Tag Archives: international food

Yo’Mo

An evening at Yo’Mo is full of non sequiturs and densely flavored Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes. Having a meal there makes you feel a bit like you should be having a birthday party: oversized chairs, large scale pop art on the walls, contrasting patterns and colors on the sofas, pillows and rugs. A little like a piñata threw up in an airport lounge – but in a good way? On one side, a gorgeous view of the Lac Leman and the Jardin Anglais. On the other, a print of Mona Lisa smoking a hookah. A built-in bookshelf lines the far wall and is dotted with tchotchkes and books. (Haute Dogs was perhaps a weird choice of a cookbook to throw into the mix of a Lebanese restaurant, but there it was).

On a Monday evening (and a public holiday no less), Yo’Mo was open and ready to serve, and seemed to attract a diverse clientele. Over the course of our meal, a few North American tourists, a crew of local teenagers, and a conservative muslim family all took their seats in turn.

tabouleh

 

After way too much time spent pouring over the menu, a friendly waitress quietly and patiently took our order with a bashful smile. Having ruled out the “oriental style pizzas” for the night, we opted for a spread of hot and cold mezze – mostly classics, with the occasional twist. Eggplant caviar came in smokey hues, and would risk falling flat if it weren’t for the pomegranate pops of acidity. Hummus comes two ways: served plain, it was unctuous and totally free of that overwhelming raw garlic pervasive in too many recipes. Adorned, the acidity of the beef and pine nuts were offset by a gentle aroma of sesame. Tabouleh, served as it should be, with just a sprinkling of bulgur,brightened up the hummus and meat dishes. The kebbeh (meatballs) were served with an onion jam that tasted a little more like strawberry jam than one would want. Less inspiring was the falafel, which came out just a bit dry. Rich, smooth labneh and the fresh-out-of-the-oven flatbread  was everything you needed to dress and deliver the tang to your taste-buds. 

YoMo

While the food may transport you, the music won’t let you mistake Geneva for Beirut. In keeping with the contemporary vibe, Yo’Mo rightly avoids the traditional tunes of the ‘Mediterranean’. But in its place, you get loungey electro no better than elevator music, reminding you clearly that it’s Geneve for the nouveau-riche after all. Until that random salsa song comes on, bringing non-sequitur and flavor back to the mix.

 

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Les Automnales, 2013

It may not be the most exciting event around town, but it’s one of the only times and places where you can undoubtedly score some of the best chocolates in town.

Les Automnales – a bizarre showing of vendors of all types – is at Palexpo again from 8-17 November. Here are some of the foodie oriented highlights!

Atelier du chocolat

Each day you can sign up for a chocolate workshop led by no other than Gilles Desplanches, one of the most successful chocolate and pastry shop owners in town. What can you get out of it? Well, you won’t be making chocolate, but you’ll still have some fun with it:

– Finishing and decorating a piggy bank (shaped like a real pig….)

– Assembling and decorating a chocolate marmite.

– Customizing a 14cm chocolate biscuit

– Assembling and decorating a plane and its pilot with chocolate and marzipan

– Preparing and tasting diverse chocolate drinks.

– Assembling and decorating a 12cm chocolate flower pot

Not so into chocolate? 

Ecole Club Migros will be offering cooking demonstrations on everything from how to make a verrine, to sushi, pizette, pad thai, Japchae, or mezze. And you thought local Geneva didn’t do international…

But you ARE into chocolate, so…. 

Don’t forget to stop by the Hochstrasser family to buy your chocolates for the season. Chocolate butter squares with chocolate powder on top is what they are. Simply out of this world, simply awesome.

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Eating cheap, Eating well Days 1 & 2: magret de canard, rigatoni with pine nuts and broccoli

Got all my ingredients yesterday according to a meal plan that should keep me going through the week. I mean where’s the fun in being broke if you can’t be strategic and competitive about it?

To kick start my week of restraint, I thought I would go big. Ease into it and all that. So what better splurge than duck? I kept it “healthy” by siding it with green beans and just a handful of rice.

Day 1. Magret de canard – mark the skin with a knife, salt and pepper the skin side. Heat up just a little bit of oil in a pan to medium (duck releases a lot of fat, so no need to go crazy with the grease). Let sizzle skin side down for about 6 minutes. Flip over and let sizzle for another 6 or so minutes (depends how cooked you like your meat). Pull it off the heat and wrap in foil to let it set (makes the meat more tender). If you’re feeling “saucy”, lower the heat on the now meatless pan and add in something sweet like orange juice, red wine, or a vinegar of your choice and “scrape the bottom of the pan like hell” as my brother says. You will get yourself a lovely sauce that ducks are just mad about. Serve with steamed green beans (lightly salted, squeeze of lemon juice) and white rice that will absorb the sauce like yuuuuuum.

Sorry y’all, no pic. This kind of dish goes down fast.

 

Day 2: Rigatoni with broccoli, pine nuts in an olive oil sauce
When I was in college, on a road trip with some friends, we stopped in Philly to have dinner with my friend’s parents. You see, he was Italian, and his parents ran a modest restaurant. They served us a dish I will never forget for its deceptive simplicity: rigatoni, broccoli, fresh croutons, parmesan, and olive oil. And possibly pine nuts. (College is a bit hazy by now).

TO THIS DAY I have been trying to figure out how they fit so much flavor into such dull ingredients. I will spare you the excitement, I still have not figured it out. I tried this recipe from Food & Wine magazine online, and although it’s easy to make, and it is a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t have the aroma I remember from that homey Italian restaurant in Philly. Still, good enough to want to eat, and I’ve got enough left for lunch tomorrow.

 

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Parisian Pain au Chocolat Safari

What better way to experience Paris’ finest pain au chocolat than on a scooter at 3am in the freezing cold? (No, I mean it, that really is the best way.)

It was my 30th birthday awhile back and my bestest partner in crime surprised me with the ride of my life to taste test one of my childhood favorites: the pain au chocolat.

Let me take a few steps back to explain just why this was the best birthday excursion ever: pain au chocolat’s were what I looked forward to every morning when I woke up as a kid. But it breaks my heart to say that I have a hard time finding a good pain au chocolat in Geneva these days. Older generations might say the drive down in quality happened long ago, but in my lifetime, I can trace it back to the late 1990s when the bakery chains took over our beloved local, individual owned shops. (Pouly and company be damned!) This pushed me to acknowledge, finally, that the best pain au chocolats very well might be in France (whither my Swiss pride…).
So IMAGINE my glee when my 30th birthday turned out to be all about tasting Paris’ finest pain au chocs! The mission? Finding the pain au choc I have come to idealize in my memories: a good pain au chocolat to me is buttery, a bit flakey on the outside, a bit doughy in the middle, and with two strips of dark chocolate cooked “al dente” – in this case meaning that the bars are pretty consistent, keeping a slight bite to them, and not just two strips of smudged chocolate as I see so often nowadays.
The Safari kicked off at the ungodly yet oh-so-savory hour of 1am, when bakers around Paris are up and at ’em stirring up and baking the stuff our tastiest dreams are made of. The fine folks of Boulangerie Pichard had been asked (and cordially agreed) to let us two mere mortals observe them as they artfully rolled up croissants, folded over pain au chocolats, layered gallettes des rois, and confectioned fruit tarts. So in the middle of the night, after a sweet cocktail, we boarded our safari vehicle of choice – a scooter – and zipped through the streets of Paris to Boulangerie Pichard, guided by the light of the Eiffel tower and the whiff of baked goods.
Frozen as our bodies were upon arrival, my oh my was it worth the icy cold scooter trip over there. For two hours, Pichard Jr took us around, showed us the ropes, told us about how the industry has changed over the years, how they are the only bakery in town that gets the kind of butter they get (which of course makes ALL the difference!) and the best way to roll a croissant so it has space to puff out, but not so much so that it unrolls. We even got to help roll them out after a few tips (and apologies to the next day’s clientele who surely observed some oddly shaped croissants as a result).
Official ingredients of any good cooking: butter, butter and moooore butter!

Official ingredients of any good cooking: butter, butter and moooore butter!

rollin' with a pro

rollin’ with a pro

Bakers they may be, but pastry chefs too! Their apricot pies were layed out on decadent looking almond paste and flakey puff pastry...

Bakers they may be, but pastry chefs too! Their apricot pies were layed out on decadent looking almond paste and flakey puff pastry…

The experience was a dream, and I can’t wait to try to make the pain au chocolat at home. In the meantime, we zipped back on our scooter through the cold damp dawn to get a few hours of sleep before we headed back out on the scooter for the pain au chocolat safari, consisting of four stops at Paris’ finest award winning bakeries.
First stop, Boulangerie Pichard again! (What do you expect, we HAD to taste the magical little pastries we had just made). This time we went in through the front door and got to see the shop front in all its golden glory.
Baker's billion

Baker’s billion

King's cake! (or galette des rois, which Pichard sends out to half of Europe in January...)

King’s cake! (or galette des rois, which Pichard sends out to half of Europe in January…)

1. Boulangerie Pichard
The pain au chocolat at Boulangerie Pichard was perhaps the nicest dough we tasted – it was so buttery and flakey, a bit doughy on the inside, and had a nice herby/flowery perfume in it that must have come from the butter itself. Indeed, irreplaceable! Only complaint was the chocolate, which tasted great, but just did not have the consistency I look for.
Two turtle doves of baked deliciousness

Two turtle doves of baked deliciousness

2. Dominique Saibron
From Pichard, we scooted over to Dominique Saibron. Here, the chocolate bar was bigger and had more of a bite to it, which made my inner girlie girl giggle with delight. The dough didn’t have quite the character we tasted at Pichard, but it remained beautifully flakey.
Dominique Saibron's good pain au choc, but not the best

Dominique Saibron’s good pain au choc, but not the best

3. Du Pain et des Idées
After Saibron, it came time to have some “real” food, which involved a stunningly good lunch at Anne Sophie Pic’s restaurant, La Dame de Pic… but I digress. The pain au choc at Du Pain et des Idees required us to wait for a good 20 minutes in line, in the humid cold. We didn’t eat this one until we got back to the hotel, so the goods may have been a little shell shocked from the long scooter ride home…. nonetheless, the dough was the most flakey we had had so far, with lovely layers, crisp on the outside… almost like a flakey pie crust. In flavor however, it also could not match the flowery creamy taste of Pichard’s.
Du Pain et des Idées... frencher than french!

Du Pain et des Idées… frencher than french!

Du Pain et des Idées

Du Pain et des Idées

4. Blé Sucré
Last but not least, we stopped by Blé Sucré to try out their pain au chocolat. Here, we found the best consistency and taste in the chocolate – substantial and dark and with just a little bite to it. The pastry however paled in comparison to the previous four. But let’s be honest, it was still a great pain au choc by any measure.
Blé Sucré

Blé Sucré

And the winner is…… anyone you want! My personal favorite was either Pichard’s or Du Pain et des Idees, but honestly, you would love breaking the bread off any of them. Bon app indeed!
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The fall season, with its abundance of earthy produce, seems to be whisking by quickly this year. Between traveling for work, vacations, moving and adopting a whole new rhythm of life, I have barely even found the time to get acquainted with my new kitchen! So far, I can chalk up autumn 2012 to two butternut squash dinners, a few chanterelles feasts, two consecutive nights of game, and a marathon week of perfecting my tarte tatin recipe… and I feel like I have just barely gotten started. Not to mention all the lovely things that were missed: Russin’s Fete des Vendanges and the traditional descente des alpages are long since over and done with, and in all honesty, I could not even tell you when they took place. What month are we in anyway?

But c’est la vie, right? There will be more wine to taste and the cows will be back around in the spring. In the mean time, it’s fondue season once again, and I look forward to doing the rounds of Geneva’s cheesiest – as soon as the temperature drops a little.

In the midst of the flurry however, I failed not to remember what is probably the biggest food event of the year, the Salone del Gusto, taking place in Turin from the 25-29 of October. The Slow Food website anticipates it will attract no less than 200,000 people, with thousands of small scale producers from across the globe. Jamon from Spain, cheeses from Switzerland, everything from Armagnac to figs from France, street food from across Italy, and the list goes on, and on, and on, and on….

My confession is that I still don’t know if I will make it to this salon of sweet and savory delights. If you, like me, would give your left arm to be there but just don’t see it happening, don’t hesitate for even a second before reading the Salone’s website (linked above) in abundant detail. You may not be able to go to the producers, but I guarantee you will find inspiration in the movement of people and producers out there to make life just that much more palatable.

Buon appetito!

Fall’s Greatest Cornucopia: Salone del Gusto 2012

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What’s the Matter with Cuba(n Food)?

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Welcome to 2012!

From the explosively good flavors of the Basque country, I hopped on a plane and flew to the always impressive diverse culinary scene in New York City. Call me crazy, but I feel like every time I go back there, the food options have gotten quirkier, more specialized, and more particular, hitting every note on the taste bud spectrum. Hell, it even hit notes I didn’t even know existed! And that’s the amazing thing about the cooking tradition in a place where pretty much no one is from the land they stand on. Centuries of cultural mixing, clashing and swirling around in such a concentrated space, and VOILA! You really do get the great American melting pot.

But that’s a whole other story. After four unbelievable brunches (sigh… how I miss thee NYC brunch with your kooky cocktails, poached eggs and pancakes…), I found myself in what just might be the exact opposite of NYC’s flavor spectrum- Havana, Cuba.

Havana would be impossible to capture in this posting- the city is vibrant above and beyond any I’ve seen before, with music coming out of the cracks in the sidewalk, the crumbling walls and the peeling paint. The streets are bustling but unlike in NYC, the chaos doesn’t breed anger. Artists’ studios spill onto the sidewalk, and – yes – old couples dance salsa together on the square at sunset. The stereotype is all true: Havana is a city of resplendent and vivacious culture!

But if you don’t know already, there is also a widespread rumor that Cuban food is bad. There is practically no debate about it in fact: the consensus is that it is simply bad, and bland.

Now, as an avid lover of rice and beans and friend plantains, I assumed the rumors were being spread by prickly tourists who simply can’t appreciate the local food. On a mission to prove the world wrong, we tried food at a state restaurant, a semi-private restaurant, a resort, at the historic Hotel Nacional and even got to try a typical Cuban home cooked meal. But I have to admit, the rumors were pretty accurate: the food was bland. And overcooked. Consistently.  And yet, Havana, much like New York City, has a history as a port and as a crossroads, where cultures wove in and out, creating a diversity of culinary traditions. Cuban cuisine traditionally ranges from Spanish-imported paella and ropa vieja (braised beef), to lobster drenched in mojo (garlic and butter sauce), to simple ham and cheese sandwiches. In fact, I’ve had the chance to taste some old fashioned home cooked Cuban picadillo (a ground beef dish with olives and raisins among other ingredients to the chef’s liking), and it’s unbelievably good!

So what’s the problem? After a fair amount of research, there would be two arguments. One is that they simply like bland food. (…..not convinced? me neither. But Google it, you’d be amazed how many people come up with this conclusion). My hypothesis however, which was confirmed by some websites, is that spices are expensive and difficult to access, discouraging their use in appropriate amounts. With such an interventionist state, a lot of food products are rashioned. Beef, for example, can only be served at State run establishments for example. Perhaps it comes as no surprise therefore that the typical street food is none other than hamburgers and pizzas. Wait, were we talking about New York or Havana???

Of course, there are exceptions, and in all fairness, we were only there for a few days, so lord knows what goodness was waiting for us around the corner. The highlight? Paladar la Guarida, where the dishes are creative, well prepared and tasty yum yum! Not to mention the setting, which is absolutely surreal, with its crumbling walls, abundance of antique posters and decorations, and beautiful chandeliers. And to give Cuban cooks credit, the products are fresh, the food is prepared fresh, and when it’s served to you with such TLC, well… let’s just say that in the absence of packaged flavors, Cubans figured out how to add their own variety of spice.

Where to go: 

Paladar La Guarida, of Fresa y Chocolate fame, is one of the better restaurants in Havana. It is situated in the most breathtaking building structure- that lone is worth the visit.

Casa Colonial – a Casa particular (like a Bed and Breakfast) where the hosts will make you great breakfast of fresh whole fruit, fresh pressed juice, fresh baked rolls and eggs-as-you-like-em. They will also make dinner on request- we had chicken with congri (read: rice cooked together with black beans), plantain chips and salad. Such a homey relief after the devastation of the Varadero resort food!!

Where NOT to go: 

El Museo del Chocolate. Now, I am a full out chocoholic. Yes, I’m a bit picky, but in an emergency, when a true craving hits, just about anything goes. And yet, I found myself incapable of finishing their hot chocolate, and spitting out their stuffed dark chocolates. Believe it or not, they put in WAY too much rum!! Please trust me on this one. The 20 minute lines are not worth it. Skip it.

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Christmas pintxos in the Basque Country

A whole 20 days since my last post! I can’t quite believe it has taken me until christmas to catch up on my blogging. Needless to say, the food experiences haven’t slowed down in the least: after christmas markets and experiments in hungarian cooking, i tested out chocolate chip and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, magret de canard fume on focaccia with a touch of raifort mixed with creme fraiche, and discovered a website mapping out the city’s bakeries (!!!! – more on that soon…)

All that will have to be shared in good time though, because for now i just spent the day touring some of the world’s best tapas joints in San Sebastian, Spain. An unconventional Christmas eve, perhaps, but also one of the best I have had in recent memory!

As it happens, Spain doesn’t celebrate Christmas when and how I am used to. So instead of gorging ourselves on turkey, capon or roast ham, as per the northern American tradition(s), we set out for a walk around San Sebastian’s old town (la Parte Vieja) to taste test what the region is known for: its mostly fish and seafood based tapas, aka, pintxos.

[Brief pause for a historical interlude: the word “tapas” or tapa in its singular form, means lid in spanish. The term tapas was coined when one of Spain’s kings was in the region and was served a glass of wine with a plate of snacks served over it to keep the flies out of it. When the waiter returned, the king reportedly requested another glass with its “tapa” – and thus the tapas was born.]

What’s really to love about the food from around here? I would have to say it is the Basque insistence on top quality products served at their freshest. Rather than doused in sauces or left to marinate in complex mixes of spices, food here is prepared such that the true flavor of the ingredient is displayed at its tastiest. So a fresh strip of anchovy on a piece of baguette-like bread topped with a pinch of chopped onions and peppers with a drizzle of olive oil will send you to seventh heaven – as served at bar Martinez on Calle 31 de agosto.

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Other star players include the famous bacalao (codfish), lightly cooked calamari, fresh tuna, fried green or red small peppers, and of course, the jamon iberico. Most of these are just lightly brushed with olive oil, and layered in various combos on a piece of bread. The result? Two bites of mmmm mmmm so gooood…!

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Another discovery I’ve made is a beverage called mosto (must in English). Made of sweet grapes, but very light in flavor, this drink is perfect for quenching your thirst in any weather. Kind of like white wine, but without the acidity and the hangover. Best served with ice, a slice of lemon and an olive, or with a few sprigs of fresh mint instead of the olive.

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Of course, San Seb is also known for its high concentration of starred restaurants. I didn’t have time to try these out, sadly I would say, if it weren’t for the fact that the pintxos alone were totally titillating. Definitely look up these gastro gems though if you are in town!

the where how and when
This one is easy. Go to Calle 31 de agosto and try bar Martinez or A fuego negro for absolutely top notch. Gandarias taberna was also good, but a definite second place overall. Go between 1pm and 2:30pm for a stimulating lunch, and polish off the afternoon with a walk through the old town and along the gorgeously sculpted beach….

And it is a very merry Christmas indeed : )

Go on then- how was it for you??

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A food blog for Geneva

First thing’s first. By now I hope you have read the About page, in which case you would know what this particular food blog is all about. But as a first posting, I thought I’d clarify exactly where this whole initative comes from.

Chances are, most of you who will read this blog (all 3.5 of you) are not really from Geneva. I’ve heard the story too many times now: most of us landed here unintentionally, sometimes having lived in bigger and more exciting places, and it seems like the city is boring. And dull. Right?

But let me stop you right there. The Geneva I grew up in and later came back to after 8 years in New York is neither bland nor dull. You do however need a little local help to break through that surface Calvinism that seems to be doing a great job at keeping the city quiet.

That’s where I hope to come in, to take you along to all the restaurants and bars worth a visit, and guide you through the mess of information, usually provided only in French, that makes it so difficult to access the sweet center of Geneva.

While growing up here, I was surrounded by delicious, decadent food. At the crossroads between France, Italy and Germany, Geneva and its surroundings have a lot to offer to those of us who spend our days dreaming about what we’ll be eating next. What’s more, my grandparents were trained and talented chefs, and every sunday we indulged in my hungarian grandmother’s paprika-based cooking and my grandfather’s state of the art pastries and desserts. Every season seemed to have its treats: the filets de perche du lac in the summer, the tender roasted game and mushrooms of the fall, winter’s raclette and fondue coupled with hot mulled wine, and salade de chevre in the spring.

After 8 years spent in New York as an adult, I moved back to Geneva to find the flavors and dishes hadn’t really changed, but more and more good restaurants had popped up. And so the great dinner marathon began, testing out restaurants of all sorts across the city.

Though surrounded by good food and prone to indulgence from the start, it was not until one day in 2011, when I was about to go on a hike in the pouring rain, that I paused to think about the concept of the produits du terroir, and my interest in food took a turn for the serious.

You have certainly seen the produit du terroir in the Coop and Migros. When you buy your “Vacherin Fribourgeois” cheese, its name indicates that the product is only authentic if it was made in Fribourg, according to centuries old cheese-making traditions. The “cardon épineux genevois” grows a bit like lettuce-heads and is now the first protected grown-product of Geneva. And the Valais has protected its way of baking pain de seigle.

All of a sudden I was engulfed in the world of food products. Tequila, I remembered, is a regional brand. And Buffala is known for its Mozarrella. Is it a coincidence that these are some of the most adored products in the world? Or is the local production, based on traditional methods, really a way of ensuring the taste quality of a product?

I started hitting the markets, mostly in Carouge, and instead of shyly asking the vendors to suggest whatever they felt like, I started picking up products and asking questions about them. Where was this grown/made? Who makes it? How?

Before I knew it, I had collected stacks of information on local products, which all stood the taste test when used in recipes back at home. It didn’t take too much longer to discover that some restaurants in the city have decided to support local farmers and producers. Which led to MORE eating out in restaurants…

But this time, dining out had gained a new purpose. Rather than just test and compare the quality of the melted chocolate sauce on a coupe danemark, or of the sauce that came with the steak, dining out now meant asking about the source of the products… and testing to see if they really did taste better.

So what’s the moral to this long, complicated story?  The food here is great, and the city and countryside are teaming with restaurants, shops, markets and farms that will satisfy even the pickiest of the foodies. All that’s left is to use the info provided on this blog to figure out where to start.

Bon app’!

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