Saturday, December 13, 2008

La Bec Rouge, Hampton Beach N.H.

Hampton Beach is a ghost town from Labour Day to Memorial Day. As tourists leave the wide sandy beaches of New Hampshire, hotels, shops and taverns close down for the winter season. Only a few remain open for the whole year. La Bec Rouge is one place where you may seek shelter from the cold wind all year. I did just that a cold September day. I ordered two appetizers for lunch, but was not completely satisfied with the meal.

I have always returned to La Bec Rouge during my yearly visits to Northern New England. I particularly recall one visit to the basement bar during the hot summer of 1999 with Norwegian friends. Back then we were served cold beer served in pitchers while listening to “The Whiskey Bar / Alabama Song” performed by the Doors. Those were the days.

I could not make an exception this September. I had a walk from my cousin that lives in a house close to Round Rock tavern in Seabrook N.H. down to Hampton Beach. It was a bright day with a fresh northerly wind giving me a touch of fall. Very unseasonal compared to the other September visits I've had to Northern New England.

I found La Bec Rouge rather empty, sat down and studied the menu. I ordered two appetizers - one coconut shrimp with a sweet dipping sauce and buffalo tenders with blue cheese dip.

Two appetizers only, as I knew we were having dinner in 4-5 hours and I would prefer not to eat too much. One appetizer would have been enough, as we are talking LARGE portions. It did not taste that good either.

Coconut shrimps are tiger prawns dipped in a batter with coconut and then deep fried. When well prepared you are in for a delicious treat, but the batter at La Bec Rouge was too sweet, and served with a sweet dipping sauce made you wonder whether you enjoyed a savory dish or a dessert. As I found the appetizer a little sickening I asked to get another dipping sauce, and found that soy sauce was a much better alternative as a dip.

Buffalo wings are a favourite. Spicy marinated chicken with a creamy blue cheese dressing is a delicious company to a dripping cold Sam Adams. At La Bec Rouge, I found the buffalo marinade used for the chicken tenders too salt and it was a gigantic portion that was placed in front of me. I struggled to eat what was on the plate, but left a third of the portion. So what was intended to be a small snack ended as a dinner, forcing me to scale down the size of what I ordered at A1 Deli in Haverhill.

This meal was not one of the memorable moments on my trip, over priced and badly seasoned are key words here. I hope to find the standard at La Bec Rouge a little higher the next time I visit. It is a nice place. Let us hope the cook had a bad day!

La Bec Rouge
73 Ocean Blvd, Hampton Beach NH 03842

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pizza by Euphrat

I have visited many pizza restaurants around the world, and discovered that this flat bread topped with tomato, cheese and whatever ingredients you can think of, is one of the most versatile and best dishes you may order. There are some pizzas that are better than others, but most are good enough for you to leave the table satisfied.

Quite a few pizza restaurants are run by cooks from the Near or Middle East, as Pizzeria Roma in Charlottenberg, that had a distinct Turkish feel to it. Another middle eastern pizzeria is Eufrat (Norwegian for Euphrates) located at Løten.

As the Euphrates River runs through Turkey, Syria and Iraq, it may be at least three ethnic groups that would feel that this would be a proper name for an eatery, but the proprietor, Bayrim Baydili, 35 years old is from Ankara in Turkey.

Eufrat Pizza & Grill looks as any other local cafés in any other small Norwegian place. A scruffy wooden building with linoleum floors and very inexpensive furniture. Another indication of it being run by non-europeans is the lack of alcoholic beverages. The fact ism however, that mr. Baydili has applied for a license to serve wine and beer from the local council, but has not recieved any license yet.

We ordered pizza with ground meat. I have to say that we found it delicious. Crisp pastry, an aromatic tomato sauce and very good topping. And we paid less 15 EURO for a large pizza, not bad when ordering for three.

Eufrat Pizza og Grill
Stasjonsvegen 18
N-2340 Løten
Phone: +47 99 43 48 76

Disastrous Italian at Leonardo

From one Italian restaurant to another. Leonardo is located in the Hamar city centre. I have visited it once before, and did not leave disappointed then. This time, however, it was a completely other story.

I hate tough meat. Tough meat deserves tough preparation, i.e. being gently roasted in the oven or simmered in a stew for a very long time. After such a treatment, tough meat is as edible as the high quality cuts served on your plate medium done.

I have had my moments, having been served bistecca or entrecôte tough as shoe leather. When ordering beef with Gorgonzola sauce we (we were two) discovered that this was either a cut from another unmentionable part of a bull, or from an animal that had died of old age.

We waited for a long time for our beef to arrive at the table. This in spite of us being the only guests in the restaurant. Why do I never learn that this is a bad sign!

When it finally arrived at the table, it looked good enough. Two decent sized pieces of beef with a creamy blue cheese sauce.

The sauce was OK (I said OK, not good), but after having dipped the meat into it and started to chew it, I found that the beef was tougher than most meats I have eaten. It was medium done, which normally would have left the it more tender than a piece of beef well done. After three or four pieces we both surrendered, and I took charge and asked for the waiter.

Sorry - this meat is impossible to eat, was our message, and we were allowed to order something else from the menu. When hearing of the incidence, even the cook came out of the kitchen to apologize and ensured us that this would never happen again.

We ordered Saltimbocca Alla Romana - usually made of thinly sliced veal topped with prosciutto and sage; marinated in wine. It was served with a red wine sauce, salad and bulgur (!) I am afraid to say that this was our second close encounter with badly prepared meat. The slices of veal (or beef) was very dry and also difficult to chew, and I did not fancy the sauce either.

In short, this is not the place to eat at Hamar. When serving food of this quality it does not deserve to survive. The fact that we were one of the few guests that evening indicates that the inhabitants of the city has discovered the same.

Leonardo Hamar

Torggata 34
2315 HAMAR
Tlf: 62 53 08 20
Official website here

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vindlausloftet, Norways oldest house - anno 1167

In the year 1167, the Norwegian earl Erling Skakke reigned Norway on behalf of his son Magnus Erlingsson. He and his son have been dead for over 800 years, but a house built by a wealthy farmer in Telemark is still standing. It is now the oldest private house in Norway

Vindlausloftet from Eidsborg in Telemark is a old, rather scruffy building, located in the local museum at Eidsborg. People knew it was old, but not exactly how old. As scientist used the science of dendrochronology, i.e. counting the rings of the trees used to build this house, they were amazed to find that it was built over 800 years ago. The age of this building is surpassed by only a few of the stave churches and some of the oldest Romanesque church buildings in Norway.

It was said to be built as a storage for linen for the wealthy woman Åse Stålekleiv, and was, before this last investigations, believed to be from the 13th or 14th century.

By the door on the upper floor there is a text of 66 runes stating:
«Disse runer risset Vestein. Vær hilset, både den som risset og den som leser runene.» (These runes were carved by Vestein. Be greeted, both he who carved and he who reads them)
This new discovery does not only make this the oldest wooden house in Norway but one of the oldest of its kind in Europe.

You can see a picture of the house here

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coming up - pre Christmas in Värmland

I love Värmland. I have traveled through this west Swedish landscape twice before. From Karlstad, the administrative centre of this county, located the coastline of the vast lake Vänern to the deep wilderness of the spruce and pine forests. Värmland has so much in common with the counties west of the border, but is in many ways very different.

I have told the story of Sunnemo before here on Enjoy Food & Travel. It is a charming community within the boundaries of the city of Hagfors. This quiet, quaint village located in a small valley surrounded by low wooden hills, goes back to the mid 17th century and beyond. A beautiful wooden church built in 1653 and remains of an old 17th century iron work are the main sights of Sunnemo.

But this is a place of tranquility, a luxury getting scarcer in a busy world that presently dives into economic recession. I therefore look forward to visit the parents of my good pal Terje.

What to do? As I already have toured the sights of the place, to still my hunger for quitness, I suppose. Eat and drink as well. In fact rumors have it that there are a few succulent goose breasts hidden away in a freezer waiting to be prepared by Terje and I. What a swell thing!!

More on Sunnemo here on Enjoy Food & Travel

Meals prepared at Sunnemo:

- Duck Breast with cherry sauce
- Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with black truffles

Sights of Sunnemo:

- Gubbkroken
- Hyttruinen
- Spånhyvelen
- Sunnemo Kyrka

Even more Värmland stories:

- Read the story on Selma Lagerlöfs residence Mårbacka
- Karlstad - a city by the inland sea
- Lake Stor Treen - a camping odyssey

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Highland Hotel & Spa Geilo

Geilo is Norways best known winter sport destination. Located in the long Hallingdalen valley, it is the gateway to Hardangervidda, the large central mountain plain and Geilo is one of several crossing points between the eastern and western part of Norway. In Geilo you may indulge in many different winter sport activities while staying in one of the many mountain resorts. We did very little winter sports, but why should we? Highland Hotel & Spa had so much more to offer.

Location: BBBB+

Highland Hotel & Spa is located in the centre of Geilo, just a short walk away from the railway station and just by the main road. As the centre is slightly up the side of the valley there is a view over the valley and the nearby hills and mountains.

Service: BBBB+

We were received by a nice professional staff at the reception and the staff in the restaurants and bars were equally service minded.

Room: BBBBB-

I was given a ground level room 104. It was a very large bedroom (30 sq metres), and a medium sized bathroom. It had two very comfortable, separate beds, a small desk, and a small sofa, comfortable chair and a large coffee table were located by the window. There was enough storage space for two.

It was pleasantly colour-coordinated and had been very recently been given a nice traditional redesign. The bathroom had grey and white tiles, a bath tub (hooray).

As both bed- and bathroom were new it was immaculately maintained and very well cleaned. The new carpet held the same high standard, in short - nothing to point your finger at.

Features room:
Flat screen TV - image of poor quality
Free wireless connection
Minibar (empty)

Features bathroom:
Hair dryer

Breakfast: BBBBB

Highland Hotel & Spa offered a breakfast suitable for those planning a long day in the pistes, as well as those that wants to be pampered in the inhouse Spa or dip in the pool. There was a large selection of dishes at the breakfast buffet including warm breakfast including scrambled eggs, bacon, and cocktail sausages. Breads and pastries, a good selection of meats, cheese, and paté to fulfill everyone's needs, and for those that want a healthier start, cereal, yogurt, fruits, and juice, and good coffee and tea.

Facilities: BBBBB

Nothing to put your finger on here. This hotel has a wide range of facilities for their guests, most free to use.

There are a buffet restaurant, as well as Café Leo decorated with art of the renowned artist Edvard Munch and view to the mountains. In addition there is a branch of United Bakeries, renowned makers of artisan bread. Here you also find a nice bar and you may seek shelter in the adjacent library and enjoy your drink in a comfortable chair by the burning fire place.

For the fitness fanatics that still have some energy to squeeze out after a day at the pistes, you may work out excess frustration in the fitness studio, followed by a relaxing spa treatment. This is not included in the price, and be well advised to book in advance. A cheaper alternative is to take a dip in the swimming pool followed by a visit to the Finnish sauna.

There are a wireless network free to use for paying guests all over the hotel, but for those that has not brought their lap top an additional PC is available for guests in the reception area.

Higland Hotel & Spa has very recently been redecorated to a high standard. We recommend you to visit the hotel before the wear and tear set in.

Price: BBB+

You may book the hotel with breakfast or with all meals included. Be aware that you pay per person and not per room. Prices go from under 800 NOK (100 EURO) up to 1700 NOK per person depending on the season and if you will have all meals. Highland Hotel & Spa is expensive, but at least you get value for money here.

Rating the Highland Hote & Spa experience: BBBB (4,11 points)

Recommended hotel to stay in the middle of Geilo city centre, close to the railway station, but beware - in spite of the high standard, you pay per person, and it may get expensive. If you look for a less pricey alternative, check other hotels in the neighborhood.

Highland Hotel & Spa
N-3580 Geilo
TLF. +47 32 09 61 00
FAX. +47 32 09 61 01

Monday, December 08, 2008

Bergen Travel Hotel

I left Radisson SAS Royal Hotel eager to find a better hotel. I had booked two nights at Bergen Travel Hotel, a small newly redecorated hotel close to Torgallmenningen , Bergens main street. I had managed to get a double room for NOK 790 per night (Around 100 EUROS). Bergen Travel Hotel provided a decent honest experience, and I have no problems to recommend it for visitors to Bergen.

Location: BBBB+

The hotel is located in Vestre Torggate very close to the heart of Bergen. It is a steep city street leading up to Johanneskirken, a red brick neo-gothic church. Vestre Torggate is close to bus stop from / to Bergen airport (nearest bus stop - Radisson SAS Hotel Norge).

Service: BBBBB

Overall good and polite service at reception and in bar / breakfast room. We were supposed to check out at noon, but were able to keep our room until 2 PM. A nice gesture when our plane were to leave at 7 PM.

Room: BBBB+

We were offered a decent sized bedroom and a medium sized bathroom. There were two comfortable beds and a small desk. Good storage space.

Pleasant colour coordinated designer style interior. As it was newly redecorated it was reasonably well maintained. There were however one bruised closet door, and the wooden laminate floor (or vinyl) had been slightly damaged during the redecorating process, but thank God for the floor itself after the carpets at Radisson SAS Hotel Royal. A little dust on picture frames and mirrors.

Extra accessories - TV and hair dryer.

The bathroom was immaculately well maintained with an elegant shower door in glass, with white and grey tiles.

Breakfast: BBBB-

Breakfast was served in the inhouse pub. It will cover most of the needs of a hungry traveller until lunch time.

Good coffee, tea, and juice. Yogurt and cereal for the health conscientious tourist.

Bake off white and brown bread and toast. Scrambled and boiled eggs, but no bacon or sausages. A smaller selection of sliced cheese and meats. Portion packages of jams and other spreads.

Facilities: BBB

This is not the hotel for those with high expectations. There is a nice indoor bar on the ground floor shared with the locals. Turning into a sports bar during the evening it was a little bit noisy for my taste.

No inhouse fitnessrom, pool or SPA available. Good ventilation, free WIFI zone, and one free PC in reception area. Bar may be used as resting area during day and evening time.

Bar and reception area were reasonable well maintained and cleaned.

Price: BBBB

NOK 790 (100 EUROS) for a room booked over was a good prace. The hotels own rate was much higher (around 1200 NOK). At this price the end score would be lower than the rating I will give here

Rating the Bergen Travel Hotel experience: BBBB (4,04 points)

Recommended at the rate. Good bargain at a very decent price.

When booking at full rate the hotel would get a mere BBB+ rating (3,52 points).

Vestre Torggt. 20A, 5015 Bergen
Tel: +47 55 59 90 90
Fax: +47 55 59 90 91

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Radisson SAS Royal Hotel - not for royals

It is 12 years since I stayed at Radisson SAS Royal Hotel. Back in 1996 it was an exquisite experience, but I suspect that nothing has been done for the last decade. So it is fair to say that the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel did not offer a Royal experience.

Location: BBBBB

As part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Bryggen in Bergen burnt down in 1955, it was decided to rebuild the front row of houses that burnt down, thus restoring the appearance of Bryggen before the fire. A new hotel were to be built on the back area. When completed, it was awarded several prices for good architecture.

Radisson SAS Royal Hotel has one of the best location in the old historic centre of Bergen, easily accessible as the airport express bus ends just in front of the hotel.

Service: BBB

The service varied from good to disastrous. Nice, helpful staff at the reception. As I attended a conference at the hotel, we were served lunch in one of the small inhouse restaurants. The waiters were partly inexperienced, spilling food on the white table cloth and on the floor. One of them was also quite rude, talking back to the customers in an unfriendly way.

Room: BBB-

My hotel room was deficient in more than one sense of the word. I was given a smoking room and the stench of old tobacco met me immediately. I was forced to keep the windows open during the entire stay in order to manage to stay there. This in spite of the fact that it was freezing cold outside.

The room and bathroom were medium sized and had a comfortable desk and bed, a chair and a small table. Minibar and TV available.

Bedroom and bathroom had a traditional classic interior but colour and design were quite out dated, and in need of redesign and maintenance. The furniture appeared similarly out of date and marked by wear and tear.

There were numerous deficiencies in both bed- and bathroom.

They were:

- Damp behind wallpaper
- Missing light bulb in floor lamp
- Cracked lamp shade on bedside lamp
- Signs of wear and tear on furniture
- Dirty, smelly wall to wall carpet
- Dust on picture and mirror frames and other surfaces

- (At least) one cracked tile
- Gaps between tiles where wall and floor meets
- Marks on bathroom mirror
- Drain blocked, excess water from bat tub out on floor
- Scratches on door frame

This was a distinct difference from my first visit, when the hotel appeared well run and maintained. May I remain the Radisson SAS group that in time like these people expect value for money, at least when you paid that price that I did.

Breakfast: BBBBB

Breakfast at Radisson SAS Royal Hotel offered real value for money.

Warm breakfast exceeding standard, including real fried eggs (a relief from the scrambled), bacon, and potatoes.

Breads and pastries, a good selection of meats, cheese, and paté to fulfill everyone's needs.

Muesli, yogurt, fruits, and juice for those that wants a healthier choice for breakfast.

And good coffee and tea.

Facilities: BBBB+

Facilities did meet the expectations to a business class hotel. Indoor bars, restaurants and a nightclub provided entertainment if you did not want to leave the hotel to roam the city in the fresh west coast weather.

Radisson SAS Royal Hotel offers spa treatments as well as swimming pool and fitness centre for those of you that wants to pamper yourself or exercise before or after breakfast or during the evenings.

Several cozy resting areas at the hotel, paid wireless access, and extra PC available for guests for free business for business or leisure travellers. Parking facilities available.

Price: BBB

I paid a discount price of 1170 NOK (150 EUROS), a steep price for the room in question. Proper maintenance is required.

Rating the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel experience:
BBBB+ (4,35 points)

The only thing royal is the price. Great breakfast, location and facilities, but partly rude, and inexperienced staff. Terrible room in need of total makeover. For that price you may get better rooms elsewhere.


Radisson SAS Royal Hotel
5023 Bergen
Phone: +47 55 54 30 00
Read more on the hotel here