I’m not going to tell you about a duck

I celebrated my birthday on a night train to Vienna from Berlin. I whiled away the hours in a private, locked cabin, reading and luxuriating in solitude. 

What I did not do was dine. There was no diner car on that train, which surprised me when the porter told me. The conciliatory statement, “but you can purchase crisps or a sandwich from me” didn’t sound enchanting, so I went without and luxuriated in the Vietnamese pork I had the next day in Vienna. 

I mention all this as a prelude to my utter and shameless gluttony, also known as “dinner at my hotel.” I wanted to dress up, but didn’t feel up to wandering around the streets of  80• (f) Istanbul while attired in my finery, so I asked the concierge to get me a table at their restaurant, if possible. 

It was possible — I only saw two couples dining there. I will indulge myself in the fiction that the rest of the hotel was too full from celebrating Eid to eat one more morsel. Yeah, that’s it.

Not terribly hungry — I had something perfunctory on the plane from Vienna — I ordered two dishes. The server added a couple more, “on the house.” The first item was a plate with three breads:

The one to the left was flavored with tomato and basil; the center with toasted walnuts; and the furthest with olives. They were divine, if actually a bit subtle; they set the tone.  Once I had eaten those, they brought gravelox:

After that, the mezze platter I had ordered arrived, and it was a beaut:

Highlights included the locally made cheese (lower left);  muhammara (top right), which is a purée of bell peppers, garlic, olive oil, and other goodies; and the hummus. I wouldn’t have thought I could be surprised by hummus, but this had body and character that balanced the garbanzos, lemon, garlic, and olive oil as I’ve never managed to do.

Once that gave way to my appetite, they brought the masterpiece, Avci Boregi. This divine creation took the form of tender, shredded duck in a butter and cream sauce with local  nushrooms, thinly sliced radish and radish greens, and the occasional pine nut. 

I didn’t bother with dessert. I mean, why?


First meal in Austria 

My first meal in Austria will surprise you readers.  It was a total impulse choice and I’m glad I chose it, even if it wasn’t my favorite food this trip. 

After getting checked into the lovely and comfortable Mercure-Joseph near the Rathouse, I headed down to check out the Seccession building. The role of the art nouveau movement in Eastern European culture ranks high on the list of reasons I chose Vienna as one of my destinations, so the Seccession’s proximity to my hotel felt like a command performance for me. 

As I strolled down Getreidmarkt, I realized I felt lightheaded, and none of  my memories of trying to see too much on an empty stomach turned out well. I saw a restaurant named Saigon and I made a bee-line for it. 

The duck-filled spring rolls I ordered as a starter — there were two — proved so succulent and tasty that is eaten them both before I thought to take a picture. 

My main dish, billed as “pork Vietnamese Style,” tasted close to fantastic. The pickled carrots and steamed rice  went well with the chunks of pork in a thick, aromatic caramel sauce spiked with green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and nam pla. 

A bit of research tells me that what I ate cleaves closely to Thit Kho and the use of pork belly ensures the tenderness and richness of taste I enjoyed.

The only thing I did not enjoy was the hard-boiled eggs that belong in this dish. It strikes me as more of a texture thing than taste because I *LIKE* hard boiled eggs, and enjoy them alone, in the occasional salad, or in doro wat. 

I haven’t been able to figure out what was done to add an off-putting consistency to the eggs, but I choked it down in the name of responsible food exploration. I think the restaurant did it right, and it just wasn’t to my taste.

But I’m glad I chose this place — the service and prices were good, as were the portion sizes and presentation. Upon reading a couple food blogs, I think I was supposed to mash up the eggs before I started, not leave them intact. 

Live and learn, right?