Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: More than goulash on the menus

If you are about to choose a restaurant to go to in Budapest, first click back on this link to our favorite, Fricska Gastropub.

The courtyard patio of Kazimir (featured photo) is a pleasant place to sit. Both the chicken with apples and brie and the parmesan-crusted chicken are excellent, and Kazimir’s bowlful of roasted vegetables topped with parmesan presents a welcome change from heavier fare.

Ultra-casual Jelen Bisztro is a major bargain, a spot to balance out your average meal tabs if you have been splurging. Couscous salad is fresh and light; layered eggplant with pesto is nice and rich; and zucchini fritters are perfect for weekend brunching.

Fried chicken and a mushroom risotto were the lunchtime offerings the day we went to La Tabla, the casual sibling to the more upscale Esca Studio. Both were perfectly prepared, but not inspiring enough specials to draw us away from Fricska. We probably should have tried again on another day.

Not recommended unless you need to lunch mid-sightseeing on the Buda side were Pater Marcus Abbey and Dunaparti Matroz Kocsma. Although we almost were tempted to return for Dunaparti’s mussels, both restaurants are heavy on the touristy side.

Normally, I try not to be too critical in these posts and just skip over a restaurant that turns us off completely, but…. Stand25 Bisztro in the Hold Utca market receives such high ratings and is touted by many as the absolute best place try goulash. We went, and we tried the goulash. It convinced us not to order goulash again during our entire month. The flavor of the lamb pate was unremarkable; the layered potatoes were merely heavy, not tasty; and the beef shoulder smothered with gravy and topped with a grilled round of bread was as unappealing as it appears in the photo. And this lunch was not inexpensive.

Our experience at Stand25 sent us scurrying for refuge in restaurants offering foreign foods, an advantage in visiting a capital city. Missing Spanish dishes, we ducked into Padron for tapas – seared padron chiles and eggplant with goat cheese, honey and walnuts. Cured.

We enjoyed exploring the Lebanese and Mediterranean offerings of Dobrumba. The harira soup loaded with chickpeas, the tender pulpo and potatoes and the squid cooked in red wine all make memorable meals.

Padthai Wok Bar is a chain, but the made-to-order dishes taste so fresh. The one in our Pest neighborhood has outdoor seating on a beautiful little plaza.

And, of course, there’s Fricska. Oh, and those sweet potato fries at Samu-Rice.

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:

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Honing in on our favorite lunch stops

The simple floorplan stenciled on the wall by the entrance gave me a clue I was going to like Refugio Restaurante. The kitchen is designated with “You are not here.” Off to a good start. But the name, “Refuge,” carries a deeper connotation for locals than my mere relief from cooking. The intimate restaurant is across from an underground bunker, Refugio, built to shelter up to 600 people during the Spanish Civil War when Valencia was bombed more than 400 times.

If you head to Valencia, these four spots were our favorites for repeat visits. These photos are all from multi-course lunches, with three courses for two people with a bottle of wine plus tip running about the same as we pay for a pre-tip bottle of wine in a restaurant in San Antonio. Kind of like free food, and we rarely recovered enough from these ample lunches to want anything to eat in the evening. Before I start, though, we had expected and unexpected paella and rice dishes at all of these. For those photos, go back to an earlier post.

Refugio bills itself as offering contemporary fusion food, and the kitchen obviously loves playing with food. Aside for variations on the Mister’s go-to moist dark brownies for dessert, the daily menu selections never seem to be repeated. Even better than deserts were the wonderful vegetable flans, whether pumpkin, asparagus or corn. The fish and langostino suquet was magical, and both seafood and meats, including duck and ox, always were cooked perfectly.

Namua Gastronomic almost escaped our notice. Fairly new, there were few reviews online, which meant it was not as full as the more established Refugio. Namua became the end-of-our-stay favorite. An amuse-bouche always started the meal. Heirloom tomatoes atop a fish puree was refreshing, and panko-crusted cod arrived nesting in a dark rich sauce of tomatoes and tuna. The chef deftly turned out fried foods, such as appetizers of sardines or artichokes, and sometimes turned to classics from other regions, such as the judiones de la granja, the giant beans and sausage we first encountered in Segovia.

Lunches at Viva Mascaraque were a little more extended affairs, with an amuse bouche – a light melon soup on one day – arriving before three courses of appetizers, a main course and dessert. For the main course, we often were seduced by the paellas. Chef Mascaraque was head chef at the Hotel Ritz in Madrid and at the Spanish restaurant at Harrods in London; yet this restaurant was still almost as comfortably casual as the two above and only a few dollars more. As I clicked on the website, I did notice Viva Mascaraque now offers a shorter weekday menu eliminating two of the appetizer courses for about 13 Euros.

While the first three restaurants were all in the Carmen neighborhood, Mythos Tapas y Mas was on a shady tree-lined street in Canovas. The lunch menus did not vary as much from day to day, but the sea bass was wonderful and it was hard to resist the baby beans in a lacy thin crepe basket. And sitting outside on the quiet street was well worth the walk.

Definitely missing the personal implication of that Refugio sign now that we are back in San Antonio.