sidebar: breakfast rooms.

The hotel breakfast room in Europe: if you've never been to Yurp, you don't really know what I'm talking about, although the concept is familiar: your hotel room comes with a "free breakfast". In America, this means you go down to the lobby and have some cereal or toast and shitty coffee while you watch CNN or whatever pap is on the TV down there and simultaneously "read" USA Today. It can be a loud, semi-bustling environment (depending on what time you wake up of course).

In Europe, hotel breakfast rooms are deathly still and quiet, unless there are Americans there complaining about the lack of CNN, USA Today, and toast. Ideally you would never spend any time at all in one of these rooms....you would walk out the door, turn left or right, and within 50 meters you'd find a dreamy patisserie or cafe where you could sit outside with real people and enjoy a sublime croissant or pastry and a double espresso or two.

However, sometimes your hotel is not located in a city center. In fact, sometimes, your hotel is located in a very American-seeming highway offramp kind of situation, and if you're up before anyone else and hungry....the hotel breakfast room is your only option.

The above picture was taken in the hotel breakfast room in Dendemonde, Belgium. I was up early and hungry, and OK although this time we were actually in a city center, I was interested in what a Belgian hotel breakfast was like, and didn't really feel like facing the outside world yet.

It was...modest but OK. Above you see a ham sandwich with Emmenthaler, oude kaas, and honey; a honingkoek (honey cake); and a couple of speculoos cookies. And a cup of tea. With honey. Lots of bees in Belgium apparently.



I have about 20 drafts of posts sitting around, the Blogger equivalent of Post-it Notes, reminding me of things I want to cook. This is a constant process pretty much, thinking of things to cook...which I thought sounded pretty fucked-up for awhile until I realized that for me it's a way of constantly "creating", and it can give you immediate, tangible results whenever you actually make time to stop by the stove and cook any of these brain visions.

The thing with leaving these posts as drafts is....I never look at them after I save them, so it's about as helpful as jotting down something on a Post-it Note and then throwing it out the window.

Which is why VDuck will probably contain more posts like this in the future. The point of this one in particular is to remind me to a) eat at Zinc Bistro the next time I'm in Phoenix (which will hopefully be May/June 2007), and b) steal some recipe and presentation ideas from Matt Carter (there's even a combination of tuna and socca, two of my faves with no (to me) obvious affinity).

Here's the eGullet thread that caught my roving eye.


Also, I had a perfect no-time-for-prep vegetarian dinner planned for Tuesday, but the venue has been moved. For future reference, it was: Marcella Hazan's Ligurian Vegetable Soup; ricotta-zucchini-spinach raviolis (from Pasta Panini on the Rozengracht) with tomato-butter sauce; stoofperen.



st. packrat's day.

We've been engaged in an unprecedented undertaking for the past few days: an actual Spring Cleaning. It's so obviously been a critical need for some time now, it seems impossible that we hadn't done it yet.

Maybe it's this: for the last few years springtime has found us either relocating our business across town (boo!) or moving house (yay!), and...while we one way or another got rid of truckloads of stuff each move...our newest living quarters are more modest, maybe even small: one room the size of (to paraphrase Terrill Soules) one room.

Into this one room we have crammed not only the semi-average-sized belongings of two mid-30s packrat nostalgists, but the flotsam and jetsam of our defunkt CD shop (including the entire inventory and fixtures), as well as a currently functioning CD/LP distribution business. And two sweet kitties.

Thus: after a truly impressive effort to get rid of every unnecessary thing in our apartment this week, we decided to commemorate the occasion with an uncharacteristic dinner: some kind o' meaty stew. I've made beef stew about twice in my life, but I've been reading Julia Child's The French Chef Cookbook, and wanting to cook something out of it for a few weeks now. Turns out however that after digging around in there a bit, her stews were just the tiniest bit more fussy than what I had time to cook tonight: and if I'm going to cook out of her book, there's no point in not following the recipes.

So we agreed on some essential components, basically: beef, red wine, thyme, carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes....stewed. And that's what we had (what follows here is easily one of my worst efforts to date in trying to express a recipe):


beef stew with bay leaves and thyme.

500 gr riblappen (boneless beef chuck), cut into 2-3 cm cubes
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced (you could even double this if you were in the mood)
1 cup red wine (Shiraz, Zinfandel, big wine)
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup chicken or beef stock
2 bay leaves
leaves from 3 sprigs fresh thyme

150-200 gr potatoes, cut into 2 cm cubes
3 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 small leek, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tbsp parsley or selderij (celery leaves), minced

Heat large soup kettle/crockpot to high, brown the beef on all sides in the olive oil. Remove and set aside. Add onion to kettle, sauté 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, sauté 30 seconds then add flour. Cook 2 minutes or so until incorporated and browning. Add wine, stirring to incorporate and scraping bottom of kettle to get any crusty bits. Add broth, bay leaves, and thyme, bring to simmer. Add browned meat to kettle. After a simmer, turn heat as low as possible, cover, and simmer for 2 hours or so.

After two hours, add potatoes, carrots, and leek, along with some more wine or broth if things are drying up. After another hour, things should be tasting and looking good. Adjust taste via salt and pepper, add parsley. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve with a salad, fresh baguettes and butter.

Serves 2 proud mooperbirds.


atlanta: keepin' it sleazy.

Some friends are headed to the ATL for one night only and wanted some entertainment tips. It was tough, due to the diverse, idiosyncratic, budget minded nature of this group of friends, so I just approached it as if it was me stranded on a Monday night in Brookhaven without a car.

Well, as if it were a budget-minded version of me. This is tough, as little gives me more reliably perverse pleasure than spitting on my own budget's grave; my first ATL inclinations would be to go to Sala or Tierra, or somewhere similar where I could seriously deplete my cash/credit reserves while seriously treating my giant hungry tooth to good eats...and then go do some of the other shit listed below.

Travel is another moneysucker: one of many negatives about the urban (and suburban) sprawl of Atlanta is that you must have a car to be truly mobile. Or a lot of money for cab fares: they pile up quick if you're carless and you don't have all night to try and get somewhere useful via MARTA.

For the options outlined below, the most cost-effective way to get to options B and C would probably be to take MARTA from Brookhaven/Oglethorpe Station to either Midtown Station, North Ave. Station, or Five Points Station, then take a bus or cab to any of the destinations below (specifics follow).


OK, so now...the list. Keep in mind that this is a budget-minded version of me who's apparently trying to re-live his mid-20s.

So. I'd probably do one of these (in ascending order of adventurousness):


Take a moderately expensive cab (or hopefully hotel courtesy van) to Hae Woon Dae. The point of this option would be to experience a real Chamblee strip mall, an evening of real Korean BBQ, and plenty of real unusual (but pleasantly so) atmosphere, followed by a relatively early bedtime. To dramatically increase the adventurousness of this option, you could visit one of the next-door strip clubs for some concerned frowns, intimidating stares, assuredly ethnic booty, and maybe even some exciting gunplay.

This option has collapsed under the impossibility of its own logistics. There's just no reasonable way to get a larger group of people out there from Brookhaven without a car service, and I'm not sure that's in the budget. My suggestion of cabbing it to Buford Highway was met with tremendous skepticism by locals still living in the ATL.


Take MARTA from Brookhaven Station to Midtown Station. Take the #45 bus (Virginia-Highland) and get off at the intersection of Virginia and Highland. Or take a cab from North Ave. Station to the intersection of Virginia and Highland.

Your destination is: my old watering hole in Virginia-Highland, the Highland Tap, for deadly deadly martinis, icy-cold Sierra Nevadas, and a superb burger or steak, possibly followed by either: Taco Mac across the street for their legendary beer selection (and hey Monday is trivia night, giving you the equilibrium-testing challenge of using your brain while simultaneously reducing its usefulness).

Other dining options in the Virginia-Highland area will appear here shortly.

Note: Should you feel invincible-livered, Option B1 puts you in an excellent position to combine Options B and C, but the degree of difficulty is high here. Read on for details.

If you're just looking to extend Option B1, you could enjoy a pleasant 15-minute postprandial stroll south down N. Highland to Option C below. It's a pleasant walk even if you decide to forego Option C but just want some exercise and a nightcap: The Righteous Room is where I'd go, and then call a cab from there.

Or you could take a cab to Heavy Metal Karaoke (with live band!) at 10 High Club (under the Dark Horse Tavern). Mara said it rocked.

Remember MARTA only runs til midnight, so...if things get out of hand, cabbing it back to Brookhaven will probably punch a $30 hole in your wallet.

Take MARTA from Brookhaven Station to Five Points Station, then take the #3 bus (Auburn Ave / MLK Drive) east to Euclid Ave and get off in front of the Variety Playhouse. Or take a cab directly to the Variety Playhouse.

Your destination is: my old watering hole in Little Five Points, the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, for a pulled BBQ pork sandwich, good beers, and entertaining camaraderie. There's a few more blocks' worth to investigate here, but really...it's hard to consider L5P a nighttime destination in itself these days without a show to go see there. During the day....maybe, for CD/LP shopping, but still...not a terribly rich seam to mine 'less you just wanna drank.

Pictorially, About.com hits some highlights of Little Five with this pictorial, but geez, here are some more nostalgic pictures from pre-digital times, 1998!

Take MARTA from Brookhaven Station to North Ave Station, then either take the #2 bus (Ponce de Leon) to Highland & Ponce de Leon, or take a cab directly to the Clermont.

Your destination is: the Clermont Lounge. To quote Wikipedia: "The Clermont is perhaps best-known for featuring dancers who do not meet the traditional physical standards for strippers, the most famous of which is Blondie, notable for her ability to completely flatten empty beer cans between her breasts." To say that the Clermont strippers do not meet traditional standards is...accurate. The only downside here is the shitty canned beer selection, but...you're slumming.

The Clermont should be followed or preceded by a greasy pie at Fellini's Pizza, or a decent Cuban sandwich at La Fonda Latina (I wouldn't order anything other than this or the paella here). Don't expect greatness at either of these places, you're there for the patio and because I used to go there. There's also the Majestic, which really only makes sense when taken in tandem with the Clermont or similar debauchery.

Safety Note: you will probably snap this relatively quickly, but just in case: this is not really an area of town to randomly explore on foot unless you're up for "real adventure". Stick to Ponce de Leon Ave, walk tall, and don't talk to anybody on the street unless you're trying to score some drugs. And if you are, don't follow anyone anywhere to get them. Unless you really need them. And then, well...take it sleazy, bro.


And speaking of scoring...you should also at some point try to score a HOT Krispy Kreme donut if you haven't had one. But don't bother looking for one if you're not prepared to wait for the HOT NOW sign in the window to light up, cos otherwise....it's just a donut.



tour de france.

Ha. I am suddenly going to France for 11 days. Well, not just France, but frankly, wherever the van takes me. Here's where it will hopefully be taking me:

29-03 Opwijk (BEL)
30-03 Nancy (FRA)
31-03 Bern (SWI)
01-04 Genève (SWI)
02-04 Grenoble (FRA)
03-04 Montpellier (FRA)
04-04 Bourges (FRA)
05-04 Limoges (FRA)
06-04 Brest (FRA)
07-04 St. Malo (FRA)

I desperately need chomping tips for this tour, since: a) it's my first trip to France, period, and b) I don't know anything about anywhere we're going. Our schedule is tight, as in, we won't have much time for getting lost looking for good food, so I need reliable info....any ideas?

For my own reference, some notes:

We start out in Opwijk, which is a tiny Belgian suburb of 12,000 people outside of Bruxelles. I'm not sure what the deal is on this gig, or how late in the day we'll leave to get there.

5 hours away is Nancy (tourist info), in the Lorraine region, the Northeast of France. The more I look at it, the better it looks, it's full of Art Nouveau (L'Ecole de Nancy), which I know nothing about. Described more than once as "the artistic and intellectual heart of modern Lorraine". Plagiarism, or generally accepted fact? Here's the venue.

Then it's 4.5 hours to Bern (tourist info), which Wikipedia describes as "rich of cultural offerings for every taste" (sic). Right. We're playing at the Reithalle, which used to be "the old riding school of Bern, now a meeting place for the alternative scene, with concerts, parties, flea market and much more". Hmm.

Then, yay, a 2 hour drive to Geneva (tourist info). Here is eGullet's Geneva thread, not so helpful at the moment, but maybe it will chug into life soon. Here is where we're headed.

2 hours away, Grenoble (tourist info) is in the Alps, and is not only full of Italians, but is walnut country apparently, so I should try to find some nocino (or vin de noix, walnut liqueur); tourtons, pasta squares stuffed with cheese, spinach or prunes (amongst others) then fried. Restaurant listings here (apparently stolen directly from the Rough Guide).

A nice short (3-hour) drive to Montpellier (tourist info) is next. Montpellier is supposed to be notoriously difficult to eat well in (and drive in). Cellier-Morel (Maison de la Lozere) has received a bunch of recommendations, but it's Michelin level dining. Mosaïque (21 rue Vallat) is supposed to be good and simple.

Then, a 7-hour drive to Bourges (tourist info) in the Loire region. Someone recommended the pâtisserie Aux Trois Flûtes, on the corner of rues Joyeuse and Bourbonnoux; for chocolates and the local sweet speciality of fourrées au praliné, Maison Forestines on place Cujas. In general, fruit and veg are the shit in this region. Another recommendation just popped up for Le Jardin Gourmand. Which looks good, but I seriously doubt we'll have time for it that day.

3 hours to Limoges (tourist info). Limoges is part of Limousin, here are some eating links. Can this be considered prime foie gras country?

Ook. A tough day, 9 hours to Brest. Brest is in Brittany, sounds like it's not much to look at (bombed heavily in WWII). But this is the time to start looking out for crêpes and galettes. And seafood. La Carene is somewhat near the water.

3 hours away, Saint-Malo (tourist info) is in Brittany too, and looks awesome. Too bad the venue isn't closer to the water. Here's an eGullet post on Breton pastries, including Kouign Amann. And someone has said that the Le Petit Moulin du Rouvre restaurant just south of St Malo and west of Mont St. Michel is good eating.

Then.....11 hours back to Amsterdam, hopefully nowhere near as destroyed as the last time I tried this. Actually, maybe I'll hang out in St. Malo for a few days if the weather's nice, then take a train back.



It feels like we're the last to know about how to make cauliflower taste good. I learned about it this summer from a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe, but further research revealed that the topic has been gaining critical mass for some time.

The concept is simple: cut the cauliflower into 1/4-inch slices. This thickness seems to allow the stems to cook at about the same rate as the florets. And then cover the whole mess with the best olive oil you've got. Roast it in the oven for 40 minutes at 200C, keeping an eye on it to make sure that it doesn't overbrown. You could also just turn it over every 10 minutes or so if you don't mind hanging out by the stove.

What you end up with is something that is nutty and sweet that most people would never guess was cauliflower. The extra good news is that the recipe readily accepts elaborations: using butter instead of olive oil; adding cumin or rosemary; pine nuts and capers, etc.

Below is my adaptation of the initial recipe that got me hooked on this preparation method, but it's also great without the caper-raisin sauce.


roasted cauliflower with capers and raisins.

1/3 cup capers, drained + 1 tbsp of their liquid
1/3 cup raisins, preferably golden
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp. butter
nutmeg for grating
ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 head's worth of cauliflower florets, stems cut longways into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil

Place cauliflower in a roasting pan and coat with olive oil. Place in a 200C oven for 40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes or so to prevent overbrowning. Meanwhile, combine capers, raisins, butter, and water in a small saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. Let it cool and then zshoom it up in a food processor.

Reheat the sauce, then add the nutmeg, vinegar, pepper and salt if needed. Serve cauliflower with a dollop of the sauce onto 4 plates. Finish with a tiny grating of nutmeg.

UPDATE: Apparently I've incorrectly transcribed one or more improvisatory elements of this recipe...tried it according to this recipe last night and it had lost something. Will try to fix soon.


let it FLO.

One of the most popular questions from our readers here is: "Why don't your photos have anything to do with your posts? Huh? Why not?"

And the answer is: get off my back, man. I finally managed to get over to Brasserie FLO and have a bite to eat (sorry Klary, I didn't mean to go without you guys, I just ended up over there unexpectedly around dinner time). This can't be considered an actual review, since I just sat at the bar and had a salad and a couple of beers, but I learned a couple of things about the place, enough to know whether or not I'll be back.

And: I will. The food was good. I had the "salad with rillettes of duck, smoked duck breast, sausage, bacon and croutons". Very tasty, lightly dressed, totally edible and something I wouldn't make at home.

The only real negative for me is that the lighting was a bit brighter than the Mole Family prefers. But this isn't really a realistic complaint, because the ideal dining lighting for us is near-total darkness. The service was young and unprofessional, but pleasant and they seemed to be trying to do a good job. And the prices were reasonable. All in all, initial indications suggest that it's a fine place for a drink and a bite. I can imagine that service problems multiply if you actually sit at a table or order an entree, but that's pure speculation. I'll let you know when I go back this weekend.


painting the town red.

Apparently many other people in Europe enjoyed the lunar eclipse last night. I myself did not, because during the fun part (pictured above), la luna became obscured by clouds.

Or maybe it went out for a glass of red. It seems that I'm not the only person in town who is wondering where the hell I can find a nice glass of red wine in a dark cozy environment. Free local rag nl20 has an article this month about wine bars in Amsterdam, saying that with the growing appreciation for wine in Holland and the proliferation of wine bars around town, Amsterdam is "finally beginning to act like an international city" (insert cynical dog poop joke here).

Maybe I shouldn't be skeptical. Maybe we haven't heard this before. Actually, we have. Back in 2002 or so, several similar articles popped up around the introduction of several winebars to the city's landscape. As far as I can tell, only one of those is still around, Boelen & Boelen. Back when those articles came out, I went by a couple of these places (whose names escape me at the moment), and...they just seemed soul-less and designed to attract the eye in a way I associate with flash-in-the-pan desperation. Understandably: opening a restaurant of any sort is a terribly risky proposition that usually fails expensively, at least that's what my dad told me when he talked me out of opening a restaurant back in the 90s.

So, back in the early days of the winebar rush, Boelen & Boelen seemed more physically approachable than the others, but mostly I just remember being knocked out by their high prices. Of course, now that Euro-inflation is an accepted fact and the U.S. dollar's implosion has made everything expensive for us expatriates, Boelen & Boelen's prices are looking downright average.

Bubbles & Wines, which is already on my list of places to check out, still looks interesting and not quite as self-congratulatory as some of the others. I think it helps that, in the photos I see of B & W, the people behind the bar seem to be friendly-faced, with welcoming, open smiles. I'm such a sucker for crafty marketing!

The other names mentioned in the article are:
  1. Vyne. Good name. Really cute website that doesn't play vapid smooth lounge-jazz beats when it starts up. Huge points for that. Unfortch, the photos on the website make the place look a bit like a museum shop. It's definitely not a relaxed, comfortable-looking bar, it looks like a place to go out and fetishize something. The IENS reviews are rather terrible and suggest that this place suffers from the now unsurprising Amsterdam problem of unqualified, disinterested, perhaps even rude waitstaff. O, it's laughable, up to a point, isn't it.

    I'm just about beyond that point...I've been really reluctant to reach this conclusion, but I think that this inability to really understand the concept of "customer service" might well say something significant about the culture here (across the Internet, a chorus of unpleasant, whiny voices cries out in unison, "oh, ya think???"). I definitely don't want the robotic Stepford Waiters or the fawning/bratty customer-is-always-right relationships of the U.S. to take root over here, but...fuck. Just try a little.

    Which reminds me: our friend Andy, who is not a needy person while dining, finally ate at this Dos place off the Marnixstraat (maybe an offshoot of Duende?), and said that while the food was good, there was a woman working there who was the most unpleasant person he's been served by in a long time. It would've been a total bust if he hadn't struck up a rapport with the chef, after which everything was smooth sailing and generally very good. So...there you go. Avoid the blonde woman at Dos. IENS reviews suggest that she's either new or a fill-in.

  2. Rosarium. Looks like a beautifully designed place, but the website is not too forthcoming about the food or drink options. The IENS reviews are uniformly excellent, which is unusual and more than likely indicative of something out of the ordinary, exactly what I'm not sure. A negative point: it's out in Oost Bumblefuck.

  3. Silex. It's not immediately obvious what this restaurant is doing in an article about winebars, based on their website menus. Their 2 red by-the-glass choices are uninspired, while the bottles are very heavily weighted towards French and Italian standards. The menu is very "European". Looks expensive and disappointing...but: the IENS reviews are very positive. Not that that means anything. Maybe worth seeing what the bar area is like. I need a scout. Or an intern.
So....more places to check out. Too bad I'm on the wagon for a few weeks as part of my new "month-on/oh shit: another month-on/thank god, finally a few weeks off" drinking regimen.


southern cookin'.

This could have been one of those post titles that every newspaper slash magazine hack has used to death: you know, talking about the southwestern Asian/eastern Mediterranean country Georgia but using coy little references to the southeastern U.S. state Georgia. I'm not even going to give an example of it here, you know what I'm talking about. This post is just a reminder to start cooking some Georgian food, because it looks like a fantastic way to take advantage of the lovely Moroccan/Turkish goods at Bario Market downstairs (quite possibly the friendliest men in Amsterdam).

On the web, About Georgia has some nice entry points into Georgian cuisine. Here's the eGullet post that got me a-salivatin', and this cookbook from Darra Goldstein (or this one from Paula Wolfert, or both) will probably end up in our comparatively modest (45 or so) cookbook pile/stack.