08 June 2013
Dining Out in Bucharest
Not my usual restaurant review. Do I have a "usual" restaurant review? The best I usually do is to be seen on my tumblr, particularly here and here.
Yesterday, we went out to find a restaurant where we might be able to find some typical Romanian food. Restaurants are not necessarily all that easy to find here, apart from the really obvious ones or the omnipresent fast food places that look the same everywhere you go. (One exception to that: I saw KFC here, while this is staunchly PFK in Montréal!) We started with a taxi ride (price range affirmed fist, which is always a good thing to do) to the neighbourhood of a concert hall. The concert being earlier than we thought it was, we decided to just find a restaurant instead and wandered around the near vicinity.
It was raining, so we opted for the interior rather than the extensive outdoor spaces, especially after getting some assurance that we would be in a non-smoking section. (It's rather difficult to get used to the smell of smoke indoors, especially after years without it at home and years after quitting smoking.)
The decor was fabulous. We felt like we had wandered into an extremely chic establishment, but chic in that old world luxury way, not the modern hipster way. Giant chandeliers, high ceilings, long fussy curtains, lovely tablecloths and napkins and such. And it was almost empty. The whole time we were there, I believe we saw two other tables occupied, and they were in the adjoining room. I regret that I only took a couple of photos, which you'll see below, and none of the ambiance.
So we started by staring at the menu. Entirely in Romanian, which was kind of fun. There were parts of it that I could sort of understand, as it seems to be close-ish to Italian (and as I found out this evening, actually closer to Latin than is modern Italian, and kind of similar to Portuguese). We asked for explanations of certain items, because we wanted to order from the Romanian section of the menu, not just have the predictable pasta, pizza or steak.
Speaking of which, I know that several of my friends and colleagues will be thrilled to know that Hawaiian pizza (ham and pineapple) IS available here. The other curiosity that I photographed was the Cowboy Steak. Now that seems rather ordinary or not quite so exotic, until you read in the explanation that it has been frenched. I almost ordered it just for that!
I started with a cocktail that turned out to be a little sweeter than I might have liked. With my penchant for the cocktail, however, I would probably have been able to down several of them in a vain attempt to quench my thirst. Good thing we switched to wine!
I actually ordered an entrée (no, this is not the name for a main dish!) from the antipasti section, opting for salmon bruschetta, which were quite nice. We stuck more closely to our Romanian theme in choosing the wine, an entirely drinkable Cabernet-Sauvignon. As I am no wine expert, we will take that for what it's worth, but I quite liked it and we didn't leave any of it behind, so that's a testimonial.
For my main dish, I ordered strips of lamb with polenta, which has a much more exotic name in Romanian that I cannot conjure up, even with Google Translate! I was a little surprised that there weren't a lot of vegetables or other elements on the plate, but we made up for that by my companion's eating a salad as her main course. Maybe the vitamins will rub off on me. Now polenta is one of the only forms of corn that I am willing to eat, so I quite liked it, and the lamb strips were quite nice, too.
Of course, I was the only one to have dessert! (After having eaten a salad for dinner, you can understand how my companion would have no room for more…) I have a very lovely mint-chocolate gelato and an allongé (a long espresso) with milk. Very tasty gelato, and very inexpensive, too. I am noticing that there is gelato everywhere here, so that alone should bring you stampeding to the country.
At the end, the whole production cost me the equivalent of about $35 Canadian, which should give you another reason to come stampeding here.
As a post script, I have just returned from the groups dinner at another restaurant featuring typical Romanian food. This time, in addition to being seated next to colleagues from Burundi (who were delightful dinner companions) I had the pleasure of the company of some locals, one of whom is a member of the Board of the host organization, and some friends. What a lovely time it was to chat and joke with them. Always nice to know that gay is gay everywhere and we can fall right into camp and casting aspersions on each other's characters with – what else can we call it – gay abandon.
The occasion, apart from our meeting, of course, was the gay pride parade. Embassy officials from many countries take part in the parade, partly as insurance against violence, and apparently the counter-demonstrators were well outnumbered by the revellers. Glad to hear that. (I didn't witness it directly because I was overnapping in my hotel room!) It's interesting to come with all the blasé attitudes we have a tendency to develop with respect to our own pride activities to a place where it's still clearly a political act to have our silly fin in public. The serious parts are not that far in the past here, even a little present around the edges. I should really have made myself go.