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Tuesday
Nov102009

Eating My Way through Barcelona, Paris and Dublin

What: Tapas, Partridge and Guinness, Oh My!
Where: Barcelona, Paris and Dublin

Seared tuna with Tomato puree, olive oil and sea salt at InopiaThis Search took me (and Matt) to Europe for a much needed 8 day vacation. I had been working so often that all I could think about was sauteing, chopping, shopping, braising...too much cooking on the brain. It really was time for me to take a brief cooking hiatus. I wanted to go away and do nothing but eat, get some new ideas for Miss Elisabeth's and relax!

Our initial plan was to visit my brother, Peter, who was studying abroad in Dublin. But when we got the opportunity to swap apartments with someone in Barcelona we took it immediately and added it to our itinerary. We had Barcelona and Dublin set, but when we travel we like to pack in as much activity and sight seeing as possible. Paris was sort of on the way, sort of....hey, it was Paris! We had to go! So it was to be four days in Barcelona, a crazy half day and night in Paris, and 3 days in Dublin. Three very different cities, three very different cuisines. Because there is a lot to talk about, I will divide this post into three parts...Barcelona, Paris and then Dublin. Ok, we're off!

We arrived in Barcelona around 9am and took a cab to our temporary apartment. When we opened the door we nearly fell over. This was the coolest apartment ever! As we stepped out onto our amazing balcony overlooking the city of Barcelona, we had a brief, very brief, moment of guilt knowing that this was not exactly an equal swap. Our apartment is not nearly as awesome...Oh well!

Me standing on our lovely roof deckWe were staying directly across the street from a wonderful market: Mercat Sant Antoni. Similar in concept to the better known La Boqueria market, there is aisle after aisle of incredible products, meat and fish and produce. You can get anything here, from lamb heads to olives. But unlike La Boqueria, which is Barcelona's craziest and most famous food market, Mercat Sant Antoni is kind of low key and run down. Our friends told us that many of the shops there have closed, and that it is sort of thought of as "old school." Supermarkets are replacing the old fashioned market shopping. And it was true. We saw mostly older people in this market, pushing shopping carts and arguing passionately with a butcher about the cost of a cut of beef. When we went to La Boqueria later in the trip, and waded our way through throngs of tourists (seriously, going to La Boqueria is akin to walking through Times Square on a Friday night) we thought fondly of our more humble Mercat Sant Antoni.

See, I told you. Lamb heads. Butcher in action at Sant Antoni marketHam at the market. They looooove ham in Spain.View of Sant Antoni market from our balconyThis is pretty self explanatoryBarcelona is really a foodie-heaven, perhaps more than any other place I have ever been. Food is everywhere and the Tapas concept of tasting a variety of small plates allows you to try an incredible array of different treats. If you love food, you absolutely must go to Barcelona. A typical day for us consisted of waking up and grabbing a Cafe con Leche and a Crossaint at a cute little cafe we found by our apartment. We would then walk around this gorgeous city for a while, admiring the amazing Gaudi archictecture (go to Casa Mila and Casa Batllo and Park Guell) and the charming streets of the old city. For lunch, we would pop into one of the many tapas places we had on our list of "must go to" Tapas bars (see below for a list of the ones we ended up going to--there were dozens more we were not able to try. Guess we'll have to go back sometime). Then we would do a tapas crawl before dinner, from about 7-9:30, and go to dinner around 10 or 10:30. I'm telling you, this place revolves around food. You eat dinner late so you can eat more before you even go to dinner! Great, great city. Oh, and they seriously love ham here. They put ham in EVERYTHING. It's like salt and pepper. So if you don't eat ham, you're going to miss out on some tasty treats in Barcelona.

They really love pigs here!TAPAS PLACES WE VISITED:
Bar Pinotxo: Bar Pinotxo is located inside La Boqueria (there are a number of tapas places within the market, which get their goods fresh from the stands around them). I had read a lot about this place and it was top on my list of places to try. When we entered La Boqueria and saw how totally crazy and hectic it was, I was worried we would have trouble finding Pinotxo. But it was the first thing we saw when we walked in!

Outside of Bar Pinotxo, which means Pinocchio in Catalan, You can see Pinocchio's wooden legs dangling off the top...There were a lot of people waiting for a spot at this tiny tapas bar, so we knew it was going to be great. Behind the counter, we saw Pinotxo's eccentric owner, Jaunito Bayen, calling out orders to the 4 chefs working frantically at the stoves. Mr. Bayen is quite a character, charming and funny, wearing a bow-tie and  joking with customers as he theatrically places glorious plates of food before them. When two stools finally opened up, Mr. Bayen beckoned Matt and I to sit, and the feasting began.

Eccentric bow-tie wearing owner of Bar PinotxoThere were certain dishes that everyone was eating. We ordered two right away. First, there was a hearty dish of creamy, soft plump chickpeas with balsamic vinegar, fruity olive oil and sea salt. It was simple and straightforward, comforting and divine. We also shared a wonderful piece of crusty, fried, olive oil soaked bread slathered with tomato pulp. Also so totally simple and fantastic.

Scrumptious and simple: Chickpeas at PinotxoAs we were eating the bread and chickpeas I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a woman tearing apart big, bright pink langostines with her teeth. I turned and stared. She was like a cave man, a wild beast, eyeing each langostine like a true carnivore and seeking out every bit of langostine flesh to suck out of the shell. On the bellies of the langostines, I noticed a thick coating of tiny, bright orange jewels--langostine roe. She slurped down the roe and then tore into the body. A monster! I was very intrigued. Having mercilessly stripped the crustacean of all edible parts, the woman bit down into the head and...sucked out the brains. It was like watching some sort of foodie horror movie. The lady licked her fingers clean, pushed the plate away, and ordered ANOTHER plate. Clearly these langostines had to be very tasty to deserve such aggressive eating. I ordered a plate immediately.

Heavenly Langostines at Bar PInotxo. Note the large sack of pink roe on the langostine's belly. Delicious.The langostines were so fresh that the chef had to put them under a plastic bowl, as they kept trying to run away. But there was no escaping me! When it was time for cooking, the chef threw 4 langostines into a pot of boiling seasoned water. After about 4 minutes, the langostines emerged and were placed unceremoniously on a plate, doused with olive oil and sprinkled with the ubiquitous flakey sea salt that they put on everything in Barcelona. Mr. Bayen then walked over to me and placed the glistening plate before me.

I picked up a langostine and delicately (at first) tore off it's head. I tenatively broke apart the sharp and spiny tail, (almost like splitting a lobster tail) and pulled out the meat in one long piece. I gave the meat a quick dip in the salty olive oil and took a bite. After that first sweet taste of tender briny yumminess I immediately understood my neighbor's fiercely carnivorous behavior. The langostines were soooo good. I tore through these bad boys, savoring every morsel of these gems of the sea. The roe was like crunchy little bites of ocean, with the faintest whiff of shrimp-i-ness. When I had devoured every last bit of meat, I was left with the heads...It was time.  For years, I have watched television chefs proclaim the wonders of sucking the brains out of shrimp heads. They all say it is the best part. Personally, I always thought it was pretty disgusting. But inspired by my neighbor, the langostine slayer, I decided that if there was ever a time to suck out crustacean brains this was it. I bit down on the head, cracking the skull. And then....well, I won't go into too much detail since it is a little gross. But there was an amazing wollop of gooey delicious flavor packed into that crazy little crustacean head. Lip smacking good. I ordered another plate.

El Quim: El Quim was also located in La Boqueria, and was another must go to on my list. El Quim is a grungy, old school looking stand with a bunch of food behind a glass case, and a chef busily prepaing all of the dishes. A friendly man behind the counter asked what we wanted, and we asked for his recommendation. He insisted, without hesitation, that we get the baby squid with fried eggs.

Chef at El Quim in actionNow, it was pretty early in the morning, and we were still feeling very full from our previous day of gorging. And when this dish was placed before us, we were both a teeny bit horrified.

Baby Squid and fried egg at El Quim. Quite a breakfastThere were dozens of tiny pink little squid--each one about an inch long. They were piled on top of each other, a gruesome mass of baby seafood. And the eggs, swimming in what looked like a lot of butter and olive oil, perhaps even some meat stock of some kind...it was very intense. Our stomachs flipped a bit. The waiter instructed us to cut up the squid and egg and mix it all together. We dutifully obeyed and then took a bite.

Cut up squid and eggs at El QuimIt was fabulous! The squid were completely tender and had only a hint of seafood about them. They mixed beautifully, even luxuriously with the eggs, to create a totally satisfying dish--one might even call it comfort food. Search for Delicious lesson here: something may look unappealing, but do not be deterred! Delicious does not always look pretty!

Cerveceria Catalana: This place is very touristy. It was filled with Americans and non-Spanish speaking Europeans. But it really didn't matter. The food was great and it was a lot of fun. In Barcelona, we discovered that often times a place was a bit touristy, but still served wonderful food. There's no way every place you go to is going to be filled only with locals. And it's better for the locals that way! Anyway, you can tell a place that is too touristy for its own good from a place that still maintains quality despite the tourists. Cerverceria Catalana was one of those places.

View of the case at Cerveceria CatalanaWe sat at the bar and pointed at food behind a glass case. And voila! It appeared before our eyes. The highlight was freshly steamed razor clams in white wine and garlic and an amazing cold salad of bowtie pasta with big, creamy chunks of avocado, sweet corn and chopped tomato. Beware, in Barcelona they keep their clams a little gritty.

Pasta with avocado, corn and tomato at Cerveceria CatalanaRazor Clams with garlic and parsley at Cerveceria CatalanaEl Vaso De Oro: This was a GREAT bar. The minute we walked in, we knew this place was right up our alley. The bar is known as the narrowest bar in Barcelona, and this is no joke. It is about the width of an aisle on an airplane. It was really crowded and filled with a nice mix of tourists and locals. They supposedly brew their own beer here, and we had a refreshing glass of their light and dark beer mixed together. We also had a wonderful bar snack: little green peppers, fried, doused with olive oil and dusted with sea salt. Delicious.
Ultimate Bar Snack: Fried Green Peppers at Vaso De OroView of very narrow bar Vaso de OroInopia: This tapas restaurant is owned by the brother of famed Spanish chef Ferran Adria (owner of El Bulli), Albert Adria. It is a real gourmet tapas place, with an amazing array of high quality, inventive tapas. Definitely the most sophisticated and refined of the tapas places we tried. There is always a long wait to get a stool here, and it is always worth it. Go with the specials of the day--they never disappointed. Along with a refreshed glass of Cava, highlights included a dish of tuna sashimi dressed with liberal amounts of olive oil, sea salt and crushed tomato, and a thick sliced crostini topped with two impeccable white anchovies and a dab of that same crushed tomato. Inopia was so good, we actually went there twice (and this says a lot, since we had a very limited time in Barcelona and many places to try), and the second time, Ferran Adria himself was there! It was an incredible coincidence, and for me, it was as if the Pope had showed up. I was totally star-struck. Mr. Adria even agreed to take a picture with me. A real honor. Thanks Mr. Ferran Adria!

White Anchovy Crostini at InopiaFried Eggplant with Cane Molasses at InopiaAmazing ham and potato croquettes from Inopia. The outside was perfectly light and crisp, the inside, the creamiest mashed potatoes imaginableInopia's Bonito Crostini with spicy mustard, garlic oil and lemon zest There he was, in the distance....could it really be...Yes! It's him, the great master himself. And here he is, posing with little ole' meQuimet y Quimet: An adorable, charming tapas place. You enter a tiny space through giant, Jurassic Park sized wooden doors. The walls are lined with bottles of wine and booze, along with high quality canned goods. There are wooden stools and small wooden tables with people standing around, nibbling the fresh and tasty tapas.  The atmosphere is warm and comfortable and you immediately feel at home here. We tried a beautifully constructed cheese plate with caramelized chestnut and quince paste. Also, the bartender made a stunning gin and tonic with a local gin mixed with the zest and juice of a whole lemon and topped off with a tonic water that certainly wasn't Schwepps.

Amazing, lovingly constructed Gin and Tonic at QuimetImpeccable Cheese Platter at Quimet y QuimetCafe Viena: This is not a Tapas place. Or maybe it is but my mind was on one thing and one thing only: The Flauta D'Iberic. This sandwich was recommended by Mark Bittman as the "best sandwich" he had ever eaten. And they are well aware of this at Cafe Viena. They've got the quote, and a picture of Bittman, right at the front door. We ordered the sandwich, a crusty thin baguette rubbed with crushed tomato (a very typical thing they do in Barcelona), and topped with a big heaping of Iberico Jabugo ham. Iberico ham is very high quality Spanish ham that comes from pigs fed only on acorns. It is very delicious and very expensive. Jabugo ham is from Huelva Province in Spain, and is said to be one of the two best types of Iberico ham produced in the country. And believe me, this ham tastes very special. Even thinking about it now, this sandwich brings a tear to my eye. It was so delicious, so simple. It's really hard to describe why it was so good, but the ham was like salty smoky butter, the bread the finest, crispiest, chewiest, the tomato slightly sweet, slightly tart. Together, the Holy Trinity of Sandwich.

Flauta D'Iberico at Cafe Viena. Best. Sandwich. Ever.For a food lover, there is really nothing more fun than Tapas. You have the excuse to try lots of different amazing foods and it's all pretty cheap. Barcelona is like Disneyland for foodies. It's overwhelming how many options there are. But as much fun as Tapas-hopping is, it's also pretty thrilling to go to dinner at 10:30 at night. I love eating late, and I just think it's so cool to pull up a seat at a restaurant when typically you would be paying the check and heading home. We went to three places, two were ok, but one, the One, was a truly magical food experience.

RESTAURANT DINING:

Expertly done paella at Can Majo

 Unassuming outside of the foodie wonderland of Can RavellCan Ravell: I must take a moment of silence here. Restaurant dining just doesn't get much better than this. The Search for Delicious was in full effect here. Not only was the food OUTSTANDING, but the atmosphere was incredibly cool. Search for Delicious rule: finding Delicious is not only about what you eat, but where and with whom you eat. The reason this place was so cool, aside from the fact that it served stunning food, was that it was a SECRET restaurant. You would never know, when you walked into this unassuming space, in a totally unassuming neighborhood, that hidden upstairs was a gourmet dining establishment that would stand up to any of New York's great restaurants. At Can Ravell, you enter a gourmet deli, filled with hams, cheeses and all sorts of exotic canned goods. A nice woman who speaks very little English leads you to the back of the store where you enter a kitchen bustling with 5 chefs who clearly know what they are doing. In the corner of the kitchen there is a wrought iron spiral staircase. You ascend the staircase two levels and enter a simple dining room featuring three marble topped communal tables. On either side of the room the walls are lined with fancy liquors ranging from aged rums to cognacs, tequila, brandies, you name it. We arrived at 2:00 and the room was empty. By 3:00, the room was filled with customers.

Simple, quaint dining room at Can RavellAt first we thought it may be a challenge eating here because none of the waiters really spoke any English. But we quickly realized this was a magical place and that we were in good hands. We let the waiter recommend two dishes for us to share. Both were specials of the day. We knew nothing more than that we had ordered the "rice of the day" and some dish involving Foie Gras and eggs. Yeah, that's right. Foie Gras and eggs.

First off, there was a crostini. And I can descibe it as nothing more than a Butter Crostini. It was literally a piece of toast, topped with two tablspoon size chunks of butter, sprinkled with sea salt. It takes guts to serve a dish like this.

 Mmmmm....butter.....

The first course arrived. A gorgeous bowl filled with risotto surrounded by a chive oil. We could make out little bits of meat and mushrooms. We dipped our forks in, took the first bite. Honestly, I can taste it right now. It was that good. The al dente risotto was fortified with an amazing meat stock reduction. The earthy meat and mushrooms meltingly tender. We knew there were organ meats in there, as there was a faint, only the faintest most delicate, sophisticated whiff of gaminess from a kidney or liver or something offal-related. We didn't know what it was, exactly, that we were eating and we did not care. It tasted of perfection. I savored every single bite, feeling very sad as I watched the rice in the bowl slowly diminish.
The ultimate Mystery Risotto. Don't know what's in it, Don't careWe thought that nothing could top this dish, or even come close to it. But then, mind blowing Course Number Two arrived. 3 giant slices of seared foie gras, accompanied by two fried eggs and a load of creamy french fries. French fries! And foie gras! And fried eggs! The foie was swimming around in a wonderful, thick red wine reduction sauce. When the plate was set before Matt, he groaned and said "I don't like foie gras, I can't eat this." Begrudgingly, he took a bite. And then another. I looked over a few minutes later and he had finished the entire plate, way before I had even made my way (slowly, lovingly) through half. But that's how good it was. The foie gras was literally like a cloud, a pillow of delicate goose liver. The eggs perfectly cooked, bright yellow yolk mixing happily with the liver and the red wine sauce. And then the french fries, to bring it all together. OH MY GOD. While we were eating, Matt and I just kept looking at each other, almost giggling with delight. That's how good it was.

Foie Gras, Fried Eggs and French Fries. Don't try this at home.

Dessert was equally as moving. A fried bread pudding with caramel ice cream, drizzled with fragrant floral honey and dusted with cinnamon. It was a custardy bread pudding simply deep fried and simply dessert perfection.

Fried Bread Pudding. DEEELISHCan Ravell was so wonderful that when we left we decided to buy a whole bunch of meats and cheeses, along with a fresh baguette, and have a little picnic dinner on our terrace that night. It was the perfect ending to a perfect eating day.

Inside Can Ravell, wonderful meats, cheeses, canned goods, breads, wine.... A lovely dinner for two, spicy salami, tangy cheese and cornichon-stuffed olivesAnd that's Barcelona. Not only is it a great, beautiful city, with wonderful sites and European charm, but it's also a total food wonderland.  Great, great city. Stay tuned for Paris and Dublin...

Churro stand. You buy a bag of churros, dip one in thick hot chocolate and enjoy.

Cool Stand in Mercat Sant AntonThese fresh Langostines would later become my lunch. They were very much alive and we saw a bunch of them crawl right off the counter and onto the floor. But they couldn't run away from me!Woman selling eggs at La BoqueriaBeautiful array of chocolates at La BoqueriaThere were gorgeous mushrooms for sale at La Boqueria. An old woman walked by and told us these mushrooms were the best in the market, and should be served with meat.Stand selling McDonald-fry like containers of thick slices of ham. Me mourning the final bites of Foie gras, egg and fries at Can Ravell

Matt, attempting to recover after Can Ravell feast

Barcelona Sunset from our Terrace

Tuesday
Oct272009

Eating My Way Through Madison, Wisconsin

 

What: Wedding for Matt's College Roommate
Where: Madison, Wisconsin

Homemade Bratwurst at the Madison Farmer's MarketThis Search takes me to Madison, Wisconsin. We went out to Madison because Matt's roommate, Chris, from College (Matt went to University of Wisconsin, Madison) was getting married.

Madison really surprised me. I've been there a bunch of times, as I used to visit Matt a lot when we were in college. But I guess I never realized how GREAT an eating town this is. There are so many different things to try--from bratwurst to excellent, authentic Mexican Food. I've listed some photos and highlights below. You will note, I'm sure, that I ate a lot over the course of one itty bitty weekend. But I can't help it; traveling is where I really go crazy on my Search for Delicious. For me, traveling is as much about eating as it is exploring a new place. I learn an incredible amount about a place through it's food, and it's food culture. I feel the need, almost compulsively, to try everything at least once. If I pass a store window advertising something tempting for me to eat, I stop in to take a taste. When I walk by a line of people waiting eagerly for a cream-filled Whoopie Pie at the Madison Farmer's Market, it is natural for me to get on that line and see what these people are so excited about. That is what the Search for Delicious is all about. Finding Delicious things to eat, wherever you may be, and eating those Delicious things!
Whoopie Pie from the Madison Farmer's Market. There was a line of people waiting to get on of these. The cookie was soft and moist, with a light airy cream filling. It is important to note that in my everlasting attempt to maintain a reasonable weight, I don't necessarily finish everything I buy. Many times, I just need to take a taste of Delicious. I don't need to eat that whole Whoopie Pie. Just a bite or two to see what makes the Whoopie Pie so tasty. Everything in moderation!

HIGHLIGHTS OF WISCONSIN ADVENTURE:

  • University of Wisconsin Union, an amazing place that's really more like a giant beer hall than a student Union. They serve great beer and hot pretzels, as well as the famous local Babcock Ice cream, sold only in Wisconsin (but they also ship in the US--click on this Babcock link for ordering info). This is really exceptional ice cream. Thick, rich and creamy.

Two Scoops of Famous Babcock Ice Cream: Rocky Road and Caramel

  • La Taqueria Guanajuato: This was an amazing, unexpected treat. A Mexican restaurant located pretty much next to a gas station, serving absolutely authentic and incredibly flavorful and complex home cooked-style Mexican food. Matt and I shared the chicken taco and the chicharones (pork rind) taco. They were soft, corn tacos, filled with meat, shredded lettuce and chopped onions and tomatoes. We had sampled a number of sauces from the self serve "salsa" bar (something every restaurant should have), and topped the taco with the spicy cilantro sauce. It was the perfect little snack. We washed it down with a very refreshing glass of Horchata, a sweet beverage made from rice milk, sugar and cinnamon. Horchata differs from culture to culture--see what Wikipedia has to say (WIKIPEDIA--Horchata)

Chicken and Pork Rind Tacos at La Taqueria Guanajuato

Assorted Sauces from the self serve Salsa Bar

  • Woodman's, a glorious supermarket with a liquor section about the size of a football field. There is an endless selection of beer, really good beer, and liquor. There's really no place like this in NYC. In Wisconsin, they do things BIG.

Beer, beer, beer, as far as the eye can see

  • Frisbee golf! Basically a golf course, but instead of playing with clubs and a golf ball, you hurl a frisbee-like disk across long distances. It was great. Gotta love the Midwest.

Me hurling a disk for some great Frisbee Golf action

  • La Baguette: An amazing authentic French bakery in the middle of a strip mall. I went here with my friend Jen, who I studied abroad with my Junior Year of college in West Africa, and her adorable son, Will. Will had his first chocolate eclair. He liked it, though he preferred the filling and the glazed top to the actual eclair pastry. A wise man. I had a fabulous sandwich of ham, butter, gruyere and cornichons which was really, really great.

Ham, Butter, Cheese and Cornichon Sandwich from La BaguetteWill indulging in his first Chocolate Eclair. Ahhh, to be young again....

  • Madison Farmer's Market. This is a damn good farmer's market. It's huge and full of all sorts of goodies, from baked goods to garlic to 30 year old aged Wisconsin cheddar.

Stand selling about 20 different kinds of Garlic at Farmer's Market

  • Nick's restaurant: Go here and get the Patty Melt. It is a juicy burger on toasted pumpernickel bread, topped with swiss cheese and sauteed onions. I LOVE it. I like to season it with ketchup and a liberal dosing of Tabasco....

Nick's, Home of the Patty MeltUp Close and Personal with Nick's yummy juicy Patty Melt

  • The Original Pancake House, known to us as "OHOP." This is a chain restaurant, but it sure doesn't feel like it. It is truly the best breakfast you can have. Their thick sliced bacon, sweet, chewy, crispy, is the best bacon on the universe.

Indescribable Apple "Pancake" yummy monstrosity from OHOPCheesy OHOP hash browns. Heaven"Pigs in a Blanket" OHOP style: Sausage wrapped in pancakes, dusted with confectioners sugarThick sliced bacon and Eggs from OHOP. Simple perfectionWe had a great weekend in Wisconsin. And the wedding was a blast. The bride and groom, true to their Mid Western heritage, served bacon cupcakes. Yup that's right. Regular old vanilla frosted cupcakes sprinkled with crispy bacon. Super combination. And there were also the most amazing Oreo truffles. They were so good that I got the recipe, and took a picture with the Truffle Chef.

Me with the Mastermind behind the Oreo Truffles. Make these for your next party. Everyone will love you.

Whenever you travel, whether it is 30 minutes from where you live, or across the ocean, I encourage you to try new foods whenever you can. It's what traveling is all about. And it is the only way to pursue the Search for your ultimate Delicious.

 Beautiful Madison Captial Building at Night