I'm just home from a whirlwind trip to Europe (working on a documentary about James Joyce and Bloomsday).
After experiencing sticker shock in Dublin, we ate divinely in Trieste, western Slovenia, and Zurich. A few highlights:
-arriving in Trieste after 12+ hours of Ryan connections and a train in 35 degree heat, we asked our hotel to recommend something light and still open. They sent us around the corner to Pizzeria Al Barattolo on the grand canal. We were about to order pizza when our server said to me disapprovingly, "You can get pizza anywhere. This is a good restaurant."
She then steered us toward several excellent pastas--one with sausage and tomatoes--and the gnocchi. The fried calamari was airy and greaseless; the mixed salad was filled with wonderful greens. Excellent bread. We asked our server about seafood, and she disceetly scrawled the name of Cantine Sociale near the Savoia on a napkin. The next night, we enjoyed a seafood feast there, with garlicky grilled squid and fresh pan-fried sardines. During the afternoon we stopped in at Patisserie Pirona (where Joyce allegedly conceived the idea for Ulysses) for espressos and beautifully shaped pates de fruit. The produce store just south of the Piazza Unita across from the bank sold exquisite strawberries.
-the following night in Piran for my cousin's birthday, we indulged in a seafood platter at Restaurant Ivo. More sardines, squid, and fish, all perfectly marinated in olive oil and garlic, with a healthy serving of spinach. Only the boiled potatoes were disappointing.
-In Divaca, waiting for a train, we discovered the supermarkets sold delicious cold cuts and fresh breads. While in Slovenia, treat yourself to tongue. The salami was good too.
-We found Ljubljana pricey, and our $$$ hotel included a large breakfast buffet. We picked up an excellent jar of fresh tomato sauce and a half kilo of sweet cherries (Rainiers) at the Saturday market and hopped on the bus for the Julian alps. In Bled, we quickly settled in for cappucino and a slab of heavenly creme schnitte at the Park Hotel's terrace, which became our regular 400 SIT (US$2) afternoon snack. On the second visit, we added an order of palacinkas with lemons and powdered sugar, which was delicious but not worth two orders of creme schnitte. We also enjoyed glasses of blueberry brandy at happy hour (2 for 1) prices up the hill at the bar just past the mini-golf.
-The following day, we paddled a canoe (a "Canadien") for several hours on Bohinj, then settled in for another seafood feast at the Jezero hotel. The trout was exceptional, as promised; the salmon less impressive. My cousin enjoyed the Union beer on tap, while I sipped glasses of wine that were cheaper than water or Fanta.
-finally we ate a splendid meal outdoors at Gostilna Lectar in Radovljica, a restaurant and former bakery that has been in the same beautiful spot for more or less 700 years. I'd return to Slovenia just for a meal as good as this one. The pickled calf's tongue, accompanied by fresh horseradish and wonderful roasted potatoes, was the tenderest and most flavorful I've ever had. The meat in the goulash was not ideal, but the gravy was so flavorful that we sopped it up with fluffy bread. The ravioli Idrija was too rich for such a hot day, with delectable ricotta-like cheese filling and a creamy mushroom sauce. We could have spent the whole afternoon here--unfortunately, even with half-portions, we were too full for dessert, but we sipped a fairly vile grappa-like pear brandy from the traditional glass (shaped like a bud vase) and enjoyed the complimentary currant liquor.
All the meals mentioned above cost less than US$20 per person, even with an occasional tip for gracious service. (By comparison, we were gleeful earlier in the trip when we spent 8 Pounds each for Pret a Manger pre-fab sandwiches and chips at Stansted.)
We also stopped at the wine store nearby in the old town and tasted a number of distinctive Slovenia wines including cvicek (the local inexpensive rose), a full-bodied San Tomas refoshk, and the citrusy terran (apparently similar to wines from nearby Fruili--can anyone recommend food pairings?). We bought as many bottles as we could carry, stopping at the supermarket to stock up on local honey and sea salt.
-We wound up the trip visiting friends in Zurich, where I made my usual pilgrimmage to Coop for luscious quark and chocolate bars. The dollar may be weak, but we indulged the hot afternoon with green apple sorbet, a Camembert-like munster cheese, and brisk apfelsaft. Everything looks good in Swiss stores, even when you can't afford more than the yogurt. At the airport, a pretzel and a visit to Sprungli took the last of our francs.
Now to find creme schnitte in the US...