Archive | August, 2012

Day 5 Galicia: O Grove

29 Aug

So, I wake up early in Cambados (having survived the minor food poisoning and night in the The Shining hotel) and decide to go see the ruins in a graveyard before I hop another bus to a town called O Grove, which is also known for its fabulous seafood. I forgo the breakfast at Casa Rosita because we all know what happened last night when I ate there.

I go get a café con leche, a fresh squeezed o.j. and an empanada at a cute café in old town.

The empanada, which was perfectly adequate:

Then, I look at my map and go wandering to find the ruins that are inside a graveyard.

Below is the entrance to the ruins:

A closer view, just inside the entrance:

A view looking back out toward the tower from inside the ruins:

I snapped about 20 pictures because I fell in love with the architecture and stonework.

They indeed were very cool and an architectural marvel in their day. I start to look around the cemetery and realize I’ve never been in a cemetery that is so elaborately decorated with large graves and gravestones. Here is one pic on the outside of the ruins. People really respect the dead, here.

I go back to my hotel and decide I can’t face another make-me-want-to-hurl bus ride, so I decide to catch a cab to the next town. This was the best 25 euros I ever spent on transportation! I get picked up in a black Mercedes town car. The air conditioning is set to a comfortable 75 F (I’m guessing, but that’s my preferred temp and it was mighty comfortable in there), the driver has road skills, and he sets the tunes to 80s U.S. rock. I love you!

30 minutes later, happy, smiling and singing to Duran Duran, I arrive at my least favorite hotel of the journey. Seriously? This has 3 stars and it has no A/C? It’s like 96 degrees F today. Receptionist: I know and I’m sorry, but it doesn’t usually get that hot here. Internally, me: Hmmm, I doubt that. But, whatever, I’m only going to sleep here and I don’t see Jack Nicholson or Shelly Duvall around, so I’ll bear with it.

I dump my bags, finally get on wifi and chat with my darling husband for a bit, and then set off to figure out how to rent a bike for the day. Yeah, biking, or “bicing” as it’s called in Barcelona when you rent a city bike!

O Grove is a peninsula with the character of an island. On the map of Galicia (Day 1 blog post), you’ll see that O Grove is slightly southwest of Cambados and it sticks out in the Atlantic Ocean.

Here’s a map of O Grove that I used to explore that day:

It also shows that is looks more like an island than a peninsula except that it does connect to land on the very southeastern tip.

The main tourist part of the town is at the very top of the map, which is the northern part of the peninsula.

The pic at the very top of this post is a view from the bridge looking at the “entrance” of O Grove. There’s apparently a 19K loop I can do on the bike, so I’m looking forward to that, but not before I eat some food.

I’m really torn at this point because I really want to try the vieires and the percebes, which are river scallops and barnacles, respectively. I’m in love with percebes and they’re very reasonably priced in this town because you can see the people out in the water gathering them. I wish I would have taken a picture of that.

Anyway, I see vegetable paella on the menu and a “traditional Galician cheese salad.” Salad and vegetable rice? I’m all over it, as I’m thinking I better lay off the seafood after last night’s disaster.

Here is a pic:

It looks pretty decent, right? Well, yuck, yuck, and yuck. This is now the second day in a great little coastal pueblo that I’ve had a disastrous meal. And, this restaurant also had a Michelin nod. Here’s the sign of the offending restaurant:

I guess I have to take some responsibility here, as the restaurant name is about seafood and everyone else was eating fresh seafood and it looked marvelous. So, I probably ordered the wrong things. But, at the same time my thoughts as a chef are don’t put items on the menu that are after-thoughts and in which you’re not going to take the same amount of care to prepare. It’s not like I asked for pizza, or something off the menu. You clearly had a whole paella section and a whole salad section. Shame on your house!

Anyway, I decided to eat the delicious crusty bread and down ½ of a bottle of Albariño. Now, it was biking time!

I rent a beach cruiser with a big saddle and a basket in front. Here’s the darling thing:

I know that the young woman at the tourist office is thinking that’s just my style. The problem is she forgot to inform me that there will be hills along my route and that although the bike rental is only 4 euros for the day, for 2 more euros I could get a 10 speed that actually might be more beneficial to deal with the hills. No matter. Simple is probably best at the moment and considering my biking history (I once fell off a motorcycle ride at an arcade. I was not drunk.) So, away I go, armed with a super simple map, backpack in the basket and my bathing suit on. I am ready to find a secluded beach!

I first decide to go to the baby island off O Grove that’s connected by a nice bridge. The island is called Illa Da Toxa. Here’s a view as I’m heading to the bridge that connects to Illa Da Toxa:

Here’s a view from the bridge over to Illa Da Toxa (I’m on my bike at this point).

The waters are beautiful and so are the beaches!

I ride around the island in about 15 minutes, stopping at a café for a quick drink. There is some serious wealth on that island and a golf course.

I cruise back toward the pier and toward the way the Spanish Julie McCoy pointed. Along the pedestrian and bike promenade, they have these great art pieces that really show you it’s a “fish” town. Here are a few:

I pop in and out of these cute little coves. Here’s a pic of my favorite cove as I love the wrecked boat:

I keep cruising – uphill – and I come to a point where I look and there are 6 possible small roads I can take. Hmmmm. Where are those on the map? Oh, I see, they aren’t. The is a macro view of the biking route I can take. No micro view to be had. So, I decide to stop and ask a kind, older looking gentlemen who’s hanging out in front of his house (presumably).

I pull out the map and ask, “where am I on this map?” He starts to stutter in Spanish. And, he goes on and on and on and I can’t even interrupt at this point. I’m just hoping I’m not staring too hard as I’m really trying to concentrate on what he’s saying. But, I’m just not getting it. After 10 minutes, I try to politely interrupt him 3 times to say thank you. Finally, I give up and get back on the bike. As I randomly pick one of the roads he’s still calling after me and pointing at all of my choices. So, I start down this road that smells like manure. I decide that’s not the road for me, so I turn back and take another road. 15 minutes later, I’m now in the interior of the island and I have lost the beach route.

I decide to backtrack but then I forget where I came from. I’m not worried, as how lost can I get on a peninsula that is 19k in circumference? I stop and ask a woman who is getting into her car and she explains where I am on the map and where I need to go to get to some nice beaches. Yeah!

By this time, I’m pretty sure I’ve gone at least half of the 19K. In fact, I’ve gone about 4K, maybe 6K since I got lost.

I find a nice beach. I dive in. Ahhhhh, soooo cool and refreshing. The water is super clear and the water quality seems excellent. I’m super happy. Here’s a pic of Playa Rons:

And another view of the lovely Atlantic waters:

I end my day with the awesome 3 hour bike ride and decide it’s time to pack it in. I’ve had 2 days of bad eating in what are suppose to be 2 tremendous seafood towns, so it’s fruit, nuts and Gatorade for me tonight. Despite the bad food and that’s it 100 degrees F in my hotel room, I’m still in love with Galicia. The terrain, the water, the food in both A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela – me encanta!

I would go back in a heartbeat.

(As I’m writing this I’m looking at my notes I took throughout the day at O Grove. I’m in the first class cabin of the Renfe train from Madrid to Barcelona. I decided to pass on the “free” airplane looking food. But, in honor of my husband, I’m drinking coke and whiskey. Oh, and eating dark chocolate. That’s a lunch of champions, right? See pic below.)

I’m looking forward to my next journey south to Córdoba, Málaga and Seville!

Day 4 in Galicia: Cambados

28 Aug

I loved this town, despite the fact that it tried to kill me. But, more on that later. Cambados is a darling little town of 6700 (according to my guidebook) that sits in the Rias Baixas area (the area of the southern rivers, and the southern part of Galicia, as you head south from Santiago de Compostela).

By the hightlighted picture at top, you can tell that Cambados is about the grapes…which means it’s about the wines, and more specifically Albariño. It’s also about the mariscos (shellfish). So, when you step off the bus, you are greeted by this lovely fisherman about 100 yards to your left, in a darling park (Paseo Da Calazada) full of palm trees that line the water promenade (Paseo Maritmo).

Here’s a pic of my first friend in Cambados:

After a 2 hour harrowing bus ride in which my 125 year old bus driver alternately stomped on the brakes and gas every 5 minutes while trying to figure out the gear system (did he break out of the home and steal the bus, I wondered?), I was glad to see how darling the town was even near the bus station, but, it was time to lay down before I lost my cookies. I had researched hotels and I decided on a 4 star hotel that seemed reasonably priced and whose restaurant had excellent reviews for its seafood. The name: Casa Rosita.

Here’s a pic of the cute exterior:

Well, it’s a bit outside the main city center, but I think good things come to those who walk. I’ll explain later. Hint: home brew.

I check into this promising hotel (from the outside) and into a very stark, weird, yet clean room. I kind of felt like I was in The Shining. The hotel was super quiet, the staff gave weird looks and were seemingly all in a dark mood, and I didn’t see any other patrons around.

Obviously, I had been spoiled with either very modern rooms (A Coruña) or very antique, charming rooms (Santiago de Compostela) along my adventure so far. This was neither. It had no fridge (my other 2 hotel rooms did and they came standard in the standard rooms), it had no wifi, it had no safe in the room (other two did), it had no pens/paper to write on, and the “exit” sign above the door inside the room had such wonderful interior illumination that at 2:00 a.m. I was pondering how I could break it without anyone hearing. Not sure why the extra, extra precaution is needed to show me where my door is at night. I’ve never been in a hotel room that had that super annoying feature. And, I couldn’t turn it off. Seriously, in Spain you’re worried about liability in case of a fire in the middle of the night and me needing to find my door? Trust me, if no one cares about that in U.S. hotels, you certainly shouldn’t be worried about liability here. I’m more worried about an ax coming through my door and someone saying, “Here’s Johnny.”

I’m a little unnerved and unpleased with my hotel, so instead of laying down, I decide it’s probably better if I walk it off, go get some food and then do some wine tasting!

As I walked through the outskirts of town toward the main square called Praza de Fefiñans, I came upon a promising looking restaurant – Obopaladar. It was a disappointment. I had a piece of tuna that was perfectly seared, but the chef must have been having a bad day, as it was WAY over-salted and someone apparently dropped the salt shaker in the ratatouille my bonita was sitting on, as well. Gross. Umm, didn’t the description on the menu highlight asparagus? Why is there only 1 spear cut in half on the plate? The only thing good about the restaurant was the cool, very modern light fixtures and the ceiling. Here’s a pic:

After my bad lunch I decide that now I really need a drink. I start walking on the main road and come upon the old part of the town starting at Praza de Fefiñans. Here’s a view of the entrance to the square:

Here’s another, where all of the restaurants, bars, and wine shops are lined:

On the side of a building in the courtyard, here’s a woman holding her family crest:

My first stop was a cute little wine tasting room.

After about 20 minutes of chatting about Albariño, this region, and what tastings were being offered, I ended up tasting 2 wines and then I told the wine pourer I was done. Seriously, after two tastes I’m tipsy? What has happened to me? The wines here typically have lower alcohol content than those in the U.S.

Anyway, we talk a bit more about the other growers and producers in this region, and I decide to buy 3 bottles: one from a bigger and more commercial grower (whose wines are imported by a New Jersey importer in case I’m interested in getting more in the U.S.) and 2 from a brother-brother team who are small production growers and bottlers. These, I won’t be able to get in the states.

I decide to lug my 3 bottles back to my room and set off again for more discovery. I decide to take a back, residential street to look at the houses. The street is called Rua Carreira. Here’s a view of one of the houses on that street:

Darling, isn’t it?

I had heard that some of the best Albariño in this pueblo comes from home brewers – essentially those who have several grape vines and ferment and bottle for home consumption only (and for sale to tourists, apparently). Low and behold, I come upon a cute little green house with gorgeous flowers out front and a sign hanging above telling me they sell Albarino.

The house number, in case the wine is good and anyone else wants to find her (or, in case it poisons me and we want to go back and blame someone):

Her gorgeous hibiscus:

It’s about 5:00 p.m. now and I knock. An older woman comes to the door in her camisole and crazy white hair (probably how mine is going to look in another 30 years when I let it go). It looks like she just rolled out of bed.

I ask in Spanish: Did I disturb you? Abuela: Why, yes, you did. Can I help you with something? Me: I saw that you sell Albariño wine. The abuela: I do. How many bottles would you like? Me: How much are they and when were they bottled? Abuela: They were bottled last year and they are 3 Euros each. Me: I’ll take 2. Her: Okay, but you need to drink them soon because they are all natural with no sulfites. Me: Okay. Can you show me your vines? Abuela: Sure.

She closes the door, puts some clothes on and comes out with 2 no-label wines with suspect looking corks. No matter. I’ve spent a lot more on a lot worse, I’m sure. In fact, unbeknownst to me at this point, later I’m about to spend nearly 10 times that on a dinner that will again poison me.

Anyway, she shows me her vines and says this year is a tough year. It’s too dry and the productions will be low.

Here’s her small vineyard, which is above a walkway in between her house and the neighbor’s house. It’s all latticed grapes above the walkway.

She tells me to take care and I’m wondering if there’s an implied meaning there: does she mean take care when I drink the bottles, like they might poison me? Clearly, I’m still reeling from the bus ride, the fact that I’m staying in the The Shining hotel, and that I’m now pretty sure my lunch chef wanted to induce a heart attack in me through salt consumption.

I decide to shrug it all off. It’s a gorgeous day and I’m up for the challenge as I’m so charmed by the idea of buying home brew. What a fun experience!

I walk away smiling with 2 bottles of home brew under my arms and come upon this darling, old little church.

Yep, more church going for me! I walk under the thick metal, front door and go in. I’m the only one there. It’s dark and musty. I’m a little unnerved as I start to hear this thumping noise coming from behind the jesus statue. I think: Is he mad because I entered with 2 bottles of wine under my arms? I mean, I’m happy to share, jeeesh!

Anyway, it’s a hidden clock that I realize is thumping (why not chiming like adorable church chimes and clocks are suppose to do?). I decide I’ve had enough of church for the moment. I’m going to find a winery.

On my way to a winery a little way out of town, I come across this awesome library. Here are the pics of the library. Now, if I were a kid again, this place would make me want to read.

This one’s for you, my prince:

We should construct and “vine” libraries like this in the states! I think we need all the help we can get to get our kids to focus on reading and learning more through some amazing paper documents instead of defaulting to wikipedia on the internet (yep, when I taught high school not too long ago, my students were citing wikipedia as a source in their history papers. Really? You couldn’t find a primary source or a reliable secondary source? Wow, have we gotten that bad about teaching our children? I was disgusted).

Sorry, I digressed. After the library, I walk to a winery called Pazo A Capitana and a nice woman invites me in. She’s speaking French to another couple and they look at me and tell her to speak in Spanish. Nice! I fooled them again. Anyway, she is kind enough to do double translation and tells us about her winery and that it has been in the family for 100 years, etc. We’re told we can walk the grounds and then come back for a tasting. So, I walk the grounds and take some pics. It was a gorgeous day and she had gorgeous grounds, to be sure, filled with fruit trees and flowers.

I love the local pears here. I bought two from a fruit shop and they were delicious.

The old v. modern barrels:

And the flowers….oh, the lovely flowers..:

Ahhh, this is a dream. Wish I could have one of these properties!

Well, by now, it’s around 6:30 p.m. and earlier I was told by another woman to come back to her place for a wine tasting at 7:00. So, I forgo the wine tasting here to go back for the other one. What’s the saying, “A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush?” When I arrive at the 7:00 p.m. wine tasting, the woman now tells me that she’s going to charge me 10 euros to taste 3 wines. Why didn’t she tell me this before? Now, I’m irritated and I’m certainly not paying 10 euros ($13 US) to taste wines from one producer since most of the bottles of Albariño cost less than 8 euros and some good ones as little as 4-5 euros (and my sketchy homebrew, 3 euros each!).

So, I opt to go to a wine shop where a hippy looking guy is running the joint. I ask him if he knows about Albariños. He gives me a, “are you stupid, lady?” look and then I know I’m in the right place. He asks me what type of Albariños I like and I say I don’t really know, I’ve only tasted about 6 different kinds. He says I look like a kind of “classic Albariño” drinker – slightly dry, a little complex, smooth finish, great with seafood. He’s smiling a kind of odd smile, so I’m thinking clearly there’s a joke I’m missing in there. But, I shrug it off as I think I’m in a paranoid mood today, and I go ahead and buy 2 more bottles.

By this time, I realize I have added 7 bottles of wine to my stash of food from Santiago de Compostela that I’m carrying for another 2 days. I need another bag, but only a small one. So, I buy a cute little wicker bag that looks like a picnic basket. I don’t even want to think about how I’m going to get any of the wine back to the states. We may have to drink it all when C comes!

Here’s my wine stash:

It’s almost 8:00 p.m. and I’m ready for some good food! I ask a few locals where they like to eat and they say Casa Rosita. Why, that’s my hotel. I also did read great reviews on the restaurant, although the reviews said it’s weird eating off to the side of the hotel lobby, which it is. But, I decide that it must be good anyway, if locals like it.

I don’t want to go into all the horrid details, as I’m super bummed about it all, but everything, including the wine they served me, was awful. I’m pretty sure I ate a bad scallop, which I told the waiter. He just took it away. No offer to replace it or take it off the bill. Well, all told, I paid 55 Euros for an awful seafood dinner, save the seafood salad that had large chunks of freshwater crab in it that was dressed with shaved egg yolk, olive oil and vinegar. The worst part is 30 minutes after I finished the meal, I lost it to the sewage system. Good thing I was in my hotel already! So, my review is an unequivocal stay away from Casa Rosita.

I’m really getting tired of losing my cookies, but tomorrow is another day!

Despite the total weirdness of the hotel and 2 horrible seafood meals in a town that is heralded for its seafood, I LOVED this town. It oozes charm and I’m really a fan of Albariños. I can’t wait to try them back in the states when I attempt to make my Galician-inspired food.

*Note about the 4 blog posts regarding Galicia: The entries are transcribed from the notebook I used to take contemporaneous notes during my journeys. I didn’t want to go back and edit out my goofiness, so these posts capture some of my thoughts at the time they formed – for better or for worse 😉

Days 2-3 in Galicia: Santiago de Compostela

24 Aug

Overall assessment: this is a MUST see visit if you’re in Spain.

So, I decide to get up early and go see the famous cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the plazas surrounding it. I’m glad I did. For anyone visiting, go early, as the crowds start forming at around 11 a.m. and it gets packed.

Here’s a pic of the enormous, breathtaking, and somewhat haunting cathedral:

One of the reasons for the large numbers of people is that it’s a famous pilgrimage destination. Here’s my summary of the summary from Lonely Planet, describing why it’s famous:

The faithful believe that St. James the Apostle preached in Galicia and that after his death in Palestine he was brought back and buried there. The tomb was supposedly rediscovered in 813 by a religious hermit named Pelayo who followed a guiding star (name “Compostela” comes from the Latin “campus stellae” meaning field of star). The grave became the rallying symbol for Christian Spain and Compostela became the most important destination for Christians after Rome and Jerusalem. Lonely Planet, pages 37 and 502.

Today, people from around the world make walking pilgrimages along any one of the 4 marked routes. On the train 3 days after I left Santiago de Compostela, I met a new friend whose name if Beth. Beth did 5 days of the pilgrimage, doing anywhere from 18-29Km per day walking. She lent me her book about the pilgrimage to peruse on our train ride and I learned that the pilgrimage is about walking and the spiritual journey you’re suppose to enjoy on those long, silent walks (they encourage no cameras, phones, or music – basically to tune out the modern world and tune into yourself). Most pilgrims end at Santiago de Compostela. But, from there you can make another 100km journey to Finisterre.

It was fascinating to hear her perspective and also to see hundreds who made the pilgrimage, descend upon the cathedral. Most had walking sticks and backpacks on. Many were limping. We met some young girls on the train who had to quit 2 days into the trail because it was too difficult for them. I won’t divulge Beth’s age, but Beth is at least 3 decades older than these girls and in phenomenal shape. Go Beth! You’re inspiring.

I know what my friends and family are thinking right now: for someone who is not religious, she sure seems enamored of cathedrals, churches, and monasteries, and has taken an interest in religion in Spain. From a pure architectural standpoint, I think the churches and cathedrals are some of the greatest marvels of Europe. How much time and money went into these is crazy, and sometimes egregious when you learn the history of how the money “came” to the churches and cathedrals. This history of just how intertwined religion and politics have been through the ages fascinates me, as well.

Below are a few more pictures of the cathedral, inside and out, as well as of the different plazas surrounding the cathedral. There are 3 entrances to the Cathedral and each one is very different.

This is a picture of me looking up at one of windows of the cathedral from “Praza do Obradoiro”, as they call it:

This is another view from Praza do Obradoiro, where you can see some pilgrims in front:

And, another view of Praza do Obradoiro. I’m on the steps of the cathedral here, using my zoom so I can capture the trees that surround this town. It is really beautifully green there.

Here’s a view of a fountain and building looking at Praza Das Praterias from the steps of the cathedral entrance at Praterias:

So, what does the inside look like? Wow. The ceilings are all done in domes. There are at least 10 different shrine rooms, 3 smaller chapels in addition to the main mass room, angels everywhere, gold everywhere. It’s pretty hard to describe. The art and architecture is a melding of different ages, for sure. Below are just a few pictures to give you an idea:

This is one of mass in the main hall:

This one really shows the arches, domed ceilings and the ornate carvings with gold plating:

This one is for my mom and grandma who love angels:

This is a very interesting piece of stonework that was surrounded by tape so you couldn’t get close to it (other than by camera zoom). This is what I’m talking about when I say there is very different art/sculptures from different eras in the cathedral. I really loved this one in particular:

As is typical of the climate, it was a bit rainy and overcast, but the temperature was perfect for me. After wandering all sides of the cathedral and plazas surrounding it, I decided to wander through a park not too far from there called Alameda. I’m so glad I did. It was such a darling park, extremely well maintained and I met some new friends and smelled some lovely roses.

Here’s a picture of a new friend I met along the way in the park:

Here’s a close up of some beautiful roses in the rose garden. It reminded me of the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, and it made me miss it, San Francisco, my husband, my friends there, etc. more than a little bit:

A statue of another lovely woman in the park:

Finally, a view from one side of the elevated park:

Isn’t this place gorgeous?

In addition to visiting Santiago to learn about the cathedral, I also visited to eat more great Galician seafood! Since I had a great experience at a Lonely Planet recommended eatery in A Coruña, I decided to see if their suggestions about food in Santiago were also good. Nope, one wasn’t. I went to a restaurant called Meson de 40 that was suggested for good seafood. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing. The pulpo was tough. The Albariño, a little sour and grassy. The only thing that was worth eating was the fried calamari and it still wasn’t even close to the best I’ve ever had. The breading was falling off, as it was too thick, but it was indeed tender. So, I powered through it because I was hungry. The waiter (maybe owner?) was very nice, though, and the service was great.

After my less than stellar lunch, I decided to go in search of the famous almond tarts they produce in Santiago. I went to one empty shop in which all the person sold was tarts. She asked me if I wanted to try some and explained all her offerings. I chose to try 3 different ones. I ended up buying two, with the intention of sharing them with Diana, Martin and Marianne in S’arago later this week (too bad I got food poisoning yet again and missed the dinner).

Then, I went to buy the famous Tetilla cheese because it’s shaped into… well, tits (that’s what the Spanish word means!). I stopped in another shop where I tried 4 cheeses and decided on the one most fuerte (strong). I also bought a jar of fig preserves to go with it, a jar of pulpo pate, and a jar of picante paprika.

Okay, so now I’m thinking: how am I going to carry all this stuff back, and will the tarts make it through 3 more cities, 4 more bus rides and 3 more train rides? I’ll worry about that later. Time for a siesta.

Here’s a pic of one of the famous almond tart (it is delicious):

After an afternoon rest back at the hotel, I asked the receptionist at the front desk where she would go if she wanted excellent, very “clean” and very fresh seafood. Without hesitation, she recommended Fornos, which is in the “newer” part of town about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

At 8:00 p.m., I set out for the restaurant. I was the second person there, as 8:00 is early to be eating dinner. Great for me! From the moment I sat down, I had excellent service. My waiter was in his late 50s/early 60s and was a former military captain (I heard him say to a table of 4 that sat next to me later). He asked if I wanted him to speak English and I said no thank you. I want people to speak to me in Castellano. So, he did and quite rapidly after that. But, it was great. I understand Spanish food-speak now. Whew! It took a while.

Anyway, he explained the different seafood specialities from this part of the world and I decided on their famous Zamburinas, which is a fresh water scallop, and a freshwater crab called Buey de Mar (ox of the sea). Buey is usually the name for beef in this part of the world. Yep, this meal knocked my socks off. Fantastic. Pure, clean, simple, fresh, some of the best scallops I’ve ever eaten. Both the crab and the scallops were perfectly cooked.

Here are some pics:

The dining room of Fornos is a bit dated, but it is still very Spanish as are the plates food was served on:

This is happy me with my crab:

Here’s a pic of the crab close up, with the roe all mixed up:

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to eat the roe and coral in the crab, but the waiter insisted he mix it all up for me into a sort of paté and that I spread it on the bread and eat it. Que rico! Wow, that was rich and lovely. I ate only about half as I was a bit nervous about my stomach and liver, still.

He asked me how I wanted the scallops prepared and I said a la plancha with just olive oil and garlic. Good choice by me. They were super sweet and cooked perfectly. The tenderness was amazing. The red part of the scallop (I think the foot of this particular scallop) was the most delectable part and you are encouraged to eat that part, here. It was nearly like biting into liver paté. At first, I wasn’t so sure by looking at it, but I would’ve missed out on a fantastic part of this little creature had I not eaten it.

There’s a picture of my plate with a few scallops on it, as the feature picture at top. And, here’s the serving plate of scallops (it’s missing the 3 scallops that were on my own plate by this time):

The scallops were definitely in the top 5 dishes I’ve eaten in Spain and Catalonia and likely the best scallops I’ve ever eaten, period. They were that good. The crab was probably within the top 10 dishes I’ve eaten since I’ve been in Spain and Catalonia. Mind you, I’ve eaten at 100s of places and 100s of different dishes.

The restaurant has a Michelin star and, finally, I’ve eaten at an establishment other than Alkimia that I think deserves it.

I asked for a glass of Albariño, and when I was ¾ of the way through it but still had scallops left (second course), the waiter came over with the bottle and poured in another half glass, explaining that I must continue to have them together. Nope, he didn’t even charge me for the extra wine. Nice touch.

Finally, although extremely full and happy at the moment, I couldn’t pass up the tulipa de helado mandarina = tulip of mandarin ice cream. Essentially, it was a cookie-tart shell that housed delicious tangerine ice cream. I couldn’t finish it, but it was a great palette cleanser – a little sweet and a little tart.

Here’s a pic of the cute dessert:

You’d be hard pressed to find any fresh and delicious seafood dinner half as amazing as this was for 41 Euros. I wish I could go back!

I went to bed extremely happy but also knowing I would never be able to get these scallops in the states. Boo hoo. But, as always, I was looking forward to tomorrow. It was Albariño wine country for me, so I was thinking that should help ease the pain of leaving the scallops behind. Ha 😉

Day 1 in Galicia: A Coruña

23 Aug

I just arrived back in Barcelona this afternoon after 5 nights on the road in Galicia. I didn’t have internet connection much of the time, so I’ll be posting 4 different blog entries, one for each city I visited, over the next several days. Here’s post 1 (with a picture of the harbor in A Coruña, at top).

My journey was suppose to begin on Thursday, August 16 in the morning. However, Wednesday night, I ate a bad mushroom (no, not the psychedelic kind, although that might have been preferable to what I went through) and ended up in bed for 24 hours. I had some horrendous intoxicación alimenticia = food poisoning. After 6 hours of rapidly expelling the contents of my system and then moving into the “I can’t walk because all my muscles are severely cramping in my legs” phase, I decided to call a doctor. This was a great idea as the hand and arm cramps started shortly thereafter.

So, some folks in the U.S. tend to hem and haw over socialized medicine, but I’m here to tell you I think that was some of the best medical care I’ve ever received. It surely beats the care from most of the yahoo doctors I’ve seen in Hawaii (save 1 or 2).

I Called. Doctor arrived within 30 minutes. We talked. He decided the offending food was likely the mushrooms and he gave me 4 ccs of something potent in the butt. Whatever the contents of the shot, it stopped the barfing within 30 minutes and took away some of the stabbing pain in the stomach. The next few days were still rough as I would have random spasms, bathroom runs, and long lasting cramps in my legs, but I decided the best thing to do was to “just get over it”, as my mother says and always has done.

So, Friday, I boarded a train to Madrid. About halfway through the 3 hour journey I was thinking I had made a mistake, but then I just kept thinking of my mom and how tough she is and I decided to stick with the day’s journey. I got off in Madrid as planned, transferred to the other Madrid train station, and I was off on another 6 hour train ride to A Coruña. From the A Coruña train station, I taxi’d straight to my hotel and went to bed that night, to awake to a fabulous day and me feeling a bit better.

Here’s a map of Galicia for a reference point:

A Coruña is in the north of Galicia on the Atlantic Ocean. And, the region of Galicia is just north of Portugal, so it’s on the opposite side of the country from Barcelona.

My hotel in A Coruña was fabulous and the best deal ever. For 38 Euros, which included a bad looking breakfast which I passed on, I had a beautifully clean, modern and very large room. It had a mini bar, fabulously quiet and efficient A/C system, modern t.v. and great wifi. The bonus: super quiet. The hotel is called Attica 21. It’s a bit outside of the ciudad vieja (old town), but for the accommodations and the peaceful sleep, I would have expected to pay double, at least.

Here’s a pic of the room:

I checked out early and asked the front desk if they could hold my luggage so I could explore the town. The woman at the front desk motioned for me to just put my luggage behind the front desk. No tags, no nothing. It took all I had to not ask for a receipt, but I didn’t want to seem rude. I definitely could’ve been more cautious considering I left my computer and peripherals in my suitcase, but I decided to trust the hotel staff as I wasn’t really up for carrying any extra weight that day.

So, I caught a taxi to Plaza de Santa Maria Pita. It was 10:00 a.m. and I was the first and only one there. Huh. Guess people sleep late in A Coruña.

Here’s a pic Plaza de Santa Maria Pita:

And here’s a picture of the lady herself:

She’s simultaneously beautiful and a bad as_, too right?

After snapping some photos, I went to the tourist office in the plaza to get a map and ask: if I have 5 hours only, what should I do? I was directed to tour the old town, walk to the lighthouse, and eat some pulpo gallega, the last part of which I had already planned. So, I toured the old town. It was a gorgeous little town, and again pretty deserted for the hour, I thought. Here are some pics:

Here’s a pic of a convent:

Here’s a picture of the front of a closed cafe. I just thought it was cute:

Then, I started to walk along the pier to get to the lighthouse. Bless the good Spanish people who always try to estimate distances and always underestimate them. A woman told me it was a 30 minute walk from old town. Well, I walk extremely fast (got that from my dad) and at 30 minutes, the lighthouse was nowhere in sight. I was predicting it was at least another 30 minutes from where I was, and my legs were not quite back to my normal running/walking shape. Plus, I was getting hungry and everyone who knows me knows what that means… if I don’t get food in me quick, I’m going to ruin someone’s day.

But, along the way I was temporarily distracted from my hunger by the darling art on the lamp posts that are about every 100 yards along the walkway. They were each hand-painted, all with an ocean theme. Here are a few of my favorites:

And, a picture of the lampposts along the ocean walk:

I loved them! We should do that in the U.S.!

After several minutes of picture taking, I turn back because I want to be sure I can make it back to my eatery of choice before I have a meltdown. I go to the famed “street of wines”, which is a narrow alley, lined with restaurants, in front of the Plaza de Santa Maria. I took a clue from my hit or miss Lonely Planet guide book and stopped in at a pulperia (a restaurant specializing in octopus), called Meson de Pulpo.

Okay, so here’s the part about good food. I ate the best octopus of my trip and of my life at this restaurant! The octopus was done in the traditional Galician fashion, which is sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with hot paprika and a touch of maldon sea salt. It was incredibly tender and fresh. It was a perfect dish. It didn’t seem fussy, but I’m here to tell you after having worked with octopus that either you have to be a bit fussy with it to get it that tender or there’s some secret I’m missing.

Here’s the pic of the dish:

My waiter was awesome and served me a great glass of Albariño wine because I asked for one since I was in Albariño country. Albariño is the grape and it’s used to make a dry, white wine that can either be fairly complex or really simple and something close to a Portuguese vinho verde. I guess this makes sense, since Galicia is just north of Portugal.

Also, requisite with the pulpo is crusty bread to dip in the olive oil. Me encanta! I loved this meal, so far. I should have stopped there, as I was pretty full after the ½ racion (1/2 portion) of pulpo, but another popular dish in Galicia is the fried calamari. I thought if the octopus is this fresh and this tender, I should definitely try the calamari.

Well, the calamari had perfect breading on it. It was super delicate and light and the seasoning and salt was subtle and proper if you want to taste the fresh calamari. But, it was tough! Darnit! I don’t like tough, unless it’s a quality in my friends and family 😉

I told the waiter I was a cook from the U.S. and asked him what was the secret to their perfect pulpo? He told me to go ask the chef. So, I did. She – yes, she (awesome, since I don’t see very many if any female chefs in restaurant kitchens in Spain) – looked at me weird. What do you mean, she asks? My reply: How is it not tough? Her answer: We get it in fresh, we massage it a bit. Then we drop it in hot water for a bit and then we fry it in hot olive oil. Then we put paprika and salt on top. Me: ummm, okay. Can you be more specific? Her: no. That’s what we do. Me: Vale, gracias. (okay, thanks).

Well, by this time, I’m a bit drunk off of ½ of my glass of Albarino, as I have 0 tolerance for alcohol right now and I’m thinking my liver is still a bit in shock from the toxic mushroom. So, I go to sit down in a plaza for a bit before I catch a cab back to my hotel to grab my luggage and take another train to Santiago.

While I’m smiling and thinking that I have the alcohol tolerance of a 10 year old, I’m also remembering the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and a quick snapshot of one of his apprentices massaging octopus in a white liquid. I’m wondering if it is cornstarch, although I’m not sure that’s used in Japanese cooking. It didn’t look like daikon, as it was a smooth white liquid and I tried massaging my octopus with daikon which I don’t think did a thing to tenderize it as some chefs have suggested. Hmmmm, I’ll have to do more research on that.

I don’t know why I’m so stuck on making the perfect octopus dish right now. But, I have been ever since I came to Barcelona. Someone told me it was cruel to eat octopus because they’re intelligent. Really? Is it more cruel than eating pigs? Isn’t their DNA very similar to that of humans? How about what we do to baby cows in the name of eating veal, or how about force feeding birds so we can eat foie? These are all moral choices and those of us who have the choice probably should contemplate these things more often, as that means we’re lucky and wealthy enough to be eating them.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to limit what I eat right now in the name of culinary research, but my current thought is everything in moderation. Cop out? Maybe. But, I do make choices along the way, such as eating vegetarian some days (or for 8 years, at one point in my life). It’s mostly for health reasons, but I also want to believe that what we eat – en masse as people who have choices of what we want to eat – affects what commercial farmers choose to grow, which in turn affects mother nature’s ability to restore depleting clean water supplies and to rejuvenate abused terra.

Okay, back to the travels. I picked up my suitcase and backpack and boarded another train for Santiago de Compostela in the late afternoon. I checked into a hotel converted from a darling 18th century home on the outskirts of old town called Virxe de Cerca. It oozed charm. Here are a few pics:

My room:

The garden:

The tables in the cute bar nook:

Instead of going out that night, I decided I was satiated from the terrific pulpo I had eaten earlier (plus my system still was a bit wrecked from the offending mushrooms) and all I needed was a few pieces of fruit to restore some vitamins, some water and a comfortable bed. Since I had no wifi connection, I decided to watch a campy, cult classic on the tube: Stripes. It’s basically Bill Murray, John Candy and Harold Ramis being goofballs. Just what I needed.

Night 1, and full day 1 in Galicia were a huge success!

Stay tuned for more excellent food reviews and pictures of Santiago de Compostela in the next post!

On Tour: Galicia by way of Sitges

21 Aug

Whew! I have had such a fantastic last few weeks. It’s almost a blur I’ve been traveling so much (and getting food poisoning a few times – bummer). So, after another week in Quim’s kitchen and the Buddhist meditation workshop (kidding about the last part; read below to see what I mean), I decided I needed to go learn food other than Catalan cuisine and that I really needed to see the different regions of Spain before I left. With that, I decided to take 3 weeks and journey west, south and middle.

But, before that, Diana invited me to visit her cousin with her who has a house in Sitges, per my last post. So, I’ll talk about that fab weekend in this blog post. Then, the next several blog posts will be about my time this past week (and today) in Galicia, and more specifically the towns of A Coruña, Santiago de Compostela, Cambados, and O Grove.

Vicenc (Vincent, in English), Diana’s cousin, picked me up in his BMW convertible and off we went to fetch Diana. Such fun on a hot day to be in a convertible! Vicenc is such a sweet man. He had extra hats and hair bands in the car for the ladies. We went to his house and then straight to a darling cove of a beach that you walk around a point in the ocean to go to. Later, we met one of Diana’s friends at the train station and back to the beach we went. Then, before dinner, we walked around the town. Here are a few pics of the town and our cast of characters.

This is Diana and Miriam in a narrow alley. Lovely ladies, aren’t they?

This is Diana and me in a typical street in the old part of town. Look at the marvelous stone houses and ground. Love it!

This is sweet Vicenc and the pic below that is his cool staircase that leads to the second story of his place:

At the very top is a picture of our table at the chiringuito we ate at on the beach. It was a gorgeous evening and there were 14 of us. The food was pretty bad but it was about the company. The company was great.

The next day, Miriam, Vicenc, Diana and I headed to the Buddhist temple for some meditation and a tour. The meditation was hilarious. One guy fell asleep and snored loudly the entire time. Doors were slamming. I couldn’t stop giggling. Sorry, Miriam.

The guy who led the meditation played show-and-tell, as I called it, for the first 20 minutes and wanted everyone to say what their practice of meditation was like (mine = nonexistent, unless you call thinking a lot about food a sort of meditation) and where we were from. I kept my mouth shut mainly because I wanted him to get on with it so I could lay down. I think I meditated for a good 2 minutes. But, those 2 minutes were very lovely.

After the meditation, we took a tour of the temple. It was a clash of cultures and religions/beliefs, for sure. There was a jesus room, which I found interesting. They served nice tea, but I thought, “how odd.” Why does there need to be a jesus room in a Buddhist temple? If people want to worship jesus or their Christian god, let them go to their own Christian church. In Buddhism, you don’t achieve enlightenment by worshiping god or jesus or by listening to a priest or some other intermediary or by asking someone to forgive your sins. You do good deeds and you work out your own salvation with diligence. You get what you give. Nice lesson, no matter what religion or non-religion you are. Anyway, I digress. Here are the pics:

This is one of several of the prayer wheels you spin, while walking clockwise around the stupa 3 times and then standing in its shadow. Although I’m not Buddhist, I did this in honor of Busaba, her family, and C.

Finally, a picture of the lovely hillside we went flying down as we left the temple. We stopped to overlook Sitges.

So, where’s the buena comida in all of this? I have to say my favorite food of the weekend were the buñols that Diana introduced me to at my favorite croissant bakery, Forn de Sant Jaume. They are lovely, little doughy donut like things with coarse sugar on top. Yummmmmm.

Okay, my wifi is terrible, so this post has taken me 3 hours – gasp! I think I’ll wait to post more when I get back to Barcelona in a few days. Then, I’ll go day by day through Galicia. Galicia is the region on the Atlantic coast just north of Portugal. I’ll talk more about the great and awful food I had, as well as my bike ride today after a half bottle of Albariño – ha!

Buen Provecho!

Another few days at El Quim de la Boqueria

11 Aug

Ahhh, back where I started this journey – en el Mercado de la Boqueria con my jefe, Quim. It has been fun to be back in the kitchen at El Quim’s with the guys, and super busy! Summer is their busy time, of course, as it’s tourist season. Many people in Barcelona take off for the month of August, so other restaurants are closed. Quim’s smart and he stays open. So, I think he gets even more traffic because of it.

I introduced 2 new dishes to them this week, for which I’ll write the recipes below. They are not my inventions as I took components from other recipes I’ve read, but they are California-esque which Quim and clan wanted to learn, and they are great for hot summer days. There are really fresh, citrus components to each. Today, it was in the upper 80s/lower 90s fahrenheit. In the market, which is open air, it was even hotter.

Thursday, I made a monkfish, which is a very common fish from the Mediterranean, surrounded by 2 salsas. On the bottom was a cooked tomato fondue and on the top was a fresh summer squash salsa. For this recipe at home, I would choose a firm, white fish, but just about any white fish – fresh or salt water – will work great. If it’s really fresh, get a fish that you can leave just a bit raw/crudo in the center. For friends/family in Hawaii, I do not think tuna would be a good pairing for this. Instead try opah or one of the other local, white fishes. Halibut would be nice, as well.

Here’s the recipe for monkfish with 2 salsas (serves 4):

1 kilo/2 pounds white fish that you can cut into four, 2 x 3 x 2 inch thick pieces
1 small green zucchini
2 cloves garlic
6 roma tomatoes
1 small shallot
1 lemon
1/2 of a handful of blanched, no skin almonds. This means they are the white-ish kind, without skin, and they are not roasted or salted. You can substitute Marcona almonds here, but if they are salted, you’ll want to omit or reduce the salt in the salsa. Always taste, taste, taste, before salting.
fresh thyme
fresh basil

Start the tomato fondue first. Here’s how it goes:
1) Score the bottom of your tomatoes with a small “x”, remove just the top part of the stem and then put the whole tomatoes into boiling water for 1 minute. The object here is to get the skin just loose enough to peel away from the rest of the tomato. A traditional French tomato fondue has a silky mouth texture so you don’t want the skin. But, if you like the skin or you’re lazy, just skip this step.
**While you’re bringing your water up to a boil, clean your fish if your fishmonger has not done it for you. Then, put it in the refrigerator for later.
2) Throw the tomatoes in ice water for another 2 minutes and then peel away the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, so you have just the outer layer of the tomato without the fine skin or the seeds.
3) Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Mince 1 clove garlic and the small shallot. If your shallot is big, cut it in half and mince only half of the shallot. Throw the garlic and shallot in the hot oil for 30 seconds to one minute.
4) Dice tomatoes. Throw diced tomatoes in the pan and stir up with garlic and shallots. Turn to low and let simmer until the liquid is almost gone and the tomatoes start to turn a deeper red. Add a pinch of salt and 1 sprig of fresh thyme leaves toward the end of the process. The taste should be sweet and it should be almost like a thin jam. Be sure to watch it so you don’t burn it. This should take no more than 20 or so minutes.
5) Also, while the fondue is cooking, make the salsa. Grate 1/2/-3/4 of the zucchini. Then, mince 1/2 of the other clove of garlic and put some salt on it to sweat it a bit.
6) To the zucchini, add the zest of your 1 lemon and thyme leaves from one sprig of thyme. Then, add the salted garlic. Mix. Add lemon juice to taste.
7) Heat up your pan our grill. While it is heating, make sure the fish is already out of the refrigerator. You should let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes or so before you put it on hot heat. As with most proteins, you don’t want it to seize up because it’s too cold when it hit the heat. That’s why people say put meat on the counter before grilling or searing.
8) Sear or grill your fish until slightly underdone. While fish is cooking, finish salsa. Mince the almonds. Chiffonade or mince fresh basil and add both to the zucchini mix. Add salt and adjust seasoning if necessary. This should be a lemony-crunchy-basil-thyme salsa. If you add the almonds too soon, they will get soggy. If you add the basil too soon, it will turn black. So, make sure those are the last ingredients you add.
9) To assemble: Put the a round of tomato fondue onto the middle of each plate. Then, top with the fish. Finally, top with 1-2 tablespoons of zucchini salsa. Drizzle very good extra virgin olive oil on top, if you have it. It’s going to kind of look like the Italian flag, with red, white and green layers, but it will be lovely.

The whole process should not take longer than 1 to 1.5 hours to prepare. Sorry, I don’t have pictures. I was a dunce and forgot to take them.

The second dish I introduced was a pintxo or tapa. It’s super simple. It’s a great appetizer to do at a bbq, as you can prepare everything ahead of time except for cooking the shrimp which can be done on a grill or in a hot pan in 2 minutes right before service.

It’s essentially shrimp, guacamole and grapefruit on a crostini. But, the key here is that you must use fresh prawns and you must use fresh avocados, since those are the stars of the dish. If you use store-bought guacamole, it probably won’t be the end of the world, but it’s neither going to look as nice, nor will it be as fresh, which is what you’re going for with this dish (unless you buy the very expense, made-daily guacamole at Whole Foods – it is delicious and fresh).

This recipe, with a few of my adjustments, is courtesy of Tasting Table, which is a great foodie blog. The idea here is to build on top of a crostini or piece of fresh baguette, whichever you prefer. It should be like 2 bites.

Fresh large/jump shrimp with shells on – buy enough for 2 per person. do NOT get the cooked, frozen ones. they will be too soggy for this recipe.
1 ripe avocado – this will be enough for 8-10 shrimp
1 fresh baguette
dried chili flakes
1 ripe, red grapefruit – this will be enough for 8-10 shrimps
fresh cilantro
olive oil for cooking shrimp

1) Peel and clean the prawns. Set aside until ready to grill or sear.
2) Make guacamole: half and score the insides of both the avocado(s). Scoop out with a spoon into a bowl. Mince some cilantro, and add in some fresh lime juice and salt to taste. If you like some heat, I would mince some serrano pepper or use red chili flakes and add them in, as well. Also, if you like garlic, you could put a small amount in, but remember, you’re having fruit with this and I don’t really think garlic works here.
3) Supreme a grapefruit. The idea is to have lovely segments of grapefruit to put on top, that does not have the pith or any white stuff on it.
4) Shell some pistachios and coursely chop them.
5) Heat the grill or stove. While it is heating, cut your baguette into thin rounds. If you like your bread toasted, turn on the broiler at this point. If you’re grilling, you can simply throw the bread on the grill whiel you do the shrimp, which is the next step.
5) Throw shrimp on a hot, oiled bbq and flip after 30 seconds. If you’re grilling the shrimp, toss the shrimp in a bit of olive oil before they go on the grill. Or, if you’re doing stovetop, heat some olive oil in a pan and throw the shrimp in when the oil’s hot. Turn after 30 seconds. Cook maybe 20-30 seconds more and remove while still a bit crudo in the middle. Remember, it will continue to cook and you don’t want overdone or rubbery shrimp. If it’s really, really fresh, you can eat it crudo anyway. The cooking time will depend on your heat and the size of your shrimp, so you’ll just have to watch it. Right before the shrimp is done, sprinkle on some maldon sea salt and chili flakes.
6) Assembly: lay out toasted baguette pieces on a plate. Spread a teaspoon or so of guacamole on the bread, then top with 1 large prawn per toast. Then, put a grapefruit segment on top of each shrimp. If you like more salt, add just a few flakes of maldon sea salt on top of each grapefruit segment. I really like the combo of just a bit of salt with grapefruit. Finally, top with crushed pistachios. Serve.

Time: This shouldn’t take you more than 30-40 minutes to prepare.

Okay, off to meet friends to go to Sitges today and then to a meditation workshop at a Buddhist temple tomorrow. Some people think I need to meditate and/or do yoga. We’ll see how this hyper woman does in meditation – ha!

Buen Provecho!

2 days in Emporda, Part II

8 Aug

So, onto more castle pics! The one above is a view from our castle room. Unbelievable. Below are more views.

This is a day view from the top of the tower where Rapunzel was (kidding about Rapunzel – it was me):

And another view from the roof of the tower:

It was a gorgeous day and the views were spectacular.

The inside of the castle was also pretty interesting. I loved all of the dragons everywhere. Here are a few shots.

This one is at night as I’m descending the windy staircase of the tower:

The is one that is hanging above the second story of the main castle building, which now serves as the reception and entry point:

The owner is apparently a Waterloo fan, as he has the largest, miniature collection of the Waterloo battle in the world. Here’s a pic:

And, a close up of one of the battle scenes:

Weird? Cool? Both?

Okay, onto Day 2. We started out the morning with an excellent breakfast that is included in the room price. Of course, everything was homemade. There were 4 different types of jams, 6 different types of bread (I ate 4 slices), charcuterie, fresh squeezed juices, cava (yep, they even bottle their own cava), granola, yogurt, fresh fruit, and then they asked you what type of eggs you wanted and they made them, as well as the coffee, to order. Wow, wow, wow. It’s not a wonder that I’ve gained nearly 6 kilos since I’ve been here (2.2 kilos = 1 pound).

After I stuffed my belly and other parts, we were ready for a little pool time. Oh yeah, the castle has a heated pool, 8 large (for 2 people) padded lounge beds (they were beds not chairs), 3 sitting/sunroof decks, 2 bars and a bartender who tends the pool goers. Inside, it has a dvd/library collection, a piano room, a lounge/reading room with a t.v. and several different nooks and crannies in which there are lovely pillow seats usually underneath a magnificent window with a gorgeous view, if you just want to chill for a moment. Yep, fit for a princess.

After breakfast we set out to drive through some more small towns. Diana may need to correct me on this, as all medieval towns look alike (kidding!), but I think the two we hit on day 2 were Cruilles and Monells.

If I’m not mistaken, Cruilles was the town in which Diana tried to drive down some steps. Here’s how it went… Diana: “I’m not sure if we can drive through these narrow streets, but let’s try.” We drive down a few very narrow streets and then take a hairpin turn right with no more than 1 inch on each side of Diana’s van. It turns out we’re in a lovely courtyard with no way out. I get out and take some photos while Diana does a 10 point turn to get us out of there. Here’s pic of Diana and mom as we exit the courtyard.

Instead of being deterred, Diana pushed on through another narrow street that looked rather like a large walking path. Halfway down the street mom says,
“Ummm, I think those are steps going down ahead of you.”
Diana: “Nah.”
The car: thunk.

Yep, we launched off the first big step. Me: laughing. Then, me: incredibly impressed, again, with Diana’s driving. I was pretty sure we bottomed out the mini-van, but all she did was burn rubber and much of the clutch in reverse to get us back over the steps. I was secretly hoping we’d keep going down the steps to see where we landed. Ha!

Did I mention Diana is the greatest tour guide ever? She’s fearless in her van.

Here are a few views of very cute Cruilles and Monells.

This is the picture of the tiny courtyard Diana drove in, which we’re all now pretty sure was for pedestrians only:

I think this was also Cruilles:

And Monells…

I loved the streets in this town a whole lot.

A door in Monells:

Another street:

There was also a very cool bridge in a town we passed on our way back to Bisbal to buy some pottery. Here it is:

The last thing we did on Friday was visit Gala’s castle in Pubol. Gala was Dali’s wife. Now, I think I’ve done just about every outing and seen just about everything I can see memorializing Dali. For you Dali lovers, here are two pics of a table he made. The first pic is of the table. If you study it closely, you’ll notice that, in addition to the bird leg/foot, you can also seem to see through the table to the floor below.

Now, if you look at this second pic, you see that you indeed see through to the floor below and you also see a large, white stuffed horse that indeed was alive and real at one time. In addition to some other weird fetishes, Dali loved stuffing large animals. I mean, I loved stuffed animals, too, when I was a kid but this….

is clever, I’ll give him that. I know, I know, for someone who doesn’t appreciate Dali, I’ve seen everything there is to see about him in Catalonia. But, like Gaudi, Picasso and Miro, he is/was one of the world’s revered artists, so when in Catalonia…

Back to BCN on Friday around 8 p.m. Perfect!

Mom went back to CO on Sunday a.m. early, early, so I cleaned and rested that day. Then, I beached it on Monday. The beaches in Barcelona are not very nice compared to other beaches I’ve been to (and they pale in comparison to Hawaii beaches – by a long way) but I needed some BT, so I had to do it. So, if you’re ever in Barcelona and you just have to get your beach on, then I would suggest going to the beach next to the W Hotel. It’s generally cleaner down that way than the part of the beach just in front of the pier at Barceloneta and you can use the very nice W Hotel bathrooms. Their hand towels are awesome! If you’re shy, just be aware that there are some nudies and many topless folks. If you’re not shy and want to get a full tan, this is the place for you.

Note: For those of you who know me, you know I’m not shy. But, don’t worry mom and dad, I won’t end up on the internet in my full birthday suit.

Then, I went back to work at Quim’s on Tuesday. Here’s my first meal back, courtesy of Yuri:

Ummm, yes it was as delicious as it looks. Simple, fresh, quickly seared in garlic and olive oil. Sprinkled with parsley, maldon sea salt and pepper. The prawns had a splash of vinegar on them which was perfect. Yep, you need to suck the heads out of the crayfish to get the full flavor.

Then, it was dinner with Diana and Teresa. Here’s a warning for all the people living in Barcelona or those who plan to visit: stay away from Thai Garden on Valencia between Rambla Catalunya and Carrer de Balmes. It was hands down the worse food I’ve eaten here and the worst Thai food I’ve ever eaten. The restaurant has a darling interior and nice Buddhas everywhere, but the food was literally rotten, like spoiled. I had such a rough stomach today.

But, the company way fabulous. I was with two lovely ladies who showed me more places right around my apartment that I hadn’t seen. We went to a bar called Boca Chica. It has a restaurant attached to it called Boca Grande. The bathroom is the highlight of the place! It is the coolest bathroom I’ve ever been in and I want to steal the idea for my restaurant. Seriously.

It has a DJ and a DJ setup in the bathroom. I’m not lying. Here’s a pic:

The pictures I took are kind of bad because the bathroom was lit with only candles and I had only my iphone with me, not my good camera, but the bathroom was also covered with mirrors and funky art. If you look at the pics below, in the reflection of the mirrors, you can see other walls and the art on them.

The individual unisex stalls were also covered with mirrors, including the ceilings. Why I’d want to see myself going to bathroom I don’t know, but the mirrors themselves were very nice quality and the stalls were clean and elegantly appointed. I always say the mark of a good restaurant is how much thought goes into the restrooms and how clean they are kept. So, I applaud the restaurant for taking such care with theirs.

Well, I’m off to bed, as I’m up early to work at Quim’s again tomorrow. I’m going to teach the other cocineros a dish that’s easy to make for their “specials” of the day. It has a raw salsa component to it that I think they need more of on their menu. We’ll see if they like it!

2 days in Empordá, Part I

6 Aug

On August 2, Diana, mom and I headed out to see the countryside of Empordá and some coastal towns along the Costa Brava. The drive was really beautiful, as the Empordá countryside is dotted with farmland and well-preserved medieval towns. Our agenda for the day was to eat a restaurant Quim recommended called Toc Al Mar in Aiguablava, a very tiny beach town, and to stay overnight in a castle in Bisbal. We wanted to be princesses for a day, and that we were.

The pic at top is some countryside. Another pic is below:

Empordá is the region in which the Costa Brava is situated. Here’s a map to give you a better visual of where we were:

If you look to the right of the word “Girona”, you’ll see most of the towns we visited, started at La Bisbal, out to the coast to Aiguablava, back inland to Pals, Peratallada, Ullastret, Monells, and Puból. We also went through a small town called Cruilles, that’s on the map. If you look further up the coast to the Cap de Creus, you can see where I visited before – Cadaques, Port Lligat, Port de la Selva, Sant Pere de Rodes.  So, I have been so fortunate to cover quite a bit of the Costa Brava.

Back to our journey…our first destination was our castle to check in and drop off some bags. Here’s what it looks like upon entering the grounds:

You know you’re in for a treat when the countryside looks like the pics above and this is what you see before you.

Then, we were off to Aiguablava for a late lunch and a dip in the ocean. Here’s a pic of Aiguablava:

Here’s mom and me at lunch at Toc Al Mar:

If you look closely behind us, there’s the beach and the ocean. The town is so small that you walk down this hill and you have 3-4 restaurants, a few shops and the beach and that’s it. It’s darling.

Lunch was excellent. We started out with 2 salads, the avocado, crispy onion one being my favorite. The other was a tomato tartare and tuna one, which was also good, but I’m kind of over tuna at this point. The main course was a lovely whole fish in garlic oil. I’m an idiot and forgot the name of the fish, but it was another local fish that I had not seen before. Our bottle of white from the Empordá DO, was lovely. They are known for their whites and roses. This was one young and dry, which was perfect for fish and salads. Here it is, in a cute, plastic wine chiller which is perfect for the beach or a beach restaurant:

A quick dip in the ocean and we were off again to explore some other old towns. We headed back through Pals and then to Ullastret.

Here’s a pic of Pals, which is a pretty touristy town:

So, onto Ullastret we went. What a cute city! Here are a few pics below:

Here are some close-ups of the great tiles and figurines they made a part of the facades on their houses:

And, my favorite:

Another view of Ullastret:

And, finally, a picture of my mom in Ullastret. She is hilarious!

By this time, it’s turning toward nightfall and we decide to have a late dinner in La Bisbal at a cafe Diana has visited with her kids. The cafe’s name is L’esut, which means the shield. Yep, this town is all about the medieval. Here’s a look at the entrance:

We order a menu del dia, a fuet bocadillo, and a tortilla. The menu del dia was lovely. The first course was a roasted vegetable dish with olive oil – pretty standard fare for Catalonia- but still nice. But, the main course was fabulous! It was a fish I didn’t know called Molla. Here’s a pic:

The dessert was a panna cotta with a homemade red fruit sauce. The chef got carried away with the use of her/his gelatin, as it was too firm, but the sauce was incredible. It was the kind that makes you want to pick up the plate and lick off every remaining drop.

My other favorite was the bocadillo (sandwich). It contained thin slices of fuet, which is like llonganisa, which is like a very nice, thin salami. It was on a spectacularly crusty bread. Simple, excellent ingredients made a perfect sandwich.

Back to the castle for a shower, meandering the grounds and picture taking in my pajamas. Here’s a pic of the castle towers at night. I climbed the big tower in the foreground and went out onto the roof. Diana was a little nervous for me, but c’mon! When you’re in a castle, you have to climb to the top!

Since this post is getting very long, I’ll show more pics of the castle and surrounding landscape in my next blog post, which is Day 2 of Empordá. It was indeed magical.

On a different note, as much as I’m in love with Catalonia, I am missing home. I am missing excellent Asian food, namely sushi and Thai. So, last night I watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you haven’t seen it, it’s amazing. It’s about Jiro, an 85 year old man, who still runs his own restaurant. The 9 seat restaurant is a sushi shop in the Ginza metro station in Tokyo. Jiro has 3 Michelin stars.

I loved some of his words of wisdom. “Once you decide on your occupation, immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That is the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Those words of wisdom are likely to fall on deaf ears in this day and age in the United States, especially the part about not complaining. But I hope some us newbies in the culinary world will still try to live by at least a few of them. There are great American chefs out there who already do e.g. Grant Achatz.

Here are a few words of wisdom by Jiro’s 50 year old son who will succeed him: “Always look ahead and above yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft.”  These, I can live by.

In addition to sushi, I’m really missing Thai food and hot spices right now. I was talking with C last night and he said he was going to make a shrimp curry. He reminded me of one of my favorite blogs he introduced to me last year: It’s about authentic Thai cooking and the writer is amazing. She’s thoughtful, presents easy enough recipes, and her writing is impeccable. Her photos are lovely, as well. So, if you like Thai food, this is a great blog. Here’s an example of something that might be fun to try: Thai coconut sticky rice in sushi form. Check it out:

So, today I think I’ll get some ingredients for a curry dinner. I’ll also zip over to the Boqueria market to see what seafood is fresh for my star ingredient.

Then, tomorrow, it’s back to work at El Quim de la Boqueria. I hope my stomach is strong enough by now to eat all his raw seafood.

Buen Provecho!