Food is at the heart of some of our best memories during the nine months we spent in Europe. While we often cooked at 'home' to keep costs in check, we didn't deprive ourselves of experiencing the local cuisine, and in keeping with the awards season, we've got the winners...and the losers.
Picking the best restaurants during our travels was a tough decision, but isn't everything in life, really?
Best Restaurant | Rataskaevu 16, Tallinn, Estonia
I wrote about our magical encounter at Rataskaevu 16 in a blog post back in May and it still holds the top spot for best restaurant we visited. The pumpkin soup, salad with fried Baltic herring and braised elk roast are amazing, but it is the homemade bread that made our experience otherworldly.
What truly makes it number one on my list, however, are the friendly staff. Thanks Jonas!
Runner-Up #1 | Apetit, Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
I'm still dreaming about the meal we ate here. I take Trip Advisor reviews with a grain of salt, but in this case, the number one position is well-deserved. In addition, it was just around the corner from where we were staying.
There are no menus, rather, the chef prepares whatever is fresh, in season, and on hand that day. We started with the freshest salad I've ever had, followed by a large platter with two entrees that we shared: a melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin with perfectly roasted potatoes, and tuna steak accompanied by a heavenly teriyaki rice.
The cost of this meal was less than we spent recently during a trip to Panera. Go, immediately, but be sure and secure a reservation as there are only seven tables!
Runner-Up #2 | Hisa Pod Gradom, Ljubljana, Slovenia
We ate the three course lunch at this gem of a restaurant nearly every day we were in Ljubljana. That's because not only was the food first rate, it was a bargain at only €7.90. Even with a glass of delicious Slovenian Rosé, it was still under €10!! Don't miss this great place at the bottom of Castle Hill near the funicular.
They didn't make the top three, but I highly recommend you eat/drink the following when in town.
- Coffee & Kanelbullar at Fabrique Boulangerie in Stockholm, Sweden
- Salmon soup and reindeer meatballs on the waterfront in Helsinki, Finland
- Cevapi and somun bread at Konoba Taurus in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Kebabs and shopska salad at Grazhdanski Klubb in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
- Franceshina sandwich and a port tonic at Piolho Cafe in Porto, Portugal
- Apple strudel and gluhwein at Kroll Strudel Cafe in Innsbruck, Austria
- Sausage and beer at Hofbrauhaus in Munich, Germany
- Fabada Asturiana and cider in Gijon, Spain
Luckily, we didn't have a lot of bad food on the road. Surly service? Definitely (Trieste, I'm looking at you). However, as far as terrible food goes, only a couple of meals stand out.
Worst Restaurant | Restaurant East Village, Bran, Romania
I wrote about our visit to Dracula's Castle which was an awful tourist trap and complete waste of time. In addition to the forgettable experience in the castle, we had the worst food just outside it, too.
Cue the scene.
- Hot, steamy day.
- Sticky tables.
A salad sounded refreshing but not when the vegetables are room temperature, wilted and drowning in olive oil. That's what we had.
A close second was a meal I had in nearby Brasov. We had a great experience our first visit, but decided to return that night for dinner, hoping to forget our Bran disaster. Per the menu, I ordered a 'Salmon Salad'. The description stated 'with apples and carrots' to which I have no objections, but this is what I imagined I would be served.
And here is what was set in front of me... except all the components were sectioned like a pie chart and served in a bowl. I realize it doesn't look like the worst thing in the world, but it's sort of like taking a sip of a beverage and realizing it tastes nothing like you thought it would.
Apparently 'Salmon Salad' in Romania is a huge haystack of shredded carrots and apples topped with a small amount of smoked salmon and a dollop of mayo. Ick.
Then, there were the cockles I ate at a beer festival in Peterborough, UK. Sorry, Roger, but those puppies are nasty!
But the worst has to be Herring Salad with Red Beets, which I tried in Norway. Yeah, you read correctly. A cold, creamy salad with fish and beets. I'm gagging just typing this.
Octopus is the regional dish of Galicia, Spain. However, pulpo is not served like calamari, all battered and fried, hiding the evidence of what the creature was before death. Octopus dishes in Galicia have no such pretense.
After a day of touring Santiago de Compostela, we sat in Gloria's (our Airbnb host) kitchen to chat while she prepared dinner. After a few minutes, she excused herself to change and when she did, I saw exactly what was being served, sitting on the counter in a bowl.
Yep, an octopus. Whole and raw.
My initial reaction was horror, but then curiosity took over. I began inspecting it closely, but quickly, before my host returned and saw me poking at the star of her supper. Back in our room, I wondered how you would even cook such a thing, so I pulled a recipe off the web. The steps have been reduced for purposes of humor and brevity.
- It is important to soften the octopus before you cook it. At the island of Ons, I have seen how they used to do this the traditional way by repeatedly hitting the octopus against a rock. Lucky for us, we don’t have to do this, if you freeze it, you will get a very similar effect. So either buy the octopus fresh and freeze it, or buy it already frozen.
- Fill a large pot (the largest one you have) with water, add a whole peeled onion, and bring to a boil (you don’t need to add salt; the salt in this dish will be added at the end). When the water starts boiling, grab the octopus by the head and “scare” it. This technique consists in dipping the octopus 3 or 4 times in the boiling water. The purpose of doing this is so it stiffens/contracts, and the skin doesn’t break during the cooking process.
- Slice the octopus legs with scissors (about ½ of an inch wide slices) and cut the head into small pieces. Add sea salt, sprinkle the paprika and add a splash of olive oil.
Whack it against a rock? 'Scare' it by dipping into boiling water? Then cut the head into pieces? Sounds like a Stephen King novel sprinkled with salt and paprika.
I still love ya, Galicia!
Thanks for reading! Next time on Gobsmacked: Europe on Foot: The Best Places to Go Walking