Casa Pacheco – A haven amongst the acorn fields

Casa Pacheco

This past weekend, we took a day trip out to Salamanca.  Neither Paolo nor I had ever been, and we had been gifted a night at the Parador, so we decided to take a nice road trip to ham country.  That is, Jamon Iberico country.  Wow.  I am speechless as to the incredible amounts of ham we had, but it was worth the dieting that I am now embarking on.

We arrived just about lunch time, so Paolo said I should get on Trip Advisor to see what places were near that we could grab a bite.  I chose the #2 ranking, Casa Pacheco.  Funny enough, there was no #1 ranking, and honestly, Casa Pacheco should be bumped up to that space.  Not knowing really what to expect, we certainly were incredibly surprised!  Driving past Salamanca into the heart of Bellota (acorn) fields, filled with happy Pata Negra pigs roaming vast expanses of land, feasting on thousands of acorns.  There were also happy cows and sheep roaming, and I love to see that an animal that I am going to consume, is having a great, stress-free life.  That in itself should have clued us in to the amazing meal we were about to have.

The town itself is small, I’m talking about drive past it in 20 seconds small.  And if we had not looked on Trip Advisor, we would have completely missed it.  Situated right on the main road that crosses the town, is a small unassuming doorway to foodie heaven.  We walked in, and my first thought was that we had made the wrong choice.  A pintxos bar to your left, and two small tables on the right, nestled between two enormous bull heads.  Me being an anti-bullfighting kind of person, I thought, oh boy, we’ve walked into the dragon’s lair.  Then, as we were taken into the main dining room, still small but with about 8 tables, I felt as if I had just landed in Spain.  Yes, I’ve lived here for 10 plus years, but you can hardly say Barcelona is Spain.  THIS is Spain.  A veritable shrine to a specific bullfighter was the decorative theme of the restaurant.

Casa Pacheco

 

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As it turns out, the bullfighter Julio Robles, used to live very close to the restaurant, and he was a regular and a very, very good friend of the owner’s father.  I guess you could classify this as his museum.

We sat down and received the menu and the owner started to tell us what specials there were out of the menu.  It was a very, very difficult choice.  If it was humanly possible, I could have ordered all of it.  We finally made our choice, to eat some traditional ham, Jamon de Guijuelo,

Jamon de Guijuelo

 

and some croquetas, but the twist, they made the with oxtail.

Oxtail Croquettes

 

The jamon was perfect, shiny, flavorful, delicate yet robust.  The croquetas were fantastic too, I have never tasted croquetas made with oxtail, and I have to say, the béchamel was one of the lightest and best I have tried.  The owner told us that it was their first time making the croquetas with oxtail, and honestly, I think they need to make them again!

Then we chose to try a dish that is typical of that region, called Patatas a la Importancia.  This basically translates to Potatoes of Importance.  Just from the name, I had to try them.

Patatas a la Importacia

 

Now get this, it’s potatoes that are sliced, battered, fried and then cooked in broth.  Battered and fried potatoes.  Can it get more decadent than this?  (Actually yes, just wait to see what I ate next.)  It was a pleasantly peculiar dish.  I really liked it, and I think it is an amazing way to “class” up the simple potato, I guess hence the name Of Importance!  It definitely had a very home-made feel and taste, the broth was delicious, thickened slightly by the batter and potato starch.  I am really happy we chose to try it.

Now, on to our mains.  Paolo and Cassia decided to share an Entrecote, cooked on the stone.

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Look at that beef.  It was divine.  So delicious, so much flavor.  It was very tender, and the good part was that they could choose how much they wanted it cooked, since Paolo likes his beef still almost moo-ing.  The thing that really surprised me was the salad you see in the back,

Ensalada de Maruja

 

This, I was told is called Maruja or Pamplina.  On first inspection, I thought it was some type of sprout, but then after tasting it, I realized it is more akin to watercress in taste.  The owner explained that this grows on the side of river banks for only a few days a year, and it is a specialty in Salamanca.  It blew my mind.  Obviously I looked it up, and found out that we call it Chickweed.  I had never tasted it before in my life, and I find it so awesome to discover new tastes and food!  It was lightly dressed with a vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds, and a good dousing of crushed garlic……not for the faint hearted I assure you.  Make sure EVERYBODY else at the table eats this, if not you’re in trouble!

And, now to the most decadent dish I have ever consumed in my entire life :

Braised Oxtail

 

Braised oxtail with caramelized onions and foie gras.  Yup.  Heart attack material.  But man, oh man….this was beyond delicious.  There are actually no “real” words to describe how good this is.  The oxtail was perfectly cooked, it fell apart at the mere touch of it.  Then mixed with the onions and the foie……Oh boy.  I unfortunately could not finish it, because we had gorged ourselves with so much food before, but had I known how incredible this was going to be, I would have starved myself for weeks so I could consume not one, but two helpings of this.

Obviously we had no room for dessert, I was in sort of a food coma at this point so I can’t tell you what they were, even.  But, let me tell you this, I recall that they all sounded delicious.

If you are ever on your way or passing through Salamanca, make this is the number one priority on your list.  You seldom find little gems like this anymore, a small unchanged restaurant, tucked away and run by the 4th generation of the same family.  It is food at its best, rustic, homey, delicious.

Casa Pacheco

C/. Jose Antonio s/n

Vecinos (Salamanca)

Tlf. 923 382 169

http://www.casapacheco.net

 

Kiosko Universal: Fresh fish in Barcelona’s Boqueria Market

For about seven years now, I have treated myself to a few lunches at Kiosko Universal.  Back then, it was full of people who worked at the market who knew that the time that you spent waiting was well worth it.  But, as Barcelona’s tourist boom hasn’t stopped, it is now filled with hungry tourists who visit the market and have been tipped off by someone that knows this is THE place to get a quick bite of some extra fresh grilled fish.

There’s nothing fancy, no molecular cuisine, no Michelin stars, just plain old great grilled seafood.  The restaurant is on the left side of the market, at the entrance.  A very large bar and some 7 tall tables make up the seating area.  You have to give your name at the bar, and the number in your party.  Then some 15 minutes later, your name will be called and you will be seated.

Around the bar is the best place to sit, because you can see all the fresh fish that you can just point to and they will grill it for you, with just a touch of parsley and garlic oil.  Always cooked to perfection, it comes with some very homey french fries, like the ones your mother used to make, kind of soggy, but always good.  The menu is large, but simple.  Starters are mainly mixed grilled veggies, mixed grilled wild mushrooms, some Pimientos del Padron, or a salad.  Then you have your 10 different types of fish, from Swordfish, Yellowfin Tuna, Sole, Sea Bream, Hake…..the list goes on.  There is beef also for those of you who don’t like fish.  Then, there’s also the selection of grilled squid, razor clams, mussels, clams, cockles, shrimp, scampi…..it doesn’t get better than this!

Yesterday I met up with a couple of my girlfriends, and we ordered our mixed wild mushrooms, since they are in season now.

With the parsley garlic oil and a touch of Maldon Sea Salt…..they were absolutely delicious!

Then, I decided to try something different from my usual, yesterday they had a special, it was a Cuttlefish and Pea stew, in a gorgeous tomato sauce.

I loved it.  You definitely tasted the mild brininess of the cuttlefish, but the sauce was meant for sopping up with some fresh, crusty bread.  I would never have thought to make a dish like this, so it was a real treat for me.  And since the weather is cooling down a bit, every bite kept me nice and warm.

The girls shared a mixed seafood platter.  This is the house specialty.

Beautiful Scampi, with some hefty shrimp, over a couple of razor clams, and mussels, clams and cockles.  This is practically on everyone’s placemat when you go there.

The great part is that you don’t pay a hefty price either.  You can eat there for 25 euros, including wine, and your tummy will thank you profusely.  I always recommend it to out-of-town guests, because it’s great to eat in the hustle and bustle of the market, and you know the fish is fresh…..brought to you from only a couple of stalls away!

So, next time you’re in Barcelona, and you make the pilgrimage to Boqueria, you must have a bite to eat at Kiosko Universal.  You won’t regret it!

Carla

Kiosko Universal

Boqueria Market

93 317 82 86

 

 

 

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

 

Coca de Escalivada at Cal Marquet : Catalan flat bread in the Mountains

This weekend was a friend of mine’s 40th birthday.  As per tradition, he celebrates it in his brother’s Macia (farm house) in Manresa, 60km outside of Barcelona. His brother raises and breeds pheasants, but he also has a zoo licence due to all the animals he keeps there.  I love going there, because it is very close to the city, but you feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere.  It’s an hours drive and one treacherous 2km dirt road up the mountain to reach Cal Marquet, but truly worth it, just for the views alone.  The actual building is almost 300 years old.  The family have kept the structure intact, but modernized all the rooms.  There’s an infinity pool, a sauna and a jacuzzi too.  So, coming up here is a real treat!

The view from the front terrace, where we had our dinner.

This year he asked me to cater Friday nights dinner, and I immediately thought we should do it family style because it was 25 of us, and I didn’t feel like being in the kitchen the whole night and missing the party.  I decided to make the Coca de Escalivada, because it is a very Catalan dish, and most of the guests were Catalan.  There are many types of Coca, from savoury to sweet.  Each city or region has its own version.  I decided on this one because it is easy to make, since I was also doing Beef empanadas, cheese borek (turkish style patties), spring rolls, jerk chicken wings and blue cheese and caramelized onion sliders.

Coca is actually very easy to make, with very little proofing.  The most laborious part really, is grilling the vegetables and peeling them.  But honestly, I will definitely make this recipe again, maybe using different toppings, but it was delicious and so easy.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

300g bread flour

1 packet instant yeast

2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

50g shortening (not vegetable, lard, basically)

3 tbsp olive oil

120ml warm water

1 large red bell pepper

1 small eggplant

1 onion (I didn’t use it due to the birthday boy’s aversion to them)

1 can oil packed tuna, drained

6 large anchovy fillets

1 clove garlic

1 small sprig of thyme

1 tbsp parsley, chopped

pinch of salt

3 table spoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp pimenton (smoky paprika)

In the bowl of a stand up mixer, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar.  Add the shortening, olive oil and water and mix with the paddle attachment on low-speed, until the dough just comes together.  Now, switch to the dough hook, and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes.  (If you don’t have a mixer, then place the dough on a floured work surface and knead for 15 minutes.)  The dough should be smooth and pliable but spring back when it touched.  Place in a large, well oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Put it in a warm oven (50 C) and let rest for at least an hour, or until doubled in size.

In the meantime, grill your vegetables.  I put my eggplant directly over the burner, because it gives it an amazing smoky flavour.

Do this until the veggies are completely charred on the outside.  Then place them in a plastic bag and let them sweat for about 10 minutes.  When they are cool to the touch, peel them, and slice into 1 inch long slices.  Set aside.

In a mortar, place the garlic clove, thyme, parsley and the pinch of salt, and mash to form a paste.  Add the olive oil and paprika and mix well.  Set aside.

When the hour is up, take the dough out of the oven, and raise the heat to 220 C.  On a well floured work surface, roll out the dough to a rectangle, the same size as your baking pan.  Lightly oil the baking pan, and place the dough on top, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let rest another 30 minutes.

Unwrap the dough, and place the red pepper and eggplant slices on top, in an alternating pattern.

This actually resembles the Catalan flag.  Now, brush the top with the garlic paprika oil.  Wait a few seconds and give it a second coat, using up almost all the oil, making sure the garlic and herbs are evenly distributed.  Leave just a bit to brush after it’s out of the oven.

Place in the 220 C oven, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and place the tuna and anchovies on top in alternating rows, and then brush with the remaining oil.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  It’s super versatile!

And now, here are some pics of the farm animals!

Catalan Donkey…..forgot his name but he’s soooo cute.

The cockatoo that says “Roberto”

Peacock strutting his stuff for his harem of hens

And he had all his ducks and geese, lined up in a row…..sort of.

Carmela de Espana, the Tibetan Goat.

Miss Piggy. Yes, that is her actual name.

Pegasus, the (non) flying horse.

View of Montserrat on the drive back home.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

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!

Anfiteatro: A hidden gem in Barcelona’s Vila Olimpica

This last friday was my second visit to Anfiteatro, a marvelous little restaurant in Barcelona’s Olympic Village.  This area is particularly full of tourist chain restaurants, pandering what the unassuming traveler would deem “authentic spanish cuisine”.  But not so….what you get is mass market food that has little to no quality, banged out in less than appetizing fashion.  If you cross the road from the two towers (Hotel Arts and Mapfre building) you will find this gorgeous and tranquil spot, where from the moment you enter you feel like you are in another city completely.

Anfiteatro is a small, inviting space, with large windows overlooking a water fountain and pond.  You are greeted warmly and taken to your table and immediately you can just sit back and relax and let the night roll out in a wonderful way.

As usual, we had the tasting menu, and every bite was delicious.

To start off we had a cold pumpkin cream with rosemary sorbet.

On its own, the pumpkin cream is good but not surprising.  The rosemary sorbet made the difference, turning around this classic into something worth writing about.

Then we had prawns in a parsley sauce.

I love this presentation.  The prawns look so in love!  The delicate taste was balanced well with the parsley oil.  Prawns here in the Mediterranean have a more “briny” taste than our American counterparts.  Ladling them with sauce would do them a huge injustice.

Our third appetizer was an Avocado, Salmon Roe and Shrimp cocktail.

This was by far my favorite dish of the night.  The colors were beautiful, and the addition of the Salmon Roe transformed this dish into what would be an entirely creamy puree, into bursts of ocean flavors.  I am not sure what the puree on the bottom was, but to me it seemed like a very lemony and light hummus.  I was yearning for seconds!

Our starter was Lobster “Ravioli” with a Shellfish Beurre Blanc.

Ravioli is in quotations, because this wasn’t actually pasta….this was very thinly sliced cuttlefish that was wrapped around the lobster to make these mouth-watering morsels.  I love the innovative way in which they presented a classic.  It was extremely light, and the filling was dotted with crispy veggies.

And finally, our main was a Slow braised beef with Crispy Pan-fried Potatoes

I absolutely adore demi-glace.  It needs to be used much much more, and it is often overlooked here in Spain because of all the molecular gastronomy, thanks to our local chef/scientist Ferran Adria.  I am more of a classics girl, I want to eat food, not have it in a bubble or a foam, or air…..  The beef was fork tender and juicy, and the potatoes were just perfect, crispy but not oily at all.

And finally, our dessert was a Mascarpone Cream with Raspberry Sorbet.

This was a perfect dessert to our meal.  It was sweet without being overpowering, tart enough to counter balance the creaminess of the mascarpone.  All in all, this was a splendid meal, that was not too heavy, but just enough to make you full.

If you are wandering through the Vila Olimpica and don’t feel like getting swindled by “El Rey de La Gamba”, cross over and try Anfiteatro.  Definitely worth it.

Anfiteatro

Parc del Port Olímpic  Avinguda Litoral, 08005 Barcelona

+34 659 69 53 45

http://www.anfiteatro-restaurante.com