Concert engagements often are on weekends. Thus, the weekday-rehearsal Thai-buffet lunch usually gets replaced by various rather more exclusive after-rehearsal experiences. Recently I had two engagements in Kristianstad, a small South-Swedish town with a military 17-th century history but – today – a charming allure. On Saturdays, the Greek-style Taverna near the Trinity church – a well-established place – tends to be completely booked, so I got to know two new restaurants in the center of town (on Friday evening, I also got to try a takeaway Pizza Ciao-Ciao. I will not mention it again).
In mid-September, I visited the new Italianate restaurant La Cucina, on the recommendation of the people from the Taverna. The restaurant-bar with its new and snazzy interior is located on the first floor, accessible through a rather small entrance. I tried Pasta frutti di mare with garlic, white wine and fresh herbs. The noodles, arranged quite beautifully with various sorts of seafood in their shells, were well cooked and almost warm enough. However, the whole assembly lacked some of the sensations one might have expected from the menu description. Seafood, white wine and garlic are not all that difficult to combine, after all. My suspicion is that the chef was stingy with wine and garlic. He was certainly overly careful with whatever kind of oil or butter he had added to the dish. In any case, the potential of flavors that might have been in the sauce was not very well developed.
As a modern restaurant-bar, La Cucina somewhat randomly bows to the trend of food design (why are these meals always put on top of a toddler’s drawing made with some unidentifiable brown sauce?), but it does not represent the plain, satisfactory down-to-earthness of Italian cooking that the restaurant’s name suggests. Nevertheless, we had a pleasant evening, and the service was quite good.
This weekend I went to the restaurant Taste, which opened only a week or so ago. Unlike the ominously empty La Cucina, Taste was almost full of – apparently happy – guests. The service is cheerful and personal, but without undue joviality. Our group of eight people was admitted for two hours after which the table was reserved. The waitress was friendly and professional in her negotiations about the schedule.
I felt inspired to try out a Tasteburger, a 200-gram burger, which is served on half-crisp pleasant burger buns with guacamole, goat cheese, stubby fries, onion rings and coleslaw. The guacamole and the goat cheese turned out to be part of the hamburger itself, so we are in fact talking about a goat-cheeseburger with guacamole dressing. To be sure, there were lots of flavors present on the plate, but in matters of taste, the chef has a long road ahead of him.
1) An artificially boosted lemon flavor is nothing anybody wants to have in his guacamole, or any other sauce or dish, at any moment of the day. Guacamole lore may well inspire some insiders to heated discussions, but in simple terms, this sauce should be not much other than mashed avocado, tomato and salt, with the addition of some lime juice to prevent premature browning, and perhaps some garlic and other spices. If the Tasteburger’s guacamole didn’t come straight out of a jar, its lemon flavor certainly did. My recommendation to the cook: get up half an hour earlier and make some real guacamole – that is, if you want to use it in your cooking at all (I will return to this point).
2) Smoke flavor. The elaborate way to add a smoky taste to ground beef is to grind some smoked pork together with the beef. The cheap way is to add liquid smoke to the ground beef. The first method could be part of a rustic recipe, although the result depends on the quality of the added smoked goods. The second method is cheating. Both methods are unsuited for creating the impression of a charcoal-grilled hamburger. Nobody wants a wannabe grilled burger, and the fact that someone in Taste trusts that the guests will not know the difference is rather worrying. It ought to be no problem if a kitchen does not sport a charcoal grill: a fried hamburger of prime quality beef can be very satisfactory.
Combinations to avoid:
1) The idea to use guacamole – and especially this lemon-fantasy – inside a hamburger is a great mistake. The combination looks like a Martian in a car accident, and it has, in terms of dressing-i-ness, an altogether wrong feel to it. Besides, a dollop of good guacamole would have been so nice someplace between the onion rings, the fried potatoes and the coleslaw.
2) Grilled beef and goat cheese make a very nice combination, but artificial smoke flavor combined with a rather strong flavored chevre cheese and Lemon From The Factory is a disaster. Funnily enough, another member of our group blamed the cheese, which was certainly the wrong diagnosis. The burger behaved like three obnoxious children at an amusement park who pull in three directions at once.
Items to improve:
1) Coleslaw. It is true, coleslaw can consist of nothing other than shredded cabbage, shredded carrots and mayonnaise. The true problem with all sorts of salads containing mayonnaise is that you have to fiddle with the ingredients to get them good – sometimes fiddle a long time. Here, the cook just went for the most basic and obvious, and the result was, while not being downright nasty, boring and inelegant.
2) Cutting potatos into superbig fries. Here we had not the quartered deep-fried potato, and not the thin French fries, but some derivative of the square-inch-diameter Belgian fries, with an odd half inch added here or there. Possibly they used really huge potatoes for this side dish. Quite okay, but some of the pieces got rather large and tasted a little like boiled potatoes with a fried jacket. Why not cut them evenly, one wonders.
3) Burger cooking. A lean beef burger is quite hard to cook well. One recommendation would be to use less lean meat – there is really nothing wrong with this, if one has control over the source of the meat. Best to take some big, fresh slabs of rib meat and grind them in one’s own kitchen, of course. Now, if one cooks a lean burger, one should never cook it all the way through. Mine had a pleasant coarse texture without toughness in the individual morsels, but it was too dry as a whole. Bad timing, simply.
4) Deep frying fat economy. Granted, the average consumer has gotten used to abysmal standards in deep-fried food, but this should not be an excuse for a real restaurant. Deep-fried battered onion rings are perfect for revealing fat that has seen too many sunrises. The ones I got here were greasy and had a telltale bitter aftertaste.
The coziness of this restaurant and the cheerful waiters deserve a better kitchen. I soothed myself with two glasses of the Red of the House, which was a reasonable choice. Time ran out and we couldn’t stay for dessert. The espresso was bitter and lacking in flavor: too high temperature, too low pressure.
Dessert was retrieved at Kristianstad’s real upscale bar-restaurant Modesto, which will be the target of a complete test next time around. The liquorice parfait, with pineapple and chili tartar (finely hacked pineapple with small red dots) and a few raspberries, adventurously wrapped in a sheet of bent chocolate (somewhat like the TWA terminal roof at JFK airport), was very good indeed.