Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues

Somehow, the Mister found Fricska Gastropub our first week in Budapest, shortly after we began to establish rules for choosing lunch spots, such as no red-checked tablecloths, no life-size figures out front with cut-outs to stick your head through for silly selfies and no tour groups in evidence. Our recommendation for Budapest: Skip the tourist traps and seek this place out.

Tucked into a basement, Fricksa is intimate in size and huge on service, yet far from stuffy. The kitchen takes whatever is fresh in the market to create its own style of nouvelle Hungarian cuisine. Rich sauces and flavorful soups might reflect classic French techniques. Freshly made pasta would make an Italian chef proud.

We never knew what the choices on the prix-fixe lunch menu would be, but we quickly trusted the kitchen so much we tried dishes I would never have considered ordering elsewhere. Three courses ran slightly over $9 and never left us thinking of eating anything at night.

First-course offerings might include a soup, a salad, duck liver cream or a fish rollade. The seafood soups were amazingly flavorful, and a wild garlic soup featured some of that sexy garlic that only used to be found in the Soviet ‘Stans (reference to a much earlier post). Main courses led us to enjoy salmon, cod and bream. We dined on chicken, chicken livers, rabbit and veal, often accompanied by sophisticated vegetable purees and potages. My favorite, possibly, was tender rare lamb atop a pea risotto; the Mister’s was the best venison he ever has tasted. The tortellini and shrimp were wonderful, and the gnocchi with four cheeses decidedly decadent. Desserts might be parsnip cream with apples and strawberries, cinnamon crème brulee, an apricot mousse or a dark chocolate ganache playfully paired with peanuts and blueberry jam.

We often returned hoping for a repeat of our most recent lunch there, but everyday was different. We never left disappointed.

And one of our favorite features making us feel at home? Often the music track playing at Fricksa was all blues.

Definitely still experiencing a severe case of the miss-you-Fricksa blues.

Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Caravan of food trucks kept calling us

Normally our preference is to sit down in a restaurant and be waited upon, but the Karavan Street Food courtyard of food trucks drew us back several times. Trucks line two sides of tables canopied when needed. Unlike many food truck sites we’ve encountered in Austin and San Antonio, access is hospitably pedestrian only. You don’t feel as though you are standing in the middle of a parking lot, and everything seems clean, fresh and new – even the restrooms.

The food is not inexpensive by Budapest standards, but we could buy a reasonable bottle of respectable red wine to have with our lunch. Always a draw for us. In fact, without TABC to interfere, Karavan Bar offers full-bar service.

We cobbled our meals together from several trucks, but always included orders of the best sweet potato fries we have ever had anywhere. Surprisingly, these emerge from an Asian-themed truck, Samu-Rice, specializing in fillings sandwiched in between two rounds of sticky rice – like the chicken teriyaki roll seen below.

The rice rolls are not the only unusual, for us, bun-type offerings. The Mister’s favorite was the curried chickpea patty from Las Vegan’s (Hey, definitely better to have a misplaced apostrophe than for us to struggle to comprehend the same name written in Hungarian.). The Real Cheeseburger skips the meat patty, substituting it, for example, with a wedge of fried camembert topped with grilled eggplant.

There is no shortage of meat, though. The bread encasing the Langos burgers is fried first, without tasting greasy at all. We sampled a beef burger with red pepper and a pork one with red onion chutney, both with a generous serving of sheep cheese.

We were among the first customers for the opening of Rocket Ice, unfortunately near the end of our stay. Fresh ingredients are combined upon ordering and quick-frozen into ice cream using some mad-scientist-looking process employing nitrogen. The most extravagant combination, Berry’Zola with gorgonzola, blueberries, pears and walnuts, was amazingly good.

Our sampling missed several trucks, including Kobe Sausages, Vespa Rossa Pizza and Pasta, The Soup Truck featuring goulash served in bread bowls and Tortilla Street Pirog, an unusual fusion of Mexican wraps and Russian-style pierogis.

Oh, and chimney cakes. In addition to the truck at Karavan, we saw the pastry cooking over hot coals before being cream-filled at numerous festivals, yet never ordered one. Food trucks and serious booth set-ups are major ingredients of festivals, so I am including photos of the incredibly huge meat-filled sandwiches dished up at Rosalia 2017, a rose wine festival in the city park.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Opting for neighborhood comfort over anything near the Michelin trail

Having already posted about paella and our favorite restaurants, will mainly let photos do the talking for some other restaurants you might want to try if you are staying in Valencia for more than a few days.

Our neighborhood was so comfortably casual, and somehow we quickly developed almost a reverse snobbery when we ventured into tonier neighborhoods to eat. We had an excellent lunch at Seu Xerea during restaurant week, and the service was perfect. Pumpkin croquettes with blue cheese and curried meatballs were among our starters, and the Valencian rice with mussels and saffron was well executed. But, we ended up not returning because the restaurant was a bit more formal than our hood in Carmen and a bit pricier as well.

Hamburgers are everywhere in Valencia, as they are all over Europe, and Mar Cuatro Cocina Mediterranea presents an upscale opportunity to experience flavorful oxen burgers. But, again, we were out of our adopted neighborhood and the price crept up, particularly the wine, as a result. For great burgers in a more laidback setting closer to our apartment, we preferred the Martinez brothers’ popular Lamburguesa Urban Food.

For a total change of flavor, we recommend delving into Moroccan dishes at Restaurant Dukala. Both their chicken croquettes and pastilla – in this case the sweet and savory chicken mixture completely encased in flaky pastry – have loyal followers crowding into the restaurant on weekends.

Here are a few more places to consider exploring if the related food photos above seem appealing: