March 7, 2010

Which is the best Coffee Capital Paris Vienna or Brussels

Which is the best Coffee Capital Paris Vienna or Brussels

Nutmeg says hands down Vienna is the best Coffee Capital.  You will find decent coffee in all three locations, Paris has already been mentioned (02/23 Don’t tell the French Italian coffee is better), Brussels is decent with many options for Italian expresso or café au lait.   However, the Viennese have created an entire culture around the “coffee-house” which generally involves a smoky bar or quieter lounge. Legend has it that soldiers of the Polish-Habsburg army, while liberating Vienna from the second Turkish siege in 1683, found a number of sacks with strange beans that they initially thought were camel feed and wanted to burn. The Polish king Jan III Sobieski granted the sacks to one of his officers named Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, who started the first coffee house. After some experimentation, he added some sugar and milk, and the Viennese coffee tradition was born. In Vienna, there are plenty of sweet choices to go along with your coffee.  The two most delicious and famous are the Sachertorte and Applestrudel.  Legend has it the Sachertorte was invented in the kitchens at the 5-star Sacher Hotel.  It is definitely very good although Nutmeg is not sure if it is the best.  The Sacher Café closely guards the recipe; in fact it is apparently locked in a vault.  Not to worry though you can find a very acceptable version on Epicurious.  The only issue in Vienna is they still allow smoking in restaurants so look for one with a non-smoking section…or no people. Nutmeg’s vote:  Vienna is the best coffee capital. [tfb username=’GingerandNutmeg’ count=’true’ lang=’en’ theme=’light’]

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March 7, 2010

European Capitals Dining options in Paris, Vienna and Brussels

European Capitals Dining options in Paris, Vienna and Brussels

If there is one thing that Nutmeg and Ginger love to try it is food.  The truth is you are not going to starve in any of these great cities; the array of options can be overwhelming.  In all three cities Paris, Vienna and Brussels there is no end of options for international cuisine.  Each city offers fresh farmers markets, local produce retailers and many ethnic specialty areas.  In turn, each city has a large inventory of what Nutmeg likes to call the dreaded “overpriced and underwhelming tourist traps”. With the internet it is easy enough to search for good to great restaurant options in any city. Zagat is a reliable resource and a bit more established in Europe than Open Table. The other strategy is “roll of the dice”; this means taking some time to look at the menu (price and limited variety), the décor (lighting levels and table settings) and the number of diners (never try an empty restaurant).  Here are some recommendations based on this strategy: In Vienna: Nutmeg and Ginger tried Indochine 21 night the food is influenced by South East Asia and the décor by Thailand and Vietnam.  This place scored highly on Nutmeg’s list as the lighting levels were appropriate and the smoke levels low – oh and the food was very good. A funky place to check out is Urania was built according to the plans of Art Nouveau architect Max Fabiani (a student of Otto Wagner) at the mouth of the Wien River and was opened in 1910 by Franz Joseph I of Austria as an educational center with a public observatory. It was named after the Muse Urania who represents Astronomy. The bar/restaurant is perched right above the water.  The menu is not extensive but the food is decent and the service prompt.  If you are not hungry just go for a drink Urania is a great people-watching scene. In Brussels: A great find was Toscana 21.  This tiny restaurant has been open about three years it is located just of the Place du Petit Sablon. The menu is limited in size with a focus on Tuscan specialties.  Momma is the chef, her son Lorenzo and his wife (training opera singer) run the show out front.  We had an antipasto selection with great pecorino cheeses and a selection of specialty cured meats.  The main course pastas (all home made from scratch) were fantastic.  Ginger had a goat cheese and honey stuffed tortellini in a cheese, pear and poppy seed sauce.  Nutmeg had “nude gnocchi”; spinach and ricotta dumplings without the outer shell – they were like little cloud puffs.  The food was fantastic and Nutmeg will not be trying these at home.  She will be booking another trip to Tuscany though! So the bottom line is you are never hard pressed to find good and great food in these European cities.  Use whatever methodology you like (internet, word of mouth, roll of the dice) but Go and Explore! [tfb username=’GingerandNutmeg’ count=’true’ lang=’en’ theme=’light’]

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March 2, 2010

Brussels Redeemed

Brussels Redeemed

Nutmeg was last in Brussels a couple decades ago (more or less).  At that time she and her friends stayed in an unrated hotel – sometimes called a “youth hostel”.  It was a rainy depressing few days, the city was uninviting, the food marginal (keep in mind a student budget) and the place was filled with beggars. So fast forward… the accommodations are not grand this time, although certainly a big step up from the hostel.  The sun has shone for 2 out of 3 days and the beggars are gone.  That is not to say you should not watch your pockets, just do so with the same level of caution you would apply everywhere. Brussels  fast facts: population of over 1 million 55,000 of which are European officials over 200 different nationalities can be found (1 in 2 people have foreign roots) the city covers 170 sqkm (10 times the sprawl of Paris) home to NATO and the EU Apart from being the centre of European politics, Brussels has a fascinating and old history that dates back to the 11th century when it began as a small dukedom the size of the current downtown area. In 1830 Belgium became independent and Brussels became the capital of Belgium under a new king and parliament. Belgium became an independent state in 1830 after protests against the policies of King William of the Netherlands. Since then, Belgium has created its own Constitution and proclaimed its own sovereign – King Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was the first king of the Kingdom of Belgium. An interesting fact is that Belgium is separated into 3 regions mainly due to differences in language – French and Dutch speakers. The regions are Flanders in the north (Dutch), Wallonia in the south (French) and Brussels in the centre (Bilingual). There is a small area called Ardennes that also speaks German but it is not an official region. Nutmeg has warmed up to Brussels for several reasons; they speak French here and will tolerate her rusty skills (unlike the French), the chocolate is fantastic, the coffee is decent and the shopping rivals any other centre.  Ginger had never been to Brussels before, so did not share Nutmeg’s slightly jaded view.  He loves the beer selection and is really happy with the moules and frites combination. The architecture is interesting and the Grande Place (Grote Markt) is beautiful although in Nutmeg’s opinion the city is not as esthetically pleasing as Paris or Vienna.  There are lots of museums and galleries.  The Costume and Lace Museum currently is displaying a fantastic “Sixties” exhibition. The chocolate is definitely a highlight some vendors that Nutmeg recommends: Frederic Blondeel Pierre Marcolini Neuhaus Galler (the best packaging) Corne 1932 (a few free samples) Corne Port Royal (good selection and their bars are more affordable then the first three) Cafe-Tasse (tons of free samples, you will be guilted into buying) So in Nutmeg’s opinion Brussels has been redeemed!  Plan a visit. [tfb username=’GingerandNutmeg’ count=’true’ lang=’en’ theme=’light’]

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February 28, 2010

One Big Tree How Many Belge Firemen Does It Take

One Big Tree How Many Belge Firemen Does It Take

On our way back to Brussels we encountered a tree! This was no small tree it cut off  four lanes of a highway and both directions of traffic, including our bus for over two hours.  The good news?  No one was hurt.  That tree would have flattened any of the small gas friendly cars on the road and done serious damage to any moving vehicle.  On top of stopping both directions of traffic, the other complicating factor was that the tree had pulled down, although did not snap a power line.  Traffic ground to a slow crawl as the vehicles inched forward into a “sardine can” formation (if you have ever spent any time in a French or Quebec ski line?  If so, you might have an idea what this started to look like). Finally, a single fire truck arrived to the rescue.  This event occurred in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday in crappy weather…so it took awhile to arouse the one truck and crew.  After accessing the pretty obvious situation these guys got to work rerouting the car traffic through a forest lane and on to a muddy farmers’ field for a couple kilometers until the next highway entrance.  The heavy weights; buses and trucks could not make the detour due to weight, so had to wait. Over the next two hours the fire crew got to work with the single chainsaw that they had.  The chainsaw looked like a steak knife next to a dinosaur.  So it took a long time.  Nutmeg was impressed that the bus full of capable well-trained macho men offered many opinions but chose to leave the heavy work to the firemen.  This event was a big deal on an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon.  During the two-hour wait there was a fair amount of entertainment as there were visits from the local press, local police, electrical company and a few others like the woman driver who felt it was her “right” to drive on the road and the mini driver who felt the road was clear enough that he could get through… So how many firemen does it take?  At least four ….and many sideline critics. [tfb username=’GingerandNutmeg’ count=’true’ lang=’en’ theme=’light’]

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February 13, 2010

European Coffee and Chocolate Capitals

European Coffee and Chocolate Capitals

Nutmeg is off to join Ginger on a school trip. She really hopes that a school trip in your mid-40’s looks a lot different then it might of in high school. Anyway, watch for updates from the coffee and chocolate capitals: Paris, Vienna and Brussels. [tfb username=’GingerandNutmeg’ count=’true’ lang=’en’ theme=’light’]

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