Naples – Centro Storico – Via della Sapienza

Posted in Campania, Centro Storico, Italy, Naples, Via della Sapienza with tags , on March 29, 2015 by gannet39

I presume Via della Sapienza (the ‘street of wisdom’) was the northern decumanus of the old Roman city as it runs parallel to and north from Tribunali (the Decumanus Maximus) and Spaccanapoli (the southern decumanus). Please click on those streets for separate posts.

Its sister streets are much more touristy and have more sights to see, but there are a couple of little gems along here too, and it makes for a less direct but alternative route through the old town.

Cantina Sapienza (Elementary A), 40/41 Via della Sapienza (between the cross streets Via Sole and Via Giudice, just before Piazza Miraglia), www.cantinadiviasapienza.it Tel. 081 459078, closed Sunday.

This is a great place for lunch or dinner when you are out exploring. Rather hard to find but well worth the effort. You won’t see it until you’re right on top of it as it’s set back from the edge of the street.

I love their excellent home cooking which is great value for money. Try Scarola e Fagioli, (a bean soup-stew with croutons) and for your contorno (side dishes) you can try Di Tutto Un Po (a little of everything) for either €3 or €6 euros according to your hunger. Great for vegetarians and heavily patronised by the locals.

There’s a good wine shop called L’Enoteca del Grottino at 17 Piazzetta San Giuseppe dei Ruffi (by Via Duomo).

Naples – Centro Storico – Via Mezzocannone

Posted in Campania, Centro Storico, Italy, Naples, Via Mezzocannone with tags , on March 29, 2015 by gannet39

Via Mezzocannone is in the university district, running south off Spaccanapoli from Piazzetta Nilo. Please see separate posts for Spaccanapoli  and other main streets in the old town.

As you walk down the hill with Spaccanapoli behind you, the main university building is on your left. However, if you take the second right along Via Enrico de Marinis, you will come to Largo de San Giovanne Maggiore, outside the Universita’L’Orientale’. This secret little square is very popular with students in the evenings as it is served by a brace of small cheap bars which allow you to drink outside.

I found this place by accident one evening when I overheard the hubbub as I was walking past. It’s my destination of choice for the start of an evening out.

Further down the hill is a good restaurant that gets a mention in several quality guides…

Taverna dell ‘Arte (Intermediate B+) 1a Rampe San Giovanni Maggiore,  a flight of stairs, half way along Via Mezzocannone on the right as you walk down the hill. Tel. 081 5527528.

Another hidden gem serving exquisite ancient Neapolitan recipes. I would recommend you go just for its great ambience and very friendly service. The food is generally very good too although there is the odd dish that bombs.

You will need to reserve as it only has about 30 seats. The tables for small groups outside under the foliage are very pleasant but the interior is warm and welcoming too.

On my last visit in 2011, after a complimentary bruschetta with pesto (A), the five of us had the excellent house antipasti misto which consisted of ‘tittoli’ or triangular pieces of fried polenta (A), very thick cut cured ham (A), mozzarella on slices of plum tomatoes (A) and sundried tomatoes (B).

Sadly the following cold cannellini bean soup was garlicy but otherwise tasteless and unsatisfying (C) As a rule of thumb, I think it’s probably best to avoid anything calling itself a soup in Italy!

The pasta dish of Rigatoni with Mozzarella and Eggplant (‘eggopants’ on the menu!!) was good (B) but the following meatballs in tomato sauce didn’t do it for me due to the inclusion raisins and the odd chewy piece of fat that hadn’t been minced properly (C).

The final Basil ‘icecream’ was ok (C) but was really more of a sorbet palate cleanser than a dessert.

The wines were great though; a good Falanghina white (A) and a hearty Aglianico red (Terradorra) (B+).

To finish a refreshing liqueur (A) made from Mele Annurka (local apples with their own IGT) which is abbreviated to Melanu or perhaps locally to Rossolio.

The bill was kindly reduced by €10 and came to about €30 a head. Wish I didn’t have to slate the food because the people are so nice and the atmosphere is second to none.

I remember it being better the first time I went in 2006 (I especially remember the stuffed zucchini flowers) so hopefully this latest visit was just a blip.

Naples – Centro Storico – Porta Capuana

Posted in Campania, Centro Storico, Italy, Naples, Porta Capuana on March 29, 2015 by gannet39

Porta Capuana is an ancient gate for the north-west road leading to Capua out of the old Roman city. You’ll find it off Corso Garibaldi where it meets Via Casanova.

20140504_225303_1Sorry I’ve mislaid the photo but here is a nice statue of a pope nearby.

Carraturo Pasticceria (A), 97 Via Cassanova, off Corso Garibaldi.

A very famous pasticceria (since 1837) selling several varietes of Neopolitan cakes including the famous rum-soaked baba, which is more delicate here than elsewhere (B+).

They also sell both varieties of sfogliatelle; frolla and ricce, hot out of the oven (B+).

However, the Coda di Arragosta (lobster tail) I had last time was a bit too brittle in my humble opinion (B).

In the day time you should go down the road to Annatasio for hot sfogliatelle (see Garibaldi post) but this place is pretty good too.

And it’s open until 9pm making it a good place to stop off for a digestivo on the way back to Garibaldi.

An all too brief trip to Procida

Posted in Campania, Italy, Procida with tags , , , on March 27, 2015 by gannet39

Procida is the smallest of the islands in the gulf of Naples, and a lot less touristy than Capri and Ischia.

To get there you either get a hydrofoil from the Molo Bevello or you can get a slower ferry from Porta di Massa about a kilometer down the road in the opposite direction to Chaia.

20140504_095457To get to Molo Bevello, go to the coastal side of Castel Nuovo. With your back to the castle and facing the sea, the ticket office is the low one storey structure in front of you, as opposed to the more imposing cruise ship terminal in the background.

20140504_131753The hydrofoil takes forty minutes and costs around €15 whereas the ferries take an hour and cost about €10 (in May 2014). The two main companies running them are Caremar and SNAV.

It’s a good idea to get to get to the pier early (say 8am to give you time to queue) if you want to have time to do some sightseeing in Procida before and after lunch and get back to Naples the same day.

I arrived at the the Molo Bevello at about 10am on a Sunday to find that only SNAV were running hydrofoils that day. I’d missed the 8.25 am sailing and had a couple of hours to wait till the next one at 12am, To kill time I walked down towards Chiaia to have a look at Naples’ second seafront castle, Castel dell’ Ovo, which is quite near (see separate post).

20140504_165918_2I finally got to Marina Grande in Procida at about 1.30pm. I didn’t want hang about as I was half an hour late for my lunch reservation, so I decided to cancel my plan of hiring a bike and instead jumped in a cab to get to the other side of the island. You can apparently ask the restaurant to pick you up in a boat from Marina Grande, but I hadn’t been that organised.

20140504_132713For €10 I think the friendly cab driver took me the long way round but he probably wanted to give me a good impression of the island, as well as a great view of my destination Baia di Chiaia, from the top of the cliffs. Please click on the thumbnails to appreciate the views properly.

According to Fodors, Procida is the most densely populated island in Europe and certainly everywhere I saw was pretty built up, although not in a bad way.

La Conchiglia (Intermediate B+), Via Pazzaco 10, Baia di Chiaia, Tel. 0818 967602, Mobile 339 384 9050 www.laconchigliaristorante.com

20140504_134046I needn’t have worried about getting a table here as I was there in early May before the main season had started. There were only two other tables of customers so I could get one of the coveted seats on the terrace next to the window and enjoy the stunning view.

20140504_134030The Baia di Chiaia is one of the most beautiful spots in the Bay of Naples. From my seat I could see the pastel coloured buildings of Marina Corricella, nestling below the dark walls of the fortified Terra Murata, with Vesuvius in the background a little further to the right.

This was most definitely a top spot for some serious luncheon and as it was my first day in Italy for several months, I decided to treat myself.

20140504_135007First of all I had one of the specialities of the house; Paccheri pasta in a sauce of baby clams (B+).

20140504_141031Following this Soute de Vongole e Cozze, or larger clams with mussels steamed in white wine with chunks of air hardened bread soaking up the sauce. The Italians always seem to make this very salty, but I’m a salt addict so it’s still delicious (B+).

20140504_134325To drink a bottle of Fiano de Avellino (Macchialupa 2013)  which was good again but could have been more chilled (B+), as could the complimentary Limoncello at the end.

20140504_153056The Panna Cotta con Frutti di Bosco was a bit of a letdown too as I think it was ready made, out of a tub. Although it looked good, it didn’t have the delicacy of a homemade version and I didn’t feel any desire to finish it after a few mouthfuls (C).

The total cost was €50, with water, cover and a 10% service charge. The latter rankled a bit because my young server (a guy with a star tattoo on his neck) was unsmiling and completely inattentive. I’m guessing he’d been partying hard the night before because he forgot everything (e.g. coming to take my order, giving me the wine list, an ice bucket, the ice to go in it and more ice for my warm limoncello). The lady taking my money smiled though.

So, for me this place is trading less on their food and more on the wonderful view. The food is okaybut it could be better, and the waiter needs to get more sleep.

20140504_15571220140504_161536_1120140504_162244_1After this binge I faced the challenge of getting up the 192 steps from the beach with a full belly.

It took a while but I got there eventually and ambled down the road to Marina Corricella looking for an unlikely (and unnecessary) taxi to take me back to Marina Grande.

20140504_162746My three hour lunch sadly hadn’t left me enough time to take in the medieval citadel of Terra Murata and its magnificent views. Must do this next time if I get here early enough.

20140504_162501I stopped in the first little square I came to take these photos and have a macchiato in the tiny Caffe’ dei Martiri.

20140504_162418A couple of old boys were sat outside and they gave me directions back to Marina Grande in their thick Procidano accents.

As you can see from my Google map, it was so close that I could have walked to the restaurant in the first place if I’d had time and knew where I was going (along Via Umberto).  I’ll be better organised next time I go.

20140504_165318_120140504_171538_3 When I got back to Marina Grande, after buying my ticket at the ferry ticket office, I took a stroll up and down the waterfront.

20140504_172032 20140504_17114120140504_16491420140504_164510_120140504_173729_15 20140504_16550020140504_16033920140504_131734_1The buildings are quite quirky as you can see and look lovely from the sea, but they’re a bit dingy once you get close up.

I decided to wait for the ferry in Bar di Cavaliere at 42 Via Roma, which has lots of favourable reviews on the net.

I asked the owner if I could get a limoncello made with one of the lemons for which the island is renowned. He told me that in Italy it was against the law for bars to sell homemade products (which surprised me as it’s obviously not the case for restaurants).

Sadly, even though he had his own lemon grove, there’s no market for the fruits and they are just left to rot on the trees, an absolute travesty. He was allowed to give me a slice of peel in my glass of mass produced limoncello though, which noticeably added zest and flavour.

20140504_173402When I asked where I could buy some lemons to take home he told there wasn’t anywhere open on a Sunday that sold them but that I could have some some of his that he’d brought for the bar from his grove. With true Campanian hospitality he then handed me a heavy carrier bag containing a dozen huge lemons! I can’t begin to tell you how happy this made me.

20140504_173430Individual Procida lemons can apparently grow up to a whopping 2kg and these were all different sizes, some with green speckles, and others with minor signs of blight. There was even a conjoined pair of twins!

None of them were anything like the standard lemons you would see in a UK supermarket, which is perhaps why it’s hard for the growers to sell them outside their home market. Such a shame as they are delicious.

The spongy white pith (technically known as the albedo) of the Procida lemon is so thick that the locals call it ‘bread’. A local recipe uses the albedo and some flesh of the lemon in a salad called Insalate di Limone-Pane.

20140504_170214_1I attempted to make it back in the UK with the lemons I managed to get home in decent shape. The results were pretty good but, although the salad was very tasty, and the lemons relatively sweeter than standard ones, it was still quite bitter and I couldn’t manage more than a few mouthfuls. Perhaps I should have included more albedo and less of the flesh.

I used the zest to have a go at making my own limoncello for the first time. I’d bought the pure ethanol from a supermarket on a previous trip (cheaper than using vodka). Not sure if I quite got the proportion of lemon syrup to alcohol quite right but it certainly put hairs on my chest!

So, a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday in Procida. Another trip is definitely needed to do it properly.

 

 

 

 

 

On the road in Moldova

Posted in Bălți, Cahul, Comrat, Moldova with tags , , , , on March 25, 2015 by gannet39

Although I spent most of my time in Chișinău I did have two days working in Bălți (the second city in the north) and Cahul (the sixth city in the south-west) which involved a couple of road trips. Because Moldova is such a small country, it was possible to get there and back to in a day.

I can’t tell you much about the cities themselves as all I saw was the inside of a classroom but in the Spring sunshine they didn’t seem as depressing as I thought they’d be, although I’m sure the notorious problems of drug addiction (2001 article) and human trafficking (2004 article) are still real and very serious.

Another problem here is police corruption; charging fines for false traffic misdemeanors being a specialty. I even read about someone being fined for impersonating a member of the military for wearing camouflage trousers!

Two of my colleagues were also shaken down for not carrying ID with them. They managed to get out of it by pretending they were associated with the British Embassy. It might be a good idea to have the Embassy number in your mobile phone and if the police hassle you, you could give them a bell  on+373 2222 5902 ( or +373 6910 4442 out of hours).

20140526_141819The countryside we drove through was relatively featureless with low rolling hills (there are no mountains in the country) and treeless plains.

20140526_142024Occasionally the monotony of the green fields was broken by bright red strips of poppies, growing wild their thousands.

20140526_141306The wine making industry accounts for 30% of GDP and as you would expect there are vineyards everywhere, in varying states of repair.

If you see people selling cherries and strawberries by the roadside, make sure you stop and get some. The cherries we had were fantastic, and probably completely organic as the farmers can’t afford to buy pesticides and fertilisers, not that they need them really.

Some of the houses in the small villages we passed through were very pretty. I felt a bit strange stopping to take pictures but the images from this Google search will give you an idea.

20140526_144340We did stop to capture this Orthodox church with its onion spires, creatively fashioned from aluminum sheeting. Click on the photos for a better view.

20140526_144413Orthodox crosses stand vigil by the roadside everywhere you go. They all seem to bear a skull and crossbones motif for some reason. Perhaps a reminder of our temporary existence on this planet.

20140526_151555_2Driving from Cahul we passed through Comrat, the capital of the breakaway region of Gagauzia. The people here are of Turkish Christian origin and very pro-Russian, as demonstrated by their choice of municipal statue.

20140530_181451Coming back from Bălți we took In a viewing of Orhei Vecchi, a famous historical site and national cultural symbol about 60km north of Chișinău.

Located on a narrow loop of the River Răut, the site has been occupied since the Paleolithic.

20140530_181519Although there are archaeological sites all around the area, visually there’s not much to see except for the dark brooding apertures of the 14th century monastery, carved out of the rock strata.

With more time I would have liked to have visited some of the country’s famous wineries such as Purcari, www.purcari.mdChateau Vartely www.vartely.md and Et Cetera www.etcetera.md.

There are also two very famous wineries that would make a good day trip from Chișinău. Both store their wines in old limestone mines which once produced the stone that built the capital. The cool temperature underground is ideal for storing wine.

The Cricova wine complex www.cricova.md is the second largest in the country with 120km of natural galleries holding 1.25 million bottles of wine.

Various legends are attached to this place. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union, many Jews were hidden from the Nazis in the barrels down here. Another story is that Yuri Gagarin had a party in the mine in 1966 and had to be carried out two days later. Putin also celebrated his 50th birthday here.

20140524_125729However the largest wine complex  is Milesti Micii www.milestii-mici.md which, with over 200km of tunnels and 2 million bottles of wine, is the biggest wine storage facility in the world.

20140524_120310The tunnels are so wide that you can drive a car through them. Upon arrival you simply purchase a ticket, pick up your personal tour guide and drive your car straight inside.

20140524_123643In reality only 55km is used for wine storage but it’s still very impressive driving past the huge storage butts. You can get a feel of it from this video.

20140524_123925The rarer bottled wines are kept at the centre of the mine in numbered caches stored on shelves built into the tunnel walls.

20140524_124053Some of the caches belong to rich private collectors from as far afield as China and Japan who rent the space to store their wines.

20140524_123103After exploring the maze of tunnels we eventually came to two huge wooden doors which opened to reveal an underground banqueting complex that would make an ideal lair for a Bond villain.

20140524_134148My colleagues and I had opted for a more expensive ticket that entitled us to a lunch and wine tasting, as well as our own two folk musicians to serenade us.

20140524_125811We were shown to the main banqueting hall where plates of cold cuts, cheese and salad waited for us. The food was simple basic fare (B) but it did feel very special eating in this unusual place.

Sadly the four wines we were given to taste were pretty horrible, as were the two complementary bottles gifted to us at the end of the tour. I gave mine away and went to the Carpe Diem wine shop in Chișinău for better stuff to take home,

20140524_123306I did buy a bottle of their famous dessert wine from their shop once we got outside. My guide had recommended the 1986 vintage but I later found out at Carpe Diem that this was the year of the Chernobyl disaster which Is why they were selling it off! The wine was fine, it just had a stigma attached to it.

20140524_131158I’d definitely recommend a visit here for the experience, just don’t expect to taste any good wine!

You might also enjoy reading Michael Palin’s travelogue about his experiences in Moldova. I really liked the country and would happily go back.

 

 

 

 

Chișinău – where to eat

Posted in Chișinău, Moldova with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 23, 2015 by gannet39

Culinary traditions in Moldova reflect the various ethnic and linguistic identities with influences from Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey.

A typical Moldovan meal will invariably include a couple of scoops of yellow Mămăligă (maize polenta), their most recognizable staple.

This will be garnished with some sour cream or cottage cheese, as well as some grated Brînză (or Brânză) cheese.

Brînză is the generic word for cheese, but can also mean a specific hard salty sheep’s cheese. It’s also eaten in Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Croatia.

It’s a rare meal that doesn’t include at least one of these two ingredients in Moldova.

20140526_155835A very common dish is Plăcinte or cheese pie which you will come across in many versions, both sweet and savoury, all over the country. It’s a typical lunch time snack and convenient street food. There’s even a popular takeaway chain of the same name selling it.

In terms of flavouring, parsley and dill were the only herbs I came across.

Moldova used to be the main wine producer for the Eastern bloc, although many vineyards were uprooted during an anti-alcoholism campaign under Gorbachev. However viticulture is still very important with the red wines and cognacs in particular being very good.

 

Many of the following restaurants are quite expensive by local standards but very cheap for visitors. Usually the wine would account for half or more of the bill and a good bottle would cost as little as £10 (at 23 lei to the pound in 2014). As a result I lived like a king for the whole of my stay.

Here’s my Google map with these and other places not mentioned.

Big Deal (Intermediate B+), Strada Mitropolit Varlaam 69a

I came here with my colleagues on the first night as it’s the best place for traditional Moldovan food near the hotel. My only gripe is that it’s downstairs in a cellar, probably nice and warm in winter but in Spring it would be nice to sit outside.

20140518_193407The food is good, nothing amazing just simple and tasty. I had Tocana (stewed pork) with Mămăligă (polenta) and grated Brînză (cheese) which was all very nice (B+) and the first of many similar meals.

20140518_191731Three of us shared a bottle of 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Purcari, the most famous wine-producer in the country. This one was good (B) but I know they have better.

20140518_202400I finished with a glass of Divin (cognac) called Bălți, taking it’s name from the second city in the north. Again it was pretty good, but there’s better to be had.

 

La Taifas (High Intermediate B+), Strada Bucureşti 67 (entrance on Puşkin), www.lataifas.allmoldova.com

20140523_200104My favourite place, I came here four times in all. It’s high end traditional with lots of rustic decorations and waiters in folk costume.

There are four dining rooms. In the first room there is usually live traditional music which is excellent as it goes but a little loud, so I tended to sit in one of the side rooms.

I’d usually have a soup to start.

20140523_194728My favourite was the Ciorbiţa cu Perişoare de Carne, or soup with meatballs made I think with equal proportions of veal and pork (A).

20140528_195846I also liked the Ciorbă de Burtă Dreasă, or sour tripe soup, which looked terrible but tasted great (B+).

20140521_201155_2And the Borş su Carne de Raţă, or Russian beetroot soup with duck meat and a scoop of sour cream, was okay (B-).

20140521_203226For the main I had Chiftelute Moldovenesti, more meatballs made in the simple national style (egg, breadcrumbs, parsley) in a tomato sauce with noodles on the side. The dark purple basil on the plate was incredible by the way.

20140528_201950And you can’t go wrong with a steak and sautéed potatoes (cartofi), called Antrecote Moldovensc here.

20140531_205526If you’re not massively hungry you could just have some of their excellent Plăcinte cheese pie (B+).

20140528_193751I had a few wines here. The ‘Taraboste’ Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from Chateau Vartely was memorable (B+).

20140523_193736The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Rezervia from Chateau Vartely was also very enjoyable (B+). I prefer it to their Merlot Rezervia although that’s very good too.

20140521_195515I also liked the ‘Fabula’ Cabernet Sauvignon from the lesser known Fautor winery (B).

20140531_205059On my final visit, having tasted nearly everything decent on their wine list, the waiter dug deep in the cellar for this 2003 Malbec ‘Carlevana’ which was just okay (B).

20140521_220642The desserts were pretty hefty, hard to finish and not particularly sweet so I only tried a couple. My favourite was the Clătite cu Vişine, or pancakes with sour cherries (B).

20140523_205925Prune Umplute cu Nuci, or prunes stuffed with nuts (a very common dessert) were fine in themselves but too numerous for me to finish (C).

20140521_222932To finish I tried a clear ‘brandy’ distillate made of quince, aka Rachiu de Gutuie. It was fine but not my preferred digestif (B).

 

Vatra Neamului (High  Intermediate B), Strada Puşkin 20b, www.vatraneamului.md

Another posh place, right next door to La Taifas. Perhaps slightly posher with a bigger menu. It’s fine but I prefer the atmosphere next door.

20140519_194902Here I had Zama (or Zeama) de Gaina cu Taiatei aka chicken noodle soup, which is considered to be the Moldovan dish. It was very enjoyable (A).

20140519_200237Also some Sărmălute cu carne, cabbage leaves stuffed in this case with pork mince and rice and steamed.

This was served with Smantana (Smetana), a creamy dip prepared with Brînză and lemon juice, all of which was excellent (A). This was my favourite dish over the whole stay and I had them whenever I could.

Their mixed grill with baked potatoes was fine but unremarkable in its simplicity (C+).

20140519_194503I drank a 2011 Merlot from up and coming winery Et Cetera which was very good (B+).

20140519_212033And finally a seven-year-old Divin called ‘Moldova’ which was okay (B).

 

 

 

 

Pani Pit (Intermediate B), 115 Strada 31 August 1989

A nice location with lots of tables outside in a leafy courtyard with a fountain and live tradional music. The food is ok but not the greatest.

20140520_201823I started with Tartar de Vită, a classic beef tartar, which was good (B).

20140520_204119The following Costită Moldovenească, a fried pork chop with all the usual trimmings. Perfectly edible again but tedious in its extreme simplicity (C+).

20140520_200837However the bottle of 2007 Cab Sauv Merlot blend called Codru Prestige from the famous Cricova winery (Codru  being the region) that I shared with my colleague Jonathan was one of the best reds I had here (B+).

20140520_211710Ditto the Luceafăr brandy, also one of the best I had during my visit (B+).

 

Café Opa (Low Intermediate B+), 88 Strada Mitropolit Varlaam

For a change from Moldovan food, Greek food is a cheap and readily available alternative and this was the best Greek place near the hotel.

I ended up eating lunch here a lot or finishing the evening with a cognac and a chat with the friendly staff. It also seems to be a favourite spot amongst the backgammon fraternity and you’ll certainly get a game here if you’re looking for one.

20140531_145303The food is simple Greek fare, nothing special. Typically I’d just have some chicken gyros with pita, rice, salad and tsatziki.

20140525_152450Perhaps with a side of their excellent hummus.

20140601_133727Or maybe just a mozzarella and rocket salad with some lovely ripe tomatoes (B). Not sure about the toast though (C).

I can’t remember their prices but it was next to nothing and cheaper than a Moldovan restaurant.

20140524_212703The Calarasi seven-year old cognac they have here is pretty decent (B+). They serve it Greek style with a couple of coffee beans in the glass which adds to the aroma. Mind you Greek brandy (Metaxa) needs all the help it can get.

 

The following places were sub-standard in my opinion:

 

El Greco (High Elementary B), Strada Vasile Alecsandri 86 (entrance on Strada Columna, opposite the Educational Centre bookshop)

Another simple Greek place, but not quite as good as Cafe Opa above. There is a courtyard where  you can sit outside and the restaurant turns into a disco later on. Handy for meeting my national manager and popular with some colleagues, but I’d go elsewhere if I had the choice.

20140601_211101The gyros are fine (B) but I was unimpressed by their moussaka (C-) and their hummus seems coarse and less tasty (C) than that at Café Opa.

20140601_205644As usual the wine came to the rescue. The 2008 Codru from Cricova was good (B+). Codru is the winemaking region that the best Moldovan wines come from.

 

Caravan (Intermediate C), Strada Mihai Eminescu 64

This is a relatively pricey Uzbek restaurant next door to Big Deal. Although the terrace is a nice place to sit, the food is terrible and I’d advise you to avoid it.

20140522_194632Having never tried Uzbek cuisine before I did a bit of research and found out the national dish is pilaf. When I ordered it here it looked wonderful visually, on a beautiful blue ceramic plate with the yellow pilaf decorated with pomegranate seeds, but it tasted really horrible and I didn’t finish it (D).

20140525_205134Not wanting to write them off on one visit, I came back and tried the Manty (or Manti) which are steamed, or in this case fried, meat dumplings of Turkic origin. From what I could gather from reviews on the internet these are supposed to be their best dish and they are better than the pilaf but still not that great (C).

20140522_193437However, the 2009 Cab Sauv Rezervia from Chateau Vartely was for me the best bottle of wine I had here (A) although the quality can be variable as I discovered when I ordered it again (C-). Think it must have been corked the second time but we didn’t notice till we got nearer the bottom of the bottle.

20140525_183126I also had a 2009 Negru de Purcari here, which is generally considered to be the best wine in Moldova. I found it hard to disagree (A).

20140522_211525To finish a shot of Kvint, Moldova’s best selling cognac from the breakaway region of Transnistria, which was okay (B).

 

Saslcioara (Intermediate B), Strada A. Puşkin 39, www.salcioara.md

Yet another traditional style place with lots of folk art and crafts on display. They don’t usually have live music which is a good thing, and there are tables in booths making for a more cosy eating experience. Unfortunately though my experience of the food wasn’t that great. I went twice but that was enough.

20140529_210119The Ciorbă de Fasole, or bean soup, is ok (B-), as is their oily and unphotogenic mushroom soup (B-).

However I can’t recommend either of the two pork mains I had here (C-) which were pretty ugly looking too.

20140529_205231The 2012 Rara Neagra de Purcari I had here is a very good wine (B+), although I’m not sure what the grape is.

20140530_195612The 2010 Rosu de Purcari is I think a Cab Sauv/Merlot/Malbec blend and also pretty good. Purcari generally was cheaper here than at other restaurants.

 

Grill House (aka Orasul Vechi) (High Intermediate B), Strada Armenească 24

I think Orasul Vechi and Grill House are the same place, as their signs are right next door to each other. I went in the entrance marked Grill House anyway.

It seems very popular and you would need to reserve for a large group in order to get a table on the small terrace. So it was inside for me. Lots of Italians and company executives eat here which would seem to indicate quality, but I didn’t enjoy my food sadly.

20140526_215821Ok so I did take a chance on the grilled Bulls Testicles (I like to challenge myself with offal if I see it on the menu) but they were pretty horrible, just very lightly grilled and topped with virtually raw garlic, yuck! (D).

20140526_215638The lamb chops with onion rings to follow were fine but were pretty unspecial for somewhere trying to be high end (B-).

20140526_214405The 2009 Cab Sauv from the Gitana winery was the saving grace (B+).

The chocolate profiterolles presented as a swan swimming on chocolate and vanilla sauce was quite beautiful though (B+). Shame my picture didn’t come out.

I really didn’t like the over attentive but rather unfriendly service from my waiter and I didn’t tip him, much to his chagrin. Overall not worth the high prices in my opinion and I wouldn’t go back.

 

And a few places I didn’t get to go to:

 

Barracuda (Intermediate B), Strada Puşkin 35

A fish specialist. My colleague recommends the prawn and salmon soup.

 

Gălbenuş (Elementary A), Strada Puşkin

I didn’t eat here but if you’re on a budget this canteen style place would be a good place to go. They weigh the food you choose and charge you accordingly.

 

Nobil Luxury Boutique Hotel, Strada Mihai Eminescu 49/1, www.nobil.md

The restaurant on the penthouse floor has the best view of the city according to a guide I read but it wasn’t open in the evening when I went.

 

Pensiunea La Hanul Lui Vasile (High Intermediate B), Strada Vadal lui Vodă, www.hanulluivasile.md

Our national manager brought us to this four star hotel and restaurant on our last evening to thank us for our hard work.

20140603_192512To celebrate we started with a bottle of fizz from Cricova who make some of the best sparkling wines in the country.

20140603_190057The hotel is built in wood in a traditional ‘forest’ style and has large attractive grounds with private dining tables on small islands surrounded by water for eating outdoors on warm evenings.

20140603_190347The beautiful garden is very romantic with black swans swimming in the pond. I presume it gets used for weddings a lot.

20140603_212256The food is ok but not amazing, it’s more about the setting here.

20140603_194551I started with some tiny dumplings stuffed with pork which were delicious dipped in sour cream (B+). I think they are called Pelmeni in which case they are Russian in origin,

20140603_195904We also had two kinds of Placinte, one with a cabbage filling (B) and another with cheese (B+).

The following main course of overcooked meat and oven chips out of the freezer doesn’t deserve a photograph (C-).

20140603_204601With our food we drank a bottle of Rose de Purcari (not to be confused with Rosu) which made a nice change (B).

20140603_193216All in all, a very pleasant way to end our Moldovan adventure, thanks all!

 

Please see the previous post for things to do in Chișinău.

Chișinău – stuff to do

Posted in Chișinău, Moldova with tags , , , , , , on March 22, 2015 by gannet39

See the following post for eating out in Chișinău. Here’s my Google map which has many of the places below indicated.

I worked in Moldova for sixteen days from mid May to early June in 2014. I will admit to being a bit nervous about going there due to the fact that pro- Russian forces had just seized the Crimean peninsula in neighbouring Ukraine, just a couple of centimeters away on the map.

However I was reassured by locals that Moldova had already had its disputes with its Russian citizens some years before, leading to the creation of the breakaway pro-Russian regions of Transnistria (now independent) and Gaugauzia (now autonomous but still in Moldova) in the 90s. Even in Moldova proper you will frequently hear Russian being spoken.

Ethnic Moldovans speak a dialect of Romanian and many of them have family there and carry Romanian passports. People are leaving in droves due to the weak economy so these are all the more useful now as they allow admission to the EU, unlike a Moldovan passport.

Although Romanian is a Romance language, my limited Spanish and Italian were of little use in helping me understand what the locals are saying beyond the odd similar word.

Romanians see Moldova as effectively a region of their country but Moldovans are keen to point out that they had a historically important king, Ștefan cel Mare  whose prowess at warcraft kept Moldova independent during his lifetime. His reign is seen as a golden era as he oversaw the rapid cultural development of the country .

For most of the time I was working in the capital Chișinău (pronounced kish-i-now), a city of about half a million located in the geographical centre of the country.

It’s a pleasant enough town with some nice, but occasionally derelict, 19th century architecture and a couple of nice parks. Although very plain on the outside, the Orthodox cathedral in Parcul Catadrelei has a beautiful interior but unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside. These official pictures will give you a good idea of just how stunning it is. Notices require anyone entering to be dressed modestly and local women allcover their hair when they go inside.

20140519_191833There are a couple of nice churches, such as Sfânta Teodora de la Sihla at 20 Strada Pușkin.

20140519_191530Not sure what this one is called as it’s not marked on any maps. I think it’s on the corner of Strada 31 August 1989 and Strada Mihai Eminescu.

I really wanted to go to the Piata Centrala, the outdoor market on Strada Ismail, but I never got the chance due to work getting in the way. Next time.

I stayed at the comfortable Jazz Hotel on Strada Vlaicu Pârcălab 72 www.jazz-hotel.md The hotel has a small gym and the breakfast is very good. All the staff were very helpful.

20140531_012147If you turn left out of the hotel and walk up the hill, there is a small bar on the left which became our after-work drinking hole. It’s run by two brothers, the youngest of whom is a mean chess player! I spent most of my evenings being thrashed by him.

Chess is very popular and you’ll see games on the street everywhere you go. There’s even a life size board and pieces in the Cathedral Park nearby.

Another nice activity would be to go wine-tasting. All the main wineries such as Cricova and Milesti Mici have their own shops in town. I went to a small independent instead; Carpe Diem Wine Shop at Strada Columna 136, www.wineshop.md where I got excellent service in English. You can buy wines here that you won’t find in restaurants.

As Moldova isn’t in the EU, you are only allowed to take one litre of spirits (above 22%) and two litres of fortified wine (below 22%) into the UK,  or half a litre of spirits, a litre of fortified wine and four litres of normal still wine.

There’s an excellent deli called Pegas at 20 Strada Pușkin pegas.md. They sell lots of goodies but I particularly recommend the big jars of runny cherry jam (gem de cireșe) made with whole cherries, yum.

There is some culture to be had. The National Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at 121 Strada 31 August 1989, www.nationalmuseum.md has some beautiful religious artefacts and a few other bits and pieces besides.

Please click on the photos below to go to the full screen slideshow for maximum appreciation.

You can also find out about the history of Bessarabia, the predecessor state to Moldova, and its travails through the first world war and the Russian revolution.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers

%d bloggers like this: