I rarely get excited about the pleasant, well-behaved plates of food served at most European restaurants. I do, however, get excited about spicy bowls of green mush and black-as-death spicy baked fish and gelatinous fish skins. Carefully manicured plates of meat and starch, with minimal spice? Not interested, usually.
Then again, sometimes those
carefully manicured plates of European food are just damned good, even if they’re not wild or sexy or exotic. Andre’s Hungarian Café, a cozy little spot in the Upper East Side, serves an impressive, tasty three-course prix fixe (in my world, this term is pronounced “pricks fix”) Hungarian lunch for a mere $13.95. Not as exciting as good chicharron, but still pretty exciting in a well-behaved, central European sort of way.
Our meals began with a reasonably well-behaved choice of soup or salad; my (usually) well-behaved Puerto Rican friend ordered the cream of mushroom soup, which was wonderfully rich and meaty, in a mushroomy sort of way. I opted for the salad, which turned out to be a giant bowl of peeled, sliced cucumbers floating in a vinegary brine, topped with a (well-behaved) flash of red paprika; imagine really good Russian-style pickles that haven’t quite had time to pickle yet, and you’ll be on the right track.
We felt obligated to order veal goulash and chicken paprikash as our entrees, since both are generally credited as the national dishes of Hungary. Both meals were fiery-looking, thanks to the generous use of paprika, but neither were remotely spicy; the veal goulash tasted like high-quality meat in red sauce—which was exactly what it was. The chicken paprikash tasted like high-quality bird simmered in a red sauce until it was fall-off-the-bone tender—which is exactly what it was. Both dishes were served with a
perfectly manicured cylinder of nokedli (Hungarian dumplings, nearly identical to German or Austrian spatzle), which appeared to be seasoned with a dollop of sour cream. Central European comfort food at its finest.
prix fixe pricks fix also came with dessert, and we opted for two plates of palacsinta (Hungarian crepes); one was stuffed with nuts and stewed apricots, the other was stuffed with a delicious mixture of melted chocolate and a sugary chocolate powder. The sugary powder made the crepes amusingly crunchy, in a grainy sort of way. By the standards of our nice, civilized meal, the crunchy crepes were downright unruly—but in a very nice, pleasant, civilized central European sort of way.
Andre’s Hungarian Café
1631 2nd Avenue between 84th & 85th, Manhattan
Subway: 86th Street (4, 5, or 6 train)