Restaurant Reviews, Part 2

15 Jul

Today, I’ll be reviewing Cinc Sentits and Compartir.

Al, Maren, C and I decided to do lunch up right one day and head to Cinc Sentits. A picture of the 4 of us looking very happy we did is below:

They only have a tasting menu, no ala carte options. Their tasting menu is comprised of 1 tapa, 2 starters, 1 fish, 1 meat, cheeses, and 2 desserts. It’s not as elaborate as the menu at Alkimia, but for the most part, each dish is perfectly executed. I also rated it 2nd out of the 6 over the last 2 weeks because of the service and the environment.

First, the welcome note on the table is a nice touch. When I made the reservation, they asked what language we spoke.

I loved the interior of the place – very modern. The ceiling was really cool. Here’s a pic of the ceiling:

Onto the food….First, I loved the different olive oil tastings and bread. I really enjoy that about several restaurants here, including Osmosis. There is so much great olive oil here. To be able to compare by dipping a little bread in it is something I think of as luxurious, but is pretty common.

Before the first course – the tapa – we were served an “opener”. This is what hooked me. It was a “shooter” of sorts, with 4 layers: 1) maldon sea salt on the bottom, 2) Canadian maple syrup next, 3) whipped cream in the middle, and 4) a cava sabayon on top. Wow! That was delicious. Perfect sweet, salty, creamy to get the palette going.

I also loved the presentation in a wooden box of different hues of grey to match the interior walls of the restaurant.

Our tapa was a small almond-milk based soup with a scallop and asparagus on top. It was excellent. Nice and light, bright flavors.

The first starter was a foie dish. Although I have become quite the good foie eater lately, this one was just too rich. I think it was the thickness of the foie and the sweetness of the caramelization. I could only take a few bites. The rest of the group managed to finish theirs, so it was indeed very good.

The second starter was a dish C loved. It was a cold soup of sorts. The components were just beautiful. It was pickled mackerel, olive oil balls (spherification), herbs, fresh plums, a crouton and sorbet.  All of the components eaten together were marvelous. By itself, the fish was way too briny for me.  I have a conflict. I think each item should be “perfect” on its own and then when combined, divine.  But, I suppose if something is meant to be eaten as a whole, I shouldn’t discredit it for one part not being perfect on its own. I’ll have to contemplate that more when doing my own menus.

The fish dish, along with the meat dish and the maple shooter, were my favorites. This trout was expertly seared with crispy skin on the outside and barely done on the inside. The cucumber-melon sauce it was over made this a great summer dish. The crouton added a nice buttery crunch to the whole thing. It looked pretty simple, but the devil in always in the execution.

If I had to pick just one thing I loved on this menu, it would indeed be the suckling pig, with a layer of blood sausage. It might sound scary, but it was so ridiculously good. The suckling pig melted in your mouth, the crispy skin layer on the outside was so crispy that I wondered if they fried it separately and then meat glued it to the rest? Under the crispy skin was the thin layer of blood sausage, which is a very typical Catalan food. I don’t really love it on its own, but when done right and incorporated into another dish, it elevates the richness of that dish. The little, sweet apples around the dish were the perfect touch, as of course pigs and apples always go together.

If you’re a consistent reader of this blog, I think you probably have a good idea of what is “typical Catalan” fare, and what it’s like at its best. Some of the restaurants have “similar” (and I say that loosely) dishes, but as Miles says, it’s about endless reinvention. But, some do seem very similar to me, especially because I gravitate toward the restaurants that say they use local, seasonal ingredients, which honestly is what most of them do here, anyway. So, for instance, artichokes are out of season, so you won’t find them on any menus now. Chanquetes were the baby fried fish that was on several menus 2 months back, but now it’s another kind of baby fried fish. Melon is in season, so that will be the star of many sauces and soups.

Okay, onto the last parts of lunch. The cheese plate. It’s a very popular course in Catalonia. The pairings were a goat cheese with an apple compote, a cow’s milk cheese with a carrot compote, and sheep’s cheese with a bite-sized, sweet hazelnut “pie”. Mmmmmm. The carrot compote was such a different and good idea. The typical pairings are with quince paste or with a llimona (lemon) compote. Here’s the plate:

Finally, dessert. The first dessert was my favorite, after such a rich meal. It was a 2-3 biter of 2 different granites and red fruit underneath. It was slightly sweet, very tart, slightly herbal and refreshingly cold.

Finally, the chocolate course. It seems like most restaurants here have a chocolate course.  I learned from my friend Diana that there used to be a very big chocolate factory located right on La Rambla.  And, nowadays there are few excellent chocolatiers who sell in Barcelona, although the larger factories are not in Barcelona proper.   Having tasted hundreds of different types of chocolate, I declare myself an “expert” on chocolate – haha.

Cinc Sentits’ (“5 senses”) chocolate course was decadent and very good.  My personal preference these days is to pair something lighter with deep, rich chocolate, so this dish didn’t come close to the chocolate ganache and mango course at Alkimia. Having said that, I still very much enjoyed it and scarfed it all down.

To me, service is part of the dinner and it’s always a treat to speak to the chef. Jordi, the co-owner and chef came out to talk with us at the end.  He was very personable and interested in our thoughts. He asked what restaurants we’ve been to and liked. I mentioned I liked some of his plates and designs. He brought out a small booklet for me explaining who makes their plates.  His sister and co-owner who runs the front of the house also stopped by for a brief chat.  Very fun!

Next review:  Compartir in Cadaques.  It was opened by a former cook at El Bulli. His name is Mateo.

Unlike some of the other places we’ve been, Compartir doesn’t offer a tasting menu, which in a way is refreshing. So, we just chose a bunch of things we wanted to try. I would put them either in the “excellent” or “very good” category. Nothing was less than very good, except for the service, which I’ll get to later.

Here’s my ranking in the excellent category:

1) The endive and burrata salad with passionfruit dressing. It was endive 2 ways (1 braised, which was superb), over melt-in-your-mouth burrata with a very light passionfruit dressing. It was a knockout!

2) The smoked ham over mashed potatoes. The smoked ham was unlike any other ham I’ve ever eaten. The smoke was perfect and the ham also melted in your mouth. Is there magic in these dishes? This dish wasn’t all that pretty, but it was stunning to the taste buds.

And, 2) There’s a tie for 2nd place here, between the truffled, poached egg in cream and the smoked ham. The luxurious mouthfeel of this dish was the star. I think the poached egg was a 63 degree egg (cooked in an immersion circulator), with just the right amount of real, shaved truffles. My only complaint is that it should have been a bit hotter, as a hot dish.

3) The tuna tartare. Although I am so very used to many different raw tuna preparations, the use of olive oil and citrus in this made it a perfect tartare. Thanks to my friend, Diana, as she’s the one who got us this “off menu” dish. She heard our first very bad waitress offer it to another table and so she asked the sommelier why we weren’t offered it. He said the people next to us were special friends of the chef, but then Diana said I was a chef, so he told us he’d bring us a plate. I love that she pulled that card out! It was kind of embarrassing, but Diana, C and Shannon have no hesitation throwing that out there, and it does get us better service and often-times some things not on the menu 🙂 I can’t quite do it, as I don’t think of myself as a chef yet. I know I’m a good cook, but until I open a business of my own, I don’t consider myself a chef. Anyway, here’s the beautiful tuna:

Here’s my ranking of the “very good”:

1) The lobster and fennel dish:

2) The sea bass with mushrooms in a yuzu-citrusy sauce.

3) The desserts: I had the “pina colada”, Diana had the espuma (foam) of crema catalana, and Maren had the tasting of white chocolates (they were hidden in milk chocolate ball coverings):

My dessert and the espuma probably tied with the sea bass in my mind. They were creative and delicious!

4) The navajas (razor clams)

5) And, finally, the monkfish (keep in mind, it was still very good, but I had to rank something last):

Overall, the food in the “excellent” category rivaled any dish at Cenc Sentits, although the styles of food were very different. But, the service definitely made Compartir 3rd in my overall list. It started out horrendous and, at the end when we told the chef that we loved his food but that the service was a bit rough, he defended the poor service instead of taking the critique and using it to make his restaurant better.

He said, “We wanted to hire local servers from Cadaques.” Well, that’s great, but then train them because when they don’t know the term sommelier – in any of the 3 languages our table spoke – that’s a bad sign. When the second young server didn’t know what cut of meat was on the menu and said, “I don’t know,” that’s a bad sign. How about, “I’ll go find out right away.” Instead, we had to ask her to go find out. What saved the service was the young sommelier. In fact, he ended up being our server because I think he knew we were irritated at the first 2 young women who didn’t know anything. With some coaching, he suggested a great bottle of white which we all very much enjoyed. Here it is:

I liked it to so much, we went in search of it in Cadaques the next day, as it’s from that region in Emporda. We found it at great little food and wine store in Cadaques for 6 Euros! That’s one to remember.

I also really liked the atmosphere in Compartir. They kept the original design of the old house that was converted into a restaurant and you can see some of the original tile in places. It was homey and beautiful.

Here’s Maren and dad looking very happy to be there.

Overall, it was very successful food and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there if I ever go to Cadaques again.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Restaurant Reviews….

6 Catalonia restaurant reviews (2 in Cadaques and 4 in Barcelona)

14 Jul

I apologize to my foodie followers for not having blogged in 10 days. I’ve had company in Barcelona (first, my friend Katie, then C, and now my dad and Maren) and we’ve been on an eating, drinking and sight-seeing tear. But, I hope to make up for the lack of communication in this and my next 2 blog posts. So much to tell!

First, I thought it was appropriate to post 4 of us in an egg. One of my favorite dishes of the last 2 weeks was the egg dish at Compartir in Cadaques, where Maren, Al, Diana and I dined this week. I love this pic as I think it looks like we’re on an amusement park ride. Really, it might be a metaphor for my life since February. I have loved this food ride!

So, onto the food from the past 2 weeks! I’ll go in order of my favorite restaurants to the one train wreck of a dinner: 1) Alkimia, 2) Cenc Sentits, 3) Compartir, 4) Raco D’en cesc, 5) Can Juli, and 6) Hisop (the train wreck). I will review only Alkimia in today’s blog, then the next 2 in tomorrow’s blog, and the final 3 in Monday’s blog. There are so many pictures of the beautiful food to include in 1 blog post. Additionally, we had so much fun touring that I want to include some of the best pics of the sight-seeing, as well.

Last night’s dinner at Alkimia was fantastic. I went to Alkimia my first week in Barcelona and was completely impressed. I was equally impressed last night, with an entirely different menu. I have now eaten at 5, one-star Michelin restaurants in Barcelona and this one is far and away so much better than the others except for one – Cinc Sentits – which I’ll review tomorrow.

Here’s this week’s Alkimia menu:

First course: Zuchinni spagetini with barnacles, algae, lemon supremes, razor clams, the smallest caviar i’ve ever seen, all in a very punchy, citrus dressing – yummmm! This was a perfect starter.

Second course: Almond brandade over a pickled tomato juice. The cod was incredibly rich, but the citrus elements from the tomato and the crunch of the blanched almonds were great compliments.

Third course: Pickled oyster with pork cheek over spinach. I loved, loved this dish. The star was the pork cheek. You didn’t even need a fork, let alone a knife to cut it, it was so tender. The spinach was perfectly cooked and the pickled oyster was a great pairing with the rich pork cheek.

Fourth course: Cuttlefish with ink and pickled ginger. This was my favorite presentation because I think it’s very moody and modern. But, overall the dish was a bit too fishy for me. I think I’m just not a fan of cuttlefish, as dad and Maren really liked it. The sauce was delicious, however.

A bonus course (not on the 10 course tasting menu): shrimp in shrimp consommé with sea beans and a lemon oil, mustard whipped cream. I loved the service on this one. They plated just the shrimp and sea beans first in a bowl they smeared with what appeared to be a sort of dried tomato-shrimp paste, and then they added the consommé on top of it at the table. Then, we were instructed to taste just one spoon full of the consommé prior to the server adding the dollop of heavenly, lemon-scented whipped cream.

Below are the first 2 steps in the process. Apparently, I didn’t snap a pic of the final one with the cream on top, but just imagine a dollop of lemony-herby whipped cream on top.

Fifth course: Smoked gambas (large, red shrimp from the Med Sea) with cocoa nibs over hot rock salt containing charred bay leaves, crushed cloves and sliced lemon rinds. They smoked the shrimp over these and the plate and the salt came hot, so it was a gorgeous aromatic presentation. The gambas were still a bit crudo and you could really taste the clove and lemon on them. In my opinion, this was a perfect dish.

Sixth course: Mackerel with vermouth and roasted padron with a sardine inside. The skin on the mackerel was perfectly crispy and the accompanying side pepper was a great, salty/briny combo to go with it. Again, it was a 2 step presentation. They plated the main components and served the plate to us. Then, they poured the hot vermouth in the plate at the table. The vermouth broth was fabulous.

Seventh course: Pescado del dia. This dish was grouper with dried black olive tapenade, over a beet sauce, with a smear of sweet onion sauce around it. The presentation was stunning due to the beet sauce, but I thought the grouper was a bad choice of fish. Maren, Al and I were thinking of adjectives to describe it and here’s our list: spongy, rubbery and chewy. None of us liked the texture at all and the skin was certainly not meant to be eaten. However, the rest of the plate was awesome. Both sauces and the olive tapenade blew me away. Had they used a halibut or a lake trout it would have knocked my socks off!

Eighth course: Beef and crispy gizzards with pickles, tempura onion rings, tangy mustard seeds, and some crudo vegetables. This was my other favorite dish of the night. Again, everything was perfectly executed. The beef was ridiculously good, the tempura onion rings were crunchy and light, and the whole seed mustard sauce over the baby crudo veggies was the citrusy element it needed for balance alongside a rich beef sauce.

The onion ring:

2 desserts: First, a fabulous tea infused ice cream over a very delicate whipped cream over fresh strawberries. I asked what was in the ice cream and the server said orange, cinnamon, and early grey tea. Second, a chocolate ganache “bar” next to the best mango ice cream EVER! (over some crispy sweet cookie-like crumbs).

Until this past week, I have not been too impressed with the desserts at a lot of fine restaurants in Catalonia (including the ones I made at Dos Palillos, with the exception of the ningyo yaki de chocolate, the yuzu ice cream, and the green tea ice cream – those were “wow”.) Having said that, the desserts at Alkimia were the best ones I’ve had to date. I’m a harsh critic of chocolate and the chocolate ganache was stunning. The pairing of that with mango ice cream that tasted like you just took a bite of a fresh, ripe mango, was a killer combo. Maren and Al agreed.

Equally as exceptional were the petit fours at the end of the meal. It was a trio: 1) bizcocho (sponge cake) topped with lime zest and coffee, 2) white chocolate “lollipops” with liquid passion fruit inside – quite possibly my favorite item of the evening!, and 3) milk chocolate “mini-cups” with an olive oil float on top and an almond biscuit as the vehicle for the chocolate cup.

Onto drinks… we started out with our requisite “copas de cava”, and they were lovely, big pours. Next, we ordered a bottle of white to go along with our mostly fish meal. It was so different and delicious. I will definitely order it again, as it was fairly dry, mineral-y, pretty complex for a young white, and it was not expensive. Here’s the pic:

Then, our sommelier suggested a glass of red to go with the beef dish. I can’t remember the name (stupid me, but I was already 2 glasses into wine) but it was a mix of garnatxa (Catalan spelling for granache), merlot, cabernet sauvignon and a 4th local red grape.

Finally, I asked for an after dinner licor that would go with our petit fours but that wasn’t too sweet. The sommelier brought out the bottle of what translated into “herb liquor”. It was delicious and dangerous.

And, finally, the stiff pours of the licor de hierbas:

It’s 2 p.m. and dad and Maren are playing cards. I’m still drinking coffee and fizzy packets. We’re all vowing never to drain that bottle of liquor again, delicious as it was.

Buen Provecho!

My last 2 nights at Osmosis and eating at Tickets

3 Jul

My last day at Osmosis was Friday, June 29. Frederic cooked a beautiful family meal with some of the best beef I’ve tasted in Spain – perfectly marbled, seared on the outside, rare on the inside. I’m such a meat eater! My last week was a blast and my last night was the busiest of them all, with around 50 people seated within an hour. We had a table of 16, which means it’s a challenge to get hot plates to everyone all at the same time. But, we did it.

The last week’s menu was as follows (with the Lamb confit dish featured at top – yummmmm):

Following are the pictures of the plates, minus the fish dish (I can’t seem to find that pic).

The potato cream with crayfish and jamon iberico:

This is a very easy recipe:

Boil some waxy, not starchy potatoes, until they are fork-tender but not falling apart. Leave the skins on. Then, put them in a very hot pan with hot olive oil and roast until they are brown. Take all roasted potatoes and throw them in a thermomix (or good food processor) with some heavy cream, some chicken stock, a little butter, and a little salt and pepper until you get a thick soup consistency. Put all through a chinois or china cap. This step is important, as it you want the soup to be smooth and you’ll only get it this way by straining out the potato skins.

Then, either keep the soup warm for service or put in fridge until you’re ready to re-heat and serve. You might need to adjust/thin out the consistency with more stock. Just before service, get the grill hot and throw on some raw crayfish that are de-shelled. Cook until just under-done. They will continue to cook when you take them off the heat and also put them in the hot soup. So, don’t overcook.

Add 2 crayfish to the middle of each bowl of soup. Add some finely diced iberico ham or cured meat around the crayfish. Top with your favorite micro green or herb, more fresh cracked pepper and a drizzle of your favorite, very good extra virgin olive oil (this is not the one you use for cooking).

Carnet notes that this is an extremely rich dish, which is true. So, it might benefit from some sort of acid in it.

The rice with foie gras, candied ginger, asparagus and baby squash:

The cheese plate with 3 different marmalades (delicious!):

Dessert #1 – the Pina colada, which is pineapple sorbet over pineapple-rum “soup”, served with baby coconut macaroons, fresh grated and dried coconut, and a spray of rum:

Finally, tres chocolates (but I forgot to take a pic before I ate the first bite, which was baileys ice cream over crushed mocha cookies):

Here’s the crew, including another stage and 3 servers, minus Nacho, who is the other owner of Osmosis:

Here’s Little John (sous chef) and Chef Frederic in the kitchen:

And, here’s Frederic, C and me, on Saturday night. I didn’t work that night, as C flew in, so Frederic treated us to dinner in our own private room, with scrumptious wine pairings which Nacho put together. Fantastic!

Muchas gracias, Frederic, Nacho y John, para todo. He aprendido mucho y fue muy divertido!

Going back a few days, Thursday night, I went to Tickets which is an Albert Adria restaurant. My friend Diana gathered 8 of us and it was a 5 hour dinner! The company was perfect. Everyone was so interesting, so different, and incredibly nice. The food was super fun, some even whimsical, and most of it was excellent (very few items were just “good”). People try to get into Tickets 6 months in advance, but Diana called Quim and asked for a favor, so we were all very lucky. And, it was nice that Albert came to speak to our table at the end of the meal.

I won’t post all of the pics from dinner, as there are too many. I’ll just post some highlights. First, the menu cover and what the restaurant looks like inside:

Next, the really fun “olives” made by spherification. They weren’t really olives, but rather a thin membrane over liquid that tasted like green olives.

Spherification is a process through which a liquid is mixed with sodium alginate, and dripped into a cold solution of calcium chloride or calcium carbonate. Reverse spherification, for use with substances which contain calcium, requires dripping the substance into an alginate bath. Both methods give the same result: a sphere of liquid held by a thin gel membrane, texturally similar to caviar. The modern adaptation of this technique to food was developed by Ferran and Albert Adria.

At Tickets, the spherification technique was also used for the olive oil and other liquid “caviars” and pearls that were served atop the oysters and other tapas. You’ll see more, below.

The oysters were good, but I thought were more visually stunning than they tasted, other than the pearl itself, which was filled with seawater. But, then again, I’m a picky oyster eater, and I’m remembering fondly the weekend earlier this year when Bob and Steph flew into SF and 4 of us (C,too) went oyster eating in Tomales Bay. Yummmm.

The aged beef was beautiful, as was the lobster, both in appearance and taste.

Yep, we eat the coral and roe and all in Spain.

The smoked sardines were great and again, I loved the presentation:

But, by far my two favorite dishes of the evening where the navajas (razor clams) and the “cheese puffs with olive oil caviar”. Wow, wow, wow. Both in appearance – the plates were perfect – and taste, these knocked my socks off. Here they are:

The desserts didn’t blow me away, but that’s hard to do these days 😉

But, the company more than made up for that. Here’s the crew, with Mariane holding up the bonita chips.

And, Diana and me:

Yep, my life is grande!

Tonight, I’m off with dad, Maren and C to roam and see what food we can find…something a little more simple, I think.

Buen Provecho!

A fun weekend and now eating uber healthy

26 Jun

S and F were in Barcelona for 3 days before heading back to HI. So, they had an eating “line-up” that rivaled any I’ve ever experienced. Friday: Alkimia into Dos Palillos. Saturday: El Quim into CalPep into Osmosis. Of course, I joined them on Saturday for all of the eating and festivities.

The picture at top is a pastry from Cal Pep. I used that as my feature pic because it was one of the best pastries I’ve had in Catalonia. Most of the pastries of this sort are way too sweet and the dough is not flaky and light. This one… wow, it was perfect. The custard inside was not too sweet and it had this very airy quality about it. The pastry was light and flaky and the contrast was delicious!

Now, compared to the San Joan pastries that I had and which everyone around town buys and eats for the celebration, you can just go ahead and throw the sorry San Joan pastries in the trash. Think: bad fruitcake. Now, that seems like an oxymoron to me, as I think all fruitcake is horrendous, but the San Joan pastries managed to beat out fruitcake as the worst pastry I’ve ever eaten. They were like day old, stale white bread with candied fruit on top, all covered with simple syrup that hadn’t even soaked into the bread. Even my hamsters (when I had them) – and they were sugar fanatics – wouldn’t have eaten those.

I digress. Back to good food! Cal Pep is Shannon’s favorite tapas restaurant in Barcelona. To be sure, it has good tapas – very “clean”. I don’t think they were the best I’ve ever eaten (because I’m spoiled and have eaten so many in Barcelona), but I understand why she loves the place. It’s the atmosphere, it’s the chef, it’s the other cooks. They are all very festive. I will take my dad and Maren there when they visit.

Here are few pics of the tapas that were executed perfectly:

Clams in olive oil and lemon (these were the highlight, along with the pastry, for me):

Padron peppers (if you can’t execute these perfectly, you’re not Spanish):

And, of course the thing that many tapas restaurants love to give us when we say “chef’s choice”, even though we’re from Hawaii and eat poke all of the time, is the tuna tartar:

We also had jamon iberico, excellent fried artichokes, fried calamari (which was actually pretty bad – rubbery and cold), and a succulent beef dish.

The chef loved Shannon, as everyone does, so here’s a pic of the signed artwork he gave her:

Here’s a pic of half of our party in Cal Pep. I was, along with 3 others, at one end of the bar, so you can see that the place is not very big. That’s why it’s necessary to get in line about 1 hour before it opens. We did. There are a lot worse things than waiting with friends you love and drinking a couple of bottles of cava while you wait 😉

Man, everyone looks awesome in that pic!

Okay, back to food. So, after CalPep, we went to a wine bar. Then, I had to detox and take a nap for a few hours before a rich dinner at Osmosis. The biggest hit of the evening at Osmosis, in addition to the baby pears with pop rocks in them, was the foie micuit. I have given the recipe in a prior blog post, but I don’t remember posting a pic of the presentation. Here it is:

After dinner, 6 of the 8 of us decided we needed to see what the San Joan celebration was all about, so we went to El Born for an after dinner cocktail (for me: Hendrick’s and Fevertree with a cucumber) – at 1:00 a.m. We wanted to sit outside, but most of the bars had closed their outdoor seating by then. I wasn’t sure if it was because there were random fireworks – and some pretty big and scary – being lit indiscriminately, or if they just closed the outside seating at a certain hour. No matter, we found a cute bar. We went up this windy staircase and sat at “kids tables” with kids chairs. Seriously, I think they were from kids’ playrooms as everything was miniature. I loved it, of course. I think it also had to do with scaling. The ceiling was very low and the room wasn’t very big, so it was genius in a way.

Here’s a pic of the stir sticks I love. The bar was called Pitin Bar.

Sunday, I went to the beach with Quim and to Escriba, a seafood restaurant on the beach. There are 2 Escriba brothers who are friends of Quim. One of the brothers is a chocolatier and the other is a chef/owner of the Escriba seafood restaurant. At the restaurant, we had delicious paella Valenciana, a yummy tomato and onion salad, great clams, and my favorite dish – this puffy, hollow flat bread with jamon iberico on top, served with a side of tomato fondue. The presentation was fun! Here’s an iPhone pic:

It was a gorgeous day – mid 80s fahrenheit – and Escriba is a fabulous venue in which to eat. It’s open air and you can stare at the ocean. I learned that there was no beach there before the Olympics. Obviously, there are lots of “improvements” to cities who win the Olympics, but I am learning just how much Barcelona – and its tourists – benefitted from the Olympics. Beaches and public transit were either non-existent or in a bad way prior to the Olympics.

So, after such an indulging weekend, it’s not a surprise I had a horrendous stomach ache all Sunday night and Monday. After work on Monday, I went to the health food store and bought some aloe vera designed to drink (it coats the stomach and aids in digestion) and decided to eat healthy for a few days. Dinner was a bowl of miso soup with shitakes and tofu (I made at the apartment). Breakfast this a.m. was a bowl of quinoa cooked in milk, honey and cinnamon, topped with raisins, walnuts and fresh pear. Here’s breakfast:

I think this hot cereal would be ideal on a cold winter day and it’s super simple. Quinoa Breakfast Recipe: Heat 2 cups milk to a simmer, add in 1 cup quinoa. Simmer for about 1/2 hour or until quinoa is cooked. Add in 1 tsp. good honey and cinnamon and stir. Top with raisins, walnuts, and fresh cut pear. You can top it with anything you like, but I like the combo of nuts, dried fruit and fresh fruit. You can also use water instead of milk, or switch it with another “milk” that is a non-dairy option.

Buen Provecho!

Week 3 done at Osmosis, 1 more to go

22 Jun

So, this is my third stage and next week will be my 4th and final week at Osmosis. I was thinking about all that I’ve learned over the last 3 months (much Spanish not being one of them) and what I would tell people like me who are interested in career changes to the culinary world and what I would tell any person who went to culinary school about doing stages. So, below, here’s a quick list of what I’ve learned in regards to staging (if you’re not interested, scroll to the bottom for some pics of the Osmosis kitchen and a quick recipe for making foams):

1) Age helps, in terms of experience and confidence. I was thinking about why I got so lucky to have my picks of the stages I wanted (including at Can Fabes, which I turned down) and I do think my resume, although very weak in the restaurant department, helped. Luck was a factor, of course, but I know the chefs who offered me stages looked at my resume and could tell I was older than the average stage. I was super nervous when I embarked on this journey that my age was going to be a negative factor in people wanting to give me a shot in the kitchen – and it still may be in the U.S.- but so far, it hasn’t been an issue in Spain. And, for as conservative and male-driven this culture is in many ways (and in restaurant kitchens), I would have thought both my age and gender would have been a factor. Surprise! I think they take me more serious. And, I think a good cover letter (emails, in my case) which was full of confidence I don’t think I really had at the moment, really helped open the doors, as well. So, being “a little older” helped, in this instance 😉

Can you do what I’ve done if you’re in your 20s and fresh out of culinary school? Absolutely! But you’ll be competing with all of the other 20-somethings doing the same thing. So, you’ll need to stand out. Be #1 in your class, enter some competitions and win (young chefs do that a lot in Spain), do something that shows your maturity or skills that make up for your lack of experience and young age. Go meet chefs in person and network. Then, when you get the stages, be quiet, listen, and work your butt off, which leads me to my next point.

2) Don’t be cocky in the kitchen when you’re not the chef. I’ve worked with other stages and the chefs talk behind their backs, especially about the young ones who are cocky, and the cocky ones have been yelled at and put in their places way more than I have. And, it’s not because I haven’t screwed up just as much – I have forgotten some crucial things, I have dropped plates, I have run into people, I have done all the things in a restaurant kitchen that every single person will do at one time or another. But, I say mea culpa (my fault, my bad), I try really hard to not make the same mistake twice (which means I write stuff down!), I ask questions, I’m silent when I need to be and I never brag. If you’ve learned something that you think is a “better” way, say something like, “what do you think if I did it this way?” and demonstrate. You might surprise the chef or s/he may tell why s/he prefers her way. It’s all good learning from that conversation, no matter what.

3) And, watch EVERYTHING. Do your work as fast, as meticulous, and as well as you can, keeping one eye on your knife, of course, and one eye on what everyone else is doing. If all you ever do is work on your own stuff, you’ll never truly understand how a restaurant kitchen runs. If being a restaurant chef is your goal, then you need to watch what everyone else is doing. You need to put it altogether in your head. Ask questions. If you don’t, they likely won’t tell you what they’re doing, as you’re a grunt and many times everyone else is super busy. But, you’re there to learn, so watch everything.

4) If you are working 12-16 hours a day for free as a stage and you can’t manage to watch anyone else, ask questions or learn anything other than how to prep for mis en place or clean, you’re in the wrong place. Staging is definitely about you gaining experience. Expect to prep, expect to clean, but after a week or two, expect to start doing recipes on your own and to plate. I politely backed out of a stage at a 2 star Michelin restaurant in the U.S. (which shall remain unnamed) when, early on, I was told to scrub jerusalem artichokes for 6 hours with steel wool. No one gave me gloves, and when I suggested that there were other ways to clean them equally as well and more efficiently that wouldn’t rip my hands up, they weren’t interested. If all the restaurant is interested in doing is getting free prep labor, you’ll learn that in the first week and that place isn’t for you. Here’s where I give cudos to Commonwealth in San Francisco. I had a short run of staging with them during culinary school and it was awesome. They encouraged me to get involved from day 1 and jump in, help plate, actually make recipes. This set the tone for my expectations of other stages. This is the type of stage you want. They’re out there. That leads me to my next thought…

5) How do you know if a restaurant is right for you? Do some research, ask people if they can put you in contact with prior stagiers at that restaurant (assuming the restaurant has had any), and when you approach the restaurant make sure to set your expectations clearly at the beginning, in a cover letter, on the phone or in person. That means, know what you can handle and what other commitments you have in your personal life that may impact the hours and days you can work. For example, “Here’s what I know how to do, here’s what I’d like to learn, here’s how many hours I can work and on what days.” Some restaurants, especially Michelin-starred ones, will likely have contracts that they’ll ask you to sign saying the hours and days you’ll work. Have a conversation and tell them what you’d like to do. If they say it’s the same for every stage and they’re unwilling to accommodate your schedule, ask for details. If it’s 12+ hour days without breaks, pass. There are so many things wrong with that, but the main thing is that it’s a sign that all they are interested in is free labor and that’s not the environment that you’re going to thrive in, no matter your age. Times are tough all over and that means that any employer is going to try to get free labor where and when they can, but don’t take the place of what otherwise should be paid position, or at least not for long. Have some dignity!

6) It’s about the people you work with and networking, so never ever blow a connection. If you quit a place, or quit it earlier than you told them you would, find a way to politely get out of the situation. It’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in a situation you hadn’t expected (like me), but then think hard on what is the proper approach to leave. I always say thank you for the opportunity to have learned from you – always! What else to say? Ask a trusted friend, another chef/cook, your confident. But, bounce it off someone before you just quit and walk away. Sometimes the truth doesn’t need to be said e.g. “I’m working 16, *#@$)#@(! hours a day for free with no breaks. You’re understaffed. Your cooks don’t like you.” None of that needs to be said, as much as one may want to say it 😉

Having said all that, 2 of my stages in Spain have been amazing. 2 chefs are incredible teachers, are interested in teaching, are respectful, share all recipes and are super psyched that I ask questions. Actually, I’ve had such great learning experiences at all my restaurants, just not all fun learning experiences. Fun is part of it. Never forget that. I don’t! After all, at the end of the day, if you’re rich and lucky enough to choose your own food and to cook it for other people, it should make you and others smile.

Okay, enough advice for the moment. Here a couple pics of the Osmosis kitchen. I have learned a ton about how to work in small kitchens and how to make “do”. For 3-5 people working in the kitchen at once (depending upon the day), the Osmosis kitchen is not all that small. But it’s all about being able to plate 15-20 plates at the same time, sometimes. And, they don’t have a ton of counter space to do that. Nonetheless, it all works because after a certain amount of time, the chef and all the cooks just gel and it’s like an orchestra, with each person moving in synchrony with the rest, each using his/her own instruments.

Kitchen view 1 – the 6 burner stove and the only oven – it’s an all-in-one convection/non-convection:

The chef’s counter for plating, along with the fridges (the stoves and oven are 4 feet directly behind the plating station):

If you look at the head just beyond the chef’s station, that will be where “the pass” is. The pass is where the waiters pick up the food. Just to the left of the pass is the cold apps, dessert, and prep station.

The cold apps, dessert station, and prep station:

Here’s where I start my day. As an example, this morning I blanched and shocked the tomatoes and peeled them to make tomato juice and also tomato confit for under this week’s fish. I cleaned (no water) the rustiñol, which are chanterelles, which I do every morning. It’s kind of a zen thing and I ask to do it, especially on hang-over mornings. I peeled and confit peaches, I made flat bread to hold the foie in place on the plate, I trimmed the fat and other ukie parts off the ox tenderloin, I scraped the peal off the roasted red peppers for this (and last) week’s pepper cream. Then, I moved to the burners and did the razor clams a la plancha; blanched and shocked the baby carrots; and did basically whatever else the chef asked. Sometimes I don’t understand a thing Frederic says because he says it in a mix of French, Castilian and Catalan. So, when he asks “Vale”? (okay) and I shake my head not and say “no entiendo”, he points and makes gestures with his hands. Thank goodness for kitchen sign language!

At top are my chanterelles and the tomatoes ready for me to play with at the prep station.

Oh oh, the Greece-Germany futbol game just started, so I’m wrapping this up. One quick recipe and a shot of today’s favorite chocolate…

I talked about fresh tomato juice foam on top of fish. Here’s the fast and super simple recipe, if you’re into foams. Some may criticize and say foams are so 1985. Okay, you haters. Try this with fresh tomato juice from excellent tomatoes and tell me you don’t like it.

2 cups fresh tomato juice. If you get it from the store, it’s too thick and you’ll either need to add some water or strain it. Add to it about 2 tablespoons soy lecithin. You can get this in any health food store. It comes in powdered form. Hand blend with your hand blender right before you serve it. Take a tablespoon or soup spoon, fill it up with just the top of the foam, and push the foam off with your finger onto the vegetable or fish or meat of your choice.

Here’s the soy lecithin. Scroll through my prior posts to see me blending it:

And, the chocolate…

Buen provecho!

Sauc restaurant and what I think about Michelin stars

19 Jun

For 84 Euros per menu degustacion, I expect my socks to be knocked off, not just by one or two plates, but by all 8. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case at Sauc restaurant last night. My favorite dish was the poached egg, topped with cereal and caviar all set in a cappuccino broth. It may sound a little strange but it looked awesome and it tasted even more awesome than it looked. The picture is at top. I loved, loved, loved it!

My other favorite dish of the night was the Mediterranean crudo red shrimp topped with a thin film of clear, warm bacon fat. What’s not to love about fresh shrimp and warm bacon fat, both of which literally melted in my mouth upon contact? It was indeed delicious. Wish I would have snapped a picture of that one.

Other than that, the meal was very unmemorable and I was hugely disappointed. Borja, my dining partner and sous chef at Dos Palillos, agreed. Borja turned 26 yesterday and his dad forgot his birthday, so I decided to take him out for a great meal, or what I thought was going to be a great meal. This kid, although very young, has worked under Alain Ducasse, in 3 Michelin star restaurants, and under some of the best chefs in the world. Ferran Adria loved Borja’s bone marrow and caviar dish and said it was one of his new favorites. Obviously, Borja has talent and a palette to match.

So, I researched a bunch of 1 Michelin starred restaurants within walking distance from my place, hoping two foodies would have an excellent meal. My first 2 choices had no openings. So, we went with my third choice. I’m always leary of eating at a hotel restaurant, but there are a bunch of 1 Michelin starred restaurants in Barcelona that are indeed in hotels. So, I have to get over it. Having said that, I can’t remember one thing I loved about the Sauc dining room. It was stark-modern and felt kind of cold (not temperature-wise).

Yes, the actual plates they served the food on were nice, and some of the presentations were lovely, like this tomato salad below, but worthy of a Michelin star? In my opinion, no way.

First, don’t skin an underripe tomato and make it the star of my dish. If you can’t find good tomatoes or your supplier is an idiot because there are amazing tomatoes out there right now, don’t serve a tomato salad.

Well, actually, that’s not first. First is don’t give me some greasy potato chips and an olive cake as a palette opener that is super sweet and tastes nothing like olives. Because it was light grey, I’m guessing the olive cake did have black olive juice in it, but the sweetness overpowered any olive taste that was suppose to be there. Unappetizing.

I love lamb, so whenever someone serves me lamb I’m expecting it to be delicious. The cabrito (baby lamb) was so fatty and so salty, that both Borja and I took 2 bites each and then told them to they could take the dishes away. As the main meat course, that’s not acceptable.

I was hoping they would redeem themselves by employing a rock star pastry chef, as I do love my sweets. The first dessert was a cherry cake with cherry foam. It was good. But, that’s all it was. Then, the last dish of the evening continued to disappoint – hugely! Disclaimer: I love chocolate and have tasted a fair share in my life, so that means I’m a tough critic when you serve me an all-chocolate dessert. That said, if you’re going to serve me a dark chocolate log with a few walnuts and a not so vanilla-y vanilla bite of ice cream, your log better be phenomenal.

Here’s the log (with a bite out of it):

It was forgettable as far chocolate goes. Hmmmfff!

But, the company was great because we talked about what each of us wanted to do as far as opening restaurants, what type of cuisine we would cook, what we think our philosophies on running a kitchen and a restaurant would be, and of course what we wouldn’t do or serve as our dinner courses were presented to us. Why would you give me a fork and a knife with my cheese course? I don’t think I’ve ever eaten cheese with a fork. And, why would you give me a spoon and a fork with my lamb dish, but not a knife? I know I’m not that sophisticated when it comes to knowing every utensil you’re suppose to use, but the server at Sauc kept taking away the utensils after each course and giving us new ones that presumably “matched” with the next course. Note to self: Just give people a wide range to choose from and let ’em at it. If they want to use their fingers, that’s great, too. We ended up doing that with the shrimp. Some things just scream, “this is finger food.”

The more chefs I dine with and work for, the less sure I am of what exactly I would want my restaurant to be like. There are endless possibilities! But, the more chefs I dine with and work for, the more I understand what my philosophies of running a kitchen and a restaurant need to be in order to keep staff happy and loyal, and to turn out great food in which both the kitchen and the clients are smiling at the end of the day.

More things I’ve learned at Osmosis and windows and doors of BCN

17 Jun

This was breakfast: garlic spinach atop organic eggs atop pan con tomate. Sencillo pero perfecto before my 2 hour walk today through Gracia, a barrio I had not yet thoroughly explored.

As I was eating breakfast I was thinking about how many beautiful doors, windows and building facades there are in Barcelona, and I decided to see how many gorgeous-to-me doors I could count in a 10 block radius. Well, I got distracted by the gorgeous windows and churches, as well, so I gave up on counting. But, below are a few that exemplify how amazing they are. The doors are all at least 12 feet tall and most have ornamental decorations above and around them.

And, then the windows…

Okay, enough of my being enamored of the architecture here. Onto food and what more I’m learning!

Summer is here and that means amazing produce. Although I didn’t think baby carrots were in season, they are on lots of menus and they are sweet! Baby carrots here are not what “baby carrots” are in the U.S. Here, they are young, thin carrots with the green tops still on them. In the U.S., they are the bite-sized ones that are about half as long as our pinky fingers and ready to eat out of the sealed plastic bags they come in. Don’t get me wrong – I scarf up those types of baby carrots all the time in the U.S. They are my go-to snack with some hummus or eggplant dip or a dill-yogurt sauce.

But, if you get a chance to buy the young carrots with the green tops on them, buy them. Don’t throw away the tops. I’ll tell you what you can do with them after I suggest 2 simple ways to clean them. But, cut the tops off the carrots, leaving about 1 inch of the green top still on the carrot “for show.” Save tops.

Onto cleaning…. How do you clean the young carrots without losing half the carrot? Well, put away the peeler. You’ll lose half the carrot if you use the peeler on it. Instead, use one of these 2 equally effective methods.

First way: buy a clean sponge at the store with a soft scrubbing surface. They are the dish sponges in which one side is just sponge and the other has a scrubby side to it. They make sponges that have softer scrubby sides, so buy one of those. They are the ones marketed in the U.S. to use on teflon surfaces. Use the soft scrubby side of one of those to gently remove the fine hairs and any dirt on the young carrots. No need to wash the carrots first. Gently scrub and then run under cold water to remove anything remaining and to refresh the carrot.

Second way: Put a few ice cubes in water and throw the carrots in the ice water for 2 minutes. You’ll see the dirt and some of the fine hairs start to fall off in the water. After 2 minutes, take the carrots out one by one and use a clean dish cloth (not terry) to rub off any remaining dirt or hairs.

Then, if you want to cook them, I suggest slicing them in half lengthwise, throwing them in a hot pan with some spicy olive oil and searing them for no longer than 1-2 minutes until slightly browned and caramelized but still crunchy. Throw in some mushrooms at about the 1 minute mark, take off the heat 1 minute later and top with fresh cracked black pepper and rosemary salt. This is a very simple side or topper to a nice pork medallion or steak. Or, stir fry the carrots with some summer peas and mushrooms, and top with edible flowers. If you keep just a bit of the green on the top of the carrot, it still looks like a carrot should 🙂

What to do with the green tops of the carrots? At Osmosis, we use the very tops as “herbs” or micro greens to garnish different dishes. They are edible, and if they’re really fresh, they taste like carrots. Do an experiment. Close your eyes and take a small taste of the carrot top greens (not the stalks, just the leaves) and see if you like them. If they are bitter, they may be too big or a bit old. If they’re smaller and more delicate, use them in salads, on meats or as a pretty, edible garnish.

Other things I learned at Osmosis:

1) With seafood, it’s always best to get it live and kill it yourself, when possible. Por ejemplo: Navajas (razor clams). Just like any shellfish, they should be “live” when you get them. If they are not, there’s a chance you’ll poison your customers or friends and family. And, that’s bad. So, at Osmosis, this past week, I have been the one to play with the razor clams first thing when I get in. The razor clam guy delivers them alive and fresh, and then I wash them (to get the algae and whatever else off of them), then I throw them on the plancha (flat top grill) that is smoking hot – literally – with some olive oil. After 1-2 minutes, all the clams stop wiggling, presumably because I’ve killed them, and all of their shells open up. I take them off the grill, use one side of the razor clam shell to carefully slide the clams out of their shells and that’s how they are served. No salt, no nothing else is needed. They are placed on top of the soup, or on top of whatever else we’re serving them with, and that’s how they are best. Incredibly fresh. Barely cooked. Sweet and salty at the same time.

2) Honeydew melon and fresh ginger is a stunning combo. To make a cold summer, dessert soup, run a very ripe melon through a juicer, or put the melon in the food processor and then put it through a metal sieve to get rid of the pulp. Juice some fresh ginger and mix just a bit of the ginger juice in with the melon. You can always add more ginger juice, but it gets spicy quickly, so add a bit at a time. I also think this would make a great cocktail mixer with some vodka over the rocks. I might throw a splash of lime in with it, as well.

3) Gelatin is your friend (not jell-o). I haven’t met a chef in Spain that doesn’t use sheet or leaf gelatin for their desserts. I haven’t asked why, but I’ve learned that sheet gelatin is a handy and efficient ingredient for setting things up quickly without needing much refrigeration. I’m not sure why gelatin as an ingredient became so favored here, so I’m going to take a few guesses. It may have its origins from not having access to much refrigeration. Or, it may have its origins from the fact that this is the “old world” and they use every part of everything here, and gelatin is a byproduct of bones, cartilage and fat. When you cook meat or boil bones for stock and then refrigerate them, you can see the gelatinous qualities after the fat has “set up.”

Or, maybe it’s about the mouthfeel. The upper melting point of sheet gelatin is below body temperature, so it makes for an interesting mouthfeel when combined with almond milk (as in the flan I made at Dos Palillos), cheese (as in a passion fruit no-bake cheesecake made at El Quim), or fresh fruit pulp/juice (as in the melacotón gelatin square made at Osmosis that melts when it hits your tongue).

I did a little research on gelatin today to learn more about it. I knew that gelatin is derived mainly from pork skins, pork, horse, and cattle bones. I had always heard that is was made from other parts of horses but, contrary to popular belief, horns and hooves are not used, if you believe the Gelatine Manufacturers Institute of America (could be propaganda, I know).

4) Caña is beer in Catalan, but it also means “cane”, as in sugar cane. I learned how to make a killer Jamaican pepper sauce for beef or ox using concentrated sugar cane. I asked Little John to show me what they used for the sauce and he brought out a bottle of concentrated caña. I tasted it and said, “ahhh, molasses.” Apparently, molasses is a very “American” thing. They use sugar cane here. And, this concentrated sugar cane was not blackstrap molasses which is a highly processed molasses that is an American “invention” from the 1920s that has little original sugar cane from being highly processed. But, blackstrap molasses does have more minerals and vitamins in it. Go figure.

Anyway, I also didn’t know what Jamaican pepper was, but I asked him to show me. I smelled it and then guessed from the scent, flavor and looks of it that it was allspice. At home later, I confirmed with the help of the internet that I was right. I’m actually quite surprised that I didn’t know what “pimiento de Jamaica” was. I should probably be embarrassed but it’s all about the learning!

5) One of the big keys to Chef Frederic’s incredible sauces is his amazing beef stock. It is rich in vegetables and black pepper. Chef Frederic is a big fan of fresh cracked black pepper. Finally! A chef who likes black pepper as much as I do. Although he cooks with a lot of French influences, he’s not afraid of the pepper. And, when one uses top shelf peppercorns and everything is freshly ground, it makes a world of difference. So, if you have a pepper “shaker” at your house with already ground pepper in it and it has been on your shelf for quite a while, go ahead and throw it out. That pepper is probably years old (as it’s old by the time you buy it off the supermarket shelf), and it has a high dust content which will contribute to your allergies. Go to a good spice shop, smell the peppercorns, and buy a grinder. It’s not a big expense and it makes all the difference. Then make sure to throw out old peppercorns (or use them in a short amount of time!). You’ll be surprised at the taste.

Week 2 Osmosis

14 Jun

Chef Frederic changes the menu weekly, all but the foie and the chocolates. So, 5 of the 7 change. The menu above is slightly wrong. I took a picture of it and then realized I needed to help them with some spelling errors; a word that we don’t recognize as food in English – “shell” should actually be “clam”; and they forgot to change the cherry vanilla dessert to the melon soup with fresh peach, a melon ball, melocotón and cherry gelatina (peach and cherry gelatin – but not like we think of jello; this square melts/dissolves when it hits your tongue), piña (pineapple) compote, fresh thyme, and lime-basil sorbet with a baked apple chip on top. Of course, it’s difficult to make a perfect English menu when your first language is Catalan or Castellaño. So, I’m glad I can help!

At any rate, below are some pics from this week’s delicious menu.

The razor clams (navajas) on top of roasted red pepper cream, olive oil, pineapple and micro greens:

The skate over a tomato-rosemary fondue (very French), and topped with fried squash blossoms, squash, and tomato water foam:

Here’s me making the foam out of tomato water:

They do a very French preparation with the tomatoes. They make an “x” on the bottom of the tomatoes, then throw them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock them in an ice bath. This loosens the skin so you can peel them starting at the “x”. Then, we squeeze the seeds and juice out of them through a metal chinois (china cap, as they call it), and then finally, we use what is left, sans peel, to make the tomato fondue. So, the only thing wasted is the skin.

The cuttlefish (sepia) rice topped with shrimp and cuttlefish coral (roe) aioli:

This dish is very Catalonia for many reasons. Of course, there is always a rice dish on the menu. And, it’s usually “muddy.” Conner found the term I was looking for to describe all of the rice dishes I’ve tasted in Catalonia. They are pretty fishy and it’s because the cooks/chefs use the roe and the livers and other inside parts of fish and shellfish we, in the U.S., might normally remove to give the dish a “cleaner” flavor. But, these things give the dish a depth of character that people from Catalonia love. I’m not used to it and I’m not a fishy-fish kind of girl, so I don’t love any of the rice dishes I’ve been fed, including the paellas. They all have the fish “insides” as a basis for them. Besides that part, I love the flavor combination of roasted fresh pears and sepia together. I never would have thought of putting those together. We peeled and roasted pears in the oven on some low temp for slightly under 2 hours, so they still had some form but they were definitely caramelized.

Here are the sepia and the sepia coral as the bases for the dish:

We use the heads and the shells of the shrimp to make stock, and here is the red shrimp stock on the stove:

Next course… filet mignon of ox, topped with baby carrots and setas (mushrooms) over a Jamaican pepper sauce:

And, primero postre (first dessert prior to the chocolate course) – the melon soup dish I described above:

It’s beautiful and refreshing. The best part is the lime-basil ice cream mixed with the melon soup. Wow!

And, because I’m so in love with even the family meals at Osmosis, here’s a pic of yesterday’s family meal: an empanada stuffed with tuna, green olives, hard boiled eggs, roasted red peppers, and zucchini, alongside a beautiful salad dressed with spicy olive oil. A few flakes of maldon sea salt and balsamic on my salad… sencilla y deliciosa!

One more thing I love about the food at Osmosis…. the bread. Although they don’t make it, they get exquisite, crusty bread and then they put it in the oven until you can hear it crackle inside. Frederic made me put the loaf up to my ear so I understood when to take the bread out of the oven. Love it!

Buen provecho!

A blast in Cadaques with the Lowreys

12 Jun

On Sunday at about 8:15 a.m., I met Shan, Fred and family at the airport, then S and I hopped the 9:46 a.m. train to Figueres. Conner and Fred drove ahead to Cadaqués (feature picture at top), dropped off the other two kids, then came back to the Figueres train station to pick us up, 2 very happy friends to have had 2 hours on the train to catch up over cava mimosas, nuts and dried fruit. What a perfect breakfast.

Here is the Lowrey family on day 1. We’re on our way to lunch at La Sirena:

We spent the next 2 days admiring the ever changing weather, trying out several different coffee shops to find the best café con leche, trying to figure out when the churros at our stand-by café were coming out hot, debating whether the wine in gasoline jugs was a safe bet to try (we never did, but they have 9 days left to be brave) and laughing, drinking and eating way too much. Shan brought me a gift I love – a chef’s jacket with a salty apron logo she designed and hand painted on it, as well as the words “salty apron” embroidered on it. Hands down, she is my most creative friend. I will cherish it, Shan 🙂

On Monday early evening, a big storm moved through and it was spectacular. The clouds were so crazy. I took a video on my new camera that is awesome. Can’t post it here, but below are a few pics of the clouds that came rolling through so fast I thought there was a chance they would turn into funnel clouds.

Picture 1 of storm clouds forming, still sunny skies:

Pic 2 of storm clouds forming:

Pic 3 of storm moving in:

Last night, after a fun dinner of some yummy thin crust pizza and way too much sangria, Siana and I really wanted some gelato. So, we ran out in what was likely the biggest downpour of the evening in search of gelato. No luck, but we had a great time getting soaked in the dreamy, little seaside town, and splashing in puddles like kids. Fred got some great pics.

This morning, after Conner and I were the first to journey out in search of croissants and coffee, I took off for about an hour’s walk to take pics and explore parts of the town I had not seen yet. Below are about a dozen pictures of the town, the streets, and different views from and around the bay. It is certainly dreamy.

Day 1 in Cadaques, view from our lanai:

A cute building:

Cadaques at night:

Front entrance to the house they rented:

Mediterranean Sea:

Rock creature I saw on my “hike” out to the point, looking back at the bay:

Cute street. Notice stones on the ground. Many streets are made of these:

Another view from a street in Cadaques:

It is true that if you are the uber adventurous type, you could ask, “is there much to do in Cadaqués?” But, what do you want to do in a small seaside town other than relax at outdoor restaurants and cafés, sit in the sun drinking your beverage of choice, go for a walk around the bay and take pictures, admire the stone streets, perhaps rent a boat and explore other coves, and try to endear yourselves to the locals, half of whom are amazingly warm and welcoming right away such as the pizzeria owner (woman from Barcelona who loves Seattle and wears a bomber jacket with an American flag on it) and some who take a while to smile (the lady at our favorite croissant shop, who finally on day 3 smiled when we walked in). It’s all about relaxing in Cadaqués. And, I like relaxing.

Today, Shan and I hopped the 2:30 bus back to Figueres and met the crew to go to the Dalí Teatre-Museu. What a trip. The bus driver made us nervous a few times taking those hairpin turns on the sides of those mountains faster than some cars were driving (in fact, he passed a car and we caught up to several others – frightening). And, what a trip (double meaning intended here) the Dalí museum was.

Here’s a view from the bus, cruising down the mountains:

I’m on the train back to Barcelona and I’m still trying to process what I think of Dalí’s art and the man. The museum itself was architecturally very cool. And, a few of the exhibits I did really enjoy. But, I have to say that much of my thoughts about his art are similar to what I heard a teenage kid who spoke mostly Arabic say – “F_cking weird.” The kid said it in English, so it was hard to miss. I smiled and nodded immediately, without having time to think about my reaction. I know that’s not sophisticated and some would argue that I just don’t understand it or I just don’t appreciate it. Maybe the former part of the last sentence is true, but the latter part is not.

I loved the “face” exhibit in which you had to walk up some narrow stairs with no rails (which would never fly in the U.S. due to our overly litigious and hence cautious society) and look through a lens underneath a camel’s belly to truly see the whole face and hair.

The face picture viewed through the camel’s leg lens:

I also appreciated many other pieces.

Here’s the courtyard – ummmm, are those Oscar statues? No, apparently they are maniqui de la fachada. Cool, though, and I thought the totally different components of the courtyard were awesome.

A view of the oscar statues, up close, and then a view of the courtyard from the inside:

Yes, it was raining today and you’re not allowed to use flash, so my pics are dark:

Here’s a pic of one of his most famous “clock” paintings that is so much better when seen in person:

And, there’s a fascinating fresco on the ceiling of the top floor of the building:

But, then there were a whole bunch of very graphic drawings in which I definitely got the impression Dali was a misogynist. I appreciate that he was deft at hand and his crazy mind put some intricately detailed, thought-provoking figures, symbols, and animals on paper, all together in very unconventional ways. But, seriously, enough of drawing women being torn apart, shat on, trampled, boobs being ripped off, and having things sharp objects protruding from the nipples.

I was disturbed and still am. Did I miss the point? Nope. I’m still thinking about it all – the ones I “liked” and didn’t like – so Dali’s art as a thought-provoking medium did its job. I just don’t need to think about the harshness depicted in his drawings. There are enough f-cking weird things in this world that disturb me. I don’t need to see them in my “art” as well. I like abstract, not graphically violent.

Back to my favorite subject – food. Did I have fantastic food in Cadaqués? I might not say fantastic, but definitely I had some good food. The special pizza we had with jamon ibérico, rocket and shaved parmesana was very good, but I’m a tough pizza critic and I’ve had excellent pizza in Minnesota and San Francisco. The hot, chocolate croissant straight out of the oven was something to drool over because it was hot and I did love it. But, when I got the same one at room temp the next day it didn’t beat out the one from my favorite bakery in Barcelona. The bocadillos were good, but all ham and cheese bocadillos on freshly baked baguettes should be – they are simple and pretty hard to screw up if one uses good ingredients. All in all, in a small, tourist town, I think we did very well finding the best of what it had to offer and I was happy with our food choices. I’m super full, if that’s any indication of satiety. I’m betting S & F and kids will find some more goodies in the next 9 days!

Back to work tomorrow and then possibly another trip back up to Cadaqués next Saturday. We’ll see what time I get off work on Friday night/early Sat. a.m. and see if I can make the 10:30 a.m. bus back to Cadaqués.

End of Week 1 at Osmosis

9 Jun

I’m loving it! Oooohh, I’m so mad McDonald’s uses that as a tag line, as I’ve always used it and now it sounds gross when I say it. Anyway, I AM loving my new stage, the chefs, and the food we produce. I’m also loving my weekends that are now free after early Sat a.m. (after the late night Friday shift is over). At top, here are a couple of pics when i was meandering the streets of Barcelona today.

I tried a new fruit yesterday called mispero – it looks like an apricot but tastes like a starfruit to me. I had never had it before. It’s light, refreshing, and best when soaked in ice water, which I’m now getting hooked on. Every day at Osmosis family meal there is a bucket of seasonal fruit (for past few days, it is peaches, mispero and cherries) in ice water (easier for peeling, as well). I know you’re not suppose to ice fruit as it changes the flavor, but when you’re in a hot kitchen this is a great thirst quencher and a refreshing treat.

Toward the end of the week, it was much busier at lunch and dinner, as it will be through June when the tourists start to flock in. It’s locals for lunch and mostly tourists at night. I’m feeling useful, and, as usual I get a chance to be really useful when it comes to translations. 2 nights ago, 2 darling young blond women from Australia were eating upstairs and Chef Frederic came down to the kitchen and asked me to go translate. He couldn’t understand their accent. Apparently, I have a very good “English” accent 😉 All they wanted was more Bailey’s ice cream, so that was an easy one.

I like that there’s nothing Chef Frederic or Sous Chef John won’t let me do in the kitchen. Last night, I made the apple-foie dish (see recipe below, if you like foie, and even if you don’t, it’s a pretty spectacular dish), I plate everything, jump in and make things when they need it, work side by side with Chef when he’s in the kitchen and little John when Chef is not. John is a great teacher, so much so that he even says to me, “taste this, it is bad.” I say things like, “no thanks. if you you think it’s bad, it’s bad.” Then, he insists that I taste it off of the same spoon that he just tasted it. It’s not a wonder i get “colds” and my stomach turns somersaults from working in kitchens in Spain. I love that he wants me to understand the difference between the old product we’re surely not going to serve to customers and the very new one, but I got that one 😉 I had that one a long time ago: don’t serve rank food to anyone, period. Taste everything that is not brand new, even if you made it yesterday, as some bacteria could have spoiled it or something could have gone wrong with it overnight. Now, if these kitchens, including Dos Palillos, could get used to the concept of labeling and dating what they make and refridge or freeze, this would definitely help with knowing what’s old and what’s new. But, Osmosis at least markers “antiguo” and “nuevo” on the “film” (plastic wrap) that covers everything.

Apple Vanilla Foie Bar with caramelized sugar, sea salt, and balsamic reduction. Foie – get good quality foie, if you’re not in CA or one of the other states that has banned it. Make sure it was as humanely treated as possible, although I still argue that force-feeding anything until its organ(s) are several times the natural size is probably not humane under any circumstances. But, I digress. Chop it up into small chunks. Brunoise approximately 2/3 the amount of peeled, green apples as there is foie. Brunoise is a very small cut. Saute the apples in butter and put whole vanilla beans in the pot to scent it. Sprinkle in some salt. When the apples are caramelized a bit and before they start breaking down too much, add them into the foie (remove vanilla bean). Stir everything together for several minutes, as the hot apples help “cook” the foie. Then, put into small rectangular molds and freeze. When frozen, top with sugar, caramelize the sugar with a torch, sprinkle on some maldon sea salt, put a drizzle of balsamic reduction on the side for garnish, et voila! So simple, so decadent, and it has some “wow” factor.

Here’s a second recipe which I’ll probably use, although it employs the use of lots of film, which is obviously not great for the environment. It’s the perfect 6-minute poached egg. I’ve seen chefs who can poach an egg perfectly and make it look oh so lovely on the plate, but it takes some skill, and when you have 5 other burners going with 5 other things in them at the same time you’re trying to make perfect poached eggs, the error factor is high.

Here’s a preview of the first steps:

Use some some flan cups or small plant pots, line them with plastic wrap, paint the inside of the plastic wrap with olive oil, carefully crack and drop one egg into the pot, top with a little pinch of salt flake and cracked pepper, carefully squeeze the air out of the plastic wrap (make sure to twist the wrap right at the point where the white meets the “air”), and seal with scrunched plastic wrap made to form a twist tie. Double knot it. Refrigerate until ready to use. Then, when you’re ready to poach, drop the plastic bundle in simmering water, set the timer for 6 minutes, and then after 6 minutes put it in a nearby ice water bath for 30 seconds or so. Finally, carefully cut the twist tie off, carefully peel away the plastic and invert the egg so the round side is up in a bowl or on a plate or on top of rice or soup or whatever.

So, the idea is to make these little egg bundles ahead of time so all you have to do is drop the bundle in the water. No mistakes, all uniform little bundles on the plates, or in our case in the bowl in the center of the squash cream.

I have always said the mark of a good restaurant is the bathroom. That may sound silly, but I think you need to look at how the owner/chef treats every aspect of the restaurant. If it’s gross and dirty and the bathroom is disgusting, your food is probably not handled quite as nicely and is not as “clean” as it should be. So, this is the employee bathroom at work. Yep, fresh flowers, cloth hand towels, very clean. It has a shower, which the cooks use in between shifts as it’s bloody hot in the kitchen and it’s not even mid-June.

Here it is:

And, here is a pic of one of the 4, small dining rooms to choose from. The restaurant is a converted 3, story flat in an apartment building. It’s pretty cool. It gives intimacy and tranquility to the place, and in the event there’s a party of around 20, they get a room all to themselves (we had a party of 24 the other day) so they don’t disturb other clients. We call restaurant patrons “clientes” in Spain.

One last parting thought before I stop blogging for a few days (I’m going up to Cadaques to meet Shan, Fred and their kids)… I think good chefs don’t mind sharing their recipes. This question of to share or not to share isn’t new, and many great chefs whom I have had the pleasure to meet or hear speak have said they have no problems sharing their recipes. Why? Because it’s about endless reinvention. You share and someone “plays” off of it and makes it different or maybe even better. The idea of putting eggs in film is not new, but it was new to me and I love the idea because of the way the egg looks and for the ease of cooking. The idea of putting foie with apples isn’t new, but the Osmosis twist makes it excellent. Would I change something about each recipe? I might, and maybe I will if I use either. It’s about sharing ideas to keep pushing the envelope. And, people go out to dinner because they don’t want to make the food at home, even if they have the recipe. So, I will always share my recipes (and those of others whose I have, unless I’m specifically forbidden not to, of course). Please, try them, experiment with them, have fun with them. That’s what making food and cooking is all about!