Posted by: seasin | August 16, 2009

Uno Enoteca, Sofia-or how it doesn’t get any better than that

Last night we had dinner at Uno’s. Just to spoil ourselves a bit. And while I recognise that most people won’t afford a dinner at Uno’s in Sofia, I also have to recognise the fact that it is, by very very far, the best restaurant in Sofia.

I could actually say it’s the best restaurant in Bulgaria, if it weren’t for the oustanding, out of context, absurd and unbelievable little gem that is the restaurant at the Mussala Palace Hotel in Varna. But then again, the Mussala Palace is an odity and in a cathegory of its own, and I’m writing now about our evening at Uno’s, and we’ve only been to Varna once since I moved, and we’re not very likely to go again very soon, so actually, I can say in all confidence that Uno’s is as good as you’ll get in Bulgaria.

Now, Uno’s is an institution. I think they’re celebrating 10 years litterally of excellence this year, and such consistency and dedication to do your very best is so rare in these parts of the woods, that they deserve a medal.

A few words about the location: a nicely re-done house on Bulevard Levski (there’s another location as well, but as I’ve never been there I’ll limit my comments to this one), which benefits from a lovely hidden from the street garden all summer long (and, given the patio heaters that were present all around, I think it’s a safe guess to say that you can enjoy the garden all year round, if the weather is clement). The place is extremely understated in decorations, and for me my friends, that shows two things: a. real taste; b. this restaurant is not there to show off the owner’s wealth, poor taste and the newest trends in restaurant design. The restaurant is, instead, all about the food and the client and the two of them meeting in harmony and undisturbed by decorations. I like. I like very much.

Uno’s claim to be an Italian restaurant. Well, to me, it isn’t. It’s just a very good restaurant. Yes, it does have a slight mediterranean inclination, and a very extensive, well picked and very well presented by the sommelier wine list-just like any Enoteca should have. But…there’s nothing precisely Italian about the place. As I said, it’s-just a great restaurant.

The service has always been impecable, the standards worthy of any Old World capital, just smooth and confident and really destined to make you notice the food and enjoy your evening.

And talking about the food…DB spoiled himself with a starter of scallops, sauteed and served over delicious slices of stewed apples, and enhanced with their own juices made into a sea-tasting froth. The scallops were sweet and tender-and they enforced my oppinion that if the Gods existed, scallops would be on their table all day every day.

I went for the baked goat cheese (told you there’s nothing Italian about the place, both starters are as french in inspiration as it gets), delicious, served over a carpaccio of beetroot which made a really nice background to the pungent cheese, sprinkled with pinnoli (pine nuts) and accompanied by a small crisp fresh and tasty green salad mix.

For our mains, we went for the spoil again-DB for the veal steak-just because it’s so darn impossible to get a proper steak anywhere else in Sofia-it came with crisp oven baked herbed potatoes, and a wonderful pepper sauce (his choice-you get three to choose from), served properly on the side. The meat was medium-rare, instead of rare, as he ordered, but then again there’s an excuse for that: chefs are hesitant to make it really rare, as normally clients who order it rare really expect medium-rare. Especially in Bulgaria. But it was extremely tasty and a proper piece of steak.

I went a bit adventurous, and ordered the turbot. Now, the turbot is one of the very few fish species that call the Balck Sea home-and it’s a nice tasting fish, with white flesh and a firm texture. Because it’s quite rare however and it can grow quite big (meaning that if you, as a restaurant, buy one, you’d have to be sure that many of your clients are going to order it, because there’s no way that one person can eat the whole thing), it tends to be seldom present on the restaurant menus (or, in true Bulgarian fashion, it IS present but only on the menu, not in the kitchen as well) and quite expensive for what is essentially a local fish. But as we were in spoil ourselves rotten mode, I got the turbot (kalkan as it’s called here…and in Romania :). I chose to have it oven baked, rather than the fried option (which was actually the one in the menu-it was wonderful that they gave me a healthier cooking option without me even having to ask). Now, if you care little about the size of your bottoms, and you do want the turbot, please please don’t do like I did and order the fried one. It is finger-licking delicious. The one that I got, skilfully skinned (turbot has thick skin covered in bony buttons) and de-boned by our lovely waiter in front of us, was very very nice indeed-served with a mix of peeled, cubed and slightly stewed tomatoes and sliced black olives, and with freshly squeezed lemon juice in a little side jug, it was delicate and perfect. But I’m telling you, the fried version is really the one worth trying, especially if it’s your first time tasting this peculiar fish.

We also had pudding-very very unusual for us, but it was completely Uno’s fault. Yes, I blame them completely. See, they don’t have a desert menu. Instead, once your main course plates are cleared and you had a few minutes rest, a chance to finish the wine and chat some more about the doomed world economy and generally Arsenal beating Everton 6-1 and other important stuff of the sort, that sneaky waiter comes over…with a huge platter loaded with desert samples. See, when you’re only seeing words on paper, it can be easy not to want desert (especially if you don’t have a sweet tooth). But….but…when they’re THERE, under your eyes and nose, in all their magnificent irresistible naughtiness, how can one resist them? Well…you don’t. DB had the Tarte Tatin, if I remember correctly (but I might not, by that time of the evening I was high on nice food and great service and even greater company and my favorite Bulgarian red) a pear Tatin rather than the traditional apple one, and I had the Chocolate souffle (in my oppinion, inadequately named, because it was a moelleux au chocolat, or chocolate lava cake, as it’s called, in a very 80s manner, in the States). Do I need to mention that they were absolutely to die for? We licked the plates clean, I’m telling you.

We obviously had a bottle of my fav Bulgarian red wine, an under-rated Cuvee of Cab-Sauv and Merlot coming from the South Sakar, under the Terra Tangra label-how wonderful of the Enoteca to stock it- it’s not a very prised wine by the wealthy mob of the country, and the design of the bottle and the quality of the label are…slightly cheap looking and could do with a complete make-over-but the wine is a nectar, full and round and very very remarkable. I do recommend it with all my heart and slightly intoxicated palate-if you’re into reds and looking for a nice Bulgarian one, please try the Terra Tangra cuvee.

And then, because every rose has its spines, we couldn’t help but complain about the flock of children, between 4 and 10 in age, who were running around the tables like mad and ruining what otherwise would have been a perfect evening. Look, folks-you have kids-well done. It’s easy making them, as we all know, it requires no brains whatsoever. But for the love of God, if you made them, please understand that it’s your responsibility to EDUCATE them. And if you insist in bringing your little bundles of joy in a definitely adult-only environment, such as a posh expensive restaurant on a Saturday evening at 10 pm (not to mention that…what the HELL are children doing in a place where adults smoke and drink that late at night?), you have to be sure that they’ll behave and not disturb. Because, as amazing as your running screaming out of control brat is to you, to me he’s just an annoying noisy spot on an otherwise nice evening that I’ve been waiting a very long time for and I’m paying dearly to have. I’m there for the food, wine and conversation-if I had wanted screaming kids, I would have had a picnic at a playground or dinner at McDonalds.

And you, restaurant owners and managers in Bulgaria, HAVE to realise this thing once and for all. No, clients don’t like other people’s children creating havoc while they’re trying to eat. IF you want to have a family-friendly restaurant, fine-but advertise it as such. IF you’re trying to run an upscale venue, children are not a plus. Well-more precisely, I absolutely think they should be welcome-as long as they sit in their seats, eating their food and not making loud noises-just like everyone ELSE in the restaurant is expected to behave. Now, if I, a thirty-something young lady, I would start running around the tables bouncing some ball and screaming from the top of my lungs, I’m pretty sure that a. the other clients would complain about it; b. the waiting staff and the restaurant manager would do something about it; b. that something might involve calling an ambulance from the nearest mental institution. Look, we’re in an adult place, they’re welcome if they can behave according to the venue. IF they can’t and don’t, you as restaurant MANAGERS have the responsibility to deal with it.

And I don’t mean deal with it the way UNO’s dealt with them last night-they tried to bribe us with a “free” digestif. No, no, no-that’s the wrong thing to do. I said deal with THEM, as in STOP them from doing it again, not deal with me by bribing me with nasty tasting drinks. It didn’t work. (we might have had a deal if it was a bottle of bubbly and a ten percent discount for life-that’s a bribe I might consider for putting up with screaming running little bastards. But a disgusting mix of Fernet Branca and Mint-it only made me madder!).

So a rather nasty end to an otherwise absolutely wonderful evening…

As for the prices-what can I say? The above-described mouth-watering dinner, with the wine and a bottle of sparkling water, was 210 LEVA (just over 100 EUROs) for two (very content with the food and wine) people. That’s obviously not something that one can aford on a daily basis (well, maybe you can, but then I’m not a friend of yours, you rich decadent…person!) but well, well, well worth it for nice evenings.

Uno’s is definitely the best restaurant in Sofia, and even the prices won’t deter me from going again as often as I can possibly wrestle and cajole DB into it (no, he likes it too, a lot, and we don’t really mind the prices, it’s just that, because Uno’s is sooo good and really has no rival, we and especially him are using them very often for business lunches and dinners-so he’s not very interested in going there again for private dinners. The evil Geordie that he is!).

On the other hand, one more evening with running, screaming kids might indeed deter me from ever going again. Uno’s, you’ve been warned-and I do indeed go there for business dinners and lunches of my own too, send my boss there frequently as well, and generally recommend it to most foreigners who need a nice place. Giving up on it just because of that issue would be a shame as I really love the place and I’ve only ever had positive feed-backs from the people I’ve sent there.

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