Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Best Dining Experiences in Europe (According to Yours Truly)

Last Thursday in Bordeaux I had a dinner that was so great that I swore it was one of my top five dining experiences in Europe. It got me to thinking, what would my top five dining experiences in Europe look like?

The below list comes with the caveat that I reserve the right to eat at even more delicious places in the future:

1. Osteria Broccaindosso (Bologna, Italy)
This place is my ideal when it comes to a dining experience. It's not just that it has delicious food. It's not just that it gives you a cultural experience you can't find outside of the country. It's HOW the whole experience plays out. Wine comes by the carafe and plates and plates of primos are set down on the table. Pastas, meatballs, orzos, you name it. You'll eat until you're full, which is a terrible idea, because then the secondis come out. Plates and plates. In the typical Italian style, there's no rush and you can sit for hours chatting with friends over wine and delicious food. And then the dessert comes. And comes. And comes. I hail from America, the land of desserts, and I've never seen so many desserts in one place in my life. And of course you wash it all down with limoncello or grappa. Or both.

2. Can Paixano (Barcelona, Spain)
La Champagnería (as I've always known it) shows the diversity of eating experiences that you can have on the continent and this one is very Spanish (or Catalan, at least). Small plates, lots of meat and a focus on drinking. The place is chock full of people, you're standing in a cramped room, elbow to elbow with Spaniards, young and old but you don't care. A few euros gets you glasses of delicious, delicious cava (Spanish champagne) which seem to drain with alarming frequency. You're asked to order little bocadillos or sausage snacks with each order of cava and by the end of the night your hands are covered in grease and your clothes wet with cava. Standing in a crowded room for hours eating greasy sausage and drinking unhealthy amounts of wine not your idea of the ideal dining experience? Don't come here. In fact, don't come to Spain.

3. L'Entrecote (Bordeaux, France)
I just went last week, so maybe this restaurant's star will fade in my memory once my taste buds have a chance to recover, but I doubt I'll get over the impressiveness. You don't browse a menu at L'Entrecote, you tell your waitress how rare you like your steak. After a salad and some delicious bread, out comes the plates of meat, pre-sliced and cooked to your preference. Oh, and then comes the giant tray so you can re-stock your plate for seconds, thirds and fourths. To make sure you leave feeling slightly uncomfortable, waitresses also come by with unlimited amounts of thinly sliced fries, which are delicious in and of themselves. The steak is covered in a mysterious but delicious sauce, whose ingredients are so secret that the bullion cubes for it are shipped from out of town. I never had any strong feelings about France before dining here. Now I like it.

4. Augustiner Brau (Munich, Germany)
I came here on a warm summer night with two pretty girls in dirndl, so forgive me if I don't even remember what I ate. Wearing my best (and only) pair of leiderhosen, I enjoyed a large mug of German brew and ate and chatted the night away in a summer garden, the tables surrounded by trees connected with strings of hanging lights. Highly recommended, even if just for the ambiance.

5. Figlmüller (Vienna, Austria)
If Augustiner Brau is an ambiance pick, Figlmüeller is a food pick. I love wienerschnitzel. I'm sure Figlmüeller has other things on its menu, but if you've never been to Austria before, don't even bother opening it. These schnitzels will come on giant plates and still be peeking over the edges. Washed down with a cool Austrian beer of some Austrian wine (which is extremely under-rated) you'll be in Himmel.

Honorable mentions: I'm a food tourist, what can I say? I have a favorite in most cities I've visited and all are either a great experience, have great food or both. Those that just barely missed the cut are Lady Pepa (Madrid), Slovak Pub (Bratislava), Da Vito (Bologna), and All'Antico Ristoro di' Cambi (Florence).

What goes into your top 5?