We got back from our Madrid weekend on Sunday evening then we were off again at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to Frankfurt where my husband had to attend a fair at Messe. I tagged along to visit my best friend, Ana Liza, who lives there with her husband and their adorable 2-year old daughter.
I’ve known Ana Liza since we were 11 years old. We were classmates till we finished high school in 1987 and we’ve always kept in touch and visited each other which was not always that easy since we both moved around a lot. While I was in the University of the Philippines, she was in Santa Clara University in California. Then when I was at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she did her MBA at Bocconi in Milan. After Paris, I worked in Moscow and she started to work in New York. With our husbands, we moved again – she to Hamburg and I to Santiago. We’re so close we’re like sisters. We even got married within six months of each other (she in 1999 and I in 2000), in the same church officiated by the same priest and had both our wedding receptions at the Auberge de Soleil in Napa Valley. She moved to Frankfurt a few years back while we were living in Dubai and for the moment, she has stayed put while we continue to move. It was my first visit to Frankfurt and I was looking forward to spending time with her and allowing her to show me around her adopted home.
We left rainy and cool Marbella and arrived to a sunny and very warm Frankfurt. The drive into the city was quick and on our way to the hotel, we passed loads of people walking around and taking advantage of the great weather to lunch al fresco. Our room wasn’t ready when we checked in so we decided to go and have a quick lunch nearby.
We crossed the street and went to Tarte Flambee (Kirchnerstraße 4, +49 69 2972 9550)a counter restaurant serving flammekuchen or tarte flambee – a traditional Alsatian flat bread with creme fraiche, onions and bacon. We shared one with topped with arugula and finished off with espressos. By the time we finished the room was ready and Alex left for the fair while I dealt with the luggage.
We stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel on Kaiserplatz which is centrally located and in a period building built in 1872. This hotel opened in 1876 and was the first in the city to have a public telephone center and electric lighting.
In most European capitals, there is always a luxury hotel like the Frankfurter Hof often called the “grande dame” – in Paris, it’s the Ritz on Place Vendome, in London, it’s the Ritz on Piccadilly and in Montreal, it’s the Ritz-Carlton on Sherbrooke Ouest – to name a few. Like the Frankfurter Hof, most of these hotels have undergone some sort of renovation and/or refurbishment but a lot of times, the changes are cosmetic and the best parts concentrated on the public areas while the rooms are often neglected or only get a partial “face lift”.
Our room was a very large corner suite with a separate living area complete with dining table, desk and Internet access. The bedroom was off to the side and had a double bed and a large bathroom with excellent amenities. What put us off was the decor and the fact that the furniture and fabrics were tired and musty. Over-decorated wall-to-wall carpeting and mirrors everywhere (and I mean everywhere including the ceiling) approximated some 60’s version of art deco style that didn’t make sense. The lighting was also dark and dim bedside lighting is a pet peeve of ours.
After unpacking and settling in, I decided to explore a bit. Ana Liza recommended that I walk towards Goethestrasse and window shop but I turned right instead of left and ended up on Zeil instead. This noisy and crowded pedestrian street is lined on boths sides with large department stores and high-street fashion retailers. I wandered around for a bit then walked back in the general direction of the hotel and passing Römer, the central main square located in the Altstadt (Old Town). Here, there is a row of picturesque half-timbered houses, a central fountain and the city hall and loads of outdoor cafes. I continued on towards the riverbank which gives the city its’ name Frankfurt am Main (Frankfurt on the Main river). From there, it was a few blocks more and I had done the complete tour and was back at the hotel.
I had just enough time to get ready for dinner. Ana Liza picked me up at the hotel and we took the convenient U-Bahn (underground) together to the other side of the river where she lives. We spent half an hour with her daughter then walked on the riverbank towards Holbein’s restaurant where we had a dinner reservation at 9:00 p.m.
Holbein’s is a modern bistro located in the Stadel museum underneath a soaring glass ceiling and alongside a large terrace and garden. The place was packed and we settled in our table right in the middle of the large room. The menu is modern Continental with some Asian influence. We decided to share a generous appetizer of green and white asparagus served with a poached egg then each had a Surf ‘n Turf of Canadian lobster with Argentine beef tenderloin, Bearnaise sauce and mashed potatoes with a glass each of the Napa Valley Cabernet sauvignon from Hess. It was hard to resist the lobster and steak combination since the group of networking bankers beside us were all having that. Dinner passed quickly with Ana Liza and I catching up on what we’ve been up to, reminiscing and enjoying the food and atmosphere.
The next morning, I decided to visit Frankfurt’s oldest coffee house on Kornmarkt – Wacker’s, another of Ana Liza’s suggestions. I coudn’t find it but followed the advice of my father-in-law who recommends that when lost in a strange city to always ask well-dressed old ladies who always know the way. I did just that and was directed to the cafe.
Wacker’s has been in existence since 1914 and has been roasting their own beans and serving coffee forever. Goethe’s house is just around the corner so this is the perfect place to stop for an espresso after visiting Frankfurt’s most famous former resident or just to drop by and literally “smell the coffee” freshly ground on the premises. After my excellent cappuccino, I walked away from the river and towards the opera house and Goethestrasse for some window shopping and minor retail therapy at Petit Bateau.
I almost didn’t make it to my lunch appointment with Ana Liza on Platz de Republik and what a shame it would have been if I missed it. She chose a nearby fast-food place – IMA Kitchen (Ottostrasse 19 D-60329, +49 69 2648 8774) which she had been raving about and was eager to show to me since she knows how much I love to see new restaurant concepts. This fast-food bar had very funky black and white interiors and a few high tables and no seating. The crew and owners are a group of young, hip and friendly Israelis and that’s where the name comes from – Ima means mother in Hebrew. The menu is composed of simple salads, antipasti-style plates with hummus, avocado, pastrami and fresh bread plus their specialty hamburgers. There is also a daily plate which on that day was pan-fried red snapper.
Ana Liza and I shared the Unbelievable Pastrami Burger (that’s what it’s called) which came with coleslaw and a plate of chunky French fries flavored with curry, cilantro and melted goat cheese. The pastrami burger was delicious – thin slices of pastrami layered with hummus, coriander pesto and homemade chili marmalade. The coleslaw that accompanied the burger was also very good and the fries were addicting. The place was crowded and elbow-to-elbow with banker-types as usual one of whom strongly recommended we order a German herbal lemonade to go with our meal. It tasted like fizzy lemon ginger ale and might have been too sweet if we had it on its’ own. Surprisingly, it went really well with the pastrami burger and fries.
IMA Kitchen is a find and worth the detour to an area of Frankfurt not normally visited by tourists. There is also another branch near Goethestrasse, Frankfurt’s main shopping street, just up the alley from Chanel. That one has table seating but serves a different menu of wraps along with the same salads and antipasti plates.
After lunch, I took the streetcar back to the hotel which passed by the Hauptbanhof, Frankfurt’s main train station. I got off at Willy Brandt Platz near the European bank and walking back to the hotel, I noticed the traffic signs. I was surprised to see not only a man but also a bike to show when both pedestrians and bikers can cross the street. It was the first time I had seen something like that.
I spent the afternoon lethargic after my large meal. It had also gotten cooler and I didn’t bring my coat so I skipped doing the museum mile and read my book in the room.
Dinner that evening was Thai – a welcome change after all the heavy food we had been eating. Rama V is an institution in Frankfurt and scores 19/25 in the Zagat restaurant guide. The interiors were all dark wood floors and teak furniture with a large golden Buddha watching over the diners. As with other restaurants, Rama V was again packed by banker types. I suppose this is unavoidable since Frankfurt is a banking capital but sometimes the whole city just feels like Canary Wharf in London and lacks the buzz of locals having fun.
The food at Rama V was excellent and definitely authentic. We ordered family-style and placed all the food in the middle to share which is the way Oriental food should be eaten and enjoyed. Appetizers were crispy spring rolls served with a sweet chili sauce, deep-fried spicy squid and a satay of grilled beef skewers with thick peanut sauce.
We ordered the ubiquitous Pad Thai – rice noodles sauteed with prawns and a great example of the four tastes present in Thai cuisine – hot, sour, salty and sweet. Here, the chilies are tempered by the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar for a mouthful of Thai flavor. It was one of the best Pad Thai’s we’ve ever had. We also shared a stir fry of chicken, mushrooms and vegetables and a crispy duck in red curry with lychees. (The latter is a mnemonic for my husband and I. When I first met his parents eight years ago, we had dinner at Wyndham Street Thai, a modern Thai restaurant in Hong Kong. Being the only Asian, I was in-charge of ordering and that same duck in red curry with lychee was the star of the evening and had impressed his parents.) Service was efficient and the only downside was when we started to order dessert, we were told that out of the 15 items on the dessert section, we could only order fruits since all the other items would take forty minutes!! We decided to skip dessert and had a nightcap at a cafe nearby then said our goodbyes shortly afterwards.
The next morning, I packed and had an espresso in the hotel terrace reading the paper. We checked out at noon and walked towards the Opera to have lunch at one of the many outdoor restaurants in that area. I wanted to take Alex to IMA but there was no place to sit and since we didn’t have much time, we decided to go to Meyer’s instead on the pedestrian street Grosse Bockenheimer.
Meyer’s is a sister restaurant to Holbein’s where Ana Liza and I had dinner the other night and the menu at both places are similar and straightforward and with simple continental dishes highlighted. Alex had a decent Caesar salad with beef tenderloin and I had an excellent seared yellow fin tuna with tomato risotto that wasn’t cooked. Service was again very quick (is it that famous German efficiency?!) and when we told the waitress about the risotto she immediately offered us free coffees. Afterwards, we had time for another coffee and then we were off to the airport.
The flight back via Madrid on SpanAir was uneventful until we arrived in Madrid and were told the flight to Malaga would be delayed for an hour. We decided to leave the airport and breathe some fresh air and have a proper dinner then return at 10:30 with enough time to spare for our flight home. As with all air travel nowadays, the service was terrible and we were shuffled back and forth between several different gates and were finally told that we had to transfer on to another flight which was also delayed. We were supposed to leave at 9:30 and finally left at 11:20. We were given the last seats on the flight which were in the last row and beside the engines so the 45 minute flight was an agony of noise and jaw-cracking vibrations experienced by all those in the rear of the plane. For the inconvenience of the delay we were given vouchers for our next SpanAir flight. I think it might be better to pay more and fly with another airline. Thankfully, we had no checked-in luggage and left as soon as we landed and didn’t get back home until 2:oo a.m.
Frankfurt is a compact and safe city easily explored on foot and I have to stay that as expected, Germans are an efficient and polite lot. This time around, I didn’t indulge in any culture but will surely go to the Stadel museum or see an opera next time I visit.