Help with Budapest choices
We're leaving for three days Budapest tomorrow and after scouting several sites have come up with a list of possibilities. Expense is not a consideration, just great food, good decor and fun atmosphere. I'd welcome opinions from any recent diners on Vardozsa, Baraka, Pava, and Segal. Gundel gets such mixed reviews, I still can't decide if we should go or not, so I'm open to more thoughts on that as well. Other suggestions, of course, are always welcome. Thanks.
Gundel is architecture, milieu, sociology, history, and nostalgia, with, incidentally, decent food on the side. The other posts say pretty much the same thing, and I only repeat it here to say you may not want to undervalue those non-food qualities if you have a yen to see what the city looked like to the bourgeoisie between the wars. You can also see it (though not taste it) by renting the dvd of Being Julia (and that will add the great treat of watching George Lang, Gundel's American/Hungarian co-owner (with Ron Lauder) playing the role of maitre d' at the very posh very red restaurant shown in the film and shot in Gundel).
Beyond that, I have found Baraka disappointing (servings small, prices high, service variable, milieu a bit sterile; food surely not bad), and prefer the Gresham Kavehaz to Pava; do order the foie gras (libamaj) in three forms as an appetizer if it's available (I've seen it on both menus). Friends tell me that Pava is flexing its muscles a bit and I perhaps should rethink my preference of its less upmarket sibling.
I am a very big fan of Segal, and the new place on O utca is already delivering at and beyond the level of the Magyar utca standby. When you call for reservations, as likely as not the call will be fielded by Victor Segal himself, and the more you put yourself in his hands the happier you'll be I think. Tell him what you'd like by way of parameters and prices and discuss the food and wine choices and pairings. There is no one more serious about cooking in Budapest than he. Remarkable guy; an artist not a businessman.
I have not been to Vadrozsa, but am partial to Busulo Vendeglo in that genre of Buda-hills tourist-oriented traditional Hungarian venues. For a more chowish version you'll find only Hungarians surrounding you at the Trofea Grill (there are two locations, one in Buda by the Margaret Bridge, the other in Pest not far from the West End mall); all you can eat, immense array, all reasonably well made representations of their traditional selves.
But let me add a couple of places I think would top my list: for dinner, the Cafe Bouchon, on Zichy Jeno, off Nagymezo. Far and away the most consistently satisfying place to eat in my book (and my book prefers the cozy to the ritzy, the down home to the experimental). For lunch and breakfast and dinner for that matter, the Cafe Gerloczy. Lovely place to sit, very good food, attentive staff, visionary owner who is slowly building a tiny empire around food and now lodging...Despite the fact that it's Hungary you're in, I'd commend the Indian restaurant Salaam Bombay, around the corner from the Gresham. A marvelous place. And for the best gulas in town, the Castro Bisztro on Madach Imre ter just off Deak ter still has my money wagered on it, though others favor the Gerloczy.
I generally would not stray from the Chew.HU Top 33: http://www.chew.hu/top33.html and my own website has several pages that may be of use:
our everythingbudapest website has three pages that might be relevant to the quest for decent cooking while in budapest:
http://everythingbudapest.eu/Budapest_-_Restaurants/Hungarian_Food.html (on Hungarian food in Hungary)
http://everythingbudapest.eu/Budapest_-_Restaurants/Budapest_Chow.html (on interesting dives and the like)
http://everythingbudapest.eu/Budapest_-_Restaurants/Foodie_Budie.html (on fine dining in Budapest)
there's also a page devoted to eating inexpensively (some overlap among all of these):
and a page devoted to pastry shops and cafes:
Other than Gundel, I'm not familiar with the ones you mention. I highly recommend Cafe Pierrot, for great food, atmosphere and service, elegant but cozy, relatively expensive but a good value for the quality. I loved Gundel, but not just for the food, which was very good but not spectacular. It's the combination of food, ambience and service, old-fashioned luxury that you will not find anywhere else for the price.