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Customer satisfaction

Prime rib. Baked potato. Fried calamari. Elk. Little Debbie’s swiss rolls. Biscuits and sausage gravy. My American food wish list. Short. Specific. And very much doable in San Francisco. Dinner at the House of Prime Rib knocked two of those off my list. Prime rib and baked potato. Established in the late 1940s, it’s an insitution. The waiters are happy, energetic and enthusiasic. They only serve prime rib – and getting a reservation requires some forward thinking.

Everything is done with great fanfare. Waiters wield the fixings like cocktail waiters play with bottles. Lots of waving of arms, a running commentary, and a genuine appreciation for what they are doing. It’s a joy to watch them work and a very vivid example of how you can work a table for tips. These boys make some money. I know that American customer service is the prototype that many attempt (and fail) to copy. Think Budapest. Think Dublin. I can’t think of anywhere I’ve been in Europe where customer service even comes close.

The cuts come in four sizes ranging from 6-8 oz to the King George – a hefty 15 oz. All cooked to perfection and cut to order. Served with a choice of creamed spinach or creamed corn and a house salad, tossed with great aplomb at your table. Culinary heaven.

Next on my list was the fried calamari – from Fisherman’s wharf. The place is jammed full of stalls and stands and restaurants selling fresh crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, seafood medlies – fresh and fried. I had a double dose – a crab and shrimp cup with some prawns – and then my battered, crispy, calamari. Walking down by the famous Pier 39, I was in fish heaven.

Later that night, we cooked duck and elk back at the flat. Score 3! I have my order in for my swiss rolls and am heading back shortly for some of Helen’s famous biscuits and sausage gravy. List complete. Cravings satiated. Waistband expanded. One very satisfied customer.

New fish in town

I’ve been craving fish and chips. Real fish and real chips  – hand-cut. Actually, given a choice, I’d even be so specific as to say Cajun fish and chips. But I’m in Budapest. No coastline. No chip shops. No Cajuns. And then PL mentions a new place has opened on his street – 33 Veres Pálné Utca to be precise. It’s a fish shop… and it does chips… and it does catfish. It only opened last Friday so this is hot off the fryer. Bright and airy with seating for about 20, it’s located just off Váci and just off Muzeum korut. Near Kalvin tér metro or the 49 tram . The menu (in both English and Hungarian) boasts trout, carp, catfish, and pikeperch (none of which to my knowledge is on the endangered species list). Toppings include pumpkin seed with purple onion, basil and tomato, sour cream and lemongrass, and spiced mayo. You can have fresh salad or grilled veg and a great selection of hazi limonade.

Not being a beer head myself, I was urged to try a local brew – Little John – and surprisingly, I liked it. What more can be said: local freshwater fish, locally brewed beer, homemade lemonade, in a friendly, open atmosphere with great service (pinch me!) … it’s a must try for anyone in Budapest.

I can vouch for the fish and chips – beer battered catfish with the subtlest Cajun twist. It could have been the summer of 1998 down in the deep south in that mosquito infested river-side cabin in the woods – without the mozzies, without the woods, without the river… but you get the picture.

And, as it’s their first week open, don’t forget to throw some money on the floor – to wish them all the best. I’d like to see this place stay open for a long time. It’s open 10am to 10pm Monday-Saturday.

Fish fantasies

I never liked fish, until I went to live in Valdez, Alaska, and fish was practically all we had to eat in the summer. I could cook salmon 23 different ways at last count and was quite inventive when it came to halibut, too. I even learned to fillet a fish and got over my squeamishness about blood and guts and scales and slime. I had to be dragged off the beach in clamming season and have been known to eat as many as two dozen digger clams in one sitting. But to my shame, until Swaney took me shrimping one day, I never knew shrimp had eyes. That took some getting used to.

Way back when, as a mere toddler in Waterford, the highlight of the summer would be to go to Dunmore East to choose our mackerel from the fishing trawlers as they tied up at the pier.  I was more than a little disturbed when I heard that in Alaska, mackerel were used as bait.

Here in Budapest, since Ocean has closed, there really isn’t any place in town that has good fish all the time (or at least anywhere that I know about) – and truth be told, after years of fishing for my own or enjoying fish so fresh you’d swear it was still breathing, for free, I can’t bring myself to pay high prices for fish that has travelled cross-country to land on my plate.

So, out and about on Saturday, our whole day had but one objective – to end up in Dunabogdány when it was time to eat so that we could have some friss pisztráng (fresh trout) at Siesta Café. Considering they only serve trout, potatoes and salad it still took a while to choose a topping  – I finally went with pesto  and was delighted to see that they used pine nuts. Thankfully, we went for a half salad/half spuds option as the servings are huge. Open from 12 noon each day to just after 8pm, it’s well worth the journey. It’s on the right, just as you leave the village coming from Budapest. And, if you time it well, you just might catch a game of cricket.

Sitting by the banks of the Danube, having picked my fish clean, still ruminating over Round 1 of the Gift of the Gab, I was reminded of the old Hemingway quote: ‘To me heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where  I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them.’ Who ever would have thought that I’d be talking about monogamy and trout in a public forum in the same week. You gotta love this country!