Nov 212010
 

First pint of Guinness on the tripFlew to Dublin after an uncomfortably early wakeup call. The Finnair flight to London was as smooth as they come, but troubles started upon landing in the UK.

The Aer Lingus shuttle was delayed, and no gate information was given. Clearly an opportunity for an early lunch. Which Giraffe in Terminal Three served in the form of huevos rancheros.

In addition to being late, the flight to Dublin was very crowded. Took no chances with checked-in luggage on the inbound trip and had two pieces of baggage – recipe for trouble on a plane where the overhead compartments were full way before I boarded.

Cab to the hotel seemed to take a roundabout route. Then again, it was the cup final in the neighboring stadium and that might have closed some routes for traffic.

The hotel, D4 Ballsbridge Inn, turned out quite dingy. The rooms were large, but that’s about the sole good thing about them. The bed was straight out of a jesuit training centre, the faucets predictably british and drippy, the carpet soiled thoroughly in the years in service.

The environment was packed with football fans – Sligo fans in the hotel and Shamrock fans everywhere else.

Downtown was a soccer-free zone. Had the first pint of Guinness at the first opportunity (in such a hurry that the name of the bar went unnoted – on the corner of O’Connell Street and the Liffey River) and that eased matters a lot.

A slow Sunday meant that a lot of restaurants were closed. Settled on Winding Stair (after a long walk) next to Liffey. Sheep kidneys for starter, a pork chop for the main course and an apple cobbler for dessert, accompanied by a very nice amarone. Much better than expected, and the environment was far from the usual pub fare.

After a final pint (Smithwick’s, for a change) in the Temple Bar in Temple Bar (drunken locals and tourists both milling around) it was time to head back to the hotel for a decent sleep before the early morning wakeup for the conference.

Dublin, sunset on Liffey

Oct 202009
 

Night scene from New YorkAs they say in Spinal Tap.

I’m in town for a very quick business trip.

Yesterday’s exploration was two-fold: mainly to stave off too early sleep, but also to get a decent dinner.

The former was more than adequately accomplished, with the help of the latter. A seafood pasta, with clams, mussels, shrimp and two kinds of calamari in white wine over linguini at Southwest 44 was the best seafood dish I’ve had in ages.

The shopping was very curtailed – managed to snag a Stockton retro shirt at the NBA Store, take a brief look into the neighbourhood Barnes&Noble and spot a few other shops to visit with more time. Apple store is a few blocks twoards the Central Park, and definitely on the list as well.

The flight was surprisingly smooth. A newish Airbus 330 had wide enough legroom to be comfortable even when almost packed to the gills. Food was expectedly low quality, but a hearty lunch in Seutula helped a lot.

Encountered the first genuine scam artist some fifteen seconds after exiting the carousel. The guy’s claims that in New York all cab fares are per person, not per carload were not exactly convincing. Last time it took a full minute.

Sep 062009
 

Yesterday proved two things (at least):

My snide comments about Mai Thai a couple of years back are pretty much unwarranted. A surprise lunch there eliminated my negative stance resulting from a sub-optimal meal. The Tom Yam soup was deliciously prickly, and the thickly-sauced Satay chicken quite literally melts in the mouth. Thumbs up, and time to upgrade the review in eat.fi as well.

Had my second run-in with the Rock Band-franchise. The screen design is preferable to the Guitar Heros, at least my eyes were far less strung out even after a lengthy bout. And the songs (based on a random sample of half a dozen, only using twin guitars) were a lot of fun to play.

Aug 162009
 

Eat.fi, the finest finnish restaurant review site has undergone a significant renewal. The core of the service remains the same, but the environs have been expanded with additional social elements and suggestions for places to visit.

I’ve now written 75-ish reviews on the site – some of them lengthy, some just a paragraph or two. So far the highest rating has been Carma‘s. The slightly uncomfortable chairs are not enough of a distraction to decrease the “experience”-score from the highest possible, and the quality of the food is naturally at the same high level.

With the success of the site, the first restaurants have turned coy. A couple of establishments have forbidden the publication of reviews on them. Neither the uneven, but improving Cantina West, nor the old-fashioned Lasipalatsi allow public display of reviews.

No idea whether the original reviews are present in the system, at least I couldn’t find mine on the former on a quick glance. And hence the -ish – the actual number of reviews is in a bit of flux.

Jun 272009
 

Big BenBegan the day again at Sapori, the alternate breakfast spots on Horseferry Road were not open on the weekend.

Had settled on a visit to Kew Gardens as the first thing to do in the morning, and that required another dip into the municipal traffic. Picked up Oyster cards at the closes underground station and found them useful indeed in traipsing around the city. And cheap, using cash is almost double the cost of using the Oyster.

Treetopwalk at Kew GardensThe Kew Gardens was a big area. And unlike, say the tightly-packed Montreal Botanic Gardens, the sights were rather far apart from each other. Most of the greenhouses were ancient, the Princess of Wales memorial the only truly modern environment amongst them. The plantlife varied from commonplace trees to plants that have already vanished from nature. Unsurprisingly a lot of the content originates from the former colonies of the british empire.

A definite highlight of the Kew visit was the canopy walk – about 200 meters long platform that allowed walking on treetop level. While the view was rather the same all the time (chestnut trees, mainly), the height of twenty-ish metres allowed for a good lookout point – London Eye was no longer visible, being hidden behind the bends of the meandering river.

Spiderman at Kew GardensAte a quick lunch at the Pavillion restaurant and noted that it’s under protection from New York’s most beloved superhero. Someone had forgotten a Spiderman toy on the premises and it had ended up in a vantage position in a fence.

OrchidThe last greenhouse of the day contained multiple biomes – moving from deserts (a very nice collection of living stones of Lithops-genus) to orchids and waterlilies from quite a but wetter climes. A lot of the plants were protected by glass – otherwise the likes of small cacti and carnivorous plants could have proven irresistible for nimble-fingered visitors.

The garden shop sold insta-gardens – plastic bags that just needed to be torn open and kept watered. I was tempted by the prospect of harvesting mint and strawberries on my balcony, but settled on chili seeds instead.

Tate ModernThe next target was Tate Modern, a museum built into an old power station on Bankside. Took a side tour via St. Paul’s Cathedral (imposing, didn’t pay to enter) and walked across the no longer wobbly Millennium Bridge after picking up yet another cache (Monument, below the bridge proper).

A brief visit into the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe proved serendipitous indeed: picked up a truly cool hoodie from the shop as well as a long overdue copy of Bill Bryson’s book on the bard.

Bub mosaicRambling around the area revealed yet another old theatre (Rose, almost next door), a hen party (surprisingly well-behaved), and an on-the-wall mosaic Bub (from Bubble Bobble, obviously). Whether this is the work of the Invader or a local copycat remains to be investigated.

Decided on a dinner before entering the museum. Leon, just south of the building proved to be disappointing over multiple axis. Despite being billed as “future of fast food”, the service was extremely slow. Our order seemed to fall into a crack somewhere and only after multiple queries the food arrived. And even then the extras (fried halloumi) and drinks (portuguese beer) had to be requested separately once again.

Skipped the Thorium Box cache on the Tate yard due to milling crowds and headed inside. Walked through the public galleries only – time was running out and so was the endurance. Didn’t see a single Damien Hirst, but other modern artists were well-represented. The museum shop was as big as expected, but unable to deliver the one book I was looking for. Thankfully the very helpful assistant verified that the tome on the design of the London underground map would be available at Tate Britain instead. Inspired by the on the wall Bub, picked up a book on Banksy‘s work.

Big BenAlong the way back to the hotel stopped in a semi-posh restaurant for a refresher. Northbank served a very passable selection of drinks, even though their mint storage had run dry so that no mojitos were available.

The Big Ben had an odd greenish tint to its face, well visible in the evening darkness.

Jun 162009
 

Recent pickings. Some of them very rarely updated, some constantly:

  • Speakeasy, Wall Street Journal’s culture blog reaches wide and occasionally deep.
  • Linuxpundit, occasional insights into embedded Linux.
  • Rädyn Rykäisy, Seppo Räty, the finest example of finnish speech has his say about the world of sports.
  • Ben Schott (yeah, the one of the Miscellanies-fame) expands readers’ vocabulary.
  • Festarit, helsingin sanomat once again tours the summer festivals.
  • eat.fi, the blog of the finest finnish sybaritic social network is updated very irregularly.
May 312009
 

eat.fi logoI broke the fifty reviews-barrier at eat.fi the other day.

And certainly don’t intend to stop.

The first couple of months in a very abbreviated format:

  • Best food: Dong Bei Hu (recently relocated).
  • Biggest disappointment: Casa Largo.
  • Most pleasant surprise: Ryan Thai.
  • Strangest: Kimito Kitchen (by a mile).
  • Next in line: Plenty more reviews.
Apr 222009
 

Two sudden changes in old favorites:

Alamaailman Vasarat has released a new album. Huuro Kolkko continues the instrumentalists’ journey into the depths of egyptological horn funk. The background of the album is based on an imaginary early 20th century finnish explorer, and probably serves as inspiration than even stranger song introductions than usual.

Dong Bei Hu has moved from Töölö to downtown Helsinki. The finest chinese restaurant in town continues to serve excellent food. The food remains authentic, the surroundings are a bit posher, the prices slightly hiked – all in all a restaurant I’m sure to return from time to time.

Jan 252009
 

eat.fi logoBeen slowly adding reviews to the eat.fi-site (a smooth social network for reviewing finnish restaurant), and having written twenty thus far, a top contributor-badge is mine, all mine.

Next: a couple of score more, and hopefully soon a version of the site a bit more accessible via mobile phones.

Dec 022008
 

Anton Ego from RatatouilleThe game reviewing gig for Helsingin Sanomat ran dry after the weekly Nyt-supplement got rid of most of its fixed content.

There’s no end to reviews, however, since I started rating restaurants at eat.fi, a pleasantly web2.0 community site all about where to pay for good food. I’m recycling old experiences, as much as I can remember them. And adding new ones as food in new locations gets sampled.

Thus far I haven’t managed to piss off any vengeful restaurant-owners with my half a score of comments. And since the only restaurant that donated me a dose of food poisoning (Dick Tracy) is long gone, I don’t have too much bile to spill.

Thus far I haven’t inserted any new establishments, but Base on Kalevankatu, with its scrumptious toasts, definitely belongs on the map.

Nov 152008
 

Lolcat on dietConsecutive late nights are not very conducive to long entries in the blog.

Collected excuses and observations:

  • Dong Bei Hu on Museokatu provides excellent and well-spiced sichuan food. Heartily recommended.
  • Even though the bands start at a shockingly early hour when compared to the late eighties excess, the gigs in Finland are much later than in other parts of the world.
  • There is no Bolivian Weasel Beer. Or at least it’s not sold here.
  • There’s little over a week until the release of Chinese Democracy.
  • The Helsinki Chocolate Festival was packed with hungry visitors, the presentation on tasting chocolate was too brief (and had too few actual tasting examples).
Oct 012008
 

Had a nice dinner at Cantina West on tuesday evening. Hadn’t been in for quite a while, and was unsure how the place had held up. It has had its ups and downs through the years.

The worries were unwarranted. The portions were big and plentifully spiced, the service good and reasonably fast. And the slammer girls gone extinct as an added bonus.

Had the classic Lucky Luke’s Jalapeños for starter – this dish serves officially the best stuffed jalapeño in the world (scientific research covering three continents already). And a revolution steak for the main course, perfectly medium minus, with a healthy ensemble of sides.

It’s been a while since feeling so stuffed after a meal. Definitely ought to drop by more often.

Sep 142008
 

MargaritaRode the metro downtown again, this time with the full complement of luggage.

Walking to the hotel, Novotel in the Omonia district, took a while, and up until the final corner seemed to be an entirely wrong area for a proper four star hotel. Happily enough it wasn’t, and the fabulous-ish shower provided was much appreciated.

The neighbourhood didn’t seem too lucrative for a proper dinner, and as the hotel advertised a rooftop restaurant, that meant an easy enough approach for the last proper meal of the trip.

The view from the top was indeed great. The surrounding area (and pretty much the whole city) being of buildings of not very great height, the vistas offered pretty much 360 degree access. The sun setting behind one of the hills got to be probably the greatest photo opportunity of the whole weekend.

The dinner, while expensive, was worth the money. Finally got to tick off “octopus” from the list of things to be eaten, and the tuna steak for the main course was a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous souvlakis. Drinks varied between awesome (the margarita for an appetizer) and awful (the daiquiri for dessert was genuinely artificial in taste).

Athens sunset

Sep 132008
 

Nightscene from KifissiaWalked into downtown Kifissia for dinner.

The local equivalent of Pigsty (can’t recall the name, had heavily pig-related imagery and the word souvlaki in the name) offered a competent selection of large dishes. Had stuffed vine leaves for starters and a cypriot mincemeat dish (whose name also goes unremembered) for the main course. By far the largest dish turned out to be an appetizer – the pita flambé was correctly noted to be “on the big side”.

Dessert demanded a bit of walking about, since the list was rather meager. Had an excellent chocolate souffle and a glass of local wheat beer (Maisel’s) at the Beer Academy in a way posher downtown location.

Walking in the area was interesting. The streets were very unevenly equipped with any kind of walkways, and the availability of streetlights varied between blocks completely. Locals in the more suburban roads tended to carry sticks to deter dogs, but never bumped into any on the way.

Sep 022008
 

The week is barely two days old, and already there’s been two quality dinners at zero cost.

The trend is unlikely continue tomorrow, sadly.

On monday had the very first crayfish of the year at Saari. Only four of them, as appetizers for a nice chunk of a mallard. Had to eat inside, since the autumn is definitely on the threshold, and the winds were high.

Today had another corruption dinner at Bossa. Quality brazilian food, accompanied by quality liquids. Had a cocos/shrimp casserole, paired with the very first ever taste of Uruguayan wine, a properly tasty pinot noir. The neighboring A21 lounge was devoid of people on the way out, so a dip into the allegedly best bar in Finland got postponed to another day.

Both experiences good, but probably not good enough to entice to return in the immediate future.

Jul 292008
 

Spent a couple of hours around noon walking around Tampere and catching two museums I’d long planned to visit.

The Lenin Museum was smaller than I thought – basically two rooms packed with paraphernalia (letters and documents mainly) on the life of the first soviet leader.

The Spy Museum was a slightly bigger affair, and packed with lots of information and goods. The museum in Tampere claims to be the very first establishment on the subject in the world, but the vastly bigger one in D.C. has surpassed this. Though here photography is not banned, it just costs extra.

Rounded out the trip with a visit to Swamp Music (new Alice Cooper and Blackfoot’s Flying High amongst the loot) and a lunch at Plevna (excellent mutton sausages accompanied by stingingly hopsy pale ale).

Jul 252008
 

Ate a Berlusconi-pizza the other day, voted the best in the world earlier this year. It’s a partially rye-based pie, with chantarelle, red onion and reindeer as toppings.

And it’s by no means a bad pizza, especially when compared to the usual fare offered by Kotipizza.

But “best in the world”, that’s a stretch…

This isn’t even the best in Helsinki, as both Virgin Oil and the cellar of La Famiglia beat this hands down.

And definitely not best in the world, that honour is still carried by a forgotten pizzeria somewhere in or reasonably close to Genève, whose Volcano (avec tout as toppings) still reigns on the very top of the list.

Jul 162008
 

Viisi Tähteä has selected the top bars in Finland. The selection is not by vox populi, but voted on by 100+ bar-business professionals. Nonetheless, the picks seem not totally off the mark.

1. A21 Cocktail Lounge, Helsinki
Haven’t visited. But will, soon enough
2. American Bar, Hotelli Torni, Helsinki
An old favorite – the staff can whip up a mean mojito and a brilliant bloody mary. Not in seconds, because true craft takes time.
3. Sling In, Helsinki
Another old favorite – though it’s been a while since I’ve been here. The selection music of music used to be very much on the pleasant side.
4. Olutravintola Pikkulintu, Helsinki
Haven’t visited. Definitely a white blotch on the map.
5. Kämp Bar & Club, Helsinki
I think I’ve had one beer (off a flute-like glass) on their patio. Seemed too posh.
6. St Urho’s Pub, Helsinki
Another old favorite – beer selection borders on awesome, and the food is good as well.
7. Kaisla, Helsinki
And the old favorites are just piled on – one of the very few places that consistently impresses with their selection of quality beer. And luckily enough the audience keeps coming back, as evidenced by the recent annexation of the old Teerenpeli facilities in Kaisaniemi.
8. Panimoravintola Plevna, Tampere
A good pit stop in Tampere – hefty food cannot mask the quality of their own products (which go way beyond the norm with the likes of smoky lager). Will quite quite likely pay a visit during the Finncon 2008.
9. Grotesk Bar, Helsinki
Haven’t visited yet – heard good things about it, though.
10. Mecca, Helsinki
Ate here once – moleculargastronomy-ish menu, haven’t yet delved into the specials offered by the bar.
11. Shaker, Helsinki
Haven’t visited. Looks like a second-rate copy of Sling In.
12. Rymy-Eetu, Helsinki
Been here once. The lacklustre music, thin crowd and passive staff didn’t really vouch for the “party place of the year”-reputation that this place has. Nice selection of german beers, though, that must be said.
13. Ateljee Bar, Hotelli Tornin yläkerta, Helsinki
A classic, an overpriced and crowded classic. With tightly winding stairs as a bonus for inebriated visitors.
14. Café Kuluma, Oulu
No clue.
15. Oluthuone Leskinen, Oulu
Been here once. Avoiding pouring rain was not a chore here.
16. Teerenpeli Kamppi, Helsinki
Surprisingly big on the inside. Their own beers are worth a visit (or two), and the toasts the biggest in town.
17. Ravintola Teatteri, Helsinki
The last place I’ve been thrown out; due to attire (black shorts) and attitude. Very pleasant patio in summertime.
18. Vltava, Helsinki
I hope this refers to the upstairs bar only, the ground level facilities are rather sterile.
19. Gastropub Tuulensuu, Tampere
Haven’t visited.
20. One Pint Pub, Helsinki
Haven’t visited.

Pleasantly absent entirely from the list are all the bars owned by Sedu Koskinen.

May 142008
 

Sweetbread-stuffer quail in restaurant CarmaHad my very first meal in a Michelin Star-equipped restaurant.

The place: Carma on Ludviginkatu.

The occasion: bi-annual team day.

The food: a five course menu (supplemented by two additional chef’s surprises).

The highlights: quail stuffed with sweetbread (main course) and rosehip-spiked white chocolate cream (prequel to dessert).

The drinks: the wines recommended by the staff.

The oddity: many of the dishes featured plenty of foam.

The duration: three hours and change.

The verdict: Sold. And I definitely ought to look up the other star-recipients in Helsinki, this was a delicious meal.

May 112008
 

Golden AdlerHad dinner in Golden Adler, the oldest restaurant I’ve eaten in (the advertising alleged that it was founded already in 1390).

Ancient or not, the venison accompanied with spinach-knödels and chantarelles was very good.

May 112008
 

The world-famous Sacher TorteAte twice in Cafe Sacher today. And that’s accomplished well before dinnertime, but I don’t really see the need for a hat trick.

The Utah reunion continued with a walking tour of the old town and capped the two hour stroll with a brunch in the most famous Austrian cafe (not the original, obviously, that’s in Vienna). Their schnitzel is pretty close to perfection, and a slice of the famous cake for dessert certainly hit the spot also.

Authentic schnitzel