Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Krakowian Cuisine: Tasting Traditional Polish Fare

Restaurant Review: Pod Baranem, Krakow 

Given an afternoon tasting of traditional Polish food in Krakow, Poland, I expected spicy kielbasa, hearty whole grain bread and potato filled pierogies. Instead, I lavished in delicacies made from the hand of a passionate chef. Jan Baran, owner of Restaurant Pod Baranem, uses the finest natural ingredients seasoned with aromatic herbs. But, the sensational taste of his dishes comes through his attention to detail. I could truly taste his devotion and love of food, cooking and life in every bite.    
I arrived at the multi-room restaurant sitting near Wawel Castle and across the Planty (former moat, now garden surrounding the Old Town). I found herbs hanging from wooden beams and crystal and silver adorning small tables covered in white damask. Antique furniture and two fireplaces created an upscale atmosphere that felt comfortable and welcoming.

Venison pate and Cumberland sauce
Smoked Salmon
My sampling extravaganza began with four appetizers, items I would normally skip, but was spurred on by their artistic presentation. I eagerly indulged on venison pate paired with Cumberland Sauce, marinated smoked salmon, a herring and onion salad and pork jelly.  Each dish was so incredibly delicious; I could have eaten the entire serving. My favorite turned out to be the pork jelly! It simply melted in my mouth with buttery goodness.
 Next came the soups: Borscht with dumplings, a fish soup, barley soup and a creamy beet soup. David, Jan's son who works in the restaurant, acted an interpreter. He named the tomato based fish broth “Stinky Soup” while admitting his dislike for seafood. I found it extremely savory and totally unfishy. A bowl on a cold day would warm any one's chilly soul. The beet based soups were certainly not peasant fare--surprisingly thick with a sensuous array of spices. I happen to love soup and found this scrumptious round of brothy goodness a highlight.
Fish Soup

Fullness was creeping in, but alas, I needed to taste the entrees. First I tried the restaurant's bestseller--stuffed cabbage with mushroom sauce. Individual portions of ground pork are wrapped in cabbage leaves and then slow roasted letting the two flavors marry. Before serving, the dish is topped with a cream based sauce dashed with small woodland treasures. Easy to understand why this comfort food is so popular.

Trout came next, also enclosed by a thin layer of cabbage served on a bed of slaw. The flaky fish entree takes 40 minutes to prepare, so diners need not rush through their appetizers.
Stuffed Cabbage
Trout in Cabbage Leaves
I couldn't resist the steaming pierogies that were perfectly boiled, not doughy and filled with velvety mashed potatoes. Amazingly Chef Barann has perfected a gluten-free recipe and Pod Baranem is one of only two restaurants in the country offering a gluten-free menu.

The last entree was a sliced saddle of venison presented with chef's secret forest sauce. The tender meat dissolved in my mouth, truly a winner and so exquisitely satisfying.  I wished I could have sat and savored the presentation.

Saddle of Venison with Forest Sauce

Finally dessert arrived, the zenith of the meal and a fitting conclusion. Who can turn down a dense chocolatety Black Forest cake with cherries or a light raspberry jell or chiffon with mascarpone cheese? The gingerbread iced with glossy chocolate frosting was laced with liquor and tasted like Christmas. However, I saved the renowned Krystyna cake for last, a house specialty named for Jan's wife of 32 years. The white cake with decadent whipped cream layers is ethereal and elegant, just like the lovely namesake.

Black Forest Cake with Cherries

Raspberry Cake


 I couldn't have dined on a finer meal or met a more generous family.  Thank you Jan, Krystyna, David and staff. Polish hospitality and kindness graced the afternoon and I am humbled to have been in your presence. I hope to return to Krakow someday and Pod Baranem will be the first place I visit.

Krystyna with the cake named in her honor.
A closer look at Krystyna's Cake.
Read this and other food blog articles posted on Wanderfood Wednesdays.

If You Go:   www.polandtravel.com
Pod Baranem
ul. sw. Gertrudy 21
31-049 Krakow, Poland

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mad About Olives Recipe Contest

Do you have an olive dish that's just to die for?

I thought you might—and Relish Magazine and their friends at The California Olive Committee want you to put your recipe where your, er, mouth is.

They are looking for the best quick-and-easy dinner dish using black olives, and you can enter your recipe by clicking on the link below. Recipes will be accepted through Oct. 31, 2011, and entries will be judged by Claire Robinson, the 5 Ingredient Fix diva you, no doubt, recognize from TV, Relish Editor Jill Melton and Denise Junqueiro of the California Olive Committee. Read the official rules here:

One lucky winner will receive:

    A two-day bootcamp from The Culinary Institute of America in the heart of Napa Valley
    A three-day stay in a private cottage at the Wine Country Inn in St. Helena, Calif.
    Airfare and car rental.

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the use of the olive photograph. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Colorful Calamari Tacos

King and Prince Calamari Tacos

The minute I saw calamari tacos listed on the menu, I had to try them.  The colorful combination of shredded red cabbage,jalapeno peppers, mandarin oranges, corn and fried calamari in a soft taco shell sounded scrumptious.  And it was!

The entree came with a trio of sauces which added even more flavor to the shell: guacamole, salsa or sour cream.  Yum!  The waitress served an overfull plate of three tacos (with fresh lemon and lime slices for juicing) but two were plenty to fill me up. 

I enjoyed this dish in the dining room of the King and Prince Hotel overlooking the rolling Atlantic. The King and Prince, a member of the Historic Hotels of America sits on St. Simon's Island, a gem of the Golden Isles--coastal Georgia islands. The fine family resort  has a history and reputation of repeat customers returning for decades, so they must be doing something right.

I can tell you the calamari tacos were better than right, they were fantastic and something I'd like to see to see on other restaurant menus in the future. 

Vinny D'Agostino, the new food and beverage director, is pushing the King and Prince to a higher level with more innovative cuisine and local Georgia produce. I suspect he was behind those tasty tacos.  I can't wait to return some of his other culinary delights.