Archive for July, 2008

Le Cafe Anglais interior from www.londontown.com

Le Cafe Anglais interior (from http://www.londontown.com)

A few weekends ago, Jon and I had dinner at Le Cafe Anglais with our friends visiting from New York. I have to confess that the reason we went was pretty lame: I’d read a positive blurb about it in the New York Times. But you know, I rely on NYT articles when I travel outside of London, so why not use it for my current hometown? [Note that this instance isn’t nearly as bad as the time I discovered the Paul Young chocolate shop in my own neighborhood only after it turned up in the New York Times foraging section.]

Le Cafe Anglais wasn’t my first choice for dinner, but I was striking out at the other, smaller restos I called the day of, and I was super grateful Le Cafe Anglais had a table for four at 9:30 pm on a Saturday. When we arrived at the resto and saw how many tables filled the enormous dining room, I was no longer surprised that Le Cafe Anglais had room for us. You rarely see a space that large in London. That said, even at 10 pm, the place was still packed and lively.

As every review about Le Cafe Anglais will tell you, the resto is located next to the Whiteley’s shopping mall. Let’s just say it’s not a pretty sight. But once you’re in the Cafe’s airy, high-ceilinged dining room, it’s like you’ve walked into an old Cunard line dining salon. (And here’s the disclaimer that my knowledge of early-20th-century Cunard dining rooms comes straight out of perhaps-not-so-accurate films like Titanic).

Despite the upscale decor, Le Cafe Anglais feels very friendly and welcoming. It’s the perfect place for everyone from a party of one to a party of twenty, and the menu items are priced to be similarly flexible: you could nibble on a series of £3 hors d’oeuvres or you could feast on rack of lamb for £18. (more…)

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Hummous at Ima Restaurant in Jerusalem

Hummus at Ima Restaurant in Jerusalem

Our itinerary in Israel was pretty intense, taking us from Netanya to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Golan Heights, the Galilee, Rosh HaNikra, Akko, Caesarea, Tel Aviv and back to Netanya. The good news is that we saw a lot of a small-but-rich-in-history-and-landscape country, and I loved getting to know Jon’s Israeli relatives, who took a week off from work to show us their country. The bad news is that I didn’t stay in any one place long enough to get into the food scene.

That said, here are my general thoughts on eating out in Israel, followed by some quick, blurby reviews:

  1. If in doubt, eat falafel (aka chickpea in its most evolved form). I’m sure there are a lot of great restaurants in Israel (see last week’s NYT article about Tel Aviv or the July 2008 issue of Travel + Leisure, for example), but if you’re not able to plan your day around meals at pre-researched restos, and you want your food to be good and cheap, you won’t go wrong with falafel. Absent a local rec, I looked for a long line (ideally made up of cab drivers) and freshness (look for a guy who scoops the chickpea mix lightning fast into clear oil only after people place orders).
  2. Closely related to point number 1, I couldn’t get enough of hummus during our trip. Although all hummus recipes include chickpeas, tahini and olive oil, after that, the sky’s the limit in terms of variety. If you want to start an intense conversation among Israelis, ask them where to get the best hummus. Jon’s relatives (who live in Netanya) seemed to divide their loyalties between Hummus Said in Akko and Hummus Uzi in Netanya. I wish I could settle the debate, but I can’t – the hummus at both were delicious – creamy and nutty with a hint of sweet spice. Both places stop serving at 2 pm, so get there for lunch or takeaway before then.
  3. Restaurant portions in Israel are *huge*. I’m American. I know what a big portion looks like. If you’re planning to get appetizers and mains at a resto, then you should definitely share your main course with someone else unless you want a lot of leftovers (and if you’re me, you’ll feel endlessly guilty about throwing away said leftovers for lack of a home kitchen to re-heat them in).
  4. If you like Greek or Turkish food, you’ll love Israeli food. I don’t know how I missed this fact, but Israel is a Mediterranean country. That means that in a lot of restos, if you stick with grilled fish or meat or anything with cucumber-tomato-feta in it, you’ll do great. It also means that I would stay away from cuisines like, say, sushi (see blurb below on Japanika in Tel Aviv).
  5. Because I assume that Kosher restaurants are generally not as good as non-Kosher restaurants, I was happy to see that even in Jerusalem (which I expected to be Kosher Ground Zero), lots of non-Kosher restaurants could be found. For example, Barood restaurant (which was recommended by the Lonely Planet Israel guide, National Geographic *and* the (special?) issue of Time Out Jerusalem we picked up at our hotel, served sephardic food, yet it still couldn’t resist offering bacon-wrapped shrimp served with tagliatelle with cream sauce, just to really send a “we’re secular” message, I assume. (more…)

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Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

I’ve just returned from a ten-day vacation in Israel. Like most bloggers, I had grand plans to post a series of live updates, but Jon and I moved around a lot, and broadband for my laptop wasn’t readily available in most of the places we stayed (esp. near Syria and Lebanon).

I had an amazing time, despite the high summer heat (think average temps hovering at the 100 F mark) and occasional nerves from unfamiliar sounds (think land mines being cleared by Israeli soldiers near Syria).

More to come on the deliciousness of hummous and falafel, but for now, just three pics from our three days in Jerusalem.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Western Wall in Jerusalem

Despite being of no particular religion, I was moved by the quiet mystery at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (believed by most Christians to mark the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried), the peacefulness at the Dome of the Rock (believed by Muslims to mark the spot where Mohammed ascended to heaven), and the melancholy of the Western Wall (which is sacred to Jews because it’s all that remains of the First and Second Temples). Jerusalem is a must-see-before-you-die destination, no question.

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spaghetti with seafood at Vecio Fritolin

spaghetti with seafood at Vecio Fritolin

Vecio Fritolin was a tip we got from Mark Bittman’s article on Venice last year. The draw for us was his description that it’d serve the best fritto misto in Venice. Fried? Seafood? I’m there.

It took us ages to find the place. Not because it was any harder to find than other restos in Venice, but because we didn’t check a map before setting out. We’re cool with asking people for directions, but for some reason we had to pinball around for about thirty minutes before we hit the place. Luckily, Vecio Fritolin was pretty empty for Sunday lunch.

We shared a seafood spaghetti dish as an appetizer, only because we thought that would be the “healthy” portion of our lunch. It was simple and delicious, and 16 euros got us a portion big enough to split into two plates (the photo at top shows only half the portion). Delish as it was, Mark Bittman was right – all dishes non-fried are overshadowed by . . . (more…)

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Nadal Federer Wimbledon Final

Although my friend Tom Perrotta has been in town to cover Wimbledon for Tennis Magazine and the New York Sun, I wasn’t able to score any tix to Wimbledon these last two weeks.

Last night, I heard from a friend that Ticketmaster.co.uk was releasing 500 tickets the evening before each Wimbledon match, so my friends and I manned our computers at the appointed time, and voila, £96 lighter in wallet, I had a ticket to the Men’s Finals today.

As you probably heard by now, Nadal won, and it was a long, knock down, drag ’em out kind of match. Seven hours after their faceoff started, *I* felt exhausted and exhilarated, and all I had to do was sit in my seat and watch.

Federer Nadal at the beginning of 2008 Wimbledon Final

A great match by two great players, and I feel lucky to have seen it in person.  Congrats, Rafa!

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