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Posts Tagged ‘NaBloPoMo’

I’m sure all 20-something of you who read this blog have been waiting for me to finally write about the third restaurant we visited during Tallinn Restaurant Week (over two months ago…), Neh. The restaurant’s focus is on the cuisine of the islands in the Baltic Sea, like Gotland, the Åland Islands, and Estonia’s own Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Also, their head chef is kinda hot.

This was the two-course lunch menu, taken from the Restaurant Week site (although edited by me because some of their translations sucked):

Pan-baked bread

traditional Saaremaa dish, pan-baked bread, made with Koplimäe farm barley and smoked sauna ham served with lingonberry-apple chutney and caraway tea

Neh´s wild boar sausage

lightly smoked artisanal sausages, caramelized onion & vegetable mash

I loved the first course, pictured above. The pan bread was chewy from the barley and contained chunks of the most delicious smoked ham. The rustic bread was nicely complimented by the tart fresh lingonberries and and the creamy sauce on top (unfortunately I can’t remember what was in it, but I think maybe fresh dill?). My only negative comment is that the lingonberry puree flourish on the plate looks like a blood spatter from a crime scene.

The sausage was fresh, rich and perfectly meaty, no unappealing chewy bits. The accompanying roasted beets, vegetable mash, and mustard added variety but the star was definitely the sausage. It was very good-quality but also rich and fatty, so this portion was honestly a bit much for me.

The restaurant itself is extremely cozy and charming. It’s in an old renovated house near the harbor, but the decor is simple and modern. Where we were sitting on the first floor there was a total of only 4-5 tables in the room, so it almost felt like we were guests at somebody’s house. I also love their focus on “local” cuisine and ingredients (not just focused on Estonia, but on the surrounding Baltic Sea area as well). The “eat locally” movement hasn’t become a trend here in Estonia yet, but I’m glad at least one restaurant is drawing attention to it. And in case you’re wondering, I was too shy to ask whether the head chef was in that day (typical!) so that means I just may have to go back another time :).

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All right, I’m finally getting around to writing about the restaurants we visited over a month ago for Tallinn Restaurant Week! First up: Ö.

Restaurant Ö (which means “island” in Swedish) is considered one of the best restaurants in Tallinn. It’s a little pricey so when I saw that they were participating in Restaurant Week with a 2-course 10 EUR per person lunch menu, I knew we had take advantage of this chance to try it. This was the lunch menu on offer, taken from the Restaurant Week site:

Fillet of rabbit with rabbit and pear strudel

served in creamy false morels sauce

Blueberry cheesecake

with vanilla ice-cream and baked apple cream

Since Ö is a fancy place, our meal actually began with an amuse bouche.

On the spoon was some kind of fennel cream with caviar and the tiny cup contained beet consomme, which was very salty. I couldn’t really taste the fennel, but J said he definitely tasted a licorice flavor.

Next our waiter offered us two different types of bread and this lovely swirl of butter on a rock. I opted for the dense white walnut bread, and when I say dense, I mean this slice of bread had some surprising heft to it. The chewy bread topped with the creamy butter (which had been sprinkled with sea salt) was seriously delicious. I know bread and butter seems like such an everyday thing, but believe me when I say that this bread and this butter were exceptional.

Then came our first course of rabbit two ways. See that little pinkish thing over on the left? That’s a rabbit kidney. I tried it but the taste was too similar to that of liver, one of the few things I don’t eat. The rabbit meat itself is like very firm chicken, much less flaky under the fork, and it was served with a delicious mushroom sauce. I usually don’t love fruit in my savory food, but the pear-rabbit strudel was, not surprisingly, very well-balanced. All wrapped up in a crispy phylo-like pastry, it was very pleasant to eat. Since I like varying textures in my food, I enjoyed the strudel more than the straight-up rabbit meat.

Finally, there was dessert.

I think my favorite part of this was actually the ice cream. The description says it was vanilla ice cream, but it tasted like there was something else in addition to vanilla, some secret ingredient we tried to figure out but couldn’t. Maybe that’s just what really, really good vanilla tastes like :). The baked apple cream was also quite cool, a rich foam that tasted purely of apples.

We really enjoyed our meal at Ö. The service there is impeccable and with the Restaurant Week menu we got incredible value for our money. I can’t say we’re going to become regular patrons, but I would recommend it to somebody looking for a high-quality dining experience in Tallinn.

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Wonderful Copenhagen

We actually did have one more day of fun after departing from Maryland on a Saturday evening. We landed in Copenhagen on Sunday morning and were faced with a painful 8-hour layover before our flight to Tallinn. We had considered going into the city, but after an 8-hour overnight flight during which we barely slept at all, the last thing we felt like doing was navigating a foreign subway and figuring out logistics. However, the woman we spoke to at the transfer desk was very convincing: “You know what you should do? Go into the city! It is the first sunny day in 12 days. Go.” Thanks to that gentle nudge plus the hand-drawn map she made showing exactly where the metro is and where we could get tickets, we decided to go. I’m so glad we did.

Taking the subway from the airport to the city center is ridiculously easy, and when you get off at the Kongens Nytorv stop you’re only steps away from Stroget, the main pedestrian street. Memories came flooding back to me, as I had visited Copenhagen once before when my sister was studying there in 2007.  The weather was sunny and surprisingly warm, so it was a great day for just walking around.

Our first mission was to find a cafe for our morning coffee.

My latte was lovely and delicious. Which is good, considering I paid 7 euros for that and a plain cup of coffee for J. Copenhagen is expensive!

After walking along Stroget for a while, seeing more and more Danish families emerge to enjoy a Sunday morning walk in the sunshine, we wanted a break. And a beer. International travel and jet lag are perfectly legitimate excuses for ordering beer at 10:30 in the morning.

Just so you know, we were actually not the only ones at the Irish pub drinking at that time of day! After our beers we walked around more and got an uninspired lunch from a 7-11. I was so tempted by the Danish pastries:

…but I had no local cash and many shops don’t allow you to pay for such a small purchase with a card. Bummer.

By early afternoon we were feeling truly zombie-like and headed back to the airport, but I think that spending time in the actual sunshine did wonders for helping our bodies clocks readjust to the time zone. After we returned home it didn’t take me long at all to recover from the jet lag. Not to mention J and I added another city to our list of European capitals we’ve visited together :). Next time we have a 4+ hour layover in Copenhagen, I definitely won’t hesitate to come enjoy the city again.

 

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Best crab cakes in the world

Remember a few days ago when I was too busy sewing to write a post? This is what I was doing:

I sing in a choir and we just had uniforms made. The jacket and skirt were made by a professional but we opted not to have her put the detailing on, as the extra man-hours would have cost us a lot more. Therefore, you see that lovely red ribbon all along the edge, making pretty loopy designs? I did that! It took forever, but at the end of the day, I think I did a pretty good job :).

On the last night of our trip to the States my parents took us out to the dinner. They wanted us to experience this place they’d raved about that apparently has the best crab cakes (and being Maryland folk, we take crab cakes very seriously). The place itself is a little out of the way and the atmosphere is… have you ever been to a restaurant in a small town that’s trying to be fancy, but it’s still not? It’s one of those places :).

We started off with mussels in white wine sauce. They were very good, even slightly sweet if I remember correctly. The broth was good but not as good as the stuff we had in New York. We also got an unpictured side salad, and then came the star of the show:

Two fist-sized patties of huge crab chunks barely held together by a rich and creamy binding mixture, brown and shiny from the broiler. I can easily say this was the best crab cake I’d ever had. The size and quality of the crab meat used blew my mind and I savored every bite. We got sides too (cole slaw, onion rings, potato salad), but those were just OK. It was all about the crab cake.

The best part was that each of us ordered the 2-crab cake platter, but nobody could eat more than one crab cake that night, so the leftovers came home for lunch the next day! So not only was a transcendent crab cake our last dinner in the States, it was also our last lunch, just before we had to head off to the airport. It was the perfect way to bid adieu to Maryland.

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Since the party we hosted at my parents’ house last year was so much fun, we just had to do it again. Plus we were right between J and my birthdays and we realized that our combined age this year adds up to 60, plus my father’s birthday was that same week– those are reasons to celebrate, right?

My parents have a wonderful house for entertaining and an extra fridge in the basement for party supplies.

A full fridge is a beautiful sight, isn’t it? And to anyone who might say, “That’s a lot of beer!”, my response is hahahahaha… you clearly haven’t met our friends. Most of this beer actually wasn’t even intended for the party, since we had another plan.

A quarter keg of Yuengling and a cooler… maybe Guinness is checking for his namesake?

Then a dear family friend of ours contributed two small kegs of beer that he had made himself! It was awesome to try both of them (not to mention several others he brought in bottles for us to try), but my heart belonged to his peach weissbier– a white beer that wasn’t too sweet despite its fruity undertones. Loved it.

There was also food at the party, but honestly I think this sweetie got more attention than all the dishes combined:

Who can resist a 9-week-old Keeshond? She’s so cuddly and looks like an Ewok!

But back to the food:

The spread included black bean salad, two different potato salads, a delicious noodle salad, marinated shrimp that disappeared in minutes, and over on the right, a bacon explosion (an infamous concoction of sausage wrapped in a bacon lattice and smoked– a family fried was willing to prepare it for us and it was so good!). There was also grilled chicken and veggie burgers. I was happy to sit down to dinner because prior to that I’d been so busy greeting guests and chatting that I hadn’t eaten any of the appetizers set out at the start of the party.

Desserts were amazing– we had mini chocolate salted caramel cupcakes, two varieties of full-size cupcakes, a dense chocolate cake with raspberry coulis,  gorgeous fresh berries, and a Smith Island cake made by my sister.

As a special bonus, there was also two different varieties of chocolate chip cookies going head-to-head. A few weeks prior my sister and I had talked about our go-to chocolate chip cookie recipes, both of which get rave reviews, and decided to pit them against each other. I used the New York Times cookie recipe and my sister the one that comes on the back of the Crisco label.

We didn’t tell anyone who made which cookies and asked people to vote for their favorite. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the way mine turned out. They didn’t get as brown in  my parents’ oven as they do in mine so I overbaked them a bit and they were crispy, not chewy how I like them to be. The flavor was still good but the texture was lacking. I honestly thought my sister’s nice soft cookies would win… but no, when the votes were tallied my cookies were triumphant! (My sister was a little pissed). But at the end of the day they’re both good recipes– as a matter of fact, I should try the Crisco one using Estonian shortening sometime soon.

My sister did forgive me eventually, and the party overall was definitely a success. It lasted late into the night (we had to kill the keg, of course) and then continued in the morning with brunch:

and perhaps also a few leftover beers;)

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As I mentioned when I left off, our next stop was to visit my sister in Philadelphia! She lives in the hilly neighborhood of Manayunk (I went for a run there and it was seriously so hard; I was always going up or down!). Since J and I have been to Philly many times before, we weren’t as focused on seeking out certain foods or experiences as we were on just relaxing and having fun with my sister.

But there was still some yummy stuff! J and I wandered down Main Street in Manayunk because we had time to kill before the train to center city. It was a hot day, so when I saw Whirled Peace, a self-serve frozen yogurt place, I knew it would be the perfect snack.

This was original tart yogurt and some chocolate yogurt with mini peanut butter cups, almonds, and I believe also some crunchy toffee candy. Mine looked so good that J decided to get some too (I was surprised, as he tends to prefer salty, more substantial snacks!). It’s so much fun getting to pick all your own flavors and toppings and I’m bummed that I only get this treat once a year :(.

Later that night, after my sister had gotten off work and we’d returned to Manayunk from center city, my two companions took me out to dinner as a belated birthday gift! Aww. We decided to go to a BYOB place– this was a great idea because it would be cheaper, but we did have to drive about 10 minutes to the nearest liquor store (and speaking of alcohol, did you know that you can’t sell liquor and beer in the same store in Pennsylvania? I went to college in PA and my sister lives there now, so we can attest to the fact that such an arrangement gets annoying really fast). After our detour for a bottle of wine and then parking back at my sister’s and walking down the hill to Main Street we were all famished… and then we discovered the Mediterranean BYOB we’d chosen was closed. FAIL. Luckily there was a Chinese BYOB about a block away, and that was open. Yay.

We started with potstickers– look at those lovely crispy bottoms! They were very good, as was the rest of our food:

J’s sesame chicken with chilies

My sister’s dan dan noodles

My eggplant in garlic sauce (I swear it’s eggplant, although it looks like chicken!)

The food was truly good, much better quality than the fast food-type Chinese food you find all over the place. We were having a great time enjoying our food and our 1.5-liter bottle of wine in the otherwise empty restaurant, right up until the waitress started hinting that it was time to leave. And by hinting I mean telling us straight out “We’re closing soon, and I don’t get paid extra if I stay late, so…” We also saw her making out with the guy behind the bar, so we have a pretty good idea of why the two of them wanted to close up shop and get home, if you know what I mean. The girl was nice and friendly but the way she hustled us out of there (forcing us to pretty much chug the last of our wine) was so incredibly unprofessional, I think we were all a little shocked. (She even said to us, “You guys are so nice! A lot of people give me a hard time when I tell them it’s time to go!” I just gave her a smile knowing that yes, we were being nice and polite to her face, but also talking about her in Estonian so she wouldn’t understand it. I’m passive-aggressive like that). Overall it was still a great night, though!

On our last day in Philly we visited the Mütter Museum, ate a cheesesteak (of which I have no photo… I really forgot about this blogging thing during the summer :P), and enjoyed happy hour at Public House.  It was all great, but after the final stop on our 4-city tour both J and I were happy to be heading back to Maryland and the relative peace and quiet (um, and free food!) of my parents’ house!

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Little busy right now

I hate to break my streak of actual posts. but I’m working on a sewing project right now that is killing me. I don’t sew often and I don’t do it well, so it’s taking me forever… but I just keep plugging along. I’ll show you the finished product tomorrow!

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