hubby indulged in a glossy chocolate praline gateau.
We were even served a refreshing rhubarb sorbet as part of the dessert course. 
Another modern restaurant, Concept 13, in Warsaw offers an enticing 5-course set lunch menu for only 50 zł (about $15 USD). That’s an unbelievable steal!

This restaurant is hidden on the fifth floor of a luxury shopping center in Centrum called Vitkac, which is owned by the Polish Likus Hotel & Restaurant group. You have to pass by the gigantic Louis Vuitton store on the ground floor to access the elevators. I never would have guessed there was a restaurant and wine bar in this building. There are even outdoor tables with a view over the busy streets of Nowy Swiat and Aleje Jerozolimskie.
Our first course was a tiny crab salad with cucumber – a perfect, light course. The second course was a creamy mushroom soup with “roasted butter” and croutons. Third, tagliolini with vongole and shrimp – a little too fishy for me. The main course was deer loin with chanterelle mushrooms, fava beans and asaparagus – a very impressive showing of the season’s vegetables, but the meat was served a little too rare for my palate.
For dessert, the set menu included a white chocolate mousse with passion fruit sorbet, mint and “orange chocolate.” This is another type of dessert I would’ve made at my restaurants as I recognized the perfect quenelle of sorbet.
The restaurant’s website states Chef Arkadiusz Janczarek and his team of cooks prepare dishes from the highest-quality and seasonal ingredients. I couldn’t find much information about him online, but I did find some of his food photos on this site: Chefs-TalkWe’ve since dined at Concept 13 a couple of times, and while good, it just doesn’t WOW me especially for its expensive price tag.
Dinner options at Concept 13 include foie gras, steak tartare, fish and a steak fillet with too much foam.
Both Nolita and Concept 13 could be considered special occasion restaurants as well as a splurge for a fancy lunch. Hopefully, Warsaw’s dining scene will continue to develop more restaurants like these.

Concept 13 (about 10-minute walk east of Centrum metro stop)
Address: ul. Bracka 9
Tel: (22) 310 73 73

Address: ul. Wilcza 46 (about 10-minute walk south of Centrum metro stop)
Tel: (22) 292 04 24

Best places for anniversary, birthday, special occasion dinner or a splurge.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

So far in the year we’ve been living in Warsaw, I’d say that May is my favorite month.

The city seems to have burst out of its cocoon this month and is fluttering with life just like a butterfly. I see vibrant green parks and blooming flowers everywhere, and the city is simply bustling with activity. Every weekend, there’s a concert or festival happening.
Every Sunday at noon and 4 p.m. from May-September, you can enjoy an hour-long (and most importantly, free) concert featuring classic Chopin music at Łazienki Park.
While the early months of spring are marked by the golden blossoms of forsynthia, May is signaled by the sweet scent of lavender lilacs, which remind me of my mother’s garden. I even bought two lilac bushes and planted them on our balcony this spring.
You’ll also find several colorful tulips lingering from the end of April.
Purple lilacs and tulips in bloom in early May at Łazienki Park.
Other May flowers include the virginal white Bridal’s Wreath and Lilies of the Valley, which happen to be my birth month flower. I was shocked to find bouquets of Lilies of the Valley being sold on the street for merely 3pln each (about $1). Back in NYC, I probably would have paid at least $15 for the same bouquet.
I was just chatting with my husband about how I don’t remember any of these lovely flowers from the same time last year. However, we had only been living in Warsaw for about a month or so at this time, and I was still adjusting to our move. Now, I have the time to enjoy the city’s parks and landscapes.
Spring pansies blooming at Ogród Saski, another pretty park, about a 20-minute walk from our apartment.
Perhaps if we had moved to Warsaw in May instead of an awful April snowstorm, I would’ve have fall instantly in love with it. Instead, I’ve taken my time getting to know the city, and I must say I continue to be surprised by its beauty. Warsaw’s beauty isn’t always in your face like some cities, but it is there if you are willing to search for it.
Purple allium bloom in front of Kościół pw. Wszystkich Świętych, (Church of All Saints), at Plac Grzybowski, one of my favorite squares in Warsaw.
But this month, you don’t have to search too far to find Warsaw’s beauty. One of the city’s most popular and largest parks, Łazienki Park, is teeming full of beautiful flowers and greenery. I recently spent a Sunday here and took over 100 photos, so I have plenty for another blog post.
Pretty pink and red rhododendron blooming near the Royal Łazienki Palace.
One of the park’s blooming trees I had never seen before in my life. The Common Laburnum, Golden Chain or Golden Rain, produces the most fragrant, yellow blossoms that almost remind me of Sweet Peas. This tree is apparently native to Central and Southern Europe and typically blooms in May.
These beautiful Laburnum blooms also remind me of golden Chinese lanterns hanging from the branches.
As you can see, May is the perfect month to visit or live in Warsaw!
Upclose photo of Bridal’s Wreath.
More pansies blooming at Ogród Saski.
Bright tulips blooming in late April in one of Warsaw's many parks.
Inexpensive spring flower bouquets at Hala Mirowska in Warsaw.

Monday, May 19, 2014

During the one good weather day we had in Paris, we found the perfect place to stop and smell the roses.

Stretching over three hectares, the Musée Rodin Gardens, located behind the Rodin Museum, is like a secret refuge from the busy Parisian streets. The gardens are divided into three sections – a rose garden to the north of Hôtel Biron, a large ornamental garden to the south and a “relaxation garden” concealed by a tightly manicured hedging at the back.
I loved wandering through the rose gardens here and literally kept stopping to smell the roses because their scent was so marvelous. I always tell hubby that he never stops to smell the flowers, but he finally got into doing so as well.
You’ll also find a multitude of sculptures created by Augustee Rodin, born in 1840. It’s easy to see why he is considered as one of the most remarkable sculptors of his time. In 1908, Rodin personally placed selected works and collected antiques in the overgrown garden behind Hôtel Biron, where he was currently living.
I like how this photo turned out!
One of Rodin’s most popular pieces, “The Gates of Hell,” is located amongst the rose gardens. Interestingly, Rodin started on this sculpture in the late 1800s, after being inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, and worked on “The Gates of Hell” for the rest of his life, without ever seeing it cast in bronze.
 You’ll also find Rodin’s infamous, “The Thinker,” which we enjoyed posing by in the gardens.
Hubby and I playing around by Rodin's sculptures.  
In 1916, after a serious stroke, Rodin offered to donate all his works to the French government in three stages on condition that Hôtel Biron be converted into a museum in his honour. In 1919, the museum opened to the public for the first time, two years after Rodin’s death.

We had such a beautiful day that we preferred to stroll around the Musée Rodin Gardens rather than being inside the museum itself. 

If you’re ever in Paris, I can certainly recommend stopping to smell the roses with Rodin too.
Such beautiful roses!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I’m not going to lie. Spending 5 days in Paris for my birthday last week was pretty amazing!

My American friends told me that I was spoiled, but that’s not exactly true. We cashed in credit card points for the hotel expense, and then the airfare tickets were moderately priced. From Warsaw where we live, we can travel to nearly everywhere in Europe in about 2 hours or less for a decent price, if we plan ahead. And that is how we afford traveling as often as we do.

So, I spent my birthday last week leisurely strolling around Paris, admiring the architecture, taking tons of photos and eating insanely delicious food, of course.

Unfortunately, on my actual birthday, the weather was rainy off and on throughout the entire day. I still managed to see some sites such as Notre Dame, La Seine River, the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde (where King Louis XVI was executed in 1793) and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. This was only my second time in Paris.
The sun peeked out for a bit by the Notre Dame in Paris.
Strolling by the gray La Seine in Paris.
Admiring the Louvre in Paris.
I refused to wait in any lines though.
Oddly, it was still raining when I took this photo while hiding under a tree. 
But then I did wait in a short line for some of the best macarons in the world! I visited the famous patisserie of Pierre Hermé for the first time. I ordered a box of mixed macarons for 18eu and a small pistachio-strawberry cake for 7eu. After all, it was my birthday!
I would have ordered one of everything here if it wasn't so expensive!
The salted caramel macaron was my favorite flavor, but they were all sublime! Crispy, soft shells with perfect ganache or crème fillings. Visiting Pierre Hermé should be required for all pastry chefs! I even waited until the evening to share my treats with my husband.

Then, I visited what must be one of the best fromageries, Barthélemy, in Paris. I didn’t take any photos inside of the stinky, cheesy goodness, but trust me, when I say this tiny store is packed full of all kinds of French cheeses. Two days later, we took the cheese, some wine and a baguette to the park in front of the Eiffel Tower and had a picnic.
Hubby finally landed and met me at our hotel around 10:30 p.m. We walked up to the Montmartre neighborhood, which could be likened to the Lower East Side in NYC, and eventually found a place still serving food. We found a boisterous crowd at Relais de la Butte and joined them at a table outside. We ordered a delicious steak tartare with roasted baby potatoes, a gigantic cheese plate and a few glasses of French wine. Cheers!

Definitely not a bad way to spend my birthday in Paris!

Monday, May 5, 2014

We’ve been enjoying some lovely spring weather here in Warsaw lately!

The other weekend, we were riding the Veturilo city bikes around in Praga and decided to ride all the way down to the Wilanów neighborhood, which was about 20 km away from our original starting point. We don’t often travel this far south because Wilanów seems like a whole different world from Centrum where we live.

But since the weather was so nice, we parked our bikes and paid a visit to the beautiful Wilanów Park, which is an integral part of the Wilanów Palace and Gardens. We weren’t the only ones with the same idea that day! We waited in line for about 10 minutes, paid our 10 pln each for our tickets and proceeded through the gates.
Since the park is much-loved by Warsaw residents and tourists, I have always found it difficult to get decent photographs WITHOUT people in them. (Christmas time was a nightmare!) I need to return here first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds for my perfect photos. This park probably has one of the most manicured gardens in Warsaw.
Pink magnolia trees were in full bloom in front of the 17th century palace, which is painted a cheerful yellow color.

We also found some blooming perennials and tulips in the manicured Baroque garden and more blooming bulbs by the Orangerie, which was closed. In total, there’s 45 hectares for you to leisurely stroll through at the Wilanów Park. I think the park is even more lovely in the summer time when the roses are blooming, but then you have to deal with even more crowds.
Behind the palace, you’ll also find a natural lake and a man-made pond dating back to King Jan Sobieski III’s days. I always enjoy water features especially for their water reflection photograph opportunities.
It may have been a bit of  trek for us to get to Wilanów Park, but we were rewarded with a lovely spring day. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that!

Click here for more information if you want to visit the Wilanów Palace and Museum.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Not surprisingly, our trip to Berlin revolved around food – mouthwatering, bigger-than-our-eyes sandwiches; oddly curry-flavored, ketchup doused currywurst and creamy, cheesy pastas.

And I have to say Berlin truly surprised me with its vibrant food scene! We ate our fair share of currywurst, local cheeses, Turkish snacks at this Turkish Markt as well as modern hipster dishes and drank enough German beer and unknown liquors during our long weekend visit. 

Here’s a roundup of my Top 5 Foodie Finds in Berlin:

1. Beer & Currywurst Tour
Generally, we aren’t huge fans of organized tours as we prefer to do our own thing. However, once I read about the Original Berlin Food Tour featuring tasty beers and currywurst, I knew we had to sign up. We met up with the tour’s friendly founder Bastian Schwithal and four British couples. We started off with locally made currywurst from a small stall in the Alexa Shopping Centre. As the night progressed, I honestly couldn’t see what the fuss is all about currywurst – German-made sausages doused in ketchup and curry powder. But we had a good crew, Bastian told us funny tales and the food and beer kept coming.
Beer and sausages - definitely a fun combination!
The main brewery I remember is Brauhaus Mitte located near Alexanderplatz where we sampled 4 different beers, including a wheat, pilsner and a dark one. The night may have gotten fuzzier after this tasting especially after we tried some strange, green-colored shot.

This is one organized tour that I can definitely recommend!

2. To-Die-For Truffled Pasta!
I love Italian truffles, so once two of my expat friends here in Warsaw told me about this fabulous truffled pasta they had in Berlin, we had to go too. Ristorante Via Condotti, Fasanenstr. 73, in the Wilmersdorf neighborhood was a 20-minute metro ride from our hotel. As soon as I saw the pasta being prepared in a giant Parmesan cheese wheel, I knew we had to order this dish as our entrée.
The waiter rolls up with the cheese cart, adds some hot cream into the well, scrapes some cheese into the mixture, pours in brandy, lights the whole concoction on fire and then tosses the tagliolini with the creamy cheese sauce. Then, he slices the truffles extravagantly all over your plate of pasta!

This dish was a bit on the expensive side at €25 (about $35) per person, but I think it was worth every penny.

3. Hipster Farmers’ Market
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I love visiting markets when we travel! We popped into Markthalle Neun, Eisenbahnstraße 42, to check out its Saturday’s farmer’s market, which features a variety of stalls selling fresh fruits and veggies, American BBQ, locally-made cheeses, German wines, colorful flowers, forest-harvested mushrooms and more.
Originally built in 1891, Markhalle Neun is one of only two historic market halls being used as a public food market in Berlin and one that miraculously survived two World Wars. The local producers display their wares on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., at the time of this writing.
If we hadn’t just eaten breakfast, I would have loved to have tried Kantine 9 at Markthalle 9, which serves a rustic two-course menu sourced from local farmers for only €8 (about $11).  

You can read more about Markhalle Neun from my French blogging friend, at Cuisine de Provence, with her blog post, entitled: Another Berlin Foodie Hotspot.

4. Locally-Sourced Breakfast
Before we visited the above-mentioned farmer’s market, we popped into Welt Restaurant Markthalle, Pückler Street 34, for breakfast. This rustic restaurant, located next to the historic market hall, opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The menu changes weekly and features nouvelle takes on German and Austrian staples as well as a fantastic selection of breakfast choices. We both ordered the German breakfast that included local Black Forest Ham, eggs and delicious dark German bread.

I would have loved to come back here and have a drink at the lovely, Mahogany-stained, wooden bar.
5. Bigger-Than-Your-Head Pastrami Sandwiches
Oddly enough, I ate THE best pastrami on rye sandwich I’ve had ever outside of NYC during our weekend in Berlin. I had read about the chic café called Mogg & Melzer, Auguststraße 11-13, in an article in Food & Wine last year, and marked it on my foodie to-do list. This crowded café is located inside the newly revived Jewish Girls’ School in the hipster Mitte neighborhood. Hubby and I waited for a table and then both ordered a large, handmade, loaded pastrami sandwich and savored every single bite.

If you’re a displaced New Yorker like us, these pastrami sandwiches will make you feel like you’ve landed back in a Jewish deli in NY. In fact, I’m still salivating over these sandwiches as I write this blog post!

(Funny enough, we ran into Bastian as we were leaving this café, which made us feel like we definitely were on the up and up of our foodie finds in Berlin.)

Even though fellow travel-savvy friends had raved about the food and art scene in Berlin, I didn’t believe them until I experienced it all first-hand. We will definitely return to Berlin and hopefully soon!
There are many pre-WWII buildings like this one in the Mitte neighborhood of Berlin.