Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last Week in Paquis

So a few updates from our last week in Paquis, in descending order of preference --

La Caravane Passe: A nice Lebanese restaurant. We sat outside and enjoyed a bottle of Blanc de l'Observatoire of Chateau Ksara, probably the only Lebanese wine I know. Our food was on the whole pretty good -- the falafel was crispy, the labne was creamy and flavorful, and the best of all were the eggplant slices sauteed with garlic. The humus was just ok and I think the bread could have been better. Disappointing were the veggie kebbe (we'll have to try the meat variety next time) and the foul, which as too often is the case when ordered in restaurants, was simply beans with olive oil and some parsley and other spices. Foul proper, in my view, needs to be mashed and much more flavorful -- just the way you make it on the streets of Cairo to be shoved into a sandwich. Their Gâteau moelleux (fondant) was also pretty good and their mint tea was a nice way to finish the meal. Recommended, but not quite as good an experience as Cafe Espresso, or even Creperie du Paquis, I'd say.

Parfum de Beyrouth: A pretty good shwarma shop (try saying that three times fast). We've now been twice. The meat shwarma (shwarma lahmia) is better than the chicken. But both were pretty tasty and the portions are ample but not overflowing (like the disastrous shwarma I got in Carouge, where I had to pick out at least half the greasy meat in order to be able to take a bite). Not outstanding, but solid.

Restaurant les Cinq Portes: A place with a nice ambiance and just-ok food. Miss Persnick had salmon and I had loup (no, not wolf, the fish). Both were fine -- my fish probably the best thing on either plate. There was also a tomato topped pastry, which was uninspiring. So on the whole it was fine, but simply not worth what you pay for it.

Coming soon: our first meal in Lyon, which puts everything else to shame in terms of value and quality, and a neighborhood wine bar in Carouge.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Red Meat & Cheese

Two somewhat delayed reviews -- of Bistrot du Boeuf Rouge and of Cafe du Soleil. Both were fine, but a bit underwhelming. I had eaten at Bistrot du Boeuf Rouge on a previous trip to Geneva and had really enjoyed their entrecote. I'm not sure what I did wrong this time, but their 'À point' was not so on point (slightly overcooked), and what I got this time around was a different dish -- with potatoes, not fries, which were squishy and cheesy, and not at all what one would necessarily want. The veggies were added as if an afterthought and the pat of herbed butter on the meat was slightly gelatinous seeming. All this sounds rather negative, and it wasn't bad, but I had really enjoyed the steak frites the last time around and was disappointed. For dessert, MP had a chocolate mouse, which was super rich, almost to the point of being difficult to eat more than a few bites, and I had a strawberry tart, which tasted a little crunchy, as if too long on the shelf (although the fruit was fresh enough).

Another mild disappointment was Cafe du Soleil. I had heard great things about their fondue. We went with another couple and had fondue and a few other dishes. My crab tartare with avocado was really nothing to write home about; it looked and tasted like a sprinkling of crab meat on top of guacamole I could make at home. The fondue seemed good (I defer here to the more expert MP) but not great. There certainly was plenty of it, and the bread was nice and crusty.

A slightly more positive review of Parfums de Beyrouth, the shwarma shop we've been frequenting, to come shortly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Only en Suisse

A notice at the cash register of the gelato place near our hotel warns that certain bills are not accepted. No, not the 20 franc note, not the 100 franc note -- not even the 200 franc note. The tiny neighborhood gelato place won't accept one THOUSAND franc notes. Heh.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, on to the gelato itself. How does it measure up to Pitango, our fave from Logan Circle / DC days?

I love the ananas-basilic (pineapple-basil) flavor that's so popular here, and Gelato Mania's permutation (the store is aptly named since during each of our two visits here we've had to wait at least 20 minutes in line) is well-executed. It's refreshing and not too "basil-y". Plus, I have a soft spot for basil flavors showing up in unexpected places, since the amazing caterers at our wedding served a surprise basil-flavored sorbet/gelato in between courses. In general the flavors seem a little more adventurous / non-traditional at Gelato Mania than those offered at Pitango. For example, last weekend when we went Gelato Mania had a "concombre-menthe" (cucumber-mint) flavor on offer. It was not being served this evening or I would have tried it. But I'm excited to try some of the other weird / unusual flavors. Gelato Mania - 1, Pitango - 0.

The "cafe" flavor I tried this evening was good but tasted more creamy than a typical gelato (which has less fat, less cream, and less air than ice cream). As a result, the coffee flavor was less intense than Pitango's "espresso" flavor. Pitango's espresso flavor remains my all-time favorite, because the flavors are so intense without being overly rich or overpowering. Gelato Mania - 0, Pitango - 2.

However, Gelato Mania gets an extra point because it was the PERFECT evening to get gelato and sit in the nearby plaza with its pretty fountain.

Total scores for the evening: Gelato Mania - 2, Pitango - 2.

I'll just have to keep sampling Gelato Mania's wares to figure this one out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sticker Shock

Being the self-appointed Budget Whinge of the household, I feel I must interject at this point to observe that prices in Geneve are rather cher, shall we say. They're about as bad as my french, which is pretty bad. You can easily drop 100USD here on a dinner for two that turns out to be shockingly mediocre.

For instance, our disappointing dinner at La Bourse cost 89CHF, or approx. 115USD.

On the other hand, there are relative bargains to be had. Relative, I stress. The Espresso Club, for instance, was both quite tasty and moderately priced by Geneva standards, with large portions. Glasses of wine at 6-7CHF, and pizzas / pastas at around 20CHF each.

There are two things here that are priced better than they are in the States, however: chocolate and wine.

Pas mal!

A generic grocery store chocolate bar priced at less than 2CHF that I tried the other day turned out to be surprisingly rich and complex. I savored it over the course of several days; those who know me will recognize that this was no mean feat. And then there's the wine. Sesqui, which I think I will start calling him because his nom de plume is so damn long -- is more wine connoisseur than I am, but I think we'll be able to get good value for our money in this area as well.

Perhaps I need to start a spin-off blog devoted to evaluating all the varietals of chocolate here...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bains des Paquis

I also thought a word might be in order about the food at Bains des Paquis, since we've both eaten lunch and dinner there at this point. For those who don't know, Bains des Paquis is a long pier stretching out into the lake (it costs 2CHF to enter during the day) on which are a couple of rocky beaches, a Turkish bath, a ping pong table, some diving platforms, and a small restaurant (supposedly, we're told, manned by recovering drug addicts). It's an absolutely wonderful place to go people watching and toe dabbling. It closes around 9:30PM, we also learned last night, when the watchman kicked us out from where we were sitting watching the light reflect off the Jet d'Eau.

But the food. They have a limited set of options -- there's always a plat du jour, both for lunch and dinner. And there are also a set of salads and cold plates (e.g. meats). For lunch, we had one of the salads, which was pretty good. A mix of vegetables under a tzatsiki dressing of some sort. My only complaint was that since we didn't have a tray (or because the person behind the counter didn't like my look) we didn't get bread (and everyone else did). Those of you who know me will know how ireful that would make me!

For dinner the other night, we tried the plat du jour. And it too was pretty good. It was lamb "hache" -- meaning ground -- and on a stick. But the lamb, which was a little mealy, was the least interesting or tasty part of the plate. There was also a Jura-sized mountain of couscous, which was good, and a cold eggplant salad, which was better. And perhaps best, there were two tranches of good, crusty bread, which I had made sure to request.

I'll update further once we've had occasion to sample other plats du jour, but for now, let me just say that you come for the views and to be on the water, but the food doesn't drive you away.

Coop Wines

So a quick break from all the eating to discuss one of the few semi-reasonably-priced things in Geneva -- the wine! Coop is one of two nearby supermarkets (and one of two principal Geneva supermarkets, the other being Migros). We've been exploring their (limited) wine selection and wanted to write a few words about the two different bottles of Chateau Saint-Andre we've tried -- one a Gigondas and the other a Rasteau.

A quick prefatory word about wines discussed here -- unless otherwise noted, any wine described on this blog will be under 20CHF. And these two bottles are certainly no exception.

I actually rather liked the Gigondas. It was nice and Grenache-y, if that's a word. Fruit forward but with a little bit of depth. The Rasteau was harder to read. It was quite dull on first drink. By the second night (with bottle re-corked overnight), and accompanied with Thai food, it wasn't bad. It still didn't have much personality though.

The hunt remains on for that perfect every-day bottle that doesn't break the bank and is readily available around here...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pizza and Cidre

On Friday night, we tried Espresso Club, also in the Paquis. The place was already starting to get packed at 8pm or so when we arrived (and during our dinner, a number of folks had to wait for their tables). Most were seated around the attractive bar, with a few high tables scattered about the small Cafe and a couple of other tables outside.

Espresso Club serves a variety of pizzas and pastas. We split one pizza and one pasta, thinking we might take home some of the latter -- but by the end of dinner, both were gone! The pizza was one with lardon (yes, again!), zucchini, and eggplant. The crust was super thin and all the ingredients tasted extremely fresh. For the pasta, we had a simple arrabiata. Rather than tomato based, the sauce was olive oil based, with rivulets of concentrated tomato running through it (I would bet that the tomatoes were not fresh, but rather either sun-dried or some kind of paste). That said, it was tasty. The pasta -- rigatoni -- was well cooked, slightly al dente.

We also had two glasses of the house rose, which was unremarkable, and therefore much better than what we had had at La Bourse.

A quick aside here about cider. We have been having the grocery store's Cidre Normand -- and it's really good. Only the brut is available, and I'd be interested to try the sweeter variety, but for 6CHF and change it's one of the best deals we've seen yet. Of course, it comes equipped with one of those cider corks that's got a wider end than tip, meaning it's very hard to re-cork (at least until our vacu-vin gets here). Sadly, this means we often have to drink the whole bottle in one sitting, for fear of it going to waste. Pity us...

Next up, we'll try fondue next week, and maybe a trip back to the Bistrot du Beouf Rouge, which I enjoyed when I was here for a few weeks earlier this summer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Our (Interim) 'Hood, Part the First

In which our noble hero and heroine venture forth into the Paquis in search of (relatively) cheap eats. And yes, that's the stuff that comes after the colon in the title of this post. Cuz all good titles are constructed thusly.

Anyways...Tonight we ate at La Creperie de Pacquis. And it was pretty good. First, the drinks. We each had the "demi-sec" cider, which was great, and which I think was from the Ciderie Nicol (more on that if we can find it in the local grocery and sample further). Although it did come in a teacup and cost 7 francs.

I had a "lard provencale" and Miss Persnick had a "lard fromage" -- lard being the apt French word for bacon. Both were good. "Provencale" meant herbs de provence and a bit of tomato. But the crepes themselves were the real story -- the right kind of flour, thin, excellent.

For dessert, we split a "crepe citron erable." Neither of us knew what erable meant, so we decided to order it for that reason alone. It was one of the few ingredients that appeared on both the salty and sweet sides of the page. Erable turns out to mean maple. And yes, it does go with cheese, apple, or lemon.

Next up -- the pizza place down the street. But a better result than the last outing, and much cheaper.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

First Impressions

We arrived in Geneva on Thursday morning and have had little time to do any culinary exploration. But a quick word about our first two meals, neither of which was particularly noteworthy. Our first night we each had chicken shawarma from a stall at the Fetes de Geneve. Not spectacular. Probably a mistake to order it in a "gallette," which is or is like a Lavash flatbread or a glorified tortilla, as opposed to the pita. The vegetables simply didn't pop -- for instance, there were no tart pickled vegetables or crunchy cucumber, just some lettuce and tomato. And neither the tahini nor the hot sauce was all that remarkable. That said, there looks to be about one shawarma stand per 10 feet in our part of downtown, so further exploration of this sub-cuisine may be entailed.

On Friday night, we went exploring our new neighborhood. The wine bar we had hoped to try -- along with many other restaurants -- was closed for summer vacation, so we settled for dinner at La Bourse, a jammed cafe on the central square.

We ordered a "pot" -- read, carafe -- of the house Rose (a gamay, with none of the life, say, of a Beaujolais nouveau, but all of the youth), which was quite meh. This one had too much acidity; I could tell I wouldn't love it from its limpid white wine with food coloring appearance. I ordered the entrecote and Miss Persnick ordered the perch (supposedly from the nearby lake). The entrecote was a little too much on the medium side of medium rare and the green bearnaise-style sauce that steaks here are slathered in was heavy on the butter/grease and the herbs simply didn't jump out at me the way they should, cutting the greasiness. The perch wasn't too great either: overcooked and greasy.


Soon enough we'll be able to cook at home. And I'm sure we'll have some better news to report on the local eating scene once we've figured out the right places to go.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Snark Fin Fondue?

So while in DC we weren't exactly the most prolific of posters. But today we move to Geneva for three years, and thought this might be the occasion to try a reboot. I'll be posting about food and wine in Geneva, France, Italy and wherever else we may travel over the next three years. And Miss Persnick will be posting about, well, whatever strikes her fancy.

But it's not just time to start over, but also to say goodbye to DC. And so, one final comment on DC dining -- our last dinner in DC, at Cork, our favorite (former) neighborhood restaurant. While Cork doesn't take reservations, you can call ahead and ask them to put your name on the list--and this is our usual technique for avoiding the 30-45 minute wait that's more often than not a feature of the Cork dining experience.

Nevertheless, we still got there about 15 minutes before our table would be ready, and so had a drink at the bar. Miss Persnick ordered a gin & tonic with our favorite Gin. I asked for whatever Rose the bartender recommended that was sweet but not overpoweringly so, and was offered an Irouleguy -- Domaine Brana. I can't say that I know much about Irouleguy, but the Rose itself was reasonably tasty, on the darker side, although not as intense as say a Tavel. About what I had requested -- not too fruity, but certainly not dry either. The G&T on the other hand came out way too strong, so Miss Persnick and I ended up swapping beverages.

After about half a glass (literally, not in some metaphorical hourglass sense), our table was ready. We ordered the house olives, the avocado toasts, the sea bream, grilled asparagus, and duck confit. All were excellent, although it was a little too hot outside for the richness of the confit to be ideal.

First a quick word about the olives -- I've never learned to tell the different varieties apart (well, except for kalamatas and other easy ones) -- so my descriptions tend toward the inexact. But the hulk olives (i.e., big and green) are not ones I usually like. Here, however, they had a very appealing fleshiness.

I can't say enough about the avocado toast. A wonderful combination of sea salt, olive oil, avocado and pistachio, this is definitely something to try at home. It tasted to me like the chef had recently shifted from toasting the bread to grilling the bread -- and I liked the light char flavor.

The bream was excellent: nicely cooked with crispy skin, rich thin potatoes, and garlic chips on top. One pet peave -- colorful sprays of not too flavorful decor underneath your dish, too thin to be a sauce and going only for presentation points. Here, I couldn't quite make out the flavor of what I think was a parsley-based green streak under the fish. And another small quibble -- the garlic flavor was wonderful with the fish, but because the garlic chips were easily lost on the plate, some bites were over garlicky and others lacked any garlic punch at all.

The asparagus was also excellent. It was almost a steak-like presentation, with dill creme fresh and onion slivers. But with the meatiness of the asparagus, it worked.

Finally, the duck confit -- for once, not my favorite, although not by any fault of its own. It was just too hot outside. I also wanted more of the berry compote and less of the mysterious not-quite-slaw.

In terms of wine, with dinner I had a glass of a red from Domaine Bouysse in Languedoc, which is a region I'm interested to learn more about. The wine was slow to develop but when it did was nice with food -- spicy, fruity, not dissimilar from a Rhone.

Anyway, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to DC and hello to Geneva. Next stop, the Paquis, where we'll be staying!