Last weekend was spent in Budapest, but I didn't do any planning (too much going on at work) and made no reservations in advance. No visits to Bock Bistro, 21 or any of the other places that have been mentioned in Budapest posts, but here are the few places we stumbled upon.
Cucina - right on the main pedestrian shopping area in the center, it was busy with locals and tourists so we went against our better judgement related to "main street" restaurants and had dinner. Their San Daniello proscuitto starter with buffalo mozzarela was excellent, the proscuitto was rich and meaty but not too salty in taste or stringy as some can be. I had the roasted leg of lamb, which actually turned out to be a roasted lamb shank, and my wife the veg ravioli. The shank was tasty, although I do prefer this cut braised to retain moisture in the long cooking process, this shank was a little dry and not as tender as it could have been. My wife's ravioli had a very good filling (cheese and spinach) but too much creamy sauce that drowned the overall flavour of the raviolis. In the scope of "main street" dinning it was a lot better than previous versions in other cities.
Pizza Marzano - there are several locations in Budapest, we stopped for lunch at the one on Dorottya utca 6, below the castle on the Buda side of the Danube.
There's nothing "special" about Pizza Marzano, the ambiance is chain restaurant like and the pizza ovens are not wood fired, but in the end they do deliver a good product at good value. I had a calzone and my wife the margarita pizza, nothing to complain about... good crust, tomatoey sauce, fresh toppings and Czech beer to wash it all down.
Dunaparti Matroz Kocsma (Sailor Inn) - Halasz utca 1, again bottom of the hill from the castle, Buda side of the Danube a few doors down from where we stayed at Hotel Victoria.
This place was packed most nights, again with both tourists and locals and seemed to do a rousing pub business as well as dinners. I had their veal stew and my wife their starter size risoto. The stew was very different, no "gravy" just spatzel like dumplings, pieces of highly seasoned paprika veal with a generous dollop of sour cream. I thoroughly enjoyed this as it was not too heavy, although very salty. It was a good thing my wife went with the starter sized risotto, it was huge for a starter. The rice was also a little odd as it was long grain making the dish more like a pilaf or pilau, but the fish in it was fresh and the veggies tasty, she really enjoyed the dish. It was finished with a rare, for us, desert of poppy seed cake with sour cherry sauce. The cake was lovely, not sweet and full of dense/dark poppy seed flavour and the sour cherries were excellent although not plentiful enough. This was a great informal place to eat and I'd go back with no hesitation.
Andante Wine Bar - same general location as the last, but opposite direction on Bem Rakpart closer to the Chain Bridge.
The small plates menu on the door and good looking wine list drew us in, but the fact the place was totally empty and appeared to have been that way for a long time kept us from ordering food. We did enjoy a very nice Hungarian Pinot Noir as well as the overall decor of the space, but it was also a little erie and we didn't linger too long.
Andante is in a prime location and a beautiful interior space, I'm not sure what the problem is... perhaps someone else knows.
Belgian Brasserie - a couple of doors down from Sailor Inn on Bem Rakpart, and possibly owned by the same company(?).
Again, this place was packed inside and out every time we passed by on the way sight seeing so we figured it had to be good... and it was. We had lunch, I started with the green pea soup with smoked trout, then the open faced beef sandwich with emmenthal and arugula while my wife ordered the cheese fondue. The pea soup was outstanding, exceptional pea and cream flavour with delicate pieces of smoked trout that made it all come together. Nothing special about the sandwich except to say it was good and fresh. My wife's fondue was very good, althought the selection of veggies to dip was limited and we ended up using a lot of bread to get all the cheese.
The selection of Belgian beers here (and at Sailor Inn) were excellent and we sampled a few of them without complaint.
Palinka Bistrot Kave - Nador utca 5, between the cathedral and Chain Bridge on the Pest side.
Dinner here one evening on our walk back from City Park, a simple place off the main pedestrian zone with a very casual atmosphere.
I had the chicken paprikash, which I've had back home at the only Hungarian restaurant in town and was very surprised by the differences. At home it is a far creamier dish with lots of sour cream as the base of the sauce, at this place it was more like chicken stew and dumplings. It could be a regional difference related to where the people at home are from in Hungary (and yes they are Hungarian, I've inquired in the past), but there was nothing wrong with the Budapest version. It was an excellent chicken stew, fall off the bone tender with a rich staisfying gravy and a nice portion of spatzel like dumplings. My wife went with a Hungarian fish soup that she also enjoyed, a very intense paprika fish broth with perhaps a bit too much oil on the surface but otherwise very good.
Last but not least we did hit the local institution Gerbeaud for a mid afternoon sweet snack. I went simple with the house made ice cream (lemon and apricot) and was not disappointed, very creamy with a lot of lemon zing. My wife had the pancakes with chocolate sauce and a scoop of apricot, no complaints although she thought a nutty ice cream, like walnut, would have been better suited for the dish.
Gerbeaud is a beautiful space, and massive in a tardis like way. I couldn't believe how much seating capacity they had both on the ground floor and in the pub downstairs and wonder when they take down the velvet ropes and fill the place.
We did drop into the Central Market in Budapest as well, I had hopes for a Vienna Naschmarkt type experience and although it was not the same (lacking significant restaurants) it was still a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the "pickle" vendors in the basement of the market and left with several bags of sauerkraut, peppers, cucumbers and cauliflower. I've been enjoying them all at home with no complaints. I was a bit thrown off by the veggie vendors here, most markets where they have plastic baskets out they want you to fill your basket and then bring it up for weighing and paying. Here you got a very ugly response if you tried to fill your own basket, and instead had to queue up to have the vendor select produce for you. If you're a local and they see your face often I'm sure they pick the best produce for you, if you're a tourist I can guarantee that won't happen. I really would have preferred to select my own as the produce did look good, but after getting a few bum fruits and veggies I held back from buying more.
The market is a fun foodie place, and the wine/beer/sausage stalls on the 1st floor can get quite rowdy after 4pm. The quality of the sausages was not high in my opinion but the farm wines we tried were very good, for farm wines.