A week in Miami

Makoto Restaurant Bal Harbour

Hello my lovely blogger friends, I have been away for a long long time!  I am so sorry, it has been crazy since I returned from South Africa, navigating a new city, getting engaged, planning an upcoming wedding and then visiting my mother for a week in Miami………it has been nuts!

But, I’m back at home and finally have some time to write and post!  I wanted to write about some new and notable places I went to in Miami.  It was such a whirlwind trip, that I never really ate at home.  Catching up with family and friends in little snippets of time, it’s always bitter sweet, loving my time with them but knowing it is only a few hours or so.

Anyhow, as I mentioned, I did do a lot of eating out.  And there are three places that I thought were worth mentioning if you are ever in Miami and want to try something off the beaten track.

One of the first ones was Makoto Restaurant in Bal Harbour Shops.  Makoto is the brainchild of Makoto Okuwa, who trained from the young age of 15 in Japan, and then set his sights westward.  In Washington D.C. he trained with Chef Morimoto of Iron Chef fame, and then later became the head chef of Morimoto New York. I had never heard of it, but joined my friend Michelle Bernstein, Miami Chef Extraordinaire of Michy’s , Crumb on Parchment; host of PBS’ Check Please! and of Top Chef fame (as a judge).  Located in Miami’s ritziest shopping center, Bal Harbour Shops, it is a small but beautifully appointed space.  Since it was my first time and she knows I love my food, she let me choose.  On first inspection the menu really surprised me, it was really long!  It was divided in super simple sections such as Cold, Hot, Salads, Rice + noodles, Robata, Fish + Meat, and obviously sushi.    I was super tempted by almost the whole thing, ranging from traditional sashimi to such unique dishes, it almost felt to me that it would be things that a love child between Nobu and Ferran Adria would come up with.

I ordered a few things, and there were some dishes that were brought  out from the kitchen courtesy of the chef, since of course I was eating with another acclaimed chef.  And to tell you the truth, those were my favorites.  The Watermelon Ceviche, with Tuna, Whitefish, octopus, Squid, Serrano and Lime Ice was genius!  It was so fresh, with a little bit of dried ice to creat this mad scientist/volcano feel.  The heat from the Serrano combined with the lemon ice was ingenious.  Everything on the plate was fantastic, and the quality of the seafood was superb.  I also enjoyed the Tuna Air Bread with Caesar Foam, Red Onion and Tomato.  This was a spin on one of Ferran Adria’s dishes called Air-Bag, which is a small baguette, that is hollow on the inside.  The tuna swapped well from the original dish’s jabugo ham, and the caesar foam in this one was delicious, giving it an almost tuna fish sandwich taste.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures, because we were gabbing like crazy the whole night!

Another place that is worth a mention is Oak Tavern,  which just recently opened up its doors in Miami’s über trendy Design District.  The decor is simple, rustic yet elegant.  It has a beautiful courtyard that you cross to get to the main restaurant.  The menu is very similar to Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, which is a couple of streets away from Oak Tavern.  It is composed of odd pairings of what I like to call “new american omnivore”.  Chock full of your trendy veggie staples such as beets and kale, some ’50’s throwbacks such as Deviled eggs, and foodie staples of pig galore (Bacon, Belly and Ears) this menu is the type of food I enjoy eating.  We ordered quite a few, since it seems like Spain’s tapas has reached western shores and conquered it.  There were some stellar options, and some not-so-stellar bombs.

My favorite had to be the Roast Bone Marrow with Oxtail Marmalade;

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I absolutely adore bone marrow, funny thing is the first time I tried it was at Michelle Bernstein’s Sra. Martinez restaurant, which unfortunately no longer exists.  I was totally taken aback at how amazing this oxtail marmalade was, succulent and sweet, yet savoury all at once.  The celery leaf, fennel and parsley side salad paired nicely with the richness of the dish, giving it a nice burst of acidity and crispness.

Another big surprise for me was Neiman Marcus’s Mariposa restaurant in The Village of Merrick Park.  My mother and I decided to eat there only because she was shopping around for a dress for my wedding.  I had never been there, and frankly, was not expecting much.  The first thing that really pleased me was their menu; clear, concise calorie counts on every dish, and lots of vegetarian, low calorie and organic options.  The feel of the place was obviously laid back elegance, with neutral tones throughout the dining room.  I decided on one of the low cal options, which was quickly made null and void by the giant popover that was placed in front of me!

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Placed beside it was a teeny little plate of strawberry compound butter and an espresso cup of consome,

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It was absolutely divine.  The consome was perfect, since it was quite chilly that day, (for Miami that is) and the strawberry butter and the popover….melt in your mouth goodness.

My main dish was the mahi mahi tacos with avocados and ancho chile dressing, loaded with a cabbage slaw and fresh cilantro.

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At 405 calories, this was pure ecstasy!  The fish was perfectly cooked, super flavorful.  The contrast of the creamy avocado and the crisp salad made this dish a perfectly satisfying lunch.  And, I skipped dinner that night too, it was really filling!

So, all in all, my trip to Miami was wonderful, spending time with the family and friends, discovering new and old places I had never been too.  Who says American’s don’t know how to eat well?

Not little old me, of course!

Naples and The Amalfi Coast Pt. 2

Neapolitan Food

Eating in Italy is a religious experience.  Eating in Campania, well…..let’s just say it is one of a kind.  What is great about the food in Naples and it’s surroundings you say?  Wellllllll…….Let’s start off with the basics.  Tomatoes.  The best tomatoes in the world come from this area.  Namingly, the “Pommodori di San Marzano”

Tomatoes, Italy, Campania, San Marzano

This is the queen bee of sauce tomatoes.  Much like the roma, or plum, it is slightly longer and thinner, and juicy so perfect for that “Marinara” sauce on your pizza, or pasta.

Then there’s “Mozzarella di Bufala”.  This also hails from this region.  Delicious, sometimes tangy taste of pure Buffalo milk.

Mozzarella Cheese, Bufala, Italy, Campania

And then of course there’s “Pasta di Grangnano  trafilata al Bronzo”…..which is basically, excuse my home region of Emilia-Romagna, the best dry pasta, or Pasta Asciutta, your money can buy.

Faella, Pasta, Grangnano, Italy, Campania

And of course, I cannot forget all the seafood.  From squid, mussels, clams, octopus, and the queen of the sea, Ricciola, or Greater Amber Jack as we would call it.

But there is also the lemons….to make Limoncello, Granita, Salads, Lemonade……it is really a rich and diverse food basket that serves all of Italy, and the world.

Well, you know that one of the main reasons I went there was to eat.  So eat we did.  Here is the best of the best that we found in Napoli and around!

Our first night we were basically directed by a young lad to try “Oste Pazzo” restaurant, near the Lungomare and right below the “Castell dell’ Ovo”.

The waiters basically harassed (well, not too much, I mean, in terms of food you really don’t have to push me too far) to try the “Antipasto Tipico Napoletano”  This was basically comprised of a few octopus and squid salads with the typical “Fritti misti di pesce”.  That is mixed fried seafood.  I love me some fried food.  And it was awesome.

Fried Mixed Seafood, Italy, Naples

On the left is fried baby squid, quite like what we get here in Spain, but they were absolutely tiny and tender, and the batter was crazy good, crunchy, just a tad spicy, perfect.  In the middle we had two fritters with “neonati”, basically little fish in a delicious parsley spiked batter.  And on the right, fried white anchovies.  Paolo, my sweetie, wasn’t a big fan of these, he thought it was too fishy.  I however, loved it.  Something about munching on these, or any anchovy, is truly delicious.

Next up on the friend band wagon, is the Arancini.  I love arancini, and have featured them before on my blog.  But I have always eaten the Sicilian variety.  Never had I tried the Neapolitan ones.

Arancini, Fried Rice Balls, Italy, NapoliOn the left is the anemic looking “Arancino Bianco”, or white arancino, and on the right is the, you guessed it, “Arancino Rosso”, red arancino.  I was in for a huge surprise.  What looked like the bland, plain white arancino, turned out to be the tastiest one!  The white one stuffed with a pork sausage type of filling, and the rice was chock full of pepper and cheese.  It was absolutely amazing.  The red one, on the other hand, was more balanced, but also, less flavourful.  It is red because they cooked the rice with tomato sauce, and then it stuffed with a tomato meat sauce.  Both were delicious, but the white one won!

Neapolitans love their fried food.  Nary a street corner or restaurant menu that wasn’t filled with these guilty pleasures! Even for breakfast.  Upon arriving to the hotel we were instructed to go to a café called “Scaturchio”, a hundred year old café that has some pretty amazing pastries, and Napoli’s most famous, the Sfogliata.  Sfogliata is a filo-type pastry filled with sweet ricotta and candied fruits.  And one of the bonuses, is it’s served warm!

Scaturchio, Pastries, Naples, Italy

The pastry selection at Scaturchio

Sfogliata Pastry

Sfogliata Pastry from Scaturchio

It was delicious!  Crispy and buttery on the outside, warm, dense and moist on the inside.  Perfectly warm, so all you had to do was enjoy it without letting a drop of the ricotta fall!

In Capri, I mentioned we had a lunch with a view.  But obviously one of the things I wanted to eat in Capri was the Caprese Salad…..I mean, that is its birthplace!  So simple, but let me tell you, it was the best Caprese I have ever had.

Caprese SaladGorgeous, juicy, vine ripe “Cuore di Bue” tomatoes, with perfect spheres of “Mozzarella di Bufala”, accompanied only by a bit of rucola, extra virgin olive oil, and some salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Perfection on a plate!

We also enjoyed the “Insalata di Polipo con Agrumi”.  Octopus salad with citrus fruits.  This dish was made for summer in Naples.  Meaty, tender octopus bathed in lemon juice.  So refreshing for the unbearable heat!

Octopus salad with lemon dressingPaolo decided to go for the pasta, which was equally delicious, but I was trying to be “good” that day.  He had a very typical pasta that I have only tasted on this trip, called Sciallatielle.  This is a thick, flat, medium long noodle.  This pasta had been made fresh that day, and topped with Shrimp and cherry tomato sauce.

Sciallatielle Pasta with ShrimpThe shrimp in Naples are less briny than our mediterranean counterparts, equally delicious, but sweeter, and it complements the absolute star of this dish, the tomatoes.  Bursting with flavor!

Now the dessert here at Punta Tragara deserves special mention.  I was not very impressed by the title, Almond Crumble with Limoncello pastry cream.  But Holy Moses!!!!!  What an incredible dessert it is!  It is part lemon meringue, part lemon curd, part cheesecake crust!  All topped with the most beautiful and colorful summer berries.

Almond crumble with Limoncello Pastry Cream

In Positano, we went to a restaurant called “Le Tre Sorelle” that a friend of mine recommended.  It was a perfect beach-side lunch.  Although, Paolo chose the better (in terms of beachy-ness) option, but I just couldn’t be that close to Sorrento and not have “Gnocchi alla Sorrentina” which has to be one of my favorite dishes in the world.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is gnocchi with a tomato and mozzarella sauce.  But this was definitely the best I have tasted.  Again, it comes down to the tomatoes my friends……I am having withdrawal symptoms already.

Paolo ordered the fish, with an “Aqua Pazza” Sauce.  The fish was perfectly cooked, fork tender and juicy.  Again….with amazing tomatoes and this time, potatoes!

Fish with Aqua PazzaThe presentation is gorgeous too, I have to say.

 

Oh my goodness….I can’t believe I forgot our starter at Tre Sorelle…..Zucchini Flowers stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.  Just sublime.  I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this lunch.  Until the next one I guess.  Ok, I am a sucker, they are all really good.

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto

 

And on our last night, we went uphill in one of Naples’ ritzier and more residential areas to a restaurant called “La Sacrestia”.  The menu looked amazing, the views were breathtaking, of the bay and Vesuvius.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the view, because the sun had already set….but here’s one so you can imagine!

Bay of Naples Also unfortunately, the restaurant was due to close the next day for holidays, so they didn’t have many of the dishes on the menu.  One of the dishes I wanted to eat was the Ricciola, the fish I had spoken about before.  But instead, they brought out a little tasting dish of pasta that really amazed me!  And I ended up recreating it at home.  I was really, really surprised because when they described it, it just sounded, well, blah.  It was Pasta with Mussels, Cherry tomatoes, Pepperoncino and Pecorino.

I loved it.  Obviously, the ingredients are the best of the best, so why bother adding more things that are unnecessary?  Gorgeous.

Well kids, I hope you enjoyed my culinary extravaganza of a trip through Campania.  Tomorrow…….PIZZA!

Carla

 

 

Naples and The Amalfi Coast Pt. 1

Napoli, Historic City Center, Campania, Italy, Streets

La Bella Napoli

Napoli.  What can I say?  A city full of contradictions.  A true diamond in the rough.  Behind every scruffy door, lies a sparkling interior.  A city with hundreds of years of history, all layered on top of each other, like a rickety tower of Jenga.  It is a mystery, and we barely scratched the surface.

Naples, Italy, Historic City Center

Flanked by the bounty of the Gulf, and the destructiveness of Vesuvius, it is a city that has a weathered, hardened appearance, that is visible on the locals faces.  Fiercely proud of their heritage, Neapolitans welcome you but they also take advantage of you.  I guess it is just second nature, being that it has been settled, conquered, pillaged, brought down yet somehow, it still manages to survive.  To stay strong.  And to stay true to their nature, whatever it may be.

Naples, Campania, Italy, Vesuvius, Lungomare

Lungomare with Vesuvius in the background

Napoli is a city that begs you to discover it.  We, obviously tried, but it will take many, many trips to truly get down to its true heart and soul.  After having said that, I think we did a pretty good job of traipsing around as much as we could with our limited time.  In 5 full days, we ate our way through Campania, ferried to Capri, miraculously survived driving out of the city and the “Blue Ribbon Drive” to Positano, and transported ourselves 1,933 years to witness the tragic glory of Pompeii.  Not bad for a 5 day sojourn, huh?

Our first day was dedicated to seeing the sights in the city, since our flight landed at 7:30 am, and we arrived at the hotel an hour later, and our room would not be ready until 12.  Tired and bleary eyed, we did our best to walk the streets and take in all the sights.  It was shocking, at best, and sometimes downright nerve-racking.  A total chaos of vendors, scooters packed with people whizzing in between us, tourists, kids playing ball, it was all too much to take in that early morning!  But throughout our trip we became experts at crossing roads, managing the chaos of the streets, and even driving.

Naples, Napoli, Campania, Italy, City CenterOn our second day, we escaped the heat of the city and took a ferry to Capri.  Oh wow.  I have no words for how beautiful this little island is.  It is a rocky, flower filled, spectacular little outpost in the Gulf of Naples.  Meandering through the tiny streets of Capri Town, I felt immediately overwhelmed by its natural beauty.  Impossible cliffs rising out of the azure waters, houses perched on teeny ledges, and flowers flowers flowers everywhere!  We wanted to see the Faraglioni, and ended up having lunch at a hotel, and then sneaking into their pool!

Capri, Italy

Capri, Shopping, Italy

Crowded streets in Capri Town

 

Capri, Italy, Faraglioni

Capri, Italy, Hotels

Capri, Italy, Flowers

Capri, Italy, Hotel Punta Tragara

Hotel Punta Tragara Swimming Pool

 

Capri, Italy

The third day, we needed to escape from the heat, again.  When I said Pamplona was hot, I didn’t know what hot really was.  This was 2 steps closer to hell!  I have never sweat so much in my entire life, and we needlessly parked way up in Positano, and had to take about a million stairs to get down to the beach.  I wasn’t happy until we were in the water, where we languidly dreamed of a swim up bar in the middle of the ocean.  The jet set on their yachts sure know what they are doing, let me tell you.  But we had a wonderful day nonetheless!

Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Sorrento, Amalfi Coast

Lemons, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Now THAT is a lemon!

 

Vendor, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Granita and Chilli Pepper Vendor on the street

 

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano, Beach, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Beach time in Positano

Our second to last day, we decided to go to Pompeii.  How amazing.  How vast.  How HOT.  Again.  But it was just so amazing being able to walk these streets that have remained intact for almost 2000 years.  If you can get to Naples, you must visit Pompeii.

Pompeii, Campania, Italy, Vesuvius

Pompeii, Medusa, Frescoes, Italy, Campania

A fresco of Medusa in the House Of Meneandro

Pompeii, Italy, Campania

The inner garden of the House of Meneandro

Pompeii, Campania, Italy

Villa of Mysteries, Villa dei Misteri, Affreschi, Frescoes, Pompeii, Italy, Campania

One of the well-preserved frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries

Vesuviues, Pompeii, Campania, Italy

Vesuvius

Tomorrow, I will post about our top food moments……and I have decided to dedicate a complete post to our quest for the perfect Pizza….we had a REALLY good time doing that!

I hope that my pictures can transmit to you the wonder that is Napoli and the Amalfi Coast.  Amazing 5 days!

Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Sebastian – Donosti- Basque Country

San Sebastián.  What can I say.  Eating capital of Spain?  Hollywood of Gastronomy?  With 6 Michelin stars, it definitely is a place to diet beforehand and then eat with reckless abandon.  We did nothing but….eat, and eat, and eat my friends.  And that is the only thing I have really ever done in San Sebastián.

Tucked in Spain’s northern coast on the border with France, it is a place of beauty, and brawn.  Not only are the chefs heavy weights, here, but the people themselves are from a different ilk.  Taller.  Paul Bunyon-like, if you will.  I mean, they have log chopping and stone throwing competitions, for Pete’s Sake!  But, that wasn’t why we came.  We came looking for “Chuleton” and “Pacharan”.  The former being a succulent, Fred Flintstone like bone in rib eye, and the latter, an after dinner (or lunch, in many of my cases) digestif, made with anise and endrinas, a type of wild berry.  And we found it.  Our first stop, was a place that was recommended to us called “Patxiku-Enea”, which basically means, Patxiku’s House.   A couple of kilometres outside of San Sebastián, it is a small, unassuming house on a grassy knoll.

 

But once inside, you get the feeling of the place.  More winter hunting lodge than anything, this is what I come to know as  “we are going to have a really amazing meal” place.

We were told to order the Chuleton, aka, the bone in rib eye.  And we did.  But first we had the guindillas, which are small green chili peppers that are flash-fried to perfection.

And another starter of scrambled eggs with porcini mushrooms.  I don’t think I need to reiterate my love affair with both.

Then, on to our main course, the stellar, and unbelievably delicious Chuleton.  With a side of roasted red peppers sautéed with garlic please.

If I could have sucked on the bone, like a good cave woman….I would have.  But, we were in a public place.  At home….no holds barred!

After this belly filling lunch, we went out on to their terrace, and I indulged in a very large glass of Pacharan.  My sweetie had the little one.

This lunch was amazing.  Simple, rustic, mouth-watering.  If anyone gets to come here, this is a must do.

After that, we checked into the hotel, and took a nap.  We really couldn’t move after, so best to digest whilst you’re sleeping.

Then, we took a stroll into town to, you guessed it, eat some more.  Here are some highlights of the night.

Crowded Pintxos Bar in the old town

 

Piquillo pepper stuffed with goat stew and idiazabal cream

 

Another Pintxos Bar

 

Peek-a-Boo!

 

“La Concha” Beach

 

Old bullfighting square, now Pintxos galore!

 

Crowded street with pintxo seeking tourists!

 

Eduardo Chillida’s Peine del Viento – The Wind’s Comb

 

If you ever come to Spain, try to make it to San Sebastián.  Not only is it a beautiful, charming city, it is probably the best food vacation you’ll ever have.

 

PATXIKU-ENEA ERRETEGIA
| TEL :  943 527 545 | MAIL : INFO@PATXIKU-ENEA.COM 
CAMINO DE GAINTXURIZKETA, HERRIKOETXEA KALEA, 20100 LEZO, SPAIN

http://www.patxiku-enea.es

 

Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basque Country

Needless to say, the Basque Country is Food Country.  We planned this trip around a Basque/Russian wedding, and ate our way through these spectacular Spanish regions.

Our first stop was Santes Creus, which is actually in Catalonia.  But we were hungry.  So, it was naturally a good stopover for us, since it was only about an hour and a half from Barcelona, and it had a very famous monastery.

We didn’t plan where we were going to eat, but let me tell you, what a wonderful surprise it was.  We happened to just plop ourselves down in the first restaurant we saw, which was right outside the monastery.  And it was amazing.  And cheap.  I was so happy and surprised to be able to enjoy such wonderful simple fare at real prices.

Melon with Iberian Ham

 

 

Gazpacho with all the trimmings

 

Toast with a mix of sautéed veggies, tuna and cheese

Grilled Chicken with Potatoes

All for 22 euros.  It was amazing.  I was so pleased, that once you get out of the city, you can eat like a king and not have to pay their ransome.

So after that, we were merrily on our way to Pamplona.  Pamplona is obviously known for the Running of the Bulls, which happens in the beginning of July.  It is a beautiful city, small and recently restored.  But HOT.  Oh, my God.  HOT HOT HOT.  The heat was unbearable.  So, we just went in search for the most air-conditioned places (few) and lots of good food and wine (many).  See , Pamplona is right near the Lodosa area, where the most delectable vegetables in Spain are grown.  And we’re talking about white asparagus and piquillo peppers my friends.  And that’s talking business.  But, since it is also very close to the Basque Country, almost like a sister province, they have amazing Pintxos.  Pintxos are tapas on a piece of bread with a toothpick stuck in it.  Darn good.  No, Amazing.

Pintxo bar in Pamplona

Blood Sausage Pintxo with Caramelized Onions, and Chistorra Sausage Pintxo with Padron Pepper

Idiazabal cheese covered in walnuts in a tomato jam

Micuit Foie Gras, Apple Chutney and Gold Leaf Powder

Toast with Tuna Belly, Anchovies and Piquillo Peppers

Seared Foie Gras with Caramelized Pineapple

I guess you can see, that the night’s theme was foie gras.  It was sublime.  An absolute treat for the both of us.

The next day, we drove to San Sebastián, and it deserves a post all on its own.  So I am going to skip to the real highlight of the trip, the reason we did it, our friends’ Russian/Basque Wedding!

Our friend Patrik is from Bilbao, and had been working in Moscow for about 4 years.  That is where he met Galiya.  Then, cut to the 3rd of August, 2012.  Their wedding.  It was beautiful and bountiful.  Definitely one to look up to food wise!

Traditional Basque Dance done for the Bride and Groom after they are married.

Jamon de Guijelo….need I say more?

Smoked Salmon, Pistachios and Dates

1st course, foie gras with pedro ximenez sherry reduction with summer berries

2nd course, tuna belly, tomato and caramelized onion salad

3rd course, gambas a la plancha….aka….pan fried prawns

My favourite by far, sautéed porcini mushrooms with truffle cream sauce

1st main course, Grilled monkish. Heaven.

Ok, after this, there was prime rib served, with piquillo peppers, and then a strawberry sorbet with cream cheese, and then the cake.  But I couldn’t eat anymore.  I know right?  What is wrong with me.  I’ll tell you.  I ate like a total pig the whole 5 days.  I cannot eat another thing until tomorrow, when I go to Naples, Italy!

If I don’t post anymore, you will know that I have exploded.

See you in a few!

Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mosquito: Cheap and Cheerful in Barcelona’s Sant Pere District

I’ve been going to mosquito for years now.  It is a place I discovered through friends, and what a discovery.  It is possibly, hands down, the best dim sum and authentic Asian food I have tasted here in Barcelona.  It has been, at sometimes, a weekly tradition with a friend of mine, and every time I go, it always delivers the flavours that I am looking for.
It is a small, unassuming space, if you were walking down the road, you would probably pass by it without a thought.  Once inside, you know immediately that the food will be Asian.  Is it the little paintings on the wall?

Or maybe it’s the Chinese newspaper plastered along the wall of the bar?  Or just the smells emanating from the kitchen?  Anyway you realize, it always satisfies, and your wallet will be happy as well.  Never have I paid more than 35 euros, for two people, and that is a lot of food, wine and water included!

Today was like any other day, we ordered the same things as usual.  The only difference was I didn’t order the Peking Duck or the Sichuan Beef, because my friend is vegetarian.  But I did sneak in a tid bit just for myself!

Yup, the Pork Bun.  I have no idea if it is as authentic here as in China, but let me tell you, it’s delicious!  It’s soft and fluffy, yet dry and moist at the same time.  I love it.  It is a  new discovery, as of 2 years ago.  But, I am happy to have included it in my repertoire!  I love it.  But that is the only “meat” thing we had.  (Ok, I had.)  Can you tell that I love it?

Next up was our Shrimp Shiujiao.  Now, I have to order two of these, because I love eating all six of them on my own.  They are so good, it doesn’t matter how many times I come here and order them, I always, always end up moaning in delight.

They are always made as you order, never frozen, and don’t come from a package.  (As most dim sum here in Barcelona do.)

Of course we had to have our veggies.  We decided on steamed Bok Choy with Shiitake mushrooms, and an order of my absolute favorite….Kimchee.

 I can’t get enough of Kimchee.  I know it isn’t Chinese, it’s Korean.  But, one of my favorite things in the world.  I could eat it non-stop.  Really, I could.

Then, our last order was for Thai style Fish Cakes.  My friend Michelle loves these.  She could eat the whole basket, and then some.  And the dipping sauce….a sweet vinegar concoction with fresh sliced chilies…..heaven.

4 glasses of wine, and 2 large bottles of fizzy water….it all came down to an affordable 32 euros.  In Barcelona it is extremely difficult to find such amazing and affordable food!

So, if you’re in Barcelona, and you tire of tapas, try mosquito, you won’t be disappointed!

mosquito

Calle Carders 46

+34 93 268 7569

http://www.mosquitotapas.com

 

Gaig Restaurant: One Michelin Star restaurant with roots in traditional Catalan Cuisine

Last night, my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to eat at this amazing restaurant.  I’ve lived here for ten years, and this is the first time I’ve been, and I am so incredible pleased.  I know the now defunct El Bulli changed food forever with the inception of molecular gastronomy, but that has never been nor will ever be my cup of tea.  Yes, I recognize the importance, and have had a lot of fun trying some of the things that they have come up with, but if I never had to eat another foam or spherification of something, I would be a happy girl.  I like FOOD.  I like composite plates of perfectly cooked food, be it simple or complex.  But to give me a spherical olive, that isn’t an olive but tastes like an olive, well, the first time you’re impressed and surprised, the second time, it’s like, just give me the (expletive) olive for God’s sake.

Gaig is not one of those types of Restaurants, and I am so, so happy.  A week ago it was my boyfriend’s “Santo”, which is Saint’s Day.  Here the celebration of your Saint is almost as important as your birthday.  In Catholic tradition, you are generally, if not exclusively, named after a saint, and there is a Saints Calendar which tells you what day your name-saint is celebrated.  Anyhow, I digress.  So, as a present to my man who has almost everything, I took him to Gaig.  We both enjoy food, be it casual burgers and ribs, to places like these.

Gaig can be found in the second floor of Hotel Cram, in the center of what we like to call midtown Barcelona.  It is a small, warm and inviting space, the decor in red, white and black.  It is very calm and elegant.  It’s very much understated, and I believe that it to let the food be the star.  Which it is.

I always like taking a picture of the place setting and the menu before the meal.  It gives me an inkling into the personality of the restaurant.  This was beautiful and simple.  The menu was beautiful as well.

A head of garlic, star anise, the third one looks like an apricot stone, and a vanilla pod.

The house hors d’oeuvre were, from left to right, Ham crisp, Cod fritters, Croquettes, and Wonton chip with parmesan cream and sage.

We started with the wonton, because of the delicate flavor.  The sage was powerful for its tiny size, complementing perfectly with the creamy parmesan.  The cod fritter was creamy and subtle, the ham crisp was just that, a tiny morsel packed with that wonderful Iberian ham, and the croquettes, well that was the best I have ever tasted.  These are simple, Catalan flavors.  Done well, they are truly incredible.  And these were just that.

  Our first starter, on the left, creamy scrambled egg with yellow chanterelle mushrooms.  Ok, I have mentioned in the past my love affair with eggs.  For me, an egg is a thing of beauty.  This was a PERFECT scramble, super creamy, the only addition to it was the delicate chanterelle.  Such a humble, yet divine dish.

Next to it was a cold Vichyssoise.  Also perfect in its simplicity.  Food that is well done does not need any smoke and mirrors.  I really applaud chefs that present food like this, because, no they aren’t giving us anything we haven’t tried before, but it shows their confidence that they are giving you the best of an already amazing dish.

Here we have a beautiful and colorful plate.  This was Oyster, mussels, scallops, razor clam with pickled (escabeche) vegetables, with tuna lightly marinated in soy sauce.  I really commend the Chef on this dish.  This dish was über delicate.  The vegetables were almost raw, and there was almost no seasoning.  The accomplishment to this was that the seafood sung.  I have never tasted mussels this good.  The oyster was sublime.  I loved my razor clam, my boyfriend found his too chewy.  In the mix was a little bit of shiso…..and that was just about all the flavor this dish needed.  Shiso is such a delicate and lingering flavor.  It paired well with all the crustaceans without taking away their natural sweetness or briny flavor.  And the tuna.  It was again, perfect.

Meat cannelloni with a Truffle Bechamel.  This, my friends, is what I am talking about.  This is what put Carles Gaig, head chef and owner of Gaig, on the map.  This is heaven on a plate.  I cannot tell you how incredible this was.  If I was at home, I would be running my finger over the sauce to sop up every last teeny bit of it.  It was that good.  Why mess with perfection?  He didn’t.  By far, hands down my favorite dish of the night.

Baby octopus with artichokes in a red wine sauce.  This is a dish that is just fantastic.  The octopus was so tender, the artichoke hearts perfectly cooked.  The red wine was never overpowering but lending it a depth that it could not have had without it.

On the right, is another very traditional Catalan dish called “Suquet de Peix”.  I am not sure how to literally translate, but to sucar is to dunk.  I imagine the reason is because the sauce begs to be dunked or dipped by your fish, potato, bread, spoon….whatever.  This was a perfectly cooked piece of John Dory with potatoes.  The sauce is very rustic, onions, tomatoes and peppers, slowly cooked until their natural sugars come out.  Lightly seasoned with Pimenton, which is spanish smoked paprika.  It was heavenly.  Another one of his triumphs.  Why mess with it, again?

Now we are starting off with the meat courses, the first one is pan seared foie gras, with salsify and a baby red swiss chard leaf. I have never tried salsify, which is a root vegetable.  But it was caramelized, and paired with the foie, along with the swiss chard, it really lightened up the whole dish.  It was equally umami, tart and bitter.  Wonderful.

Our last savoury dish was “Pichon”.  Pichon is a young pigeon that is bred for eating.  Not the street pigeons.  It is a dark, very tasty meat.  But, this was my least favorite dish.  Although the preparation was fantastic, on the left you have the breast that was grilled, and on the right the leg was in confit.  The only thing that made me not enjoy this dish was the sauce.  It was made from the birds own kidneys.  I am not a fan of kidney.  It just reminds me of my mother making me eat kidney as a kid, and as soon as the plate came out, that brown hue just took me back there.  It was delicious, but I didn’t enjoy it, having my thoughts plaguing me with images of me crying as soon as I saw what my mother was putting on the dinner table.  But, to you kidney lovers, this was a very, very good dish.  The kidneys were very delicate, and I am assuming if you love them, you would give this a thumbs up.

Here we have the cheese plate.  This was lackluster, at best.  I love cheese.  But I think that my boyfriend and I have had so many cheese plates, and buy cheese so often, that this just did not measure up to our standards.  By no means was it not good, just not what we have gotten used to.  The plate is amazing.  And the apricot and orange marmalade was fabulous.  But you had to use it sparingly so it would not over power the delicate cheeses, except the Stilton.  And even with that one, it only needed a little bit.  The one to the left was a Petit Nevat.  It’s a creamy goats milk cheese, from Catalonia.  In the middle we had a dry and cured sheep’s milk, which I don’t remember the name.  It wasn’t my thing.  Very reminiscent of a Manchego, which I am not a huge fan of.  And on our right, Stilton.  I love Stilton.  So, obviously this was my favorite one.

When our first dessert was brought out, I was about to cry.  I knew exactly what it was going to be.  A deconstructed Crema Catalana.  I was going to cry not because I don’t like crema catalana, but because I make this on a weekly basis for my cooking classes, and cannot have another bite of it.  But thank God I did.  It was incredible.  On the bottom, Lemon jam.  Middle, caramel ice cream.  Top, catalan crème foam with the caramelized sugar.  Amazing.  Delicious.  I ate the whole thing with reckless abandon.  This is probably the best Crema Catalana I’ve had in my life.

Having said that, the chocolate textures dessert was rather disappointing.  Yes, it was chock full of “African Chocolate”, but it was lackluster and failed to deliver that rich chocolate flavor I so crave and desire when I eat it.  But the dish and presentation was beautiful.  It was a chocolate sponge cake, with chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, and dark chocolate crisp.

My favorite part of the night, was when the Carles Gaig, the head chef, came to our table, and invited us into the kitchen.  I am definitely starstruck with chefs, as how some people would be with celebrities.  They are my celebrities.

Except for those two teeny things I didn’t enjoy as much, this evening was perfect.  It was a special night for both of us, and it was an incredible meal.  If you can, you must make it to Gaig.

Gaig Restaurant

Aragon 214, 08011 Barcelona

+34 93 429 1017

http://www.restaurantgaig.com

A night in Collioure, France

So after our post-lunch walk and a bit of shopping, we hopped back in the car to our final destination for the night, Collioure, France.  Funny thing is, I wasn’t even going to take them there.  My original thought was to take my family to Cadaques.  But on the Thursday night after we had rented the car, I got on the internet and tried to find a place to stay.  There was NOTHING in Cadaques.  By this time I was getting nervous.  All the websites kept on offering us rooms in Roses, which is a seaside town 25 km from Cadaques, but not exactly the place you want to stay.  The only draw Roses has, or had, I should say, is that it is home to El Bulli, which is now a center for investigation and learning,  Culinary investigation that is.  Then I remembered that my business partner had talked about this little town right across the border of Spain.  He was always waxing poetic on its beauty, so I thought I would give that a shot.  And we got lucky!  We found an incredible hotel for 170 euros per night, for four people!  At that price, (43 euros per person) we didn’t care if someone had to sleep on the floor.

So, anyhow, we began our drive up, and were pleasantly surprised on how near it was to Spain.  This region of France is called Pays Catalan, although it is in the Languedoc-Roussillon.  Between the 10th and 17th century, France and Spain fought over this region like rabid dogs.  So although it is undecidedly French, it has many Catalan influences everywhere.

We finally arrived at the hotel, and were amazed at its beauty.  Les Mouettes is a wonderful place to stay out of the hustle and bustle of the main town, but only 2km away.  We had 180 degree views of the ocean, and there was a fantastic pool to boot.  But, we wanted to head into town to explore and then grab a bite to eat.  So we drove in, and were “oohing” and “aahing” at the beauty of it.  Little did we know.

As my uncle and I were waiting for my aunt and her friend to finish shopping, we continued to walk towards the port.  We came across this little square, that was just spectacular.  The photos do not do it justice.  Behind us (from this vantage point) there was a large stone arch.  We could see the water, so we slowly meandered down towards it, and as we passed through the arch, we both looked at each other with mouths agape.  The port of Collioure is one of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen.  Its half-moon beach flanked on either side, to your left by a church, whose bell tower dates back to the middle ages.  And on our right, was this massive Fort, that housed the Kings of Majorca from the middle ages until French occupation.

I was flabbergasted.  I couldn’t stop turning my head, akin to a tennis match, and thinking to myself, we are really lucky.  Walking a little further on to the beach, you realize there is another half-moon bay behind the fort, and high up on a hill behind it there was an old windmill, and higher up another fort with a watchtower.

Then if you turned completely around, in the distance, on two mountain peaks, were another two other watch towers.  It was truly, truly amazing.  I’m not going to get into the history of it, but if you want to browse and read a little about it, you can look it up here.  We ran back to grab my aunt and her friend like two excited school children to show them the sights.  After a round of 1,000 pictures, we began to look for our restaurant for the night.

I had been warned that Collioure was expensive in terms of food, but nothing could be farther than the truth.  We decided to eat in the little square above, and found a great little place, which I don’t remember the name of, and had a menu worth 14.90 euros.

It was a simple dinner, but exactly what we wanted.  We got a salad to start, unfortunately, we all tucked into our salads so fast that no picture was taken.  But mine was Salade Collioure, which had anchovies, white anchovies, olives, tomatoes, rucola, lambs lettuce, and a gorgeous balsamic vinaigrette.  It was simple, but delicious.  My aunt chose to have an incredible salad, whose name again I do not remember, but it was full of orange slices, white asparagus, hearts of palm, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, avocado, tomatoes, and of course, tender lettuce.  Then along came our mains.  Oh heaven!  We all chose to have the Bavette a L’Echalote avec Pommes Frites.  That’s basically flank steak with a caramelized shallot and red wine reduction sauce, and of course, french fries.

It was perfect, it was exactly what we wanted on that wonderful, magical, oh so Francaise night!  The meat was cooked to perfection, Au Point, and the fries were crispy without being greasy.  Needless to say, we didn’t eat our side salad.  I mean, how much lettuce can a girl have?

Dessert was amazing too, there was a choice of Ice Cream, Fruit Salad, Crema Catalana (which in my head I wailed, NOOOOOOO!  I prepare crema catalana on almost a daily basis for my classes, so it is so not what I want to eat.) and Ile Flottante.  Of course I chose Ile Flottante, which translates to Floating Island.  It is beaten egg whites, or meringue, that is quickly poached, and then placed over Creme Anglaise, basically custard.  It was all topped of with a caramel sauce.

It was delicious.  I was so happy, humming between bites.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had this dish, and my belly was congratulating me on such a wise choice.

After dinner, as per European custom, we took a long walk along the seaside, walked around the Fort to the other half-moon bay.  We meandered, taking in the sights and sounds, of families and couples strolling just like us.  It was a magical night.  It was exactly what we were hoping for, but more than we expected.

The next morning, we woke up to rain and choppy wind.  It was COLD.  I did not bring anything to warm me up, since the week before we had been in a heat wave, and ended up having to buy a sweater so we could visit the fort.  Here are some pictures of the fort, and the only history note I will leave you with is this, cause I think it’s super cool.  The fort was briefly occupied by Louis the XIII and his musketeers, and D’Artagnan fought in the battles with him here.  Now how cool is that?

This is a must see for any traveller.  Collioure is absolutely worth a visit for longer than a day.  And if you are looking for somewhere to stay, I recommend Hotel Les Mouettes.

 

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Peretallada, Spain and Collioure, France

As you all know, I have had some visitors in town.  On Saturday we rented a car, and got on the road.  It was two magical, whirlwind days driving up the coast of Spain to get to Collioure, France; our destination for the night.

Peretallada is a small, very well-preserved Medieval town in the Baix Emporda, Girona.  It’s only about an hours’ drive away from Barcelona, but you feel like you have stepped into a completely different world, untouched by time.  It is just absolutely breathtaking, every corner you turn more beautiful than the other.  It was a hot, hot, hot afternoon.  So our first stop was obviously to eat, and somewhere in the shade, if possible.  We passed quite a few quaint little restaurants, that had almost doll-house like decoration.  My family wanted to eat in one of those, but me being the foodie that I am, was reading the menus of each, and settled on one that had a recommendation from the Guide Routard.  For those of you who don’t know, the Guide Routard is kind of like the Michelin, with recommendations of restaurants, routes and hotels.  The restaurant itself was a charming little space with an indoor courtyard, but we were luckily offered a table on the outside terrace.

It was cool and breezy, perfect for our escape from the searing Iberian sun.  The menu was also really interesting, all tapas, but a mix between traditional and more unusual fare.  The best part is that each plate was worth 3.3o euros, and it included wine and dessert.  We each chose 3 tapas.

The dish on the left, was Boquerones (white anchovies) with avocado on toast.  You can see a little piece of my aunt’s Smoked Salmon on toast as well.  On the right is Chorizitos a la Sidra.  This is a typical Basque dish, that is chorizo sausage cooked in Cider.

Here are two more of our dishes, on the left, seared ahi tuna with mashed potatoes and a wasabi soy sauce.  It was so tender and flavorful, and the mash was super creamy.  The sesame seeds were the perfect addition.  On the right are my Porcini mushroom croquetas…….what can I say?  Porcini mushrooms in a delicate béchamel sauce, then coated with breadcrumbs and fried?  Yummy.

On the left was one of Maggie’s dishes, A Sobrasada and Brie “Pizza”.  Sobrasada is a cured meat from Mallorca, it is more of a spreadable consistency, so it’s especially lovely on flat bread like this.  It’s chock-full of paprika, so super tasty.  And melted brie?  Yah, you know what I mean.  Then on the right is my aunt’s simple and delicate Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.  So beautiful, so delicious.  You don’t need anything else in it.

On the left is my super refreshing Watermelon “Soup” with mint.  It was a perfect starter for this hot, sunny lunch.  The mint just made it that much more refreshing.  And on the right…..Oh Lord.  Too delicious.  Codfish with a tender garlic Mousseline.  We could not stop sopping up this sauce after my uncle devoured (well, poor guy, we all devoured) the fish.

These two dishes, one traditional one not, were, in my opinion, the show stoppers.  On the left is the traditional “Gambas al Ajillo”, basically prawns in garlic-chili oil.  Ok, you can imagine.  So simple.  So perfect.  Sauce on bread with oil dripping down our chins while we groan like little piggies.  On the right, Salmon with a Coconut Cream sauce.  Who would’ve thunk????  Oh my God.  Fantastic!  The coconut sauce was so light and delicate.  Neither flavour overpowered the other.  Can you see a theme?  Dipping sauces.  We were all about dunking and dipping our bread in each other’s plates.

This was the last of our savoury dishes.  Very, very traditionally Catalan.  It’s meatballs with Cuttlefish, and it is one of the classic “Surf and Turf” dishes that graces menus all over Catalonia.  This was homey, comforting and again, dippable!  Now, we just prayed we had enough room for dessert!

We did.  On the left, chocolate mousse and Tiramisu, on the right, Crepes with Violet jam.  Fantastic end of our meal.  We could not have chosen any better, and were absolutely amazed by the quality of the food, the preparation, the presentation of each dish.  And it was so CHEAP.  We were so happy, with our bellies full.  We took a stroll through the town after lunch to help us digest this mini-feast.  Here are some pictures of Peretallada.

The Menu at our restaurant

major 10   |   peratallada   |   girona   |   17113   |   +34 972 63 50 30   |   info@papibou.com

Tomorrow……Collioure!