The grapes used in the Bikavér blend are Kadarka and Kekfrankos (typically the majority components), Zweigelt, Blauburger, Kekmedoc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Wine laws state that each of these varieties should be used to some extent in all Bikavér wines, and that none of them should constitute more than 50 percent of the final blend. Egri Bikavér requires two or three years of oak aging, and can be enjoyed with grilled meat or spicy food. The color is a medium ruby with violet towards the rim. The acidity is high and the wine is not flabby. There are some pleasant pepper and plum notes. I paired it with a dish that we had at The Café Budapest, a mushroom paprikash which can be served as a compliment to grilled steak or even served over noodles. Here is the recipe:
2 lbs (900 g) champignon or cremini mushrooms
7 fl oz (200 ml) sour cream
6 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp flour
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups (475 ml) water
1. Chop the onions and slice mushrooms – they should be 1/4-1/3 inch (5-8 mm) thick, not too thin.
2. Saute the onions in oil over medium heat until golden, for about 8-10 minutes.
3. Lower the heat, add 2 oz. (60 ml) water and let it simmer.
4. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes over low heat, adding 2 oz. water at a time. (You can skip this step if you have no time, but this will create the nice and thick sauce for the onions.)
5. Take off the heat, add paprika and stir. (Paprika would easily burn if added over heat.)
6. Add sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper, stir and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes without adding any liquid.
7. Mix sour cream with flour in a bowl, add 4-5 tbsp of mushroom sauce to avoid lumps.
8. Pour the sour cream mixture over the mixture, stir and let it cook for 2 minutes so the flour can thicken your mushroom paprikash.
Legend has it that Egri Bikavér earned its name because of the 16th-century invasion of Europe by Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent. During the Siege of Eger castle by the Turks, a group of Hungarian soldiers defending the edifice were said to have been furnished with lavish feasts at which gallons of red wine were consumed. Unable to explain the resilience and tenacity with which the small group of soldiers were able to stave off the siege, the Turks murmured rumors about the Hungarians’ wine being mixed with bull’s blood. Eventually, the Turks gave up, and the victory at Eger was credited with dramatically reducing the threat of Ottoman expansion into northern and western Europe.
Eger, in northeastern Hungary, is a wine region known for its Egri Bikavér wine, popularly known as “Bull’s Blood”.
Personally, I’ve been drinking it since 1988 and it’s not easy to find in the average wine store. I paid $12 a bottle. I first had it at the Café Budapest, a Boston restaurant that has since closed and a dining institution for 37 years, considered the Russian Tea Room of Boston. I went there on dates, I celebrated there when I got A’s in graduate school, I went there on New Year’s Eve with friends. It was my go-to place.
If you’ve seen the movie with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin titled “Housesitter” then you’ve seen the Café Budapest and you’ve seen Jawdet, our beloved waiter, who because of his dashing good looks, was offered a part as an extra in the movie.
Entering the Budapest, as I like to call it, was entering into an “old world” experience. There was a small bar area and a lounge area, with a pianist and a violinist. There were individual curvy booths set into small alcoves in the lounge with curtains tied back at the sides of each alcove (and the suggestion of…ooh what if we closed the curtains) which added to the seductive sophistication.
We always enjoyed the lounge and ordered a vodka martini before dinner, served in a small decorative coupé, brought to the table by a professional waiter dressed in an elegant uniform, and carrying a silver plate. On it, a small carafe on ice, from which he poured my vodka martini. As we enjoyed the pre-dinner cocktails, complimentary pâté served in a silver bowl was set down in front of us. Later, as we sat in the dining room with red leather curved booths with crisp white linen tablecloths down to the floor, the violinist would stroll by and sometimes stop at our table. As we became regulars there, we came to know a waiter, Jawdat Hatoum, and always asked to be seated in his section. Soon, each time we went, he brought our table a complimentary bottle of the house red, Egri Bikavér. Indeed, it truly was like something out of a Bogart movie. Since it closed, there hasn’t been another restaurant in Boston that comes close to the experience of romance and old world service of The Café Budapest.
I believe I only met the sister named, Hedda. Here’s more on the story of the two sisters who owned this gem called Café Budapest, written in a Boston Magazine article by James Burnett and Doug Most | Boston Magazine | July 2003:
“It was 1952, and Livia Hedwig was a striking 28-year-old blonde who eight years earlier had barely survived the concentration camp at Auschwitz by cooking with her mother and sister in the kitchen. (Of the 200 people in her extended family, only 10 survived.) One day, while she was in medical training at the University of Budapest Hospital, friends introduced her to a tall and handsome patient. George Kury was a soft-spoken Hungarian soldier studying to become a doctor, three years younger than she and not Jewish. Theirs was a romance without lavish gifts, blossoming at a time when the streets of Budapest were filled with poor people standing in line for hours to claim a few slices of bread. Under the postwar communist regime, nobody did anything or went anywhere without being watched. Leaving the city, you needed permission. Leaving the country was impossible. Unless you were willing to cheat death.
In 1956, with Hungary exploding in revolution, Hedda, her sister, Edith, and their mother fled to Vienna, machine-gun fire bursting at their heels. George made his way to Yugoslavia, and for a few months didn’t know if he would ever see Hedda again. When he finally arrived in Boston, a scar from a battle wound across his chest, he boarded a train for Woods Hole, where he was reunited with her, and where, only a few weeks later, they were married in the ocean breeze. Within a year Hedda was pregnant, and on July 28, 1958, she gave birth to their son, Charles Andrew.
For a pair of young doctors, Boston was the ideal city in which to launch careers, and the two of them, both pathologists, eventually moved to Brookline. He focused on forensics and eventually became a medical examiner on Cape Cod; she specialized in clinical pathology, opening labs in Brookline and in Peabody. On weekends they would head to the Cape with Charles to relax at the vacation home they’d bought in Falmouth, a happy couple living a world away from the tumult of their youths.
Just as Hedda and George were following their dreams, Hedda’s sister Edith followed hers, opening a restaurant near Beth Israel Hospital with her mother as her partner. “All the medical residents got a discount if they went there for lunch,” says Dr. Lajos Koncz, who started a Hungarian cultural club that George and Hedda joined. “That’s how this whole collaboration, the whole family affair, got started.”
Two years later, Edith was forced to move the restaurant but she quickly found a new landlord. Roger Saunders, who owned the Copley Square Hotel and had become one of her regulars, offered his hotel’s basement, the former home of the legendary Storyville jazz club. “She said to me four words,” Saunders recalls of Edith’s first visit to the space: “Dahrlink, this is purfect.”
In her new location, Edith opened Café Budapest and created a stage for romance, where people came not just for the cold cherry soup or the velvety beef stroganoff, but for the entire experience. “It was like something out of a Bogart movie,” says John Boyajian, who supplied the restaurant with caviar, smoked salmon, and foie gras. Edith decorated with dark woods, red velvet chairs, and a hand painted espresso machine. She hired a violinist, and every night, in a sparkling white gown, she greeted her patrons as they descended the stairway. “She loved men,” Boyajian says. “She had a dignified, flirtatious way.” The restaurant did so well that after 10 years, Edith wrangled a sweetheart lease out of Saunders. The term was for life and her sister would take over when she died.
During each shift, Edith slipped into her office for long drags on a cigarette. At the evening’s end, when the last table had been cleared and the chandeliers dimmed, a chauffeur would drive her home in her white Cadillac with a replica of the Hungarian royal seal painted on the side. Edith had lost two husbands, and her mother died in 1965. She was living with Hedda and George, whose medical careers were thriving.
“I didn’t know Hedda and George very well,” says Saunders, “because they didn’t come to the restaurant too often.” That changed in 1988, when lung disease brought on by her three-pack-a-day habit confined Edith to a hospital. It was there, in her last days, that Edith took her younger sister’s hand and made Hedda swear that, after she died, her restaurant would live on.
Unlike Edith, a born hostess, the more reserved Hedda had to grow into the role. Overnight, she went from reading medical charts to organizing seating charts. “She was a doctor. It was a big challenge for her,” says Jose Estrompa, the general manager at the Copley Square Hotel. Reluctant to give up her labs, Hedda juggled her medical practice and the restaurant, slipping out of her white coat and into her trademark white gloves each afternoon. It kept her from George, who rarely stopped by the restaurant, but he never complained; the restaurant conventions she took him to were a welcome change from the staid medical junkets they had attended for decades. Meantime, Café Budapest’s seasoned staff helped ease Hedda’s transition. Of course, she tried to do everything exactly as her sister had, right down to Edith’s unorthodox practice of paying retail at her trusted seafood market.
Even the freshest fish, however, couldn’t prevent a restaurant that once seemed regal and cosmopolitan from growing kitschy and stale, especially as the wave of new high-end continental eateries with their celebrity chefs swept over Boston. Couples would canoodle in its booths on Valentine’s Day, but by the mid-1990s, Café Budapest was struggling. Hedda, desperate, started balancing the books with her own cash. A former general manager estimates that she poured $400,000 of the money she and George had saved into the fading institution. And when Saunders lined up buyers, Hedda turned them all down. “I think she felt that the Budapest could not be operated outside her family,” he says. “There was a loyalty to her sister that was beyond my comprehension. That’s why she stayed in business even after the profit was not there.”
On the night of Saturday, October 14, 2000, Saunders summoned the staff to the hotel bar. “Everyone knew it was coming, but not then,” says Jawdat Hatoum, who worked at Café Budapest for 12 years. “The holidays were coming. We thought we would finish out the year.”
Saunders was brief. “This is the last night of Café Budapest,” he announced. The plan had been for Hedda to deliver that news, but she was too upset. She arrived late and never said a word.
For several months after Café Budapest closed, hotel employees would occasionally glimpse Hedda slipping downstairs to her shuttered restaurant. Nobody knew what she was doing, but when Saunders first showed the space to the men who would ultimately lease it and open the nightclub Saint, they were startled to find all the tables perfectly set, every knife, fork, and plate in place.
“It was haunted,” Saunders says. “Like it was ready for business that night.”
For Hedda, closing Budapest was like losing her sister a second time. Her health deteriorated, and she lost interest in socializing. Friends knew she had Parkinson’s disease, but say that on the few occasions they did see her, she looked ashen and weak, as if something far worse had taken hold of her body. George told friends a stray cat had scratched her, and the resulting infection had left her bedridden.
“I didn’t see the tremendous tremors,” says Steve Gallant, the couple’s financial adviser for nearly 20 years. “I saw a down-and-out person. George was taking over paying the bills, and he hated doing that.”
George’s job also had him depressed. His position in Pocasset had been cut, and he was being transferred to Boston, a move he was dreading because of the politics sure to come with it. “He was willing to work,” Gallant says, “but he wanted to spend time with Hedda.”
Shortly before 10:30 a.m. on Monday, March 31, Brookline police got a worried call from a friend of the Kurys who hadn’t heard from them in a few days. Patrolman David Wagner drove to their house, walking beneath the towering shrubs and up the brick path to the front door. He had to step around a pile of mail along with the dairy delivery. He knocked on the door and waited. Nothing. He walked around back and knocked. Nothing. Out of options, he called for the fire department to shatter a front window. A few minutes later Wagner was following firefighter Pat Canney through the shards.
Inside, they saw Hedda lying on a bed. There was no sign of any struggle. “Brookline Fire Department,” Canney shouted. She didn’t move. As he approached her, he saw some red bruises on her neck. Paramedics arrived in a few minutes, found no pulse, and determined that rigor mortis was already setting in, meaning she’d been dead for at least several hours. Then Wagner heard a dog bark. He followed the sound upstairs, where he discovered George’s body on a bedroom floor, and the dog in the closet. In a nearby sitting room, the police found a note on a piece of lined yellow paper. “There was a note with some instructions he wanted carried out,” says Brookline Police Captain Thomas Keaveney. “It made references to how he had done something.” Asked about the tone of the note, Keaveney says, “You could say he was remorseful.” The police immediately reached out to the couple’s son, still living in their Falmouth house. (Charles did not respond to requests to comment about his parents for this story.)
A Connecticut medical examiner was called in to do the autopsies so that George’s colleagues would not have to work on the case and determined in his final report last month, details of which were obtained by Boston magazine, that Hedda died of strangulation and George of a Valium overdose.
“Maybe he was terribly depressed after so many years,” Saunders speculates. “Maybe she was terribly depressed because she hadn’t been able to carry out her sister’s wishes. And maybe the two of them decided between them that they would both die. Maybe it wasn’t a murder-suicide.” He pauses, choosing his words carefully. “Maybe it was two suicides. Makes more sense to me. Murder’s a horrible word to associate with such a lovely, intelligent human being.”
Their will, which left the bulk of their estate to their son and Gallant, provided no clues. But Hedda left something else behind. A notorious pack rat, she’d been keeping notes of her memories and typing a memoir on a dusty old manual typewriter. She got only so far. Her last entry is for July 27, 1957. It was the date she and George had been married.”