Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eating Our Way Through Europe

My biggest regret during our European vacation is that I didn't eat enough desserts. Paul's was probably that we simply didn't eat enough.

We both make fair points. I was surprisingly lax in my French pastry intake, and we did tend to eat small, late lunches so we (read: I) could cram in all of the sights that we (read: I) wanted to see. But all in all, we tried some delicious food and some interesting food, although they weren't always one and the same.

In Paris, our fall back was either cold meats in crusty breads if we were out and about and near a park, or crepes if we were in the neighborhood where we stayed. I managed to squeeze in a chocolate croissant (which tastes surprisingly like the ones at Panera!), a chocolate tart (smooth, rich and creamy) and a macaron (not my favorite dessert, but can you really go to Paris without trying one?).

My absolute favorite meal was a croque monsieur -- think of a grilled cheese sandwich, only the cheese is on top and there's ham between the two slices of bread. When we looked up recipes at home, we realized there's also a layer of bechamel sauce between the top slice of bread and the cheese. Forget meatloaf -- this is the perfect comfort food.

Paul ordered his most interesting meal on our last night in Paris -- escargot as an appetizer, followed by beef tartare. I think even the waitress was surprised he ordered it, and his stomach was none too pleased with the raw meat either. He finished the dish, although I declined a taste.

In Rome, the highlight for me was by far the gelato. We stumbled across a gelateria near Piazza Navona that served a chocolate fondant gelato that was so good that I dragged Paul there a second time during our short stay in the city. It was like a cold, smooth, fudgy brownie. Everyone gets at least two scoops of gelato in their cones, so one of fondant combined with a dark, dark purple scoop of a flavor I believe was blackberry was not only delicious, but pretty. Paul wasn't as lucky with one of his combinations at a different gelateria: banana and licorice.

Maybe the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.

As for the food and drink, we tried to choose Italian classics. Wine, lots of house wine. A couple of pizzas we had on our last night stand out -- my marinara, and Paul's topped with asparagus and squash blossoms. On our first night, my gnocci was good, but the location was even better -- right in the shadow of a lit-up church.

We ate on the left, nearest the church.

Our culinary experience in Copenhagen mostly revolved around beer with friends. I tried an unexciting Danish meatball open-face sandwich. Paul's Danish food highlights centered on hot dogs (more about that on Friday). I did manage to sneak in a dessert or two -- not a danish, but this chokoladeschnitte, which was a combination of a chocolate cake, a ganache or mousse, marzipan, and some kind of clear jelly that I've read was apple jam, all covered in a chocolate shell. Rich and delicious.

I didn't have my favorite food in Iceland, but I had the most exciting. When we returned to Reykjavik from the Blue Lagoon, we chose a restaurant that served a sampler platter of classic Icelandic foods -- herring marinated in beet root juice, fish jerky (more like fishy pieces of paper), lamb terrine, smoked lamb and, finally, a couple of small squares of fermented shark with a shot of the aptly-named Black Death. We also ordered a small jar of puffin (alive, they look very similar to penguins), langoustine (a type of lobster, which I didn't know) and raisins on mashed potatoes. It was seasoned so robustly that I immediately said it tasted like Christmas.

Sampler platter.

Fermented shark with a shot of Black Death

Puffin 'n' stuff

A pleasant surprise was how much I loved an Icelandic yogurt called Skyr. It's creamier than your typical Yoplait -- almost mousse-like. And it comes with an adorable little foldable spoon in the lid, which makes it a very convenient snack for a traveler without eating utensils. I recently found out that it's sold at many Whole Foods stores (in New York, but not in Ohio!), so I'll definitely be checking that out.

Skyr and a kleina, an Icelandic donut

We had a few bad meals -- a pizza in Vatican City comes particularly to mind -- but even the worst meal in the world is made average in such surroundings.

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