EUROPE 2022 – PART 3 – ALBA

Saturday, 10/1

In the morning, we took a taxi to the TGV station in Marne-La-Vallee, where we caught the train to Lyon. This was not without drama, as I went into the ticket office to see if I could get our tickets printed out because I was never able to successfully create an account with SNCF and couldn’t print them myself. Oddly, the agent was able to print the return tickets but not the ones for this trip. Supposedly I was supposed to get the tickets a week after I purchased them online in June. I asked how I could possibly have done that. In any case, I had to buy new tickets. I will deal with it through my credit card.

Arriving in Lyon, we quickly picked up the rental car and drove to Alba in Italy, our favorite place to stay in the Langhe. This time we were able to reserve at the Hotel Langhe, as I had done it many months in advance. It was the third time we had stayed in this hotel, and apparently it has recently been completely renovated and looking very spiffy.

The rate of 150 euros includes a very nice breakfast.

For dinner we went to Osteria La Torre in Cherasco, which was not my first choice, because I could not get a reservation at Osteria Veglio.

We had been to La Torre some years back and it was good, and it still was, just not exceptional. We shared vitello tonnato, and rabbit ravioli topped with rabbit liver. For mains, Stanley had guinea fowl and I had finanziera, the traditional stew of organ meats and vegetables. We had a 2020 Barbera d’Alba for 28 euros. The bill was 96 euros.

https://linktr.ee/osterialatorre

Sunday, 10/2

We took a long and leisurely drive through the countryside to lunch at Trattoria Marsupino in Briaglia. We at there four years ago (refer back to my 2018 post), and it was great then except for the goat, which I found a bit dry and tough. This time, everything was perfect including the goat.

We started with calamari prepared two ways, fried and grilled, and sweetbreads with mushrooms. Next we shared tajarin with a mushroom ragu, then for mains I had quail and Stanley had the aforementioned goat. For dessert, he had a toasted bread crumb ice cream and I had a torrone semifreddo with caramel sauce. There were very nice amuses-bouche and afterward, mignardises. With coffees, water and a bottle of wine from Roero, the bill was 165 euros.

https://www.trattoriamarsupino.it/

We stopped back at the hotel briefly, then headed into town, where the truffle festival and other celebrations were in full swing.

Next, off to dinner at Ristorante Bovio in La Morra, an elegant restaurant perched on a cliff with panoramic views.

It was very busy, yet the servers were incredibly efficient and attentive. The food was excellent, on pretty much the same level as the lunch at Marsupino.

We started with foie gras terrine with figs and veal tartare with parmesan cheese and black truffles. Then we shared meat-stuffed canneloni topped with black truffles. The main courses were tagliata di vitello (thin sliced veal sirloin) topped with yet more black truffle, and suckling pig that was probably the best I’ve ever had, very tender and moist. For dessert we shared a hazelnut savarin. A bottle of 2019 Barbaresco was surprisingly inexpensive at 40 euros. The bill including water was 155.

https://www.ristorantebovio.it/

Monday, 10/3

Lunch was at Ristorante Violetta in Calamandrana. We had some difficulty finding it as the GPS led us to the wrong place but we eventually figured it out.

Everything about it was lovely, from the warm welcome to the excellent service to the superb food. After a tasty amuse-bouche of potato salad, we began with vitello tonnato. Next was gnocchi with sausage and tomato. For main courses, roasted rabbit and stuffed breast of guinea fowl. For dessert we shared a chocolate bunet. The wine I chose, a Barbera d’Asti 2019, was the best wine we had up to this point and only 20 euros. The total was 86.

https://www.ristorantevioletta.com/

We again did the early evening passagiata in Alba, where it was much quieter than on Sunday. Many stores and restaurants are closed on Mondays.

Dinner was at La Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe, where we had been in 2018 (see my post).

The menu is unusual in this region in that it includes a large selection of seafood. Here is what we ate:

Salad of mixed mushrooms

Zucchini souffle with blue cheese sauce

Seafood lasagna

Duck leg with cherries

Veal medallions battered and deep-fried, served rare, with fried zucchini

Raspberries with ice cream

All in all a very nice dinner. With a bottle of Barbera d’Alba the bill was about 125.

http://www.trattoriacoccinella.com/

This was our last night in Alba, leaving the next morning for Valence. Ranking the restaurants:

1) Marsupino

2) Violetta and Bovio tied for second place.

3) La Coccinella

4) La Torre

EUROPE 2022 – PART 2 – PARIS

Friday, 9/20

We arrived Thursday night from Berlin, staying with Ana and Bertrand in La Varenne.

We only stayed one day as we were heading to Alba in Italy on Saturday. We would be returning to Paris on 10/7 after spending 3 days in Alba and 3 in Valence (France).

View of the Marne from Ana and Bertrand’s terrace.

Friday was the day we celebrated Stanley’s birthday a second time, this time at Mo’suke in Paris. This is the Michelin-starred restaurant of chef Mory Sacko, a Frenchman of African descent, who mixes French, African and Japanese ingredients and cooking styles. It’s a difficult reservation to get, but I checked the website continuously over the past few months and was lucky to snag one for this lunch.

It’s one of the most unusual restaurants in Paris, and the food is superb. We were served a huge selection of canapes and amuses-bouche that I couldn’t begin to describe. The appetizer we all had was a pepper soup with squid, mussels and okra. For the main course, Bertrand and I had maigre (croaker in English) and Stanley and Ana had chicken prepared two ways, roasted with teriyaki sauce and fried Japanese style. For dessert, Ana and I had chocolate ganache, which actually turned out to be three different parts, while Stanley and Bertrand had a plum dessert with a granite. It’s very difficult to describe the dishes as they are so complex, but suffice to say they were delicious and very nicely spiced, unlike typical French cooking.

We had a very nice wine from the Cotes Catalanes. The bill including coffees was just over 300 euros which was amazing for the quality and quantity as well as the atmosphere and service.

https://mosuke-restaurant.com/en/home/

For dinner we went to Chez Michel, which we had loved on our last trip four years ago. The menu was almost the same, as it was the same time of year, which meant a lot of game birds.

Stanley started with pate de campagne, and I had crab with avocado. Once again, I had grouse stuffed with foie gras and girolle mushrooms, and Stanley had partridge with foie gras. These are what we came here for and they did not disappoint. For dessert we had a Paris-Brest and riz au lait. With wine, the bill was 135, just 10 euros more than four years ago, and less in dollars at today’s exchange rate.

https://www.restaurantchezmichel.fr/en/

EUROPE 2022 – PART 1 – BERLIN

After an uneventful overnight flight on United, we arrived in Berlin Sunday morning. Our premium economy seats were very comfortable, but the one complaint is that the food was so bad they couldn’t have made it worse if they tried. Airline food we’ve had over the years has ranged from mediocre to pretty good. This was just awful.

Sunday, 9/24

A quick taxi ride to the hotel (the Axel) got us there by 9:30 and of course it was too early for check-in, so we dropped our bags and went for a long stroll before having lunch at noon. Fasanenstrasse is a particularly pretty street, with significant late 19th and early 20th century architecture.

Literatur Haus Berlin https://www.literaturhaus-berlin.de/

The Berlin marathon was going on, so the Kurfurstendamm was very busy and festive. Otherwise the Schoeneberg neighborhood was very sleepy.

Kaiser Wilhelm Church

We had a very nice lunch at Elefant, around the corner from the hotel. The food is traditional German, with a huge selection of schnitzels and other standards. Stanley had veal schnitzel with mushrooms and onions, accompanied by home fries and a salad, while I had beef roulade with red cabbage and very good potato dumplings. We really enjoyed the food. We had a couple of bottles of Kostritzer black beer. Service was cordial and efficient. The bill with tip totaled just over 50 euros.

After checking into the hotel around 2:00 we got settled and took a nap for a couple of hours. I should note that we were wary after reading many negative reviews of the Axel, but either they have corrected the problems or the complaints were unfounded.

The room and public areas are very clean, the staff is helpful, and our room appeared to have been recently refreshed. The mattress looked new and was very comfortable, and the carpet was probably new too.

Dinner was at Rutz-Zollhaus, a former toll house on a canal in Kreuzberg. It was an easy subway ride back and forth, and as it is one of very few top restaurants in Berlin that are open on Sundays I was very happy to have chosen it.

The staff were very warm and welcoming, and the food, service and atmosphere were absolutely delightful. The chef, Marco Muller, has a Michelin 3-starred restaurant in West Berlin called Rutz.

Rutz-Zollhaus is his simpler place, but it feels like it should have at least one star.

We began with a trout mousse with bone marrow and celery, salami of game, and liverwurst mousse with wonderful bread and butter. For mains, I had saddle of venison and Stanley had braised ox shoulder. Both came with carrots prepared three ways. We shared a dessert of a thin brownie topped with a red pepper semifreddo, the whole smothered in a green apple puree and bits of apple. Every dish was beautifully presented and delicious.

We had a bottle of Wallufer Spatburgunder from the Reingau, very well priced at 45 euros, and with dessert, glasses of sweet riesling.

The total with tip was just over 180 euros, quite a bargain for a restaurant of this caliber.
https://rutz-zollhaus.de/

Monday, 9/26

First order of business was to buy a couple of bottles of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which we were able to get at KaDeWe, the famous department store just a couple of blocks from the hotel. The food courts on the top floors are spectacular. There is every kind of wine you could imagine, so we had no problem finding the sherry. We then walked around checking out all the food offerings as we would return there for lunch.

We decided on Fischkutter, which offers a large menu of all sorts of freshwater and saltwater fish.

Stanley had Adlerfisch, which translates as meagre, from Corsica, with saffron butter, and I had Steinbeisser, translated as spined loach, from Iceland, with citrus wasabi mayonnaise. We shared the two side dishes, stewed cherry tomatoes and sweet potato fries. Both were perfectly prepared. We also had a bottle of spatburgunder rose from the Rheingau, for 27 euros. The total with tip was 88 euros.

https://www.kadewe.de/store/restaurants_bars.html

The beautiful desserts at Lenotre beckoned us, so we had a hazelnut mousse cake and espressos.

Next we walked over to the Kaiser Wilhelm church, which you can see in the photo from the marathon on Sunday. It was severely damaged in the war, and a modern bell tower and church were built next to it.

Interior of the old church

The church as it appeared in 1933

Interior of the new church

After that we took the subway to Stadtmitte, the old city center in East Berlin, walking up Charlottenstrasse, past the Gendarmenmarkt and the three buildings framing it, the German and French cathedrals and the concert hall.

We continued to Unter den Linden, and walked along it to the Brandenburg gate, where the Berlin wall once divided East and West Berlin, and to the Tiergarten beyond. Unfortunately it is not as pretty as one might expect, lined with ugly modern buildings.
Brandenburg gate
Tiergarten

We walked through the park to the Potsdamerplatz, which is rather ugly. We took the subway from there back to the hotel.

Potsdamerplatz

For dinner we went to Reinhard’s am Kurfurstendamm, a large restaurant in a prominent corner location.

A dinner as good as we had the previous night is a tall order. As good as Reinhard’s was, it didn’t reach that level. Nonetheless, the food was quite good. Stanley had the fish soup and calf’s liver with shallots and mashed potatoes. I had carpaccio with dried cherry tomatoes and truffle oil, followed by guinea fowl with black truffles, haricot verts, carrot and mashed potatoes. It was all very good, as was the service. We had a bottle of German cabernet sauvignon for 56 euros. Total came to 165 euros including tip.

https://www.restaurant-reinhards.de/

Tuesday, 9/27

This was our day in Potsdam to tour the Sanssouci Palace, which was built by Frederick the Great. We took the U-bahn, S-bahn and a taxi and arrived just in time for our 11:40 tour. It was curious that the audioguide gave a wealth of information about the palace, who many of the guest were, and much about Frederick himself, but absolutely no mention of the fact that he was gay.

Front view
Rear view
Reception room

Gallery
Music room
One of several guest rooms

https://www.spsg.de/en/palaces-gardens/object/sanssouci-palace/

After the tour, we took a bus into the old center of Potsdam, which is charming and filled with restaurants.

I had already chosen Der Butt based on Tripadvisor reviews, and it was an excellent choice. The lunch we had the previous day at Fischkutter was very good, but this fish restaurant was even better.

We started with a salmon cream soup and a crab soup with tiny shrimp. Stanley had a whole flounder stuffed with speck, and I had filet of black halibut. We drank a red ale that was very good.

The total with tip was 90 euros.

https://www.der-butt.de/

Dinner Tuesday night was at Volt, a restaurant in a former electrical substation.

This gets an A for design. Service was good too, but the food was unexciting. We chose the 3-course menu. There are no choices. You get sea trout, flank steak and a blackberry dessert. There were also two amuse-bouches and a miniature jelly doughnut (not very good) following the dessert. The dessert was very good, but overall there was nothing exceptional about Volt. With a bottle of wine for 40 euros and tip, the total was 218.

http://restaurant-volt.de/webseitevolt/

Wednesday, 9/28

This was supposed to be a rainy day, but the forecast was completely wrong. It was a mix of sun and clouds and pleasantly cool.

We took a taxi to the Reichstag to see the dome that’s been built on top, with panoramic views.

We had planned to have lunch in the adjacent rooftop restaurant, but it was closed for a private event. Just as well, as it is expensive and the menu is extremely limited. Instead we found a nice place nearby that was very good and reasonably priced, Hopfingerbrau.

I had wienerschnitzel with a potato and cucumber salad and Stanley had currywurst with fries. It was very tasty and the portions were generous. We drank an excellent dark beer, and the total with tip was under 50 euros. I would highly recommend this.

https://www.bier-genuss.berlin/hopfingerbraeu-am-brandenburger-tor/

After lunch, we walked to the museum island, where we visited the Pergamon museum, which exhibits reconstructions of Greek and Roman architectural monuments.

Processional way of Babylon, ca. 575 BC
Ishtar Gate – The eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, ca. 575 BC

Market gate of Miletus, ca. 100 AD

Back to the hotel, then dinner at Diekmann, a short walk away.

This was Stanley’s birthday, and I was hoping for dinner to be perfect. Thankfully it was.

This one beat our dinner at Rutz Zollhaus by a nose. The reason for the difference is that the main dishes did not both have the same accompaniments. Each was a unique creation.

We both had an Aperol spritz as aperitif, accompanying the amuse-bouche of stewed cherry tomato. We started with foie gras and pigeon, main courses were lamb belly and braised ox cheek, and desserts were creme brulee with strawberry sorbet and plum tart with vanilla ice cream. The presentations were absolutely gorgeous. We had an excellent wine from the Pfalz region and a glass of ice wine with dessert.

The service was perfect. This was definitely our best meal in Berlin, and the total cost with all the drinks, and tip, came to under 250 euros. It was worth every penny.

https://diekmann-restaurant.de/

Ranking the restaurants:

  1. Diekmann
  2. Rutz Zollhaus
  3. Der Butt (Potsdam)
  4. Reinhard’s
  5. Fischkutter
  6. Elefant
  7. Hopfingerbrau
  8. Volt

Thursday, 9/29

Having had a wonderful time in Berlin, we left in the morning for our train to Paris, picking up food for lunch at the station.

OSTERIA 106 – A DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE

Apparently it’s been around for 5 years but never got on our radar. In an area with few good restaurant options, the location is one that is mostly unknown to anyone who doesn’t live nearby. Luckily a friend who lives around the corner recommended it and we went there with him last week. It’s a real find, likely the best Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side. The owners and staff are very welcoming and kind. The food is imaginative and the menu offers many choices.

The vitello tonnato was perhaps the best I’ve had outside of Italy. The fried artichokes were likewise far above anything we’ve had in the city. A special of osso bucco was far above average as well. A pear and nutella tart and espresso semifreddo showed real talent. We also had a great wine that was surprisingly low-priced.

http://osteria106.com/

MERCHANTS SOCIAL – HUDSON, NY

Finally, after many months of anticipation, Merchants Social opened on Warren Street. I would say it was worth the wait. The food, service and atmosphere contributed to a lovely evening.

The menu is small, so as in too many restaurants these days, the limited choice makes returning in a short time difficult. I hope they expand the menu and/or make frequent changes, as we would love to make this a regular spot. There is also a raw bar, and cheeses and charcuterie but I’d like to see more main courses.

We began with a beet salad and an octopus dish that was one of the best I’ve had. I then had the steelhead trout and Stanley had the chicken. The flavors and accompaniments were imaginative and delicious. For dessert we shared chocolate pudding, which was excellent if a rather small portion. The wine list is small but well-chosen and the markups were surprisingly low. We had a bottle of Los Bermejos 2019. from the Canary Islands, for $60. It was quite impressive.

https://www.merchantssocial.com/

WEEKEND IN THE FINGER LAKES

June 18, 2022

We rented out the beach house last week and headed up to Claverack. From there we set out Saturday morning, driving out along beautiful Route 20. Around noon we stopped off in Cazenovia for lunch, where we waited for traffic to move while a gay pride parade went through, for about 15 minutes.

Lunch was in the tavern room at Lincklaen House, a historic hotel in the center of town.

I had beef on weck, a regional specialty consisting of grilled beef tenderloin, sliced and served on a bun, with a peppered gravy for dipping. This was the first time I’ve had it, and it was delicious, cooked to a proper medium rare, and served with Saratoga chips. Stanley had a very good Reuben.

https://www.lincklaenhouse.com/

Continuing on Route 20 we arrived in Skaneateles at 2:30, where we checked into the charming Sherwood Inn, which was recommended to me by my cousin Karen, who lives in nearby Marcellus where we would be visiting the next day. She also provided lots of advice on restaurants and sightseeing. The inn is on the main street facing the lake.


We got settled in our room before heading to Auburn, a few miles away, to visit a couple of historic sites. First, we drove through Fort Hill Cemetery, where many prominent people are buried, including William Seward, who was Secretary of State under Lincoln. Then we visited the Seward house museum. Here are some photos:

Back in Skanateles, we had cocktails at Mirbeau, a spa and restaurant, where we sat at a table overlooking a tranquil pond.
The food there is not known to be anything special, so we continued on to dinner at The Krebs 1899, which is known for its food.

We started with a shared appetizer of duck croquettes, which were delicious. Stanley had steak, which was fine, but my porchetta was exceptional. The sauces and accompaniments were excellent. For dessert we shared a chocolate tart. Perfect. The wine I wanted, a Bandol for $50, was out of stock, so the sommelier proposed a 2016 Haut Medoc which was impressive. The markups on wine are very reasonable here, and though most on the list are in the hundreds of dollars, there are enough at the lower end that are worthwhile and priced very well.

Service was excellent. The only problem was an error on the bill, so if you come here be sure to check it carefully (as I always recommend everywhere; mistakes happen).

https://www.thekrebs.com/

Sunday began with a boat tour on Skaneateles Lake. The landscape and the grand houses along the shore are worth your time. The captain tells all about the lake and the histories and owners, past and present.

https://www.midlakesnavigation.com/

We then drove through Auburn and Seneca Falls to two vineyards, both along Seneca Lake. The first was Wagner, whose ice wine we have had in the past, and I was hoping to buy some. Alas, they didn’t have any due to a shortage of bottles, but we did a tasting, which was an education in Finger Lakes wines. The tasting is $10 per person and you get to keep your glass. Some were pretty good, some less interesting, all reasonably priced. We bought a couple of bottles of a sweet Riesling and one of rose.

Determined to find ice wine to buy, we tried another vineyard up the road, Boundary Breaks, which is a smaller and less-known operation that I thought might be more likely to have some. Sure enough, they did, and after taking a taste we bought a couple of bottles. At around $70 for a half-bottle, it’s probably the most expensive wine in the region. Ice wine is so expensive because it is labor-intensive and in limited production.

https://wagnervineyards.com/

https://boundarybreaks.com/

Next on our trip was a visit to my cousin Karen, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, at her wonderful house in Marcellus. It was really nice to get reacquainted. We had some wine and snacks and then she treated us to dinner at Rosalie’s Cucina in Skaneateles, where I had the best carpaccio ever. The veal Marsala and bracciole were great too.

It was a lovely night on the patio, chilly but heated by a fireplace and gas heaters, which made it completely comfortable.

https://www.rosaliescucina.com/

On Monday morning, we left to go back to Claverack, stopping in Cooperstown for lunch at the Otesaga, overlooking Otsego Lake. The buffet was pretty good and the view idyllic.

https://www.otesaga.com/

LE COUCOU – CLASSIC HAUTE CUISINE ON LAFAYETTE ST.

Looking for a place to celebrate our anniversary, I did a lot of research, to find something worthy of a special occasion without being ridiculously expensive. The options are surprisingly few. We also wanted something that was elegant without being stuffy. Le Coucou fit perfectly.

The atmosphere is beautiful, the staff very welcoming and attentive. The chef, Daniel Rose, is an American who has had several restaurants in Paris, and opened Le Coucou in 2016. The food is classic but not heavy. The flavors are vibrant and the quality of the ingredients is top-notch.

We started with sweetbreads and a quenelle, and for main courses Stanley had tout le lapin, which was rabbit prepared three ways, while I had roast veal with morels. All of these were superb. For dessert we chose baba au rhum and a chocolate ganache cake. They were very good but not as creative as they might have been if there were a pastry chef. Nonetheless the mignardises and madeleines served after were on the level of a good Parisian restaurant.

Wine prices are of course high but the markups are not extreme. I found a 2011 Saint-Chinian for $98 that retails for $39. It was an excellent choice.

Total with tip was about $430.

WHY I LOVE WHAT I DO – MORE REVIEWS

Highly likely to recommend|5.0

05/09/2022 – megbrowne22
Sold a Coop home in 2022 in New York, NY.

Robert’s skills and knowledge of the real estate market, pricing, and timing of sale are superb. So are his design sense and knowledge of what will most appeal to buyers. He designed and supervised a cost-effective renovation that raised the value significantly. His stager, photographer and construction team are top notch, and Robert is always there to answer your questions or follow up and remind you to do something so the whole process gets done on time. Also, Wohlfarth has a great, collaborative team with many years of experience. I came away feeling they, as well as Robert, really did right by me.

Highly likely to recommend|5.0

03/09/2022 – amanda lessiohadi
Bought a Coop home in 2021 in Brooklyn, NY.

Robert was really proactive and responsive. This was my first home purchase and he was so patient with me, my ignorance and my billion questions. The purchase was drawn out due to an inefficient, unresponsive and disorganized management company as well as other delays. We ended up having to close while I was out of the country, which caused a few things to slip through the cracks (e.g., not even a virtual walk through, seller took some of the fixtures that were supposed to stay and left some standing closets that I expected him to take). Even though none of these things could be remedied, I appreciated that Robert tried.

Highly likely to recommend|5.0

02/26/2022 – capilano54
Sold a Condo home in 2022 in New York, NY.

My experience with Robert as my agent was excellent and I would recommend him to anyone looking for someone who has their best interests in mind. He was very responsive and communications with him were always very quick which to me, not living in the US, was important. He took care of everything from repairs, cleaning, staging and then in the final stages of the sale was always on top of everything. Being an absent seller can be very nerve-racking but I always felt I was in very good hands with Robert. I honestly don’t know how I would have sold the apartment without him.