Saturday 27 September 2008

New York, New York.

What a city. A city of opportunity, of endless promise.

So much so, it actually sends me into a bit of a panic.
We have been fortunate enough to holiday there every year for the last four years. Every time I leave, I can't wait till the next time we visit.

You probably won't be surprised to know that on my daily blog read list are at least four or five New York based blogs, the reading of which enables me to update my 'list' for the next visit.
Sadly, the older I get, the smaller my stomach seems to get. It used to be I would factor in first breakfast, second breakfasts, elevenses, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and then supper. Those were the days. Aaah..

Now it seems I have to content myself one one meal a day, whether it be lunch or dinner, with some snacks in between. So, in a city of such untapped promise this poses a bit of a problem. It helps that I run every day to burn off the calories, and with jet lag, my day starts at five am, but it still means I need to plan each day carefully.
So, over the year I cross reference Chowhound, egullet, NY mag with my favourite NY food blogs: Amateur Gourmet; Wandering Eater;the girl who ate everything; NYC food guy and Flyboyz, which has sadly been put to rest. Armed with all this info I then create my 'list' which is refined and refined until the day we actually leave. I also create my 'map' which, thanks to Google maps, now takes a fraction of the time and a lot less sellotape!
Given we will be staying in the LES, a place which abounds with tasty treats, I map everything according to it's proximity to the hotel. It's also handy to plan things in areas, so a day's worth of eating in the LES, the UES, in Soho, Midtown etc. All this prep means that I don't need to worry about missing out, and means that no matter where we are I will know if there is somewhere worthwhile eating at or drinking at nearby.
This might seem a bit excessive and a slight tad obsessive, but I am not alone!! The girls from wandering eater and TGWAE make up spreadsheets of dishes they want to eat at places according to popularity and cost. Now that's dedication.

My list looks something like this, that is if I can get all my reservations! My calender is prepped and ready to go..

Spotted Pig
Pegu Club

Roasting Plant
Donut Plant
Russ and Daughters
Burger Joint
Death and Co
Ssam Bar

Gramercy Tavern
angel's share
Grand Sichuan International

Employee's only

Le Bernardin
Please Don't Tell
Casa Mono

Di Fara's


best of the best.

And yes there is a worrying sense of achievement from visiting all these places.
New York here I come!!

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Sad but true II.

I am excited..

the Wispa returns!!

Sad but true..

I am very excited.

Back in March when I was planning our October trip to London I decided I wanted to eat at Petrus.

I had been impressed by Marcus Wareing on the Great British Menu and had heard good things about Petrus. I managed to get a table, which in itself was no mean feat as they were booked up till January 2009. You think I am obsessive about planning my trips, it's out of necessity. However, once the reservation was made I relaxed and thought no more about it until a rift of seismic proportions occurred between Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing.

Those Chefs. They always seem to have the need to usurp their master.

Then the trouble started. I got a call from GR holdings to say that they were very sorry but that lease with the Berkeley was up and Petrus would be moving so they had to cancel my reservation and oh so very sweetly asked if I wanted a reservation at any of the other GR restuarants. Out of curiosities sake I ask about RHR, thinking that it would be good PR on their part if they were able to offer that instead. But no, of course they were not. So, I delcined and said actually, I was more interested in Marcus Wareing than Petrus per se and left it at that.

I read on various places that it was likely that Marcus would be opening up his own place, so i set about getting a table there. The people at GR holdings seem very sneaky though. When I called the restaurant direct it was still manned by Gr staff and all they could offer were GR holdings reservations. Undeterred I telephoned and emailed the director of food and drink at the Berkeley stating my interest in a reservation at the new restaurant when it opened. I got a acknowledgement but that they could nit help me yet, then nothing.

Until I read a post on Chowhound about it.

My interest piqued, I called the Concierge at the Berkeley only to land someone in it. 'Oh no Madam' said the London geezer on the other end. 'We are not taking reservations yet'. 'Oh yes you are' said I and tried to explain to him what had been said. 'Oh no we are not' said he. I said 'well then what's this all about?' He said 'I don't know but I will ask Marcus who is standing next to me'.

Cool, thought I, straight from the horses mouth.
The end result was that they took my mobile and email and a couple of months later I received an email from Mrs Wareing, no less, confirming my table for 4 in October at Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. Hurrah!

I think the next year will be interesting with these two vying for top slot in London. Already there is media speculation about who will win. Wareing has a lot to prove in his first year in that his restaurant will be un-starred and he will have to prove he can consistently work at the 2 star level, before trying to oust RHR as the only 3 star in London.
Let the battle commence!!

Barcelona randomness.

A door.

A door.

The Pederara from below

Another door.

The pavement.

Monday 22 September 2008

Farga. Forego.

is a bit of a Barcelona institution. It is probably best known for it's handmade pastries and for afternoon tea. It has a number of branches including catering and a deli, but would prove to be the worst meal of the week. We had stopped on a whim as I had heard it was good. I should have realised that this particular one being located on a busy street and with a terrace and menu in English would be a bit of a tourist trap. The food looked better than it tasted.

meant to be baby octopus-over cooked and way too chewy.

olives too vinegary, jamon too dry and croquettes that were meant to have truffle in them but had nothing of the sort.

Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Bubo, where heaven lives.

Bubo. Need I say more.. they taste as good as they look.

Cremeria Toscana mmmh..

Is my favourite ice-cream place.
I happened upon the delightful combo of coconut ice-cream with plum ice-cream out of the twenty plus flavour options. What you see is the smallest portion size!!

Yum Yum.
It also happened to have a branch opposite Paco Meralgo, which sealed the deal.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Dry Martini: the best cocktail bar in Barcelona.

We went here everyday. We were probably ten years younger than most of the other patrons but it is a cool place to sit and drink well-made cocktails, in a comfy unhurried manner. It's very 1920's with lots of wood paneling and leather although only being open since 1973! The men behind the bar wear very smart black and white uniforms and are great to watch. The shelves are full of antique gin bottles dating form the turn of the 20th century, and it is a place that will know how to make a proper old fashioned. They specialise in Dry Martini's of course but also have 8 house Gin and tonics that they created. My favourite was the Jim Let Fox Trot.

The biggest Gin and Tonic in the world lives here. Aaah.. Hurray for Dry Martini!

Friday 19 September 2008

Pinotxo, of course.

Another of my favourite places, especially for breakfast. A glass of cava first thing in the morning, how civilised! The chickpeas are my idea of heaven. I think the secret ingredient is morcilla. They, along with some padron, followed by a cortado make a perfect start to the day.

Juanito, the owner, is a icon in his own right. The deal is stand behind people who are seated at the counter. It looks chaotic but Juanito will know you are there, and seats people in order. Once folk stand up he will gesture you to sit down. I always prefer to sit at his end. Even though I only know a few words of Catalan I love watching how a bunch of complete strangers, most of whom are local, strike up animated amusing conversations which Juanito participates in.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Hisop II

What can I say. The environments of Cinc Sentis and Hisop are similar. Cool white interiors, minimal decor. The staff are equally friendly knowledgeable and accommodating. All this for 48 euros, it's a pretty good deal in my eyes.

Our first amuse bouche. Oyster with almond and something else I can't remember. This was very good but my oyster was slightly salty, the almond went well though.

This was amazing. Percebes juicy and tender and the water melon juicy and crisp.

I substituted the prawns and 'cap i pota' ravioli for the rice, baby squid and truffle as I had had the former the last time we were here. It was yum.

Again, my john dory with Girolles was perfect

HI's hake with morels and Escorzonera (black Salsify). Very good too.

The lamb with sweetbreads and asparagus was tasty but a little rare for my liking. A reflection of my lack of sophistication I think.

Pre dessert palate cleanser of a 'Mojito' very good. Light and fresh

pudding in a very trendy kiln jar a mixture of strawberries,cocoa and roses. liked it but not as much as the Maresme strawberries.

This meal at Hisop was inventive and probably a bit more daring in terms of combinations of flavours. Whilst we were there a well known Catalan restaurant critic was there with his son. Oriol and Guillem came out of the kitchen to greet him. He took notes and seemed to delight in many of the dishes. However,for me, it lacked that sheer happy tummy feeling that some of the dishes at Cinc Sentis had.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Tapa c24

Carlos Abellan, the brains behind Commerc 24, opened this modern tapas place and I think it's one of the best around. I loved it last time, and I loved it this time too.

The McFoie burger. Foie Gras in a broiche bun. Tasty but way too rich, even for me. HI loved it.

"ALHUCEMAS" LAMB KEBAB very tasty, moist and tender.

Tapa C24 is home to the bikini,seen in the middle at the front, one of the most statisfying creations around- stringy cheese, jamon and truffle. Mmmh mmmh. Perfect.
Pascadito Frito on the left. They look like fried Gekkos.

They were a little disappointing. I had thought their skins would be nice and crunchy and you could bite them whole, but they also had quite a large backbone which I needed to disect out.
We tried to go here on Sunday after finding out Bar Mut didn't serve food until 1.30 pm but unfortunately it's was not open.
No truffle bikini's for you!

Monday 15 September 2008

Bar Mut

I really liked this place. I don't know if it was because the first night we went we were slightly tipsy having just been at Dry Martini for some excellent cocktails. We got there about ten and had to wait ten mins, beer in hand, for a seat.

The place had a really nice buzz to it and I like the open shelves and cluttered look. When we were seated it was opposite each other in front of a piano which was kinda cute. The menu is written up on blackboards dotted about the ceiling. Our waiter spoke excellent English and went through most of it for us. We started off with two salads the first was a guacamole and green bean salad

You can guess who ordered that and the other was a tuna tomato and onion salad which had me drooling after it the rest of the week. You know you are abroad when such a simple combo of ingredients tastes so good. It was so good I don't have any photos of it or what came after, either. We were hungry. An drunk. I then had the solomillo thinking it would be like the one served in Paco Meralgo. It turned out to be a huge chunk of fillet. I wasn't complaining as it too was perfectly cooked but it didn't hold a candle to the PM one. HI had a foie and duck burger which turned out to be a very rich tartare. It was very tasty. The food wasn't cheap and the only thing that annoyed me was or waiter who I started off liking took the liberty of taking his tip put of our change before giving it us back. I think he must have thought we were too drunk to notice.
Initially I didn't want to go back but the tuna salad had me good, so we went back twice more. Once for lunch. We had the salad again

and a yummy fried egg and chorizo dish and a dish of very tasty mussels.

The last time we went back was a bit of a farce. I had read about the Sunday 'Vermut' tradition and we had been told it opened at 11.30am on Sunday so we turned up thinking that would be a lovely start to our last day. We asked for Vermut to be given pint-glass of the stuff. It was actually quite pleasant.

You get a siphon of soda and it makes it taste like juice! Boozy juice. Half way through, I tried to order some food only told be told the kitchen didn't open till half one. I had been for a run and had drank a pint of vermouth. I was starving! I was a bit sad as I had really been looking forward to my tuna salad but it was not to be.

Tipsy at noon we trotted off searching for some much need sustenance.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Paco Meralgo: umami-tastic

We ate here four times. We liked the setting, the bustle, the efficiency. And of course-the food! We found our perfect combination for happy tummy city.

Padron, Jamon, Pan amb tomate and Steak tartare-just right

Tallerines- I loved sucking these juicy little morsels form their shells, dripping with olive oil and lemon juice. Finger licking good.

Solomillo with pepper and Pepito our favourites!

What can I say? I have never had beef cooked this perfectly. Very very tender, very rare, yet peppery and seared on the outside. One of my favourite dishes of the week. One that could make me sit in happy, contented silence.

Pepito-veal fillet in brioche, this was one of HI' favourite dishes of the week. It was decadent, rich and soo tasty. Buttery juice oozed down your fingers when you took a bite.

All washed down with cava.


Saturday 13 September 2008

Barcelona I: Cinc Sentits or mouthfuls of loveliness

We have already been back two weeks and I still have not written up our Barcelona trip. It was full of some excellent food and some excellent cocktails, not to mention great weather and lots of relaxing. This time I was a little more laid back about the eating schedule and tried to have only one proper meal a day with tapas the rest of the time. As you will see it is probably more correct to say we had small plates than tapas, but whatever they were they were helpful in tricking our poor over-worked tummies into thinking they were not having to work that hard! Many people write about the fact that Barcelona is not really a city for tapas and that Madrid is where one should go.. Maybe next time.

Anyway, optimistic as ever I had booked us in for lunch at 2pm at Cinc Sentits, the day we arrived. This would be my fourth time eating there and HI's third. We first ate there about four years ago and really liked it. It is a family owned and run concern, with Jordi Artal in the kitchen, his sister Roser as Sommelier and mum as one of the lovely wait staff. We came back the year after but the menu had not really changed and I thought we should try some new places, so it never made it back on my list till I read this blog post by Trig, also known as Aidan Brooks.

Aidan is a trainee chef who, although in his early twenties, has worked in some pretty good restaurants including Commerc 24 in Barcelona. I think his post, elaborates in an altogether more articulate and technical way, what I hold to be true. That if the ingredients are good there is no need for fancy combos or to hide behind foams and airs and that the chef's skill is in a simple showcasing that enhances the innate flavours of the ingredients.

Well, I think that's what he said, and if it's not it's what I am saying. A case in point will be to contrast this meal with a meal we had at Hisop later on that week.

Cinc Sentits is modern enough for me, the environment is contemporary, the menu doesn't rely on foams and airs and nitrogen as I said, but it is obvious that skill lies behind what is put on your plate. Perhaps the skill is in making something that tastes so good look so simple. That to me is the test- I know that I wouldn't be able to make any of these dishes at home. Now I am not a chef, just a intermittent cook, who is not completely clueless. I can turn my hand to most things and from the reactions from my friends it seems to work out for the best, most of the time. So I can replicate most dishes at home, but not these dishes.

Modern, thoughtful cooking that doesn't distract you with odd colours or 'interesting' combinations, is what I like and that is what we got.

We rushed there from the airport and found ourselves to be the only people there. Given it was their first day back after their holidays, I guess it's not too much of a surprise. The white minimal interior was a welcome haven from the heat outside. We had a number of menu options but decided to go with the lunch menu which allowed you to pick you starter, fish, main and pudding from the ala carte menu. It said they were half portions and I don't know if that is true, because the portions we got were pretty generous.

What followed was probably the best meal of the trip.

The most delicious olives I have ever eaten, better than those at Alkimia and they were pretty darn tasty too. They were big, juicy and tasted a little of orange peel.

Our first amuse bouche: Jordi's now famous maple shooter with cava foam and sea salt base. This tasted better than I remember it too, as if it has been refined over the years. Really good mix of sweet, savoury and salt.

(I need to apologise for the odd light in the photos, it is an entirely white restaurant with spotlights placed over the tables, therefore the photos seem overexposed)

Amuse bouche: Jordi's take on a deconstructed Pan amb Tomate. I prefer it to the version at Alkimia. The tomato sorbet was intensely savoury and worked well with the fuet/salchichon crisp and olive oil base.

low temperature egg baby garbanzo beans from alta anoia, chorizo sauce, "migas" and quince
HI's starter. This was very moreish. Something homely done in a sophisticated manner.

Foie Gras "coca" thin pastry crust, balsamic-glazed leeks, burnt-sugar shell, and chives
This is one of my favourite dishes here, and my most favourite way to eat Foie Gras. As you can see it is quite a substantial portion but the combination of the sweet cocoa the savoury leeks and crispy base made it difficult not to finish.

Sea bass and shellfish "fideuà", foamed "allioli", and squid ink
as it was the first day back there wasn't any sea-bass so they substitued a local white fish which was very similar. The white fish worked very well with the strong flavours of the squid ink and the fideua. Very umami.

Tuna very rare, with smoked tomato water, whole lemon confit, and black olive salt
Just look at how the Tuna is cooked. Perfect. And the tomato water. I could have eaten a bowl of that alone.

Iberian suckling pig crisp and succulent, with apple in two textures and "ratafía"
As it says crisp and succulent at the same time. Beautiful porky goodness. It seemed unfair to compare it to the next dish which I can only describe as mouthfuls of loveliness

Galician veal cheek foie gras and bacon "migas", parsnip purée, and summer truffle glaze
This was amazing. Slightly odd given the weather outside, as it made me want to be holed up with a big plate of it, all tucked up and warm inside as it snows outside. The meat was so tender it fell part and it was just one mouthful after mouthful of satisfaction.

Strawberries from the Maresme, mascarpone sorbet, fennel, and rosewater
This was a standout dish. So much so I dragged HI back for lunch again later in the week. Primarily so I could eat this. Light, sweet. And if that is sorbet I will eat my hat. It was so delicious I thought it was ice-cream.

Grand Cru chocolate 67% instant soufflé, arbequina olive oil ice cream, shattered bread, and sea salt
I can appreciate the sophistication of this dish the chocolate and the salt with the olive oil but in comparison to the strawberries it was way too much.

So, at the end of the meal there were many highlights, many moments of delight and satisfaction. Many moments of contemplation and mmmh-ing.

It set the bar high for the rest of the trip, and given the fact we ate very well, and have eaten well in the past, it is testament to the Jordi's skill that it is one of my best meals to date.