I’ll admit to being a tad obsessive. Once I find something I like, I can’t get enough of it. And then when I exhaust it, I look for something to replace it. Read more
Say Michelin and I think tyres. I think of the white plastic Michelin man that for so many years rode atop my neighbour’s haulage truck. I think of a doctor many years ago explaining to me that I had candida and using the Michelin man as an illustrative example of the systemic bloating that results. And try as I might those are the first two things than come to mind when I hear the word Michelin. I’d never eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant and now, even though I can cross that off my bucket list, the Michelin man is still first and foremost in my mind.
But there is a connection. It was in 1900 that Michelin (the tyre people) first launched a guide-book to encourage people to drive around France. And later, in 1926, they started reviewing restaurants anonymously and giving them stars. Apparently one star is very good, two stars are worth a detour, and three stars are worth a special journey. Who’d have thought it?
The first Michelin star in Budapest was bestowed on Costes, a restaurant on Raday utca. Back in 2008, the owners decided that the restaurant needed a revamp. They took on Miguel Rocha Vieira from Portugal as executive chef and, with the help of the two-starred Francois Radolphe, it wasn’t long until Michelin gave its first star to Hungary. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I went to see what all the fuss was about.
The entire menu fits on one page (which is printed on glossy silver A4 and signed by the chef and presented as a take-home, if you’re interested). This suited me fine as I have abhor lengthy menus. I prefer a limited choice. But limited though it might have been in terms of the number of dishes, the variety included everything from lobster to duck, from sea bass to deer. Glorious.
We’d signed up for the five-course menu (with wines) which included a complimentary appetizer, a cheeseboard or pre-dessert and then your choice of three dishes from the menu and a dessert-dessert.
We were offered an aperitif and were told it wasn’t included in the price, but hey, how much could a glass of champagne be? (It was just as well I didn’t know, as I’d not have enjoyed my meal). But it was just what I needed to transition to my fantasy world where eating in restaurants like Costes would be my norm.
First up, the appetizers, which disappeared far too quickly to get a photo – all delicious. The combination of curried marshmallows, salmon tartar, and carrot macaroons is not everyday fare in my world. What intrigued me most though was the slab of salt stone on which the butter sat: flavour-infused butter at that. I was in heaven. My top three were the basil, black olive, and paprika. Had anyone told me that four intelligent adults could debate their favourite butters for five minutes, I’d have been little dubious but there was something about that Michelin star that made foodies of us all.
Then came the dishes. We had marinated lobster with green peas, mint, and lemon creme fraiche. We had marinated duck liver with ginger and rhubarb. And we had the wonderfully presented hand-rolled free range egg yolk ravioli with homemade ricotta and spinach. (At this stage, I began to wonder whether I was more in love with the tableware or the food… )
Each dish came with its own wine, the tale of which was very nicely told by the resident sommelier, who, word has it, spent time with Gordon Ramsey in Claridges in London. I dread sommeliers who elevate themselves so far above those of us with uneducated wine palates that we feel we’re being lectured on a subject they think we have little hope of ever understanding. Rita was interesting, engaging, and not at all supercilious. There wasn’t drop of condescension added to the wines she offered. And they were perfect. (I even enjoyed a glass of red, something I rarely, if ever, touch.) My new favourite wine though is a Tramini from the Somlói Apátság Pince, Somló (2012) and with this my kindergarten palate may well have graduated to first grade.
Back to the menu. We sampled poached John Dory with kohlrabi and tapioca pearls. We tried sea bass with artichokes and gnocchi. We even tried the free-range chicken with poached grapes and oats. Perhaps the tastiest might have been the fallow deer with pomegranate, butternut squash, and nasturtium root. So much choice. So much flavour.
Friends who have been to Costes said the mix was just too much. Too many conflicting tastes all vying for attention. I quite liked the competition, the craziness, and am grateful that tapioca pearls, once a dreaded childhood threat, have climbed a notch or three in my food rankings.
When the cheese plate arrived (to share between two) I was a little taken aback. I’m not used to such delicacies, preferring slabs of cheese and plates of bread and crackers, with grapes and olives thrown in for good measure. It certainly is a matter of what you’re used to. And in this instance, less was definitely more. The accompanying jellies were a perfect complement. And just the right size. The portions are a far cry from usual Hungarian portions and yet I have it on good authority (I was the only Michelin novice at the table) that those at Costes are more gracious than others of its ilk. So much so, in fact, that the desserts were boxed and taken home. I couldn’t have fit them had they been offered on a silver platter by a naked Jack Reacher.
Although the price of my glass of champagne was an effervescent €27 , it was worth it just to see how it was served: a flute in a silver holder. If anyone, anywhere, sees them for sale, I’d like eight please!
Overall verdict? The food was excellent. The service was just right. The experience was one to remember. Would I go again? In a heartbeat.
My one and only peeve was that every time I got up from the table, I came back to a brand, new napkin. Now lads, that simply can’t be good for the environment!
The five course with wine runs to €130 per person (so it ranks up there in the treat section) – but if you’re interested, I just might know a chap who knows a chap who could do a deal…
Someone commented once that all too often we are so preoccupied with the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey. We’re so focused on getting from A to B that we don’t see what’s around us. I’ve been arguing for years that life plans don’t suit me – I’m too afraid that I’d miss myriad opportunities were I to focus on one end goal. Granted, I have had one plan in life – when I was 17. I was going to be a teacher, marry a teacher, have two kids (boy and a girl, Tadhg and Maud) by the age of 27, and be ready to retire and travel by the age of 50. When I read that back, I see that my grand plan comprises a number of separate plans, not one of which has materialised. I failed from the outset because I didn’t get into Teacher Training College. I fell at the first hurdle. Never made the first milestone on my Gantt chart. Once I’d gotten over that disappointment (and it was a big one), I resolved that, in future, my plan would simply be to have no plan. And it’s worked – so far. When I travel, I might have a destination in mind, but I’m permanently on the look-out for some place interesting to stop along the way.
The city of Twentynine Palms in California is notable for three reasons. It’s home to the HQ of the Joshua Tree National Park. It’s home to the 932-square-mile Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command – the largest Marine Corps training base in the world. And it’s home to my mate AP’s brother.
The plan was to meet A&R for lunch and then head across the Mojave desert on the four-hour drive to Las Vegas. I was expecting a catch-up and a good lunch. I got both. What I wasn’t expecting was to find the MAGTFTC and its 10 000 + military residents. I was fascinated and found myself talking in a rapid-fire parody of an AK47. Who? Why? Where? When?
Since falling for the man of all men, Jack Reacher, he of the Lee Child novels, I’ve had a fascination with Marine life. I would love to take a tour of a base and see for myself what I expect to be true – that they’re mini-towns complete with all the modern conveniences that any thriving town would have – cinemas, bowling alleys, shops, restaurants, etc., and there’s no real reason for anyone on them to leave. In Twentynine Palms, Marines get to train to be better Marines. A simulated rehearsal of sorts. Rumour has it that so real are their simulations, they actually go to Hollywood and hire extras so that the city/culture they’re simulating is accurately represented. Makes sense. But it could go horribly wrong. They would get some shock if they invaded Ireland expecting everyone to have red hair and freckles and talk like Tom Cruise in Far and Away. [I know I could pick ten bad Hollywood Irish accents but Cruise is the focus of my ire these days because he has the nerve to think that he can do justice to my hero Jack Reacher.]
So I read up on it a little and discovered that this place in Twentynine Palms provides training for any size unit from individual to regiment, for any warfighting discipline from infantry to logistics, and from all parts of the combat spectrum from full scale war to establishing local governance. And I found myself thinking how I’d like it if all that was going on in my back yard. But then I remembered the 6000 or so locals employed in civilian capacity on the base and figured that the US Marine Corps is just like another huge corporation … and Twentynine Palms is, in effect, a company town.
Now, I’m a peace-loving gal at heart. The closest I get to war is reading about it. My opinions on the subject can’t be boxed with any regimental accuracy. Yes, it fascinates me. In my darker hours, I see it as a great evolutionary joke – we used to send our best and brightest way to fight our great wars and what was left behind added to the gene pool. I’ve written recently about the USA and its outward display of respect and appreciation for its troops and while the individual should be applauded rather than maligned for fighting for their country, those in charge occasionally leave some doubt in my mind as to their credentials.
The closest I’ve come to the US Military scene is a friendship with a couple of Coasties in Alaska, a date or three with a Army reservist in LA, and a quick conversation with a retired Marine here in BP some months back. Other American and Australian friends have sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and parents in the service and I know that this blood tie gives them a different perspective, one I can never appreciate fully.
I am curious though – so curious – about a living a life that has unquestioned obedience at its core. To my mind, with that obedience has to come an irrefutable trust in those higher up the command chain – trust that they’re making the right decisions for the right reasons in the best interests of all concerned. In what some might seem a little strange, I have no problem believing in God but I simply cannot get my head around blind trust from a military perspective. The invocation ‘following orders’ brings me out in a cold sweat.
Twentynine Palms was simply a stop along the way – but it now has me questioning so much. As Henry Miller said: One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. Let the journey continue.