Warsaw in October - suggestions
I'll be in Warsaw the first week of October for a business trip. Any suggestions for:
1. Places to eat alone (where a woman would feel safe - I travel a lot for work and have no problem dining alone, as long as the neighborhood & place aren't too dodgy)
2. Places to eat with colleagues
3. Foodie souvenirs to bring back for self, friends, family
My business trip to Warsaw was a roaring success in every way, including the foodie dimensions, highlighted here.
I enjoyed a lovely afternoon snack on Tuesday at Blikle cafe (www.blikle.pl) near the university on Nowy Swiat. The jelly donut is a specialty of Warsaw, done in a uinque way at Blikle. Theirs is called "paczek." It's a very light dough, filled with rose jelly, topped with icing and a few slivers of candied orange peel. It was so good that when I saw an outpost of Blikle in the Arkadia (www.arkadia.com.pl) shopping center Friday afternoon, I stopped in just to have another one!
Breakfast at the Westin hotel was also a delight. They offer a huge buffet with hot and cold foods. The Polish specialties include a range of smoked fish, delicious cream cheese (much more tart than the American type), and wonderful pork sausages flavored with plenty of herbs. Of all things, I also enjoyed the scrambled eggs a great deal.
I had eggs several times this week (mostly boiled), and I found Polish eggs to be far more flavorful than what I get in the U.S. The yolks were dark yellow, almost saffron colored. They tasted -- well -- eggier.
Dinner at the Westin on a night of extreme fatigue was a mixed experience. The zurek soup (sour rye soup with ham and hard boiled eggs) was delicious. The potato dumplings with mushrooms were yucky - - gluey and loaded with too much dill.
The most memorable meal of the trip was dinner at Folk Gospoda (www.folkgospoda.pl). This is clearly a place that typically handles large parties (tour groups, office parties), but they graciously seated me, a solo diner without a reservation, in the non-smoking section. I appreciated this not only to avoid the smoke, but also because it placed me some distance from the Polish folk band - - lively, atmospheric, but also very loud.
My beer soon arrived, along with a basket of bread and a crock full of an interesting-looking spread. In France, the contents of the crock would have been slightly more refined and called rillettes. This version was nothing other than bacon fat with sauteed onions and tiny bits of bacon. It was delicious spread on rye bread, and with every bite I felt more and more like a Polish peasant. The beamed ceilings, rough plaster, and wait people in traditoinal costumes reinforced the effect.
I wanted to try two starters, but fearing my eyes were bigger than my stomache, I finally settled on the grilled oscypeck, a Polish cheese. It was delicious. Thick slices of smoked cheese, charred on the grill and served with plum jam. Yum.
My main was "pig's knuckle from the stove." It was a large bone of porcine origin, roasted, and served on a bed of cabbage and yellow split peas. It came with dabs of horseradish and mustard, and I ordered a side sauce of cognac and pepper. The pork was tender and succulent - - kind of like a pork osso bucco. The cabbage and peas were divine. I could have eaten a plate of it. The cognac and pepper sauce was awful.
After all that food, I couldn't even think about dessert. The bill came (69 zloty, including two beers and 10% service charge) with a tiny shot glass of a fruit spirit - sweet and strong - - very nice to finish the meal. I was delighted to find that the restaurant accepted AMEX (it's not so commonly accepted here).
I also managed to do some foodie shopping at the Arkadia mall. I bought buffalo grass vodka for my hubby and some wonderful poppy-seed and sunflower-seed cookies for friends and family. The grocery store in the mall (a French-owned Carrefour) had the most amazing deli section, with every variety of smoked/preserved meat on the planet. Next time I come to Warsaw, I'll have to plan a picnic and indulge in some of those!
In case you're staying at the Novotel Airport (or even just passing by), their in-house restaurant is very good, with seasonal Polish specialties as well as an impressive breakfast buffet (simply seething with business types from all over). The manager, Gregory, was a doll and very helpful.
Unfortunately, even though I found lots of interesting restaurant reviews at www.warsaw-life.com, I didn't really get to many because we were mostly eating at relatives' homes. The site is definitely worth checking out for reference, but since Poles are extremely hospitable and rather good cooks, if you're invited to someone's home, I'd say 'go' ( if they don't alarm you); you'll be very well fed - and if you bring your host(ess) a little bunch of flowers or the like, they'll be delightedly appreciative of how well-brought-up you are! October is a great time for soup too, which the Polish kitchen excels at.
There's a big 24-hour Tesco market in Warsaw which should yield a wide variety of transportable and 'legal' local food items, or stop in at an 'Albert' supermarket - I found boxes of sugar cubes in the shape of card suits (hearts, clubs etc.) there, which were a big hit with all my poker and bridge-playing friends. Local herb teas, preserves, and candy tend to be good picks too. If you know any gardening cooks, stop in at a nursery or garden center for exotic-to-us vegetable seeds (purple kohlrabi, oval beets, excellent arugula and favas, herbs); there's an 150-year-old (!) one right behind that Novotel, actually, and I didn't have any trouble bringing the seed in.
Cab drivers are, as always, good sources for dining suggestions, but you'll have to stipulate that you DON'T necessarily want the glossy tourist joints, but the traditional places they might eat at themselves.
You'll find several more detailed postings if you search this board for 'Warsaw' - and I agree, dried 'prawdziwki' (local name for porcini, or boletus edulis) and 'zubrowka' (buffalo-grass-infused vodka) are definitely winners. If you're in a bar, you might try the very tasty local cocktail of zubrowka and apple cider or juice called a 'sharLOTka' - apple cobbler. I'm toasting your trip with one right now - bon voyage!