Saturday, June 22, 2013

San Sebastian, Donostia!! España...

I inherited my love of food from both my parents, and having grown up with Spanish food, every trip back there is cherished. And even more so when the trip involves San Sebastian, which is like and amusement park for foodies!! It is not just having some of the top restaurants in the world, current #4 Mugaritz and #8 Arzak, or the fact that there are more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere in the world, but that you can walk into almost any pintxo (what tapas are called there) bar and have not only great food but something probably completely different from what you would find elsewhere.

So the trip itself started a year ago, when I had to secure reservations for both Mugaritz and Arzak. We were traveling with our good friends and both our son and theirs, so having that in mind and knowing that we would be getting a baby sitter for those two nights, I got the earliest reservation times, for 8:30 when they open. But before going into those experiences first some about the pintxos bars.
We stayed in a condo very close to La Concha beach and within walking distance to the “old part” where most of the pintxos bars are located. Walking to the pintxos bars:

One of our favorites was Bar Zeruko on calle Pescaderia 10. As you can see from the picture below, the bar is full of pintxos, all of them very innovative and delicious; you pick a plate and start putting the ones you want on it and give them back to the bartender who warms up the ones that need it. There are also a few that you order off the blackboard, such as La Hoguera, a codfish (bacalao) that comes in its own small smoking grill. The chef from Zeruko, Joxean Calvo, was so nice that when he saw my 8 year old asked if he could make something more kid friendly for him. Fortunately my son is not picky so I politely declined but thought was a nice touch, in particular with a packed place and kitchen going full steam!

Keep in mind that most of these pintxos, including the ones above with generous portions of foie, go on average for only 3-4€, a deal!!

Another place high on the recommendation list was La Cuchara de San Telmo on calle 31 de Agosto. The place is tiny but has great outdoor seating if you can snag it, you order inside and they bring it out. Highly recommended here is the Braised Veal Cheeks (carrillera de ternera), the foie, the risotto and codfish. The staff was super friendly and recommended several items on the menu that they favored.

We also enjoyed A Fuego Negro located too on calle 31 de Agosto. The winner here was the Merendola de Foie, a brulee of foie that comes in a can, inside a picnic wrap, together with a pumpkin and vanilla mermelade, and a nuts and fruits bread, delicious.

Another winner that didn’t look like much from the outside was Bar Alex, we had so many good pintxos there, including the mushroom risotto with parmesan, foie with orange (I had foie at least once a day, usually three or four!), and three cheese tosta.

Also had some good pintxos at Bide Bide, like the simple but awesome chistorra with eggs and potatoes, and angulas! 

Even the little café/bar steps away from our condo had some great breakfast pintxos!! Some of the awesome breakfast pintxos at Bar Ostarte:


Moving on to the “big” ones, Arzak and Mugaritz, expectations were pretty high for both and I have to say both of them delivered!! We went to Arzak first and Mugaritz second and I am glad that is the order we followed, I have to say for individual flavors Arzak had some of the winning dishes but for overall memorable experience it was Mugaritz. Due to the many courses I will only post a few pictures here, first from Arzak the Kobe Steak: first an iPad is placed on the table with flames on the screen, then a clear plate holding the steak goes on top of the iPad and the server places something that makes smoke come out so whole presentation is flames, steak, smoke, brilliant. The “hardware” chocolates and the presentation of the sabajon were also impressive, but as far as taste the pigeon was the clear winner, I had pigeon before but didn’t taste anywhere as fantastic as this one did.

Here  we are with our friends and Elena Arzak (#1 woman chef in the world!!) after dinner.

Mugaritz had several dishes that were also very much about the presentation, like edible stones  (actually potatoes that look like stones sitting on dirt) and also the desserts which come as the seven deadly sins, and you have to uncover layer by layer/sin by sin which is a game on itself.
Some of the other outstanding dishes were the edible paper with flowers, the lobster flesh over fermented rice, the blood sausage and foie macaron (!), the pea teardrops, so many…
Pretty much everywhere we went we had great (Spanish) wines but at Mugaritz we took it up a notch with Alion Ribera del Duero and Pintia from Toro, and then a new one for me but fantastic, the Altos de Losada from Bierzo, delicious…

All in all, and even with the high mark we had set for this trip, it was even beyond our expectations, from the simple bar for breakfast that was a total mom and pop (or in this case, mom and son) operation, to the famous pintxos bars and the top rated restaurants, some great food but definitely some of the best gastromic experiences we have ever had!!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Awe shucks, it's a Pig Roast!!

To celebrate independence day Muss & Turner's had a whole pig roast, 5 course menu. Having had chef's tasting menu dinners there before, we were really excited about this one.

To start off the first course was heirloom tomato salad with Tasso ham, cucumber, red onion, arugula, cilantro, and avocado vinaigrette:
Heirloom Tomato Salad @ Muss & Turner's Inc

Perfect fresh start... On to second course, grilled Apalachicola oysters, pork belly, spicy pique:
Grilled Apalachicola Oysters @ Muss & Turner's Inc

No words could properly give justice, hands down best oysters I have ever had!!

For third course had a Brunswick stew with rabbit, pork shoulder, tomato, corn, and lima beans:
Brunswick Stew @ Muss & Turner's Inc

Great flavor, and nice to have a different taste with the addition of the rabbit... To go with the stew there was cornbread with black pepper bacon butter:
Cornbread, Black Pepper Bacon Butter @ Muss & Turner's Inc

and yes, the butter was as good as it sounds, but then how can you go wrong combining butter and bacon...

Fourth course, and main entree, was the caja china roasted pork, coffee and molasses smoked beef brisket, mac n cheese, collards.
Caja China Roasted Pork, Coffee And Molasses Smoked Brisket, Mac N Cheese, Collards @ Muss & Turner's Inc

The pork was outstanding but have to say the brisket and the mac n cheese were amazing too, I am not a big collards fan so that was probably the one thing I wasn't crazy about.

To finish off the night the fifth and last course was dessert:
Peach Cobbler @ Muss & Turner's Inc

Peach cobbler, goat cheese ice cream, balsamic syrup and of course... bacon sprinkles! :)

What a perfect dinner to start celebrating the independence of this great country!!!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Don Julio Tequila Tasting Menu at Noche Vinings

Noche Vinings is part of the Here 2 Serve restaurant group here in Atlanta. At the helm of Vinings location is chef Tina Aleandri, who you might know from the TV show Chopped where she came in second. Chef Tina has been adding some more original Spanish tapas or small plates to the standard Noche menu and what I have tasted has been great, like this pan roasted tilapia with vegetable escabeche and these Spanish albondigas.

Last week chef Tina had a four course tasting menu paired with Don Julio Tequilas, all courses were great and have to admit the pairings worked well for each. It was nice to be able to taste the progression of tequilas (they all start as Blanco but then depends on how long it is aged) with the different courses.

To start off, had a lobster and crab salad wrapped in jicama, nice presentation, wonderful mix of flavors and texture, definitely off to a great start! This course was paired with Don Julio Blanco.

Next we had scallops in romesco sauce with asparagus escabeche
While chef Tina was downplaying the romesco sauce, it was very good! This course was paired with Don Julio Reposado.

As good as everything had been up to this point, next up was the real winner of the night:
Steak with chimichurri sauce and Peruvian purple potatoes. The chimichurri was prepared perfectly, have to say better than some of the ones I have had in South America. The Peruvian purple potatoes had a sweetness that helped cut the acidity of the sauce so the chimichurri actually went well with both... This course was paired with a Don Julio Añejo.

To finish off, dessert was a cherry cream ice cream with cherry coulis. While I am not a big ice cream person, this was really nice and once again went perfectly with the last tequila of the night, Don Julio 70.

All in all it was a great meal, hope that chef Tina gets to this kind of tasting menus on a more frequent basis...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Southern California

While I have enjoyed California through the years (first place in the US I ever went to) and at one point spent one week a month there, it had been a while since I had visited. Since it was a family vacation we left out most of the real high-end restaurants and instead focused on some we really wanted to try and we would all enjoy, running the spectrum from fast food staples like In N Out for burgers in L.A. and Rubio's for fish tacos in San Diego to Morgan's in the Dessert and it's James Beard award winning chef Jimmy Schmidt.

While we had some outstanding meals, it would be an extremely long and probably boring post if I went through all so will try to pick some of the highlights...

Knowing my love (and my 7 year old's) love of hamburgers, first off of LAX for lunch was In N Out. I had read the entire (not so) secret menu and knew exactly what I wanted, a double double with whole grilled onion and fries well done.

After all the expectation, I have to say that In N Out totally lived up to the hype. My son went as far as saying that was the best cheeseburger he's ever had. While I wouldn't go that far, we did have to make two more stops for him on the trip to get him more In N Out cheeseburgers...

Knowing that night we would all be tired due to time difference I opted for Italian (my comfort food) in Osteria La Buca on Melrose. Everything was great but the two outstanding dishes were the grilled octopus, one of my many food weaknesses, and the spaghetti in squid ink.

The octopus was cooked perfectly and not cut in rings, the potatoes and mildly spicy sauce were perfect complement, ranks up there with some of the best octopus I have had, and rare is the time I see octopus in a menu and not order it...

The spaghetti nero was loaded with crab, sea urchin, pickled jalapeños and tomatoes, total explosion of taste!! Wonderful dish...

My twitter friend @DeathBedFood had recommended Gjelina in Venice as the talk of LA foodies so decided to give it a shot and while all I could get was lunch reservations, it again did not disappoint. We started off first with the pork meatballs, I could have easily had three more orders of these, and probably spooned up the sauce like soup:
And the salmon pastrami sandwich was also amazing:
Had heard great reviews about Lette Macarons in Beverly Hills, and with all of us having a sweet tooth that was a must stop, we bought a selection to go and went to Urth Caffe for a Spanish Latte, only time I have had a true cafe con leche in the US.

Technically not supposed to bring any outside food into Urth so sshhhh!

In Santa Monica found this great little bakery, Rockenwagner Bakery that had this fantastic breakfast sandwich, egg, ham, cheese and avocado on pretzel bread.
Would gladly have one of these every day for breakfast...

Another place I had heard great things about and also was looking forward to was Fig Santa Monica, and again, it lived up and even surpassed expectations! Everything was amazing, starting with the amuse bouche

following with the appetizers
corn agnolotti, just the right amount of sweet corn and cream...
and the braised tongue in tomatillo sauce....on to the amazing entrees, the short rib and pancetta meatloaf
which not only had enough flavor with the short ribs and pancetta combo but the sauce was lick the plate good, and on to the sturgeon
with prosciutto and foie gras sauce... can I use "lick the plate good" again??

And so we go to San Diego... which for me meant fish tacos! While researching places the one name that kept coming up was Rubio's, despite being a fast food chain, so not having tried before decided to see for myself. Had a variety, including the traditional (fried), the grilled ono, but the winner was the grilled one with habanero and mango, really nice!

Next up on the list was Bencotto Italian Kitchen which had won best Italian in San Diego so we were ready for some good pasta!

Started with a very nice cheese plate, not just the selection of cheeses,  but what came with it, like the caramelized onion and fig compote...
The pasta dishes were great, simple but great flavor and consistency, favorite was the house pasta,
Tagliatelle Bencotto, which came with a pink pancetta sauce.

Next up was Morgan's in the Desert which again had received top marks and being my Father's Day dinner was set to be a special meal, which it definitely was!

We went "raw" with the appetizers, getting the beef carpaccio
and the tuna tartare
both very good and welcome cold app after a very hot day (115 degrees...).

My entree was one of the top dishes of the trip, the pork loin with a caramelized onion and bacon sauce... amazing!!
Loved that the staff was very accommodating as well, from taking the obligatory Father's Day pics, to the sommelier recommending the perfect wine, to our waitress taking our son to the kitchen to show him how they were making the s'mores dessert.

Back in LA after Palm Springs we spent our last day in Manhattan Beach which not only do we love but had the best weather to see us off, we stopped at Rock'n Fish just by the pier and had another great meal before coming home, these crab cakes with spicy sauce were outstanding.
There were many other good meals and a few places that we couldn't make it to, but these above are for sure the highlights of a wonderful and memorable trip through southern California, now wanting to go back.... :)