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: shesimmers.com. 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: http://www.shesimmers.com/2010/05/thai-sweet-coconut-sticky-rice-with.html

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!

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2 Responses to “2 days in Empordá, Part I”

  1. Diana August 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    I really enjoyed the trip with both of you. XXXX Diana

  2. Diana August 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    The pic of your mum in Pals in front of the prohibited signal is great. Ja ja ja!!!!!!!

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