Saturday, January 17, 2009

Coming up in February - two new hotels

I will visit three new hotels in February, two in Norway and one at the Canary Islands. Stay tuned for more hotel reviews on Enjoy Food & Travel, February 2009.

Radisson SAS Hotel Oslo Airport, (February 6th to February 7th 2009)

I have stayed in several Radisson SAS hotels, and I dare say that standard varies, as some have been excellent, whereas other have disappointed us.

As we are leaving from Oslo airport 6.45 AM, February 7th bound for Gran Canaria, we decided to book into Radisson SAS Hotel Oslo Airport for the previous night. From here there is only a short walk to the air terminal.

Price tag: 1190 NOK (120 EURO). We will see whether it is worth the price.

Address: Hotelvegen, N-2060 Gardermoen, Norway

Las Gacelas (February 7th to February 14th 2009)

A small apartment hotel close to the Yumbo shopping centre in Playa del Ingles. It is described as a hotel with small 2-room appartments (30 m² / 300 sq. ft.) with balconies.

Here you find a seating and dining areas, a small kitchenette, bath with tub, shower and toilet. Decor and standard may vary.

Located 100 metres from the Yumbo centre and 1 km to beach. Heated swimming pool.

Address: Avenida Alfereces Provincionales 18/20, 35100 Playa del Inglés.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Culinary Magic at Zodiaco

(Reviewed June 22nd 2008) Visiting a popular tourist destination as Sitges it is easy to get tourist trapped. You may easily be lured into restaurants serving overpriced meals. If you go to a place like the cities on the Spanish costas it may be worthwhile to find out where the locals eat in order to avoid the worst experiences. We did and found Zodiaco, and were served one of the best meals we had in town. This thanks to the advice of the proprietor of the charming Gay Bar Casablanca one evening, and we met him again the next day - eating lunch at the Zodiaco!!

Location: BBBB+

Zodiaco is located in c. Bonaire a charming narrow street in the main centre of Sitges, a short walk away from the Playa.

Service: BBBBB

The staff provided good personal service. Zodiaco is a cozy small restaurant serving traditional Spanish food, and we had to wait for a relatively long time to get served, but we were explained that the food was made from scratch. The preparation time was made shorter by a free appetizer and a small delicious dish made with small mussels.

Interior & Atmosphere: BBBB+

The restaurant has a charming traditional interior. Wooden tables and chairs with white table cloths. It is a relatively small restaurant with many tables, so it feels a little overcrowded, but it adds a little to the charm as well. Another interesting observation we made was that the restaurant was packed with people. A very good sign.

The food: BBBBB-

Free appetizer - Olives, sliced chorizos and and large prawns: BBBBB

I love when getting a free appetizer, and we got a small bowl of great Spanish olives, sliced spicy chorizos and large boiled prawns.

It looked and tasted delicious with one exception. I am often a little disappointed of the taste of the prawns that look so extremely delicious. The nordic prawns are so much tastier.

Appetizer - small mussels heated in olive oil and garlic: BBBBB-

Sometimes you are amazed by how good simple food tastes when made from a just a few simple ingredients.

We were served small mussels fried in olive oil and garlic and we could spend the waiting time tucking into these tiny delicacies. They were extremely tender and olive oil, garlic and seafood tastes blended into a sensational culinary experience!!!

Main course - paella Sitges style: BBBBB-

I have eaten paella many times, but none have tasted like the one served at Zodiaco. Creamy saffron coloured rice boiled in good fish stock, you cannot beat that.

The paella was served in a large traditional pan for us to share. Great aromas, a generous amount of high quality seafood, mussels, prawns, and fish.

A completely different experience - I highly recommend the paella at Zodiaco.

Wine - Vinas del Vero Cabernet Sauvignon Tempranillo 2007: BBBBB-

We enjoyed this light and fruity rosé wine - perfect for a hot meal on a warm Spanish day .

Cherry red colour, with aromas of ripe, red berries. Blackcurrant leaf character on the nose and palate.

Rating the Zodiaco experience: BBBBB- (4,72 points)

We left completely satisfied. Absolutely one of the best experiences in Sitges. Highly recommended by Enjoy Food & Travel.

Bonaire, 39, Sitges 08870, Spain
Phone: +34 93 89 43 128

Thursday, January 15, 2009

New from 2009 - all restaurants rated on Enjoy Food & Travel

I launched my bargain rating system in 2008 in order to try to evaluate the restaurants I visit during the year. As you look through last year, you'll find that most restaurant visited were not rated. This will change in 2009. Whereas I earlier rated restaurants where I enjoyed more than two dishes, all restaurants will get a Bargain rating in 2009.

The Bargain rating system

I launched the rating system late 2007. I needed to find a way to evaluate my restaurant experiences. It has been extended to rate hotels as well.

When rating restaurants the rating is used to describe the quality of a restaurant by evaluating its location, interior and atmosphere, service, food and wine. How does this rating system separate the good restaurant from those not worth visiting? Here I will try to explain to you what indicators I use to award the highest rating, namely BBBBB.

1. Location refers to accessibility and location.

1.1. Accessibility: As most tourists have no car, the Bargain rating will take into account how easy it is to get to the restaurant by train, bus or other means of public transportation. These are questions of importance as getting there will cost the traveler both money and time. This point will of course favour restaurants in cities or suburban areas.

1.2. Location: High scores will be given to restaurants located in a historic area or in a place of extraordinary natural beauty. If so it will be an extra plus for the traveler. What could be more appealing than a romantic dinner in an area of historic and cultural beauty and importance, or in an immaculate natural scenery. This point may favour restaurants in more rural settings or in historic or quaint cities and towns.

2. Service refers to hospitality and service by the table

2.1. Hospitality: High scores will be given to restaurants with a professional and welcoming staff. You are kindly welcomed as a guest, and are well taken care of from you arrive until you are seated by the table. The staff provides you with good information on food and wine.

2.2. Service by the table: High score is given to restaurants where you do not have to wait long to be served a meal. High score will be given if you wait less than 10 minutes, and low score is given for more than 30 minute waiting time. There will be exceptions. If food is exceptional (down to BBBBB-) score may deviate from this requirements, as high standard food will need more time to be prepared.

3. Interior and atmosphere refers to interior design, style on table and seating comfort

3.1. Interior design: High score is given to a restaurant with a delicate and well maintained interior with a clear theme. The bargain rating divides design into:

- Classic (following style on location - as Italian in Italy etc.)
- Retro (may refer to rococo as well as the 50's)
- Designer (new and innovative)
- Theme (wild west etc.)
- Ethnic (may be Italian as well as Chinese outside these countries)

Mixed interiors will get lower scores, as well as those that appear run down and ill maintained.

3.2. Style of table: High score is given to a restaurant with a delicately set table. This means in most cases tablecloth, at least one set of cutlery (fork and spoon), matching napkin, and wine and water glass.

4. Food evaluate each course separately. The final score is the average. Food rating refers to presentation on plate, texture, balance, taste and price. In addition to these there are a bargain factor related to price.

4.1. Presentation on plate: High score is given to a restaurant that assemble and present each dish in a way that is pleasing to the eye, as well as tasty for the pallet.

Presentation refers to shape of main ingredients, colour, arrangement, and how arrangement fits the china.

4.2. Texture: High score is given to a restaurant that choose the best ingredients with care to ensure top quality.

The restaurant is also expected to prepare the ingredients in a way that preserve their structure. Prepared vegetables are expected to have a fresh colour and still be "al dente."

Meats are expected to be tender, when prepared bloody or medium done, as well as cheaper cuts cooked or roasted over longer periods.

Fish is expected to retain the structure of the flesh as well as being tender.

Creamed soups and desserts are expected to be creamy and smooth with no lumps.

4.3. Balance: High score is given to a restaurant that season their food delicately and provides a good balance with at least two or more of the five taste elements present in the dish. I refer to the five elements are salt, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami.

4.4. Taste: High score is given to a restaurant that manage to achieve a good balance between the seasoning and the aromas of the ingredients used in the dish. This covers the same five elements as mentioned in point 4,3.

4.5. Price: High score is given to a restaurant that serves good food at a reasonable price.

- Rating 5B will be given to starters and desserts priced at 5 Euros or less, and main dishes priced at 10 Euros or less.

- Rating 3B will be given to starters and desserts priced at 11-15 Euros, and main dishes priced at 21-30 Euros.

- Rating 1B will be given to starters and desserts priced at 21 Euros and up, and main dishes priced at 40 Euros and up.

- Bargain factor: Price is however irrelevant when served a terrific meal. The bargain rating system will therefore award a 5B rating, irrelevant of price, if the average score on point 4.1. to 4.4. is over 4,51 points, i.e. BBBBB- to BBBBB.

5. Beverage refers to beer, wine, cider, fortified wines and liquors. This point evaluate skills of the staff, beverage suitability to food served, and price. In addition to these there are a bargain factor related to price.

5.1. Skills of staff: High score is given to a restaurant that has a sommelier that has made a clear recommendation on what beverage to choose to each dish and/or where the staff may recommend beverages.

5.2. Suitability to each dish: High score is given to a restaurant whose recommendation of beverage are well suited to the character of each dish, or creates new and interesting contrasts.

5.3. Price: High score is given to a restaurant that recommends good beverages at a reasonable price.

- Rating 5B will be given beer, ciders, and fortified wines priced at 5 Euros or less per glass, wine bottles priced at 25 Euros or less, and liquors priced at 7 Euros or less per glass.

- Rating 3B will be given beer, ciders, and fortified wines priced at 7 Euros or less per glass, wine bottles priced at 36-45 Euros, and liquors priced at 11-13 Euros or less per glass.

- Rating 1B will be given beer, ciders, and fortified wines priced at 9 Euros or higher per glass, wine bottles priced at 56 Euros or higher, and liquors priced at 24 Euros or higher per glass.

5.4. Bargain factor: Price is however irrelevant when served a terrific beverage. The bargain rating system will therefore award a 5B rating, irrelevant of price, if the average score on point 5.1. to 5.2. is over 4,51 points, i.e. BBBBB- to BBBBB.

The Bargain system - description of classes.

The rating goers from five B's to one B. The final sum will be presented as with two decimals. This is what the different ratings cover.

Highly Recommendable BBBBB: (5,00 - 4,51 points)

This rating is given to restaurants easily accessible by public transportation with a stunning location. The staff is kind and welcoming, may elaborate on menu and wines and provides brilliant service. The interior and atmosphere has a delicate and distinct character and theme.

All food is delicately presented, and balanced seasoned enhancing the taste of the ingredients. Fish, food, poultry and vegetables are perfectly prepared. Sauces and soups and desserts / pastry have perfect consistency. Recommended beverage complements the dishes perfectly.

Price does not matter, you leave feeling content with a sense that the meal was worth whatever price you paid.

Good BBBB: (4,50 - 3,51 points)

This rating is given to restaurants either accessible by public transportation or a with a stunning location. The staff is kind and welcoming, but has less knowledge on the menu and wines but service is satisfactory. The interior and atmosphere has a a clear character and theme, but may have smaller deviation from the main theme and may be slightly less maintained.

All food is nicely presented, and well seasoned. Fish, food, poultry and vegetables may be slightly under or overcooked, and sauces and soups and desserts / pastry may be a little too thin or thick. Recommended beverage complements the dishes well.

You expect to pay a low to medium price in order to be satisfied with quality of the food.

Room for improvements BBB: (3,50 - 2,51 points)

This rating is given to a restaurant given to a restaurant on a location with no distinct character and in a medium distance from public transportation. The staff has considerable room for improvement. They are either unskilled or may appear uninterested in their guests well being. They provide no service to talk of. You order, they bring - only, and you may wait for up to 30 minutes to get your food.

The design may have been modern 10 years ago, but is out dated, and is in need of maintenance. You will find either holes or stains (or both) on walls, upholstery, and carpets.

The food is served on plain china and the cook has not given a thought to how the food appear on the plate. Food will have taste, but you may have to season yourself in order to get the balance you need. Food is either over or under cooked, meat will be tough. Sauces or soups may be too thin or thick.

You expect to pay a low price in order to be satisfied with quality of the food.

Bad BB: (2,50 - 1,51 points)

This rating is given to a restaurant off the beaten track and on a location with no character. The staff has considerable room for improvement. You wonder whether they are there for themselves or for you, and provide no service - full stop! They are not nice, rather talk back to you and you will wait forever to get your food.

The design is interesting as it either looks like anything you have not seen before, or is in need of a full makeover as well as new owners. There are major needs of maintenance.

The food feels like one main dish, served out of a skillet with a ladle. The cook has not given a thought to how the food appear on the plate, and you are wondering what has died in there. Food is either over or under cooked, meat will be tough. Sauces or soups may be too thin or thick.

You expect to get the food for free, and get an address to forward your medical bills.

Waste of time and money B: (1,50 - 1,00 points)

This rating should be given to a restaurant that, if still open, should be closed by the local food authorities.

Do consult Enjoy Food & Travel for better restaurants in the neighbourhood.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A culinary bail out - Parmigiano Reggiano

(Wall Street Journal) It is not often you hear stories on culinary victims on the current financial crisis. In Italy the government has decided a financial bail out package to save one of their iconic food products - the Parmigiano Reggiano.

The manufacturing of this legendary Northern Italian cheese is time consuming. Even though the Parmigiano is revered and highly sought after, many manufacturers struggle to get ends meet. The Italian government has decided to pay for a culinary bail out. It will buy 100 000 whole cheeses and has asked the European Commission to pay the bill. Price tag 50 million Euros.

The cheese will be given away under a EU welfare programme for the needy.

More on this on this Wall Street Journal video clip.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Coming up in February - Gran Canaria

Enjoy Food & Travel is heading south to sunny Canary Islands February 7th to February 14th. We are leaving the cold Norwegian winter to enjoy the sun and gentle winds outside the West African coast.

It has been 12 years since I visited these sunny shores. Then we stayed in a small apartment hotel close to the Yumbo centre at Playa del Inglés on the island of Gran Canaria. This time we have booked a week at the hotel Las Gacelas.

So stay tuned for stories on food, culture, and sights from Gran Canaria here on Enjoy Food & Travel in February.

View Larger Map

Sunday, January 11, 2009

10 ways to find where (not) to eat

My worst restaurant experiences have been when I have ended up in tourist traps. Lured by a stunning location, delicious outdoor displays or convincing door men, you find that the food tastes crappy, and you nearly faint when you are presented by the bill. Having visited thousands of restaurants in my life time has given my a certain knowledge of how to steer away from tourist trap restaurants, but after all this experience, I still find myself tricked. This is after all not rocket science. Here are a few pieces of advice where not to go for lunch or dinner at your destination.

Advice 1: Stay away from famous landmarks!

When looking for a place to eat try to avoid famous streets, squares, or landmarks. Do enjoy Champs Elysees or Montmartre in Paris, Grand Place in Brussels or la Rambla in Barcelona but eat elsewhere.

Do not misunderstand - there are good restaurants even here, but they may be far apart, and high rents on these grand locations are nearly always reflected on your bills.

Eat in less glamorous locations, and return to enjoy a romantic drink while watching famous landmarks on your destinations.

Advice 2 - ask where the locals go!

When arriving at the hotel, ask at the reception or even better, in the neighborhood bar, where they would go to eat, if they had their day off. You may end up getting a terrific meal at a nice price around the corner.

As we did, during a stay in the Maria Cristina area in Barcelona. Three evenings in a row we ended up in the same great restaurant a five minute walk away from our hotel. They served great food, but we never ended up with what we believed we ordered, as the waiter could not one English, German or French word, but that was absolutely part of the charm of the place, and we were pleasantly surprised over and over again !!

Advice 3 - avoid empty restaurants

This advice does not apply to the landmark areas described in advice 1. They will always be full, as tourists as you and me will continue to be tricked to eat here - once!

I all to often fail to follow this advice myself, and this is one of the reasons why I too often leave discontent after a meal. Why should you visit a restaurant if others tourists or locals shun the place? But if the restaurant is packed with people the chances are that the food is decent and prices are reasonable.

Advice 4 - avoid pushy waiters and delicious displays

When walking in the overcrowded streets around Grand Place in Brussels you are struck by the delicious displays of food and the kind but very pushy waiters tempting you for an "exquisite meal at a low price."

Do not be fooled. What looks too good to be true, often is. My experience is that these restaurants count on people like you, and that they rarely are appreciated by the local population.

Advice 5 - look for dirty floors

This is another piece of advice related to advice number three. My good friend Øivind Grimsmo used this as one of his best indicators on where to eat in Paris.

His explanation was that where there are dirt on the floor, there are a good and steady number of visitors, indicating that the food and atmosphere is good. Whether the local food authorities would embrace this as a mark of excellence may be another question.

What if what is left on the floor reflects the hygiene in the kitchen.........?

Advice 6 - read reviews on the net

The web is becoming an important source of information for travelers. An increasing number of sites allow tourists to post reviews on hotels, sights, and restaurants at the destinations they have visited. Large sites as tripadvisors and virtualtourist may be a good source of information on where to eat.

When browsing these sites, you are recommended to look for restaurants with at least 10 favourable reviews. One or two may not be enough to reflect the standard. When you return you may register yourself to share your view helping other tourists to find where (not) to eat.

Advice 7 - look for the culinary institutions

Every city has its culinary institutions. In Copenhagen Ida Davidsen has served open sandwiches as her father and grand father and people flock to tuck into her delicacies.

Els Quatres Gats in Barcelona may boast of several world famous artists as their guests.

These culinary institutions are often superb and may you may be well adviced to try a meal there. I have visited a few of these mythic restaurants in my time and most time it has been worth while. Be aware though, that you may have to pay to eat where Salvador Dali once dined. When you have found one of these restaurants follow my next advice, that is follow...........

Advice 8 - book ahead

I was lucky to get a table the first time I booked at Ida Davidsens famous sandwich restaurant in Copenhagen. You normally have to book well ahead as you must never believe that you are the only one one that has found them.

There may be long waiting lists for the most popular places, so when you have booked your ticket, do some research and call - or send an e-mail.

Advice 9 - track the trendsetters

Eixample in Barcelona, Greenwich Village, in New York and Marais in Paris are all trendy areas for artists and for the gay community. Restaurants in these areas cater for the sophisticated crowds, and trendsetters often know where to get a good meal.

And you will find that even though they are community strongholds, many experienced travelers return to these areas over and over again as they have found that they here get the best food and the best service

Advice 10 - try the local specialties

I have never tasted pesto as the one served at Vagliagli in Tuscany, cassoulet as served in Castelnaudary and pintxos as served in Barcelona.

Avoid foreign restaurants at your destination and try to find where they serve local specialties. I have found that Italian food is at its best in Italy, and the tapas I have enjoyed in Spain are far better than those you find in other countries.

Good meals are often made from fresh ingredients. Go for seafood or lamb when visiting a Greek island, and a indulge in a freshly boiled lobster in Boston, and you may be in for a treat.