Breakfast in America

What goes on in America stays in America… eh? It seems not. A couple of weeks touring the diners of Chicago and New Orleans will certainly give any returning traveller a few extra pounds they didn’t originally take with them; and I’m not talking sterling currency here.

Breakfast in America is not just an album by the old UK rock band Supertramp. It’s an institution not to be taken lightly (as if ‘lightly’ could ever apply to food in the US); it demands time and effort… and an expectation that you might be beaten by the challenge on more than one occasion.

Yolk is a great starting point on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. An unpresupposing exterior camouflages gastronomic morning mayhem. That’s why people are often queueing to get a table; but quintessential US counter culture (of the eating at the counter variety, not the return to flower power variety) gets me in immediately. The more than pleasant greeting of a young woman in a tee-shirt claiming to be ‘Handling your huevos since 2006’ provides a warm inner feeling long before the order arrives. It also leaves me lamenting… “who is going to handle my huevos when Duck One achieves his infantile wall building wish?” The ‘Works Omlet’ with a side of joyous noise eases me nicely into the lazy challenges of the day ahead. Marvellous!

Eggsperience, off the Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, keeps the theme of the hen going strong. Omelet or pancakes is the first decision of the day. Oh for such difficult decisions every day! A fleeting thought about a healthy orange juice and blueberry start to the day quickly succumbs to the need for sides of a pancake stack and bacon…

Eggsperience blueberry pancakes

But, a gaze over a shoulder also suggests another visit could be needed for that omelet option! Perhaps a vegetarian compromise could be made. Though perhaps all good vegetarians should be introduced to the necessity of a side of bacon!

Eggsperience vegetarian omlet

The famous Lou Mitchell’s, west of South Loop is an institution that should not be missed on any visit to Chicago. tired of blueberries? Why not add bananas to your pancake stack to bring some variety to the practice of indulgence? I think a side of raisin toast is also called for…

And, before leaving Chicago, get messy with a late morning Cubana sandwich at Xoco, a mere waddle from the aforementioned Eggsperience. A cucumber and lime drink might help balance the spicy fried pork and avocados wrap.

Not to be usurped in the breakfast challenge, New Orleans has its own crowds gathering to sample the delights of Ruby Slipper on Magazine Street. Again, the solo traveller gets to jump the queue with a stool at the counter. Time to try out the Louisianan Omlet of shrimp and grits, with a side of sourdough toast. A foundation fit to build any day upon.

Then there is the splendour of the Palace Cafe on Canal Street. A fine location to keep exploring the unique pleasures of a southern breakfast. This time the shrimp and grits are accompanied by a creole muniere ( don’t ask me, I’m just here to eat the stuff) for added spice to kickstart yet another day of challenging levels of relaxation!

Palace Cafe Canal Street [1]

Palace Cafe shrimp grits and creole muniere

Cafe Pontalba on Jackson Square is a place to trade the creole for a touch of the cajun in your culinary morning. A cajun omelet with side of cajun potatoes could just about provide sufficient ballast for a steamboat trip along the Mississippi…

Talking of Jackson Square; for those of us with an interest in cathedral architecture and the Louisiana State Museum, a corned beef hash at Stanley’s comes highly recommended while you gaze at the architectural heritage from the comfort of your diner counter stool.  If you like your eggs ‘sunny side’ let the yolks drain into the corned beef. Just don’t shout out ‘Stella’ in a Marlon Brando impersonation, lest you startle the staff and clientele alike.

Alas, it’s getting near the time to head for the airport. The hotel provides a last port of call, and quite possibly the last eggs I will want to see for, well at least a few days!

Hotel St Marie 2 eggs breakfast

Until we speak again, it is time to return to a good old UK diet. Next time you’re in America check out the title of an old Supertramp album for guidance, but drop any notion of three square meals a day being a good idea (unless square is the shape you are aspiring to achieve).

Zak Show dot Com

 

Culinario gatti

Calling all you culinary cats… Giovanni’s has been established on The Hayes in the centre of Cardiff since 1983; but in 2013 a second branch opened on Park Place, conveniently opposite the New Theatre. But, don’t expect any Godfather III operatic grandstanding here… for a start, you may be greeted by a less than appetising facade of scaffolding, as painting is in progress.

Front [1]

It is worth getting past your penchant for deciding the quality of a restaurant based on the external appearance (particularly as this will change sometime soon). After all, you should be in food critic, not architectural critic mode, if your aim is to satisfy gastronomic urges. I know, I’m a hypocrite, as I am often critical of sloppy architecture, including that of modern restaurants.

On a recent post rugby match visit, there were plenty of persone che mangiano di ristoranti, with everyone engrossed in the menu under the expert tutelage of the resident maestro…

Giovanni's [1]

It is worth lingering over the menu, as this is no run-of-the-mill Italian chain. We are talking a family-run restaurant with plenty of amore put into the whole experience as well as the culinary produce. For the visiting young one it was Scallops Al Limone for a starter, which received glowing praise from someone who knows his scallops. I opted for the Gamberoni all Marchesa (roasted king prawns in garlic, white wine and parsley)…

Giovanni's [2]

Yes, I know it should be white wine with any seafood; but my inner Lecter couldn’t resist a nice Chianti! As for main courses, the visiting ‘Son of Cool’ went for the traditional option of a good home cooked Lasagne Emiliana Fatta in Casa, and yours truly was in the mood for a main that would live up to the red wine accompaniment. So, what better than a Penne Spezzatino (fillet steak in garlic, wine and tomato sauce)…

Giovanni's [3]

Some of you might be licking your lips with anticipation of what quintessential Italian desserts are about to be laid out before you. Well, tough… this is early evening, and space needs to be left for a few beers elsewhere (you can only have so much of a good Italian thing before reverting to what the British do better!). But, before I leave you, and in the continuing spirit of hydration, I did indulge in a double espresso and Sambucca on the side. There are some liquids that only the Italians really know how to make!

Giovanni's [4]

We both left full of culinario contentezza, as we transitioned from Italian delicato to the bustle of a Saturday night in a British pub. Until we speak again, may all of your cornetto’s be less than vanilla. And Bella says ciao.

Farewell

Surfing the turf

So there I was, in this crazy cats kind of world, suddenly finding myself back in Llanelli. Now, for those of you who haven’t been, you might just be wondering why go in the first place? And, for those who have been to this run down post-industrial area of south-west Wales, the source of wonderment is… why go back a second time? Well, we can’t always choose where the work is going to take us, is the plain simple answer to that conundrum.

However, once drawn into its web of intrigue, don’t expect things to be as they usually are! For a start there are the Castle Buildings as a prime place to stay… but it’s not the traditional Welsh castle that you might have been led to expect?

Vista Hotel

The hotel occupying this so-called castle site is the Vista Hotel… but I suggest you revise your expectations of vista’s before you arrive!

Church from hotel window

However, there is one thing that should cause most unsuspecting cats to pause (or is that paws?) before they pounce… it’s always interesting when your meal looks you in the eye and says ‘Your move!’

Surf and Turf [2]

The thing is… where to get the energy to launch an escape beyond the orbit of Llanelli’s gravitational pull? Rest assured, cats wishing to get out of the bag can take on an early morning full (Welsh/English) breakfast…

All Day Breakfast

Though be warned… the food in this place might just be enough to tempt you stay… at least until the next meal, if for no other exciting reason!

Until we speak again, Juno will display the level of industriousness now associated with the former powerhouses of Welsh industry…

Armadillo pose

 

 

Look through any window

It may be a famous old Hollies track, but the instruction also offers a taste of nostalgia. Here is a bygone age, when Brains were truly great beers to challenge the best around…

look-through-any-window

But this scene in a Cardiff Coffee#1 shop just got me reflecting back on a recent trip to Llanelli in west Wales. This was once a boom town built on heavy industries with a specialist focus on tinplate, but now it’s a faded shadow of itself. Perhaps it might still look like a big place to someone steeped in the rural ways of life, but to the average urban dweller Llanelli leaves you asking “what’s the fuss?” If you look closely enough you might find something resembling a modern welcome…

thomas-arms-hotel

But then again, as the first image implies, Brains used to be something once, but what’s the fuss? Better to settle for a smooth New Zealand Pinot Noir when the beer offering is the range of modern day corporate Brains!

fire-and-wine

Come to think of it log fires were something once, but now they have succumbed to a strange elevated form of designer chic as a centrepiece of a room…

fireplace

Then again, pork chops were something once, but what’s the fuss? Now they have to be Harissa spiced with a side of creamy slaw!

harissa-pork-chops

It’s good to know that a hearty cooked breakfast still is something, even if beans now have to come in a gravy pot!

Full Welsh breakfast.jpg

If you find yourself in the time warp, aka Llanelli, The Thomas Arms should provide that comfortable reality check that the 21st century is soon to make an appearance. Meanwhile, looking through any window provides me with a nostalgic remembrance that it was a favourite pastime of Juno

sunshine-at-14-3

Until we speak again, remember that nostalgia is a thing of the past. Spare yourself a moment or two, and look through any window

 

Trump’s first nightmare

Take a picture of this… it’s a quiet afternoon the night after the celebrations, and ‘the Donald’ is looking for something to eat. His innate tendency to seek a confrontation draws him towards the promise of a grilling at ‘Mesopotamia‘.

mesopotamia

Not one to let any reference to the cradle of civilisation cloud his own vision of personal greatness, he accepts the perceived challenge and grumbles his way through an astonishing menu. A mesmerising presence of Iraq is peppered with Lebanese references, and an unexpected Mexican insurgency…

menu

As thoughts drift towards the need for building walls, he realises that the incumbent occupation has already created a tasteful arrangement of bricks, tiles and wood without the need to create any semblance of a barrier.

restaurant-1

The food is fit for any self-elevating despot. Starters of Vine Leaves and Halloumi Salad were preceded by complimentary bowls of a tasty broth, and accompanied by Ayran (a yogurt based refreshing drink). Who needs alcohol when the world is already laid out before you?!

starter-of-vine-leaves-and-halloumi-salad-and-ayran-drinks

While ‘the Donald’ reels in amazement at the strange collaboration of Iraq & Mexico the taste buds are further assuaged by a Mixed Kebab and Okra combination…

mains-of-mixed-kebab-and-okra

The overall mirage is completed by what appears to be a cocktail crescendo. But this is the peak of non-alcoholic consumption… so it is the taste of a full flavoured Virgin Mojito that satisfies the feast.

virgin-mojitos

To any self-respecting, world-appreciating, liberal-minded individuals, this is an experience to open the mind and satisfy the soul. If you are ever strolling along the infamously diverse City Road in Cardiff you are advised to pay a visit. ‘The Donald’s’ of the world need not apply; they deserve little more than a wall building around them, within which they can indulge their own nightmarish visions of the world. Bella would have been first to supervise and contain the nightmare from encroaching on the ordinary people.

x-ray-eyes

Until we speak again, may your culinary excursions be mind expanding.

Pigs ear of a meal

Juno and Bella both demonstrated a special fondness for a pig. Particularly one that came in morsels! As for a pigs ear, that was more likely a description they would attribute to me, or anything I attempted to do. But they sure would be salivating if they had an opportunity to share a recent experience of The Potted Pig

2. Outside sign

Following the financial crash a few years ago, there are many things that people can think of using an old bank vault for… not the least being a dungeon for locking away greedy bankers! Here in Cardiff we have more creative ideas, like a space where local people (and even a few visitors) can sample a range of pig-based fayre, with a drop of the falling down juice on the side…

3. Bar4. Bank vault

You might even be lucky enough to be placed where the eponymous pig can shun you, in favour of a little rest…

5. The Potted Pig

As for the food, I am pleased to say that this restaurant comes with that special characteristic of a small but perfectly formed menu. No unnecessary elaboration here, this is a place for serious quality at reasonable prices. Though the pursuit of pig clearly features as the centrepiece of our gastronomic quest, your choice of animal will be far from limited. However, I could not resist a starter that offers crispy pigs ears, particularly when it came with succulent black pudding, the smokiest of bacon, topped off with a delightfully poached egg. The pigs ears were pork scratchings of the highest order. My compardre chose a belly pork starter (but that was to be my main course)…

 

6. Starters

This was a breakfast like I had never tasted (particularly at 8.30pm). So now, after a delicate tasting of Rioja, it was onward, dinner beckoned. With ducks, lambs, fish, and even a vegetarian dish on offer, my friend succumbed to the sound of a quack, while I could not avoid the continuation of the snort. Slow cooked free range pork belly had to be the order of the day; even if it did come with something requiring the gastronome’s dictionary… choucroute. Me neither! It turned out to be something akin to sauerkraut, and perfectly adorned the sacrificial pig. They even do great chips here!

9. Both mains

All I can say is, that next time you find yourself on St Mary Street in Cardiff, with that knot of hunger and a desire to assuage the temptation of more vegetables, get your timing right. This is a place that has limited opening hours, and you may need to book, but it is worth it.

Sleeping catAs for Bella, had she been on this particular escaped, it would surely have ended in a cat-like impression of the potted pig itself.

Until we speak again, may your pigs ears be crispy.

The Raj revisited

Window cillWith the recent TV series ‘Indian Summers‘ now disappearing into the memory banks, to be stored somewhere in a file listed as ‘Brexit and the resurrection of my imperial dreams‘ (created by the 52%, not those of us who already have an embracing world view), it was time to locally recapture an experience of India and summer. To listen to some of the Out rhetoric expounded from our so-called tolerant shores, you would swear that we have been locked away in a European constructed dungeon, and are only now creating the opportunity to stagger bleary-eyed into the bright lights that constitute the new world beyond European shackles.

As much as your correspondent is frequently regaled with messages about how cheap it is to visit India, I personally find that it is even cheaper for India to visit me! This is where Cardiff Bay comes to rescue me from the standard notion of an Indian takeaway. However, the choice requires a decision to be made, before we even get in front of one of those War and Peace sized menus. A proposition that just might drive us to follow Bella’s idea above… when decisions need to be made find a clear window cill in the sun!

The Duchess of Delhi does its very best to smooth away the challenge of the decisions decisions malady… nothing like a great big sign 18 months after opening to remind us, well, that they are open!

Duchess of Delhi [1]For those readers who are not old enough to have been present at the height of the Raj, which I guess is pretty much everyone (as it is listed as 1858-1947), here is a glimpse of what it might have looked like…

Duchess of Delhi [2]

Strangely enough, that is what nearly all traditional British Indian restaurants inform us the Raj looked like. Other versions of the authentic Indian theme are available (even in Cardiff!). So, cultural and historical context cleared up, it was time to navigate the challenge of the ubiquitous Indian restaurant menu. Is it any surprise that bottles of Cobra were invented in large sizes? Dying of thirst while reading the menu can be a serious proposition! Though it is important to say that the Duchess of Delhi has a slightly more specialist and restricted menu range, which always instils confidence in this intrepid devourer of world nosh.

Duchess of Delhi [4]

The starters were a very tasty reminder of what British style Indian food has to offer. My vegetarian visitor was satisfied with the Onion Pakora, and my cat-like carnivorous tendencies were equally satisfied with the Sheek Kebab, even when adorned with the entry-school colourful scribblings across the plate. With appetites stirred it was time for the main event. It was the decisions-decisions time again, with so many tempting treats on the menu.

My vegetarian friend enjoys a cat-like dispensation when it comes to fish; and is never able to resist something hot. So there was one simple decision… when a dish entitled Bengal Naga Jhaal Jhol is described as the hottest dish on the menu, and includes one of the hottest chilli’s in the world, why look anywhere else. Our host initially looked a little puzzled when he also asked for additional hot chilli on the side.

As for me, I was ready to retreat to a distant table, just in case the heat from the dish put summer into the shade. Apparently there was ‘smelted’ shark somewhere in that bowl! I’m a sucker for a Peshwari Naan and a Coconut Rice, but would ideally like a little of most of the menu to accompany them. But, on this occasion the sound of bleating lambs ambling towards the slaughter house en route to my bowl prevailed. I’m not sure if they picked the green chillies themselves as they sauntered towards their primary purpose in life…

Duchess of Delhi [5]

The Lamb Pepper Roast was succulent and tender, melt in the mouth, and worthy of its place alongside the Naan/Rice combination. Other Indian restaurants of varying focus and price range have been the subject of Juno/Bella style scrutiny within this blog, but the Duchess of Delhi can now take its place as part of a range rather than a competition. Until we speak again, if you are looking for a taste of India Cardiff has a selection, as long as you can cope with decisions-decisions!