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February 29, 2012

Tapas, Tapes, Tapac24

Church of Santa Maria del Pi at the end of my little walk street.


Breakfast of champions - xurros and xocolate, made to order with the steamer of an expresso machine. Thick enough to hold this little piece standing up. Xurro was a little bit chewy, but I'm not giving up on it. Bracafe is short for Brazil, apparently this place has been around for quite a while. I had an ensaimada also. It's a Mallorcan specialty, but some places have them. Very light sort of sweetbread, but laminated. Many more of those to come.


Lots of pictures today...click the link below for the rest.

This is a tapas place from the same owner as Comerc24 (like commerce), so he played on that same spelling for this place, Tapac24 (with the squiqqly c, but they broke down and sometimes spell it the usual way - probably for search engine optimization). Sometimes tapes is another spelling.

Carried over from the first place, their Bikini Comerc24 sandwich. Pimped up ham and cheese sandwich - Iberico ham, fresh mozzarella, black truffle paste. Just warmed enough. Very thin bread. Eeeza very nice.


They call this their Mc Foie Burger. Almost like a crispy crepe as a bun, a very un-dense burger which is more like tataki ribeye steak tartare, raw inside, charred outside. Foie gras mousse. Really effing good. I think they use a new technique that involves partially freezing the meat in a round mold like a pipe, then cutting disks. Gives an "airy" texture rather than a solid patty of meat texture.


For Koslow, ...

who hates when blogger nerds use the word nom nom for eating. Like the noise the Cookie Monster makes. The tilde over the n means should sound like "nyam nyam". These are their little deli papers and plate liners that they had custom printed.

Arroz Negro, similar to paella, but featuring squid and using the ink as a flavoring and colorant. This one was actually this inky black. Could be just the one I received, but for me, a little too much squid ink, and a bit too salty for my taste.

Berberechos or berberetxos are usually translated as cockles, but these really seemed like clams. They give you a sauce to add that seems to be tomato, paprika, sherry vinegar, liquid smoke, and lemon. They actually are canned and served in the just opened can (not a prop), and sometimes people keep track of the year, and "age" some of these canned products in the can because it's thought that the sauces and natural fats from the seafood get to marinate and emulsify together. In this case, I don't really see the appeal, but I'm keeping an open mind.


This is a modern take on a Catalan snack or homey dessert - pan con xocolat. Usually it's a slice of toasted bread, chocolate sauce, olive oil, and sea salt. Here, they've changed it to a silky chocolate sorbet, used a fruity olive oil, fleur de sel and made little toast points. It's amazing. Sounds a bit weird, olive oil and chocolate and salt, but it really is delicious. The sea salt lets you taste more layers of the chocolate, and the almost sweet olive oil works with the mildly sweet sorbet, great mouthfeel as well, then the sea salt kind of cleans up your palate at the end. Winner. Seriously.

There were some political demonstrations happening in the neighborhood - maybe related to the cost of college or something? Sorry, I'm a little out of touch with current events, even here. About 20 riot police vans, plus other police personnel. At one point, the police were all staging in front of the Corte Ingles department store. People still going in and out, can't stop the shop.

I walked thru the food/gourmet area of the department store and picked up a few things. Maybe a tasting session tmr.

For dinner, Willy had suggested Can Lluis in the Raval neighborhood. Been around since the 1890's or something. Classic Catalan (the region to which Barcelona belongs). Friends of the owner were having some kind of get together, all speaking Catalan and so on. Great vibe, friendly servers.

Sidebar: Travellers should note that streets aren't really named and labelled as systematically as they are in the US. There might be a plaque on the side of a building, or there might not. Buildings and businesses might have numbers, or they might not. Even the newer parts of town don't always have clear signage. Pick a route before you leave, take a map, but try not to look like a tourist.

Olives, bread and a local beer.


These were called Cod Fritters on the menu, but it's a little closer to croquettes, I think. Fish mixed with creamy potato puree. Not bacalao (salt cod), I don't think. Maybe stocafiso (dried but not salted cod) or fresh cod. Whatever the name, really good. These potatoes are made like fries, but with waxy potatoes, so they don't get as crisp. More like home fries. Padron pepper and tomato on the plancha.

My new friend, arroz negro. I prefer this version by a mile.

They recommended that I add a little alioli, or garlic mayo/sauce and mix it in. Gives it a little raw garlic bite, and adds a little richness. And lemon to brighten it up. Derlicious. Much better balance, overall. Ate nearly all of it which is really meant to be shared.

Baby cuttlefish and haba beans cooked with garlic and parsley. Sort of a surf and turf kind of vibe here. Right in the middle you can see the body of the cuttlefish, about the size of a nickel, which is related to squid, but it's usually a bit meatier in the body portion, and has a bone in it (bird owners put then in birdcages for the birds to file down their beaks - calamari just has that plastic-like quill inside). Sepia, or these little guys are sepietas. In Japanese, it would be saki ika. Habas are like fava beans, but smaller. They don't bother to clean that covering on the bean. Would be a nicer if they did, but oh well. I think these were fresh frozen habas. Nice flavors, but it needed a little herb salad or something.

They have some good looking price fixe menus to choose from, but they're for a minimum of two people.

Tomorrow may try to go to a different local market, maybe even a museum (!) and weasel into an Adria restaurant.

February 28, 2012


I took a brief walk to the west, through the Raval neighborhood. Quite a bit of doner kabob (meat on a vertical spit, like shawarma) and some Pakistani and Indian food. Didn't have any, although some looked good - fresh and juicy on the spit. Some looked like it had been there for a while just spinning. I've learned that in general, when not knowing much about many, many restaurants, I can sorta get clues by seeing how carefully they cook things, does it smell good, are people enjoying it or throwing half of it in the trash, that sort of thing.

One of the challenges on this trip is that there are several languages and all kinds of spellings being used. Back near the pension, there are three tapas type joints in a row - Xerinola (X in Catalan dialect and Euskadi/Basque is pronounced like "ch" in English, or single c in Italian - Cerignola olives), El Choquito, and Amatxu (pronounced ah-MAT-chu I think). Since this is a tourist area, lots of the signs are in multiple languages also, so you see Catalan/Spanish, English and French on one sign. Confusing and helpful at the same time. Agneau - cordeiro - lamb 10 euro. Salsitxe - sausage 8 euro. Et cetera.

Amatxu looked the least slick and modern, so I went with it. Pretty good. Well made albondigas and the ever present pa amb tomaquet (or pan con tomat or tomato bread) and a mug of Estrella Damm cerveca. Sometimes they use the c with the squiggle (cedilla) to sound like an s/z. Pan con tomat is bread, either baguette cut through the middle or slices of bread, with olive oil, and tomato pulp or just rubbed with a cut tomato. Not so much like bruschetta - more like tomato instead of garlic bread that goes with everything. Not really a dish on it's own.


Baby octopi, sauteed in a really hot pan, intentionally a little crispy/chewy,with parsley sauce. Domes are separated from the legs during the cleaning process. Texture and visual are tough for most Americans, but I love octopus. My Uncle Norman grills a mean octopus!


Tomorrow I hope to be taking care of some business in the Gracia area of town, more tapas and some department store/gourmet store research.

Why Spain?

This is my first real trip to Europe (2 hour layover in Hamburg doesn't count), and my first as a professional cook/chef. Some might say that France should have been my first priority. Growing up, I always thought I would go to Italy first. A few people were surprised that I chose Spain.

While I'm wide awake due to jet lag, I'm going to fill in the blog as much as possible. Click the link below for more about why I'm here in Spain.

While at one time it was the Italians, then the French, then the back to the Italians, then back to the French, Spanish chefs have been at the center of forward thinking cuisine for 15 years or more now. Yes, technique is often a part of the arsenal (foams, airs, spherification, sous vide, gels and other textural effects, manipulation of temperatures, non-traditional cooking equipment and more), but they seem to have also incorporated curiosity and playfulness into the dining experience. Spanish chefs are exploring every aspect of food: redefining what is and what can be food, conceiving of new combinations and new dishes, preparing the components, the methods of cooking and assembling the dish, presenting a dish, how the diner will interact with the dish, and the entire experience of the meal. Is the meal a succession of carefully orchestrated courses (degustation), is it casual selections of bar snacks (tapas and pintxos), or is it a communal, all-in-one pot dish (paella)?? What is the context of the meal? What is the meta-context of the meal?? Does it make the diner nostalgic or sentimenal? Or is it quite novel? Is it in season? How does it pair with wine? Every. Aspect. of. Food.

All the while, these chefs still seem grounded in their traditional cuisine. I have not yet been to France or Italy, but I WILL GO SOMEDAY. But for the reasons above, Spain jumped to the top of my list. The Spanish just seem to have their own approach. In my current position, we don't really have much application for the new techniques. As a cook, I'm not so excited by technique for techniques' sake. Unfortunately, there's quite a few examples in Los Angeles and elsewhere of less than successful homages or flat out imitation of these avant garde dishes. On the other hand, I can appreciate but am not excited by being traditional for tradition's sake, either. I get fired up about something traditional that is the best damn time tested way to prepare and eat something. I feel there's a tension AND a synergy between the old and new here. I hope to get a sampling of the best of both the modern and the classic regional cuisines of Spain.

One last note: jamon Iberico - When I worked the cheese and charcuterie bar, I was lucky to taste a variety of dry cured hams - prosciutti and speck from Italy, jamon Serrano and jamon Iberico from Spain. Prosciutti tend to have an aspect of sweetness along with porkiness, whereas Spanish hams tend to be deeply savory, but with a complexity that I attribute to umami - the somewhat difficult to pin down fifth taste. While they are made in similar ways and are both delicious... I'm in Spain.

Ya Me Voy!

I'm outta here!

I am very fortunate and grateful to be able to travel to Spain today. It started out as a bit of a joke between Matt and I. After some office drama about short notice for a vacation request, I said, "Matt, I'm putting you on notice, I would like to go to Spain next year." It seemed like such a ludicrous statement, it was the height of holiday party season, none of us had taken more than a day or two here or there, and so we all had a good laugh. But here I am. Thanks to Matt, Tara, and the whole HeirloomLA team for making it possible for me to take this trip. I truly appreciate it.

I made a rookie error - although I had made my own flights only a few weeks ago, I guess I looked at so many flights that I confused myself, so I somehow got mixed up and thought my flight left LAX at 8:30pm. Of course, it was actually 8:30am. I honestly would have shown up 12 hours late had I not started to think, "Hold on, if I'm arriving in Barcelona at 8am local time, and it's 16 hours of travel, PLUS a 9 hour time change....Oh, crap!!" Thus the mad scramble across town this morning. Yet another one I owe you, Matt.

[edit to add: I try my best to explain and describe accurately, but sometimes I'm just flat out wrong. If you find something to correct or amplify, please let me know!]

Gray at LAX
I'm trying out a new image editor and new settings, so let's see how this goes... Also, I'm gonna put this whole entry as one page rather than breaking it up. Once that starts, just hit the Continue Reading ... link to see the rest of it.

Like most airlines these days, Delta charges extra for breakfast, and it's still not good. Behold, The Muffinata - English muffin, cold, dense sheet of eggs, cold cheddar, cold turkey, cold bacon, chive mayo. Somehow fatty, salty and dry at the same time. I eat these things so you don't have to!

Even though I had been packing my rolling case and backpack for over a week, in the mad rush I forgot a few things - my prescription sunglasses, the data cable for my camera and BlackBerry, earplugs, electric shaver, large map of Barcelona, and a few other random things [edit to add: money clip, mini-power strip] . I also left one of my guidebooks in my first flight to JFK. Oh, well. Nothing I can't replace or do without for a few weeks. I'm a little out of practice with traveling!

Sunrise from the plane, somewhere over Bilbao, I think...

I took the AeroBus from the airport to Plaza Catalunya, the center of the old part of town. Although I had made arrangements for my cell phone to have international roaming, it's not working. It SUCKS not having a phone and email! I made my way over to the Boqueria, which is kinda like the Original Farmer's Market at Third and Fairfax times a thousand. The quality of the seafood is toptoptop notch. Gorgeous, glistening fish, clams, langoustines, everything. And a bunch of shops selling jamon (Spanish hams) and sausages. Fruit stands, produce stands, etc. Not many locals, although I was there a little bit late.

It's always tricky picking a place to eat when it's clear that a lot of it is tourist food. The "Basque" place sells English breakfast and pizza, so I'll pass on that. I did three or four laps before choosing. There are quite a few places selling tapas and whatnot at the market, I chose the one with the grumpy, crusty cook who looked like he's worked his whole life there, I think BarCentrale. Pretty good call. I had tortilla Espanola(not like Mexican tortillas, rather an egg fritatta with potatoes and onions), pa amb tomaquet (tomato bread) and butifara de Pages (a simply spiced but delicious sausage). I have more pix of these on my phone, but I can't get them off the phone at the moment. I'll insert them here later.

This is the street that my pension is on. A pension is a B&B, a rented room in someone's flat or apartment, they give you a little breakfast. I waited until the last minute to book my accomodations, so I didn't have much choice, but it turned out great. Super convenient location right off Las Ramblas (the paseo/walk street where people gather) Less than half the rate of a hotel, wi-fi included too.

Right now gonna take a break and then go out for a "late" dinner. Spainards often have a snack then have their dinner meal at 9 or 10pm, apparently.

February 27, 2012

Morning Scramble

This is completely ridiculous. After weeks of planning, I somehow had the wrong time in mind for my departing flight. Actually 8:30 AM, NOT PM!! Thanks to Matt, still got to the airport in good time.
What a start! I'm off to Spain

February 05, 2012

Countdown to Spain

I always thought that my first trip to Europe would be to Italy. But for various reasons, Spain has pushed it's way into my first choice destination. When the opportunity presented itself, I had to go for it. I will be blogging while I'm away, so I hope to offer something worth reading and viewing as I take my first trip to Europe and experience Spain in particular.

Stay tuned...