Archive | September, 2012

5 more days in Catalonia

22 Sep

After Madrid, it was 5 more days in Catalonia to finish up my time there. We rented a black Mini Cooper and set out for Cadaques. C had never been there and I felt like I talked about it so much that he had to see it. We did my favorite things – ate the best pulpo ever at Can Juli in Port Lligat, drove through the beautiful Cap de Creus national park up to the lighthouse for just after sunset, and had dinner at Compartir under the stars. The smoked ham at Compartir is still the best ham I’ve ever had.

I had a new dish for dessert – the cherries and cheesecake. That was sensational. It was a new take on cheesecake and I adored it. The soft cheese was super luscious and the sweetness was balanced perfectly with dried, tart cherries as well as the tart cherry sorbet. Here’s a pic:

The service at Compartir was better this time, but it still had some problems. People, train your staff!

After saying goodbye to my favorite street friend, La Sirena,

and buying a 5.65 Euro bottle of Oriol (great red wine from Emporda at a great price!) from the Lowrey-Seymour and Ogdie-Williams’ favorite wine-by-the-barrel and wine shop, we set out for Aiguablava, another favorite of mine.

We got caught up in a huge 1 day rain storm but that didn’t prevent us from eating at Toc Al Mar (soaked to the bone but nothing a couple of salads, lots of pan con tomate and a bottle of cava wouldn’t fix) and enjoying the next morning on the cute little cove beach before we set out again. I should mention how much we loved our hotel in Fornells, which is a small cove town on the water right next to Aiguablava. The hotel is called Hotel Aiguablava (http://www.hotelaiguablava.com/) and it was awesome. The service was exceptional and we had a spectacular suite room with a balcony on which to chill and look at the ocean.

This part of our journeys would take us on several one-night trips. C wanted to cover as much as he could in 8 days before we left Spain, so after 1 night in Aiguablava, we set out for the castle in La Bisbal. Here’s a pic of what we saw as we left Aiguablava on our way to the castle:

Here’s a pic of Carnet with our Mini in Pals:

One of the things I’ve found so funny are the signs that tell you when you’re leaving a town. Here’s an example:

Out, done, finished, no more. They all have a red slash across the name. Hilarious.

Onto our castle! Yep, I loved Castell d’Empordá (http://www.castelldemporda.com) so much the first time with mom and Diana, that I decided to take C there. Here are a few more pics. It is amazing there. Gorgeous, serene, and a must-stay place for anyone traveling in this part of the world.

View from tower:

View from room:

Sunset over the Empordá:

C with the black cat that followed us everywhere. This pic captured us perfectly: constant cava in hand (thanks to the management of the castle for spoiling us with free cava) with our gato negro.

And, finally, us on these great, white double bed like lounges in front of the pool:

Back to Barcelona for the final 2 days. On Friday night, C, Diana and I ate at a terrible restaurant that was highly rated in Tripadvisor called Gelonch (http://www.gelonch.es). The very expensive, tasting menu was really bad. Not just a little bad, but very bad. I never turn away dessert and I turned away 2 of them.

You could tell chef Gelonch has a creative mind by the different products he puts on the same dish and by the descriptions on the menu. However, there were fatal flaws in almost every single one of the 11 dishes! We were so disappointed that Diana made a comment to the waitress. We prefaced our critique with that we want them to succeed and their menu is creative but that many of the dishes just didn’t work at all.

The waitress started to defend the food and then brought out the chef. Chef Gelonch then defended his food, as well, but admitted that the sauces on his plates were too thick and starchy (they were and were very off-putting) as well as the avocado being of bad quality. If you know this, why do you send the dishes out? Why serve the bad avocado?

The excuses continued with “we’re a very small kitchen”, “we don’t have a Michelin star” (well, then why charge Michelin star prices?), etc.

Carnet and I were pretty miffed by the end. Diana was more gracious about it. The company is the only thing that saved the dinner. Sorry, C and D! We should have gone to Alkimia or Cenc Sentits.

The next day in Barcelona, we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day, walked down to the beach and then stopped by one final time at Quim’s to say goodbye to the boys. We had a terrific meal there, as usual. Yuri made Carnet an extra large foie burger:


Then, we did a little shopping for Carnet’s god-daughter’s birthday.

I had bought tickets for the afternoon show of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. It was fabulous. If you’ve never seen this dance company, it is a must. They hail from New York City and they started as an all-black dance troupe by Alvin Ailey in 1958. He revolutionized modern dance. This company is something special and the show in Barcelona was excellent. I had seen a show in NYC 20 years ago and I was equally thrilled with this show. Plus, the Liceu venue is a stunning venue in which to see anything in Barcelona. Here’s the bill:

Next stop: our favorite gin and tonic bar we call the “burrito bar” which isn’t its name, but it is next to a place called burrito, which in Spanish is not the eating burrito but a small donkey. The bar is next to the weird sculpture behind Placa Jaume that looks like a bunch of wire coat hangers put together.

Here’s the crazy sculpture:

After a g&t, it was time for our final Barcelona dinner at Tickets. C had always wanted to go and he loved it! We started out with raw tuna belly topped with salmon roe and seaweed, followed by their infamous “olives” (made through spherification). Then, we had the cheese puffs and the navajas, which are both of my favorites.

Here are a few pics:

Navajas

olives

We finished with 2 of my new favorites: the rabbit taco and the “wild things” dessert. The rabbit taco was so incredible we ordered 2 more. I loved, loved, loved it. Here’s a pic:

And, finally the grand finale: the dessert called wild things.

This was such a whimsical, inventive and delicious dessert, I would have ordered another one but I was really full by this point. Awesome dinner! Here are the two very happy Tickets goers:

Then, it was time for bed in our very comfy, ultramodern and hip hotel right off Placa Catalunya called Room Mate Pau (http://pau.room-matehotels.com/index.php/en). Funny name, but the rooms are dynamite and the hotel staff could not be nicer. The rooms have surround sound speakers into which you can plug your iphone or ipod or whatever you have to play music, or you can choose from the hotel’s selection. The beds are plush, the rooms have fun purple and blue mood lighting and the whole place is exceptionally clean. Finally, even though you’re right in the middle of the city, the rooms are super sound proof. I highly recommend this place. Ahhh, such a delightful sleep.

Next stops: Peñíscola, Valencia, Segovia and San Sebastian.

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4 days in Madrid

19 Sep

I met C in Madrid a little over a week ago and we started our journeys by eating and sleeping, of course. We actually didn’t see that much of Madrid as both of us needed sleep. But, we had some tasty meals, we saw a flamenco show, and we spent 2 hours watching the finish of the Tour de Spain bicycle race. That was exciting, as it was right outside our hotel.

First, let me say, I recommend staying at the Westin Palace Madrid. See www.westinpalacemadrid.com . It’s in an outstanding location in which to walk to the jazz quarter and good food, and it’s surrounded by gorgeous buildings. It’s also a beautiful hotel with very nice and large rooms.

The first meal we had was at the oldest restaurant in Spain called El Botin. Andrew Zimmern did a show on it. Here’s the YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGhhHsIfoAE

It’s all about the suckling pig here. So, we had it. And, we had the roasted lamb, as well. Both were incredibly rich and tasty. We loved the environment. There are so many little nooks and crannies that serve as dining rooms and it’s old school service – men waiters in suits, all very serious. We washed it all down with a pitcher of their sangria, which was necessary on a hot Madrid day 😉 The feature picture at top is one of the cooks roasting more pigs. You can see the pigs on the shelf behind that are done.

The image below is what you first see when you walk into the restaurant. It was a fun meal!

Then, it was on to a flamenco show that night at Corral de la Moreria. C had not been to one and people in Madrid claim to be excellent at flamenco, so we decided to go. Plus, I wanted to see another one to compare it to the show I had seen in Seville a few days earlier. Here’s a photo of a dancer in action:

I have to say I didn’t think it was as good as the show I saw in Seville, but it was also different. I thought the singers and guitar players in Seville were much better, but I think the dancing was about equal in both cities. The Madrid show certainly was entertaining, however.

Then, it was lots more sleeping and our big adventure out the next day was to watch the Tour de Spain. Here are a few pics of the peloton and some riders out in front.

We also met some very cool Bulgarians. This was the first time they had left their 3 and 1 year old kids and had a vacation together. They saw us looking for an outside table at a bar and they invited us to join them at their table. They were super nice, very smart and had taught themselves English just by watching t.v. Very impressive! Here we all are:

A few more days of resting and we were ready for our last big meal in Madrid at El Club Allard, which is a 2 Michelin starred restaurant. It was a bit of a strange place to find and it was in a business building. But, when the chef comes to your table within the first 10 minutes after you sit, that’s a great start.

I learned that he came to speak with every table shortly after they sat down to ask their likes, dislikes, dietary restrictions, etc. Yep, the chef. He caters – within reason – to what types of food you like. You have a choice of how many dishes you want and he goes from there. We chose the medium-number of dishes and here was our menu:

Here are a few pics of the dishes. See if you can match the pictures with the menu.

Our favorites: The butterfish tapa, the egg in pastry, the smoke and foie dish, the mushroom soup, the rabbit in mole sauce taco, and the chocolate, sea-themed dessert. All dishes were technically executed to perfection. We thought some flavor profiles were outstanding and others just really good. There wasn’t one dish we didn’t like. So, overall it was superb. And, it was the same price we’ve paid for several bad 1 Michelin star (and some no Michelin star) restaurants in the past. I highly recommend it!

And to boot, they brought us out a “Happy Honeymoon” pre-dessert. Soooo nice!

Next stops: Back to the Costa Brava, the Empordá, and Barcelona.

5 days in Andalucia: Part III (Days 3-5: 2 days in Seville and 1 day in Málaga)

18 Sep

Day 3 of the trip was the first of two days in Seville.

Don’t you just love when you get back to back hotels that are awesome? I arrived at Hotel Amadeus La Musica in Seville in Barrio Santa Cruz (the best barrio to stay in if you want to be close to the sights and fun narrow streets you can get lost in), and the staff could not have been sweeter. I booked the only room on the third and top floor and it was perfect, although anyone visiting should note that the elevator only goes to the second floor and from there it is 2 flights of steps up to the third floor.

Thank goodness I packed rather lightly for me and so I made the ascent quite easily. The elevator to the second floor was fun as it was glass and you could see all the Amadeus and period piece decorations and furniture on each floor. I should mention that hotel only has something like 11 rooms and each has a theme.

I arrived at my cute and very spacious room with classical music playing and the A/C already on a very good temperature. It was about 95 degrees outside when I arrived, so I appreciated the thoughtfulness in having the room comfortable. I walked up to the rooftop bar (above me) where there was a jacuzzi (handy only in the winter, I’m sure) and a smiling bartender. Cute, all very cute!

Here’s a pic of my hotel in the narrow, pedestrian-only street:

I decided to take a quick nap in my king bed because it was plush and I could. Also, it was time to wait out the heat of midday and journey out afterwards.

After my nap, I decided to walk the old quarter, which I was staying in and it was sooo cute (I was thinking everything was “cute” at this point). Like Córdoba, Seville’s old quarter is comprised of very narrow streets, many of which are pedestrian-only, and the building color of choice is a yellowish-gold. See below for an example.

I walked over to see the outside of the cathedral (yep, I’m on a cathedral tear) and the outside of the alcázar (king and queen castle). One view of the outside of the cathedral is the feature pic. Below is a picture of a lovely friend I met outside the cathedral.

After casing the 2 destinations I would do more exploration of the following day, I stopped for some lemon gelato and headed toward the river for a walk. Well, the walk along the river is super noisy, since it’s a major thoroughfare for cars, so it wasn’t that great. But, I got to see the other side of the river, which is the less touristy side.

Seville is a city of nearly 1 million people, so it’s not small. And, you can tell when you’re out and about. I have to say that I didn’t love it as much as I loved Córdoba. In large part, I think it’s because of the size, but I also think it’s because there were so many tourists, including me! Of course, I’ve been spoiled in many of the places I’ve visited to have them seem very quaint and be there just for me – ha! And, if a city is going to be huge, it better be Barcelona, which of course is my favorite big city.

Anyway, it was time for some tapas. I went to a bar recommended by the hotel and I had 3 tapas: 1) an octopus and potato salad which I did not like at all because the octopus and potato were all mushed together in mayonnaise and I only like mayonnaise when I or C make it with fresh eggs, olive oil, Dijon mustard and lemon; 2) a panko (Japanese bread crumb) battered and fried chicken breast filet with basil oil – very decent and an excellent value at 1 euro; and 3) the bomb of fresh made pasta: 2 gigantic raviolis stuffed with pine nuts, raisins and morrell mushrooms, in a light cream, Pedro Jimenez sauce. Wow, those 6 bites knocked my socks off. I will be trying to repeat that pasta recipe at home.

I asked what the bartender recommended for a drink on this very hot summer night and he suggested “vino tinto de verano”, which translates into red wine of summer. Sure, I love red wine! Well, this is not really red wine. It’s red wine mixed with lemon soda – a sort of quick sangria. But, somehow it worked. With lots of ice and the dry red wine to counteract the sweet lemon soda… yummm.

That’s how I ended day 1.

Day 4 of the trip was the second day in Sevilla.

I started out early on Day 2 because I knew the thousands of tourists and me were going to descend upon the cathedral and the alcazar by 10:00 a.m. So, I ordered breakfast to be brought to my patio. It was lovely. For 9 euros, you get fresh squeezed oj, a plate of manchego cheese and tomatoes, a croissant, 2 min-baguettes, a slice of yummy sugary pound cake, fresh jam (2 types), butter, olive oil, and your choice of tea or coffee delivered to your door in 15 minutes.

I was out the door by 8:45 a.m. and on my way to the cathedral. I am soooo glad I went early. I arrived at the cathedral and I didn’t know that there was more than one entrance open, so I just went into the one I was closest to. I didn’t pay and there was a service just starting. I pulled out my camera and started snapping pictures and in 10 minutes, ropes started going up around me. I didn’t really notice until I started seeing all of the other tourists being shooed beyond the ropes and essentially quarantined to small section in which to snap pictures. But, there I was with all of the rest of the church goers attending the service.

I sat for a few minutes to admire the enclaves, mini-chapels all around me, and the main “stage” and then I decided to slip under the ropes with the rest of the heathens. It’s a lovely and immense cathedral, but I really wanted to see the palace – the Alcázar.

9:30 a.m. and the palace already has 100s of people in tour groups waiting to get in. Sigh. Well, I’m going anyway.

The Alcázar (pronounced “all – cath- a” in southern spain) is still the official residence of the queen and king of Spain, although I have my doubts they live there at this point. It was a marvel, and along with the Mezquita, something everyone in Spain should see.

Here are a few pictures of the inside.

I ate lunch at a restaurant in Plaza de Doña Elvria whose name I can’t remember, but it wasn’t very good. The best thing I had was a bowl of gazpacho with olive oil ice cream in it. The olive oil ice cream is a GREAT way to balance the acidity of the cold tomato soup. I loved the idea and I may steal it. Also, the gazpacho had chunks of good green apple in it which I also thought was a refreshing idea on a 100 degree day.

Back to the hotel for a nap before I set out to see some flamenco at a joint called Tablao Flamenco El Arenal. One of the women at the front desk recommended 2 places for Flamenco and I said I want the most beautiful one. She made a reservation for me for the 8:00 p.m. show and off I went to nap.

At 7:00 p.m., I started out to find the place on a small street down by the Canal de Alfonso called Calle Rodo. I forgot to mention that I had already been lost at least 6 times in the windy streets of Barrio Santa Cruz and Barrio Central. And, I had a map! Up until this city, I felt like I was doing pretty well with the maps, but for some reason I was super directionally challenged in Seville.

I walked in a bunch of circles and then a nice old man stopped and asked if I needed help. Why yes, is it that obvious? He told me exactly where to go. Finally, I meet someone who wants to help that actually has a perfect sense of direction and distance.

I arrive at the venue and because I only wanted a drink not dinner, I was given sort of a crappy seat behind a pillar. So, note to show goers, fork out the extra 30 euros for dinner and you’ll get a prime seat. Also, the food looked amazingly good. I was a bit surprised as I was thinking it would be an afterthought since the show was the main attraction. Anyway, I’m at a communal table with some folks from Australia and Austria who were lovely and we struck up a nice conversation about all the places all of us have visited. We all decided Seville was not our favorite, due to its size and the sheer number of people here at the moment.

The show starts and from moment 1 I’m blown away. Serious professionals, serious Spanish guitar skills, serious voices. I loved both male dancers of the night (the very first and very last dancers, of course) and female dancers #3 and #4. Clearly, #1 mama had seniority as she went first but she was a bit of a tank and didn’t move as well as the others. No worries, we must all give respect to our elders.

Dancers #3 and #4 were complete opposites in appearance. #3 was what you expect to see – striking black hair, very voluptuous and curvy, very serious and had the pained look on her face that most flamenco dancers have throughout their performances. #4 was blond, super fit, and smiled a lot. She sort of reminded of a Spanish Christie Brinkley in the MTV video “Up town girl.” Okay, now I’m dating myself. They both had amazing foot work and were dazzling.

There were 3 male singers, 3 guitarists and 1 “drummer”. The 1.5 hours were full of strength, ferocity, amor, sexiness. I generally despise the machismo in Spanish culture, but there was something very attractive about it in flamenco. I was bummed I didn’t get to snap some pictures, but they were expressly forbidden. I understand why. I’m sure the performers didn’t want flash bulbs going off in their faces every 5 minutes. It was dazzling and I would go see it again in a heartbeat.

After working up a sweat in my own chair just watching (kidding), it was time for more food. I went back to a café for dinner that I had stopped in earlier to do some olive oil tasting. It was called Extra Verde (extra green). They had an interesting looking tapas menu.

It was 10:30 p.m. and I sat in the lovely courtyard. My waiter was awesome. I told him I wanted 3 “light” tapas and a glass of white wine. I told him to bring me his best. He brought out what would be my favorite dish in all of southern journeys – salmojero con virutas de mojama y langostino. Salmojero is a very traditional Andalucian dish that is essentially a creamy gazpacho. But, there are many modern twists and so it’s now just a cold soup of whatever the chef designs.

The base of this dish was the traditional creamy tomato gazpacho, but then it was topped with shaved, smoked tuna and a fresh prawn. All that was drizzled with a spicy olive oil. This is a killer dish on a hot day. I loved it! Here’s a pic:

Next came their version of hummus. I found that garbanzos beans are used a lot in cooking in Catalonia and I was excited to see them as my favorite dip in Seville. Extra Verde’s version was topped with a sort of dried seaweed, sesame seed and salt mixture and drizzled with some spicy olive oil. Yumm! The only disappointing thing is that in southern Spain they serve the lamest white bread and crackers with everything. They’re just awful, so I ended dipping tomatoes in the hummus and eating the rest by itself.

Finally, my 3rd tapa was a soy marinated tuna that was then smoked and paired with a salad. I loved that there was such a healthy restaurant in southern Spain.

Then, it was off to bed. The next day would be the last day of my southern tour.

Day 5: Málaga.

I woke up early so I could do one more “sight” before I headed to Málaga: Plaza España. It seems like every town I’ve been to has a Plaza España. However, this one was exceptional. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. The gorgeous government buildings, the fountains, the bridges – all have ornate tile work. Here are a few pics:

And, for the 1929 expo, they created some 30 different tiled ‘Province Alcoves’ along the walls of the Plaza de España. Here’s Albacete’s:

Onto Málaga!

I don’t have much great to say about Málaga. It was sort of a gritty port town. The old town by the cathedral (which wasn’t that spectacular compared to all of the other cathedrals I have seen to date) was cute but nothing that I hadn’t already seen. Málaga did have a fun, lively café-cruising nightlife in the old town. But, so do many other Spanish cities.

The highlight of Málaga for me was the Picasso museum and it wasn’t even the Picasso exhibit. The two exhibitions that I loved in the museum were temporary exhibits. The first was by an Argentine documentary film maker named Robert Otero. He took photos of Picasso at his home and work from 1961-1970. These photos gave a rare glimpse of Picasso’s last years.

The other exhibit was an exhibit of late 1800s-early 1900s lithographs (posters) from Moscow, Berlin and Paris. I really enjoyed the black and white documentary footage from 1929 of these 3 cities. It showed the roaring 20s dancers, ice hockey in Berlin, and a bicycling race.

Other than that, Málaga was kind of a bust for me. I wouldn’t need to go there again.

But, my first 4 days were spectacular and I would certainly recommend Córdoba as a must see city in the south!

After Málaga, I headed north on the train to Madrid to meet my love. That’s where my next posts will pick up. Stay tuned….

5 days in Andalucia, Part II: Day 2 Córdoba.

17 Sep

I am circling back around to finish 5 days in Andalucia and then I’m going to try to catch up with my other travels since then with 1 post per day this week.

Day 2 Córdoba was all about the Mezquita and the Alcazar, followed by a very good lunch!

So, I wake up after a long nice sleep in my very comfortable bed and grab a quick breakfast (included in the price of the hotel) of jamon iberico, manchego, scrambled eggs, fresh squeezed oj, and few biscuits for the road.

It’s 9:30 a.m. and I know I need to get to the Mezquita rather quickly before all the other tourists descend on it. So, here’s a quick history of the church turned mosque turned cathedral – named the Mequita – depending on whose history you want to believe.

The cathedral literature says “It is a historical fact that the San Vicente Basilica was destroyed during the Islamic period in order to build the subsequent mosque.”

Other literature just picks up at the year 785 when the construction of the mosque began. It underwent 4 stages of construction in different eras according to who was in power at the time. It was the social, cultural, and political center of the town.

Here are some pics of the outside as I moved around it.

This is the outside wall consisting of 19 original doors that are now closed. These doors were important sources of light way back when.

Here’s a close up of one of the doors. They were spectacular.

You enter the Mezquita through a rather unimpressive courtyard compared to what is next. Immediately inside the main building, you see the alternating red and white brick and double arches all about which “were modeled on the Hispanic-Roman tradition”, according to the brochure. See the first pic, above.

Throughout the whole inside you can also see the work of Byzantine artists. The mosaics were incredible.

Here are a few more pics:

And, here’s a shot toward the ceiling of the now Christian part of the Mezquita:

So, after several hundreds of years, King Ferdinand II reconquered Córdoba and he was eager to claim the mosque as a Christian space. So, inside you’ll see plenty of Christian symbols, chapels, and a treasury composed of pieces used during prayer time.

It’s all pretty stunning.

After the Mezquita, I went over to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (castle of the Christian Monarchs). It began as a palace and fort for Alfonso X in the 13th century. From 1490 to 1821 the Inquisition operated here. Today, it has some beautiful gardens surrounding it. Not sure if they want to make you forget the atrocities that were committed here, but it worked on me for a few minutes when I came to the rose section. Such sweet smells. I know I’m cheap at times.

Here’s a pic of the Alcázar, from the top looking back over the city.

Here’s a pic of the gardens:

After going to mosque and church, I decided it was time to head to the Jewish temple. I’m an equal opportunity learner when it comes to religions 😉 No pictures here, but it was cute.

Of course sightseeing works up an appetite, so I headed to a restaurant called Ziryab Taberna Gastronomica. I was the first one there at 12:30 because that’s super early to eat lunch, but that’s how I roll these days.

From the moment I walked in, I was greeted by a darling waiter named Luis. He was all smiles and very happy to assist me. He suggested the menu del dia and that’s usually a good choice. I asked what choices in each section he liked and he steered me onto my favorite salad I’ve had in the past 6 months. It was a very simple salad, yet the ingredients were perfectly fresh and ripe, which they needed to be to execute this mostly tomato salad.

Here are the ingredients: tomatoes, hard boiled egg yolks, capers, sliced pickles, fresh basil, sweet onions, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Then, on the side, there were endive leaves with basil oil on them. Perfect, delicious. I love basil oil. I think there’s nothing better on a salad in the summer.

Here’s a quick recipe if you want to make it at home:
Basil Oil

Ingredients and items you need to get started:
1 bunch basil, stalks removed
boiling water
bowl of ice water
non-terry towel
blender
good extra virgin olive oil
salt

Directions:
1) Bring a pot of water to boil (just enough to submerge your basil leaves)
2) Drop the basil leaves in for 10-15 seconds, just enough so that they are barely wilted but still super green
3) Take the basil out with a slotted spoon and immediately submerge into the ice water bath. This helps retain the color and the freshness and is a necessary step. If you skip this step, your oil will be an ugly color.
4) Remove basil from ice bath and squeeze out excess moisture in a non-terry towel.
5) Throw basil in a blender with some good EVOO and puree until it has a fine consistency. Use that day or the next. Keep in a covered container in the fridge.

Next came the main course. Again, I was hesitant to order fish, but the waiter talked me into it mostly because I was curious about the almond sauce underneath.

Nice dish! The tuna was cooked perfectly – seared on the outside and rare on the inside. The sauce was excellent. I asked the chef, who the waiter was nice enough to bring out the Chef to talk with me, and she – Claudia – said the sauce was made of toasted almonds, toasted bread, saffron, soy sauce, black pepper and stock. She also studded the outside of the plate with more basil oil, which the dish really needed as the sauce was smoky. So, basil was a great compliment to it.

Finally, dessert: brownie with yogurt ice cream. Well, the brownie was very mediocre and I’ve made way better, but the yogurt ice cream was probably some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was incredibly smooth, with just a hit of sweet, and it had the great tanginess of really fresh, plain yogurt. Me encanta!

Here’s a pic (I already took several bites before I remembered to take a picture, per usual when someone puts something sweet in front of me. Usually, I forget who I am and what I’m doing for a few seconds as I’m so excited to see chocolate).

And the bread. Hot, crunchy outside, soft inside. The 18 euro lunch was fabulous. And, the nice waiter served me a glass of Pedro Jimenez (good, dark sherry) and a café solo on the house. Great service, thanks!

Well, I had to take a nap after that, and actually for the night. Although I had a few stomach issues yet again (damn fish), I had another nice long sleep and awoke to a beautiful day to go to Seville.

My perfect day in Barcelona (in between traveling)

13 Sep

In the blog community, sometimes we are asked to post on others’ blogs, so I did “My perfect day in Barcelona” for my friend, Rob’s blog. Check it out at: http://www.homagetobcn.com/rachels-bcn-day/.

I promise I’ll get back to posting on the rest of my journey in Andalucia in the next few days. But, right now, I’m on my long awaited – 12 years, actually – honeymoon. So, there will be lots of posts to come. Stay tuned….

5 days in Andalucia: Day 1 in Córdoba

5 Sep

I continue my food and history quest, this time in the south of Spain in a region called Andalucia. First stop: Córdoba. This is a city of about 300,000 people, so it’s not small. However, it very much has a small town feel to it, especially in the “old” part of town where I’m staying near the Mezquita Catedral.

Here’s a brief history of Córdoba, according to Lonely Planet, that I think is necessary to understand if one is going to understand all of the different architecture of the Mezquita, especially.

The Roman colony of Corduba, which is most of modern day Andalucia, was founded in 152 BC. In 711, the city of Córdoba was captured by Muslim invaders and became the Islamic capital of the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba’s heyday came under Abd ar-Rahman III (912-61). The biggest city in western Europe had dazzling mosques, libraries, observatories and aqueducts, a university and highly skilled artisans in leather, metal, textiles and glazed tiles. The multi-cultural court was frequented by Jewish, Arab, and Christian scholars. Lonely Planet, page 737.

Since these were the “glory years”, I’ll leave the history at that for now, as that part of Córdoba’s history is really what I wanted to see.

Moving onto my journey, first, I have to give props to my hotel – Eurostars Patios. This is one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in during my journeys in Spain. It was very inexpensive (49 euros per night) and it was fabulous. The hotel is super modern and new, all the rooms are soundproofed and all the rooms look out onto one of their many designer patios. My room (#108) was at the end of the hall and away from any stairs or lift, so it was really quiet. It was exceptionally clean and it had a nice amount of space, as well.

The true lux about the place was that it had pillow service. If you didn’t like the pillows that came on the bed (4 very comfortable ones), you could call room service and order off the pillow menu – awesome! Finally, the shower had a modern rain shower head, instead of those awful handheld things that come in most hotel showers and annoy me because if you adjust them, they tend to fall off the wall.

So, I arrived late on a Sunday afternoon and it was the perfect day and time to arrive. Córdoba is very quiet on a Sunday afternoon and most everything is closed, so you have a chance to do a great walking tour of the city and to see the old buildings and different neighborhoods without being bombarded by so many tourists. Below are a few of my pictures from Sunday.

Right next to my hotel are some old Roman ruins of a temple:

Plaza Tendillas:

The closer view of the guy riding the bird as well as the ornate work done on the top of the building (I love this one):

Another view of a building in Plaza Tendilla:

A cute house, with some typical tiles, I walked by on a narrow street as I made my way to the outskirts of the old town:

One of the things I loved about Córdoba was that some of the pedestrian walkways were covered with white banners of sorts to block out the sun. Córdoba was very hot when I arrived, like around 98 degrees F/36-37 degrees celsius. So, this was a fabulous idea. Here’s a pic of the banners overhead from one of the pedestrian streets:

So, I make my way over the where the 2 big “must sees” are in town: the Mezquita and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, or so I think I’m going toward them. I know they are both closed at the moment, but I thought I would take some photos of the outside. I end up overshooting a bit and come upon an old wall that was the outer wall of the city at one time and now which is called Calle Cairuán. Here is the magnificent wall:

This wall goes on for several typical city blocks and it has pools surrounded by flowers next to it. Just gorgeous.

I walk some more and come down to the Rio Guadalquivir (the river). I decide to walk across the Puento Romano bridge to check out the structure at the end of it called Torre de la Calahorra. Here’s a pic of the bridge and the Torre de la Calahorra:

As you can tell from the picture, the countryside is super brown. It gets scorching hot here in the summer and the dust is palpable when it’s windy.

I wander back over the bridge and around the outside of the Mezquita. *Side note: I won’t include any pictures of my first day’s view of the Mezquita, as light was waning and the streets were narrow, so the pictures with flash don’t do it justice. But on day 2, I’ll include a ton of pictures of the beast. It’s truly a beast and amazing.

I find the museum of the Spanish Inquisition and decide this looks like an interesting place to browse. Here’s the entrance:

I didn’t know much about the Spanish Inquisition, other than it was an attempt by the King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms. There were inquisitions in Rome and Portugal, as well, but the Spanish one was the most “substantive” (read: brutal). Under their rule, the Spanish Inquisition began in 1480 with the invention of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which was under the direct control of the monarchy. It was not definitively abolished until 1834 under Queen Isabella II. So, there’s a long history of terrorizing people here over religion or lack of religion. Oh wait, we still do that the world over, don’t we? Oh, I digress.

So, after the museum I decided it was time to eat. Nothing says “it’s time to eat” like some wicked history. I took a cue from tripadvisor and went to their number one rated restaurant in Córdoba: Regadera. Well, it was cute. Here are a few pics of the place:

The bar area (cute):

Entrance to the dining room. If you look to the left of the door at the end of the bar, you’ll see a small fountain. Also, the doorway to the dining room is a very typical Moorish style door:

Well, the food was hit and miss. Since I was inland, I decided to go with meat. I ordered the suckling pig. The skin, which if done right is incredibly crispy, was burned! So were the top and bottom of my scalloped potatoes. Really novice cooking here, folks.

My young waiter knows something is wrong when, after 4 bites, I push the plate away. So, he asks. I try to be nice and say I’m critical because I’m a chef (yep, I pulled the card, mostly because I wanted something else that was good). I say I want you to bring me your best plate. He goes back to the kitchen and comes out with a duo of tartares. I’m thinking “Sh-t! I don’t know if my stomach can handle any more raw fish, and we’re inland so I’m not sure how fresh it is.”

But, I accept the explanation and dive in. The tuna tartare is the same old same old I’ve had everywhere now in Spain when someone thinks they’re going to serve me their “best dish”. It’s raw tuna with avocado and wasabi. No offense, folks, but we’ve been doing that in Hawaii since, I don’t know how long but way before anyone else on the planet save the Japanese, I’m sure. It’s good, but it doesn’t blow me away because I’ve had it so many times.

Moving onto the salmon tartare. Now, I’m really freaking out… there is no way this salmon is fresh. I taste the lemon foam on top – wow! That is sensational! I taste the green chili-cumin sauce on the bottom and it is also sensational. Those two are keepers. The salmon was mixed with sweet onion and green apple, which is a great combo with salmon. The tartar itself would have been excellent had the fish been fresh, but definitely it was not.

Here’s a pic of the tartares:

I ended up with a chupito of a green apple liquor – yummm! Time for bed. Tomorrow…the mammoth Mezquita and a tower of inquisition surrounded by a magnificent garden….