The two Istváns have been quietly lauding a little restaurant in Zalakaros called La’Mar that I had yet to try. It punctuates a line of restaurants and bars next to the bus station that constitutes the happening centre of the spa town. Over the years, I’ve tried two or three of the others, working my way down the list, but had never made it to the end of the line. Until this weekend.
I find a similarity between Hungarian restaurants, especially the ones that cater for tourists, domestic and foreign. There’s a sameness about them, variations on a theme. They offer a setpiece of staples garnished this way and that. While the menus are often voluminous, their reach is narrow. Far too often what lands on my plate can at best be described as functional food: It staves off hunger.
Occasionally though, I’m surprised. In a good way.
The family-run La’Mar has been offering a fusion of Italian and Hungarian cuisines since 1992. In the 30 years they’ve been dishing up to satisfied customers, they’ve added an Asian twist, too. yes, the menu runs to pages, but it’s pages of difference. Jambalaya and coconut soup sit alongside pappardelle pasta and crispy csülök (pork knuckle).
I’m a creature of habit with a fondness for csülök. But they’d run out. Or didn’t have it. Or something. So, I went for the sesame chicken. It was ever so slightly overdone for my taste but delicious nonetheless.
Himself wasn’t that hungry so he went for the honeyed chicken with apple and camembert served with a side of rice.
Both worked. And worked well. If I had a do-over, I’d have taken his chicken with my steak fries.
As we waited, the place filled up. And quickly. I started shamelessly at what was being served to other tables and reckon that I’ll have to try a seafood pasta next time, or maybe surf’n’turf. And then there’s the pizzas. It’ll take a few visits to work my way through their menu.
I’ve given up on desserts in Hungary. Most traditional restaurants offer palacsinta (crepes) with a variety of fillings. Or Somlói galuska, a Hungarian trifle that has been done every which way and can land anywhere on the taste spectrum of yum to yuck. I’m at the stage now that I don’t even bother checking the dessert menu before ordering a main. I rarely indulge.
Himself, though, was still a little peckish so we had a peek. Before even seeing the menu, I suggested that he try the pannacotta if they had it; another dessert that spans the yum to yuck spectrum but having seen what had been plated up, I was confident they knew what they were doing. And they had. And he did. And we weren’t disappointed.
I misread tripla csokis mousse for triple chocolate, as in even more chocolate than a double-chocolate magnum. When it arrived, I had to check that they’d brought me the right dessert. I’d also gotten souflé and mousse mixed up. On my plate was a trio of different coloured delectable chocolate mousse.
It was too much though. Next time we’ll share.
And there will be a next time. Winter in the village just got more palatable. Thank you, La’Mar. I’m grateful you’ve been practising for the last 30 years. See ya next week.
[L: Daily offer. Salmon fillet with sesame seeds, wok vegetables, rice and Asian chili sauce (~€/$12). Chicken parmesan with puréed potatoes and grilled veg (~€/$10). Sous vide beef cheeks with buttered veg and puréed potatoes (~€/$10). 14 types of pizza. R: Mediterranean week. Trio of bruschetta. Thai prawn (or crab?) soup. Seafood linguini (guessing). Spinach ravioli. Three-colour spaghetti. Homemade mushroom gnocchi. And pannacotta.]
And no. I didn’t read the chalkboards before going inside so the pannacotta wish really was a wild one.