March 27, 2012

The New Normal

I've been back in LA for about 10 days now, and I'm catching up on the last few days of my trip. I'll put them in chronological order on the date they occurred, rather than the date I'm writing them, so do check back and read everything. I'm also planning on inserting some short videos here and there once they are squashed down to a reasonable size, as well as some epilogue-type entries to collect my thoughts on a great trip.

Thanks again to everyone who made it possible.


March 15, 2012

Adios, Espana!

Near my pension, there was a Galician restaurant that seemed to be doing good business and seemed to be reasonably priced. Galicia is the northwest corner of Spain, and is known for seafood. Since I didn't get to go to Galicia on this trip, I figured I could try a few of the specialties of that region. When I sat down, they gave me a different menu than was on the board, where all the seafood was really expensive, so I switched gears. Not sure if was after lunch or if they just pegged me as a tourist.

One popular item in Spain is ensaladilla rusa, or Russian potato salad. Normally, it would contain potato, mayonnaise, English peas, tuna or anchovy, and hard cooked eggs. I didn't get any tuna out of this version, but it was pretty good. They brought it as an appetizer, a hefty scoop, almost a pint, but they were waiting for me to finish the entire thing before bringing the steak. No, I'm ready, bring on the steak!!


The matchsticks and fried artichokes were a nice surprise. Scallopini type cut of veal, medium.


I did some final souvenir shopping at El Corte Ingles, which is the largest department store chain in Europe. It's named for it's origin as a tailor shop, referring to an English Cut suit. But it now it's everywhere in Spain, they carry everything including groceries, housewares, dry goods, clothing - I guess like Harrod's, but many locations. I stopped for a gelato - mandarin orange and dulce de leche. Deeelicious! Clean, specific mandarin flavor.


More pictures after the jump...>>>

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March 13, 2012

Mi Error, y Mi Bien Suerte

Got up early to head to la Boqueria. El Quim is one of the famous stalls in the market, and has been around since the market was just a collection of carts in a field. Or so they say. Bread and a cana of beer to start the day.


They were still getting ready for the day, so I was the first customer to sit down. Some things were still being prepared, so I asked for callos. It's stewed tripe, very simple, just a bit of tomato and pimenton. I could easily have sampled more things, but I wanted to save my appetite for lunch.


My new room is the tiniest, interior room in a large, luxurious flat. It's been remodelled fairly recently, so the bathrooms and other large rooms are quite stylish. My room is cheap, and bare bones. But I have access to the whole flat, including a large patio facing the interior courtyard of this city block.


One of Anna's recommendations is Forn Mistral, specializing in breads and pastries from Mallorca, including my new obsession, the ensaimada. They also make a savory ensaimada with sobrasada inside, but they only make it on request, with one day's notice. So I got a croissant with sobrasada inside. They also have an ensaimada with pastry cream. These were all fantastic. Delicate and the sweet ones were not too sweet.


A good story, a lot of pictures and great meal after the jump...>>>

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March 12, 2012

Hat trick!

Today, I completed my planes, trains, and automobiles hat trick by taking the train from Donostia back to Barcelona. I'm again a little out of practice with travel skills - I got aboard the wrong train. A gentleman was kind enough to ask if I was going to Barcelona, and pointed out that the Barcelona train was the following one. I just barely got off in time. That would have set me back a little if I ended up in the wrong city! My thanks go out to that guy and all the helpful locals who got me to my final destinations, sometimes in spite of myself.

After checking in at the new pension in the Eixample neighborhood of town, I got a little snack - a pressed sandwich with sobrasada and manchego, with a blueberry muffin. It's a polished looking operation called Forn Pacific, which is funny to me because they're doing straight up European style sandwiches, coffee, everything.


My goal for the rest of the afternoon was to spend a little time at Parc Guell, which was originally intended to be a housing development designed by Gaudi, but eventually was turned into a city park. I took the subway to the station closest to the park which turns out is still quite a ways from the park. Additionally, the park is in a hilly area, and I guess the tour buses and the metro bus line sort of circle the whole park before letting people off at the entrance. So I followed the signs, but I ended up walking almost the entire perimeter of the park before cutting through a jogging path to get to the more developed area of the park. I certainly need the exercise.

From the upper area of Parc Guell, there are incredible views of the city and Mediterranean. This is as close as I got to the Sagrada Familia church, also designed by Gaudi.


Because I entered from the east, I saw things in reverse order than most visitors. This is the plaza area of the park - the outside ring of it is all mosaic tile bench, in undulating curved shapes, and a gravel/dirt area in the middle. By the way, the benches themselves are not very comfortable. Fascinating, though.


More Parc Guell and Barcelona after the jump... >>>

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March 11, 2012

Daytrip: Hondarribia & A Fuego Negro

A little morning sustenance - mini-chorizo sandwich, tortilla Espanola, and a tiny plum cake/muffin.


Noel and Charlie got us into a Spanish professional league basketball game. The Donostia/San Sebastian Frogs are doing very well this year, and they won handily against their Basque rivals from Vitoria. Two players are from the US, but even many of the others are very good. A few look like they'd be more comfortable kicking it like a futbol, but it's a really fun environment, the fans are really involved, and the facility is amazing. It was originally built as a plaza de toros - a bullfighting ring. Here's an indoor blimp they have at the game, controlled via remote. The company provides insurance, I think.


More food pix after the jump....>>>

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March 10, 2012

Ready, Set, Pintxo!

These are besugo at the Bretxa market, the sea bream we had in Getaria the other day. If I'm not misaken, 33 euro per kg converts to about US$20 per pound. A pretty penny.


These are some breads I picked up from a more Basque oriented bakery across the street from my pension. The baguette is called txapa (chapa), but it's essentially baguette without the pointy ends. The brown ring I need some help identifying. It's been baked a long time, it's very fragile and light in weight. Honestly, to me it tastes a bit scorched, but I've seen it like this at other bakeries, so I don't think it's a fluke of being overbaked. If you know the name of this bread, please let me know and I'll insert it here. The others are just pastries, the yellowish one has egg in it, very rich, and the other is simpler, just a sweet bread.


These are from a different day, but I'll drop them in here - on the left is a small nut torte with almond meal, a light syrup and some icing. Very tasty. The other is similar, but more like a muffin, with that almond crust on top. Also very good. The quality of baked goods has been really high throughout my trip, and these were no exception.


More pictures after the clicktures >>>

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Akelare - File Under: Cute

Sidebar: taking a cab up to the restaurant, I asked the cab driver (a gentleman in his 60's or so) if he was from the area. He said, "Yes." I asked him Basque or Spanish? He said, "Both, I am Basque and we are in Spain. It's like flowers, they may look a little different and smell a little different, but they're all flowers." One person's take on the issue of Basque identity.

Akelare occupies an incredible location on a large piece of property on a hill called Igueldo outside of Donostia/San Sebastian. Unmatched view of the Concha, Santa Clara island, Bay of Biscay. I arrived at night, so no pix. But plenty available online. Oddly, the url is, but the signage is all spelled Akelare. Some of the text below is directly from the menu.


There are two separate menus offered, Aranori (the sloe berry, from which Basque digestif pacharan is made) or Bekarki, (the Euskera word for arugula). They are just the names for option A or B, with no particular significance, i.e. not a tasting featuring arugula or sloe. I chose Bekarki.

The amuses bouche - Left to right, oyster leaf, mussel encased in some sort of chocolate to imitate it's shell, an edible packet of shallot and corn "Beach Pebbles", aerated bread imitating a sea sponge flavored with sea urchin, (sorry, the green item I do not recall and not listed on menu), and codium seaweed tempura flavored with percebes (gooseneck barnacles) to imitate coral. In the background, a small shot of cava with pomegranate arils. The base was breadcrumb sand flavored with shrimp. Before I had a chance to explain that I do not eat mussels, they brought this out. I would have been perfectly content to simply not eat the mussel, but they graciously brought out the same thing made of oyster.

Oyster leaf is a bit of an oddity because it naturally tastes a bit like the ocean. The mussel/oyster had an odd texture, as if it was chocolate with the same breadcrumbs as the bottom of the dish mixed into it. The packet of pebbles was a bit short on flavor. The tempura as well did not taste of much. Cava and pomegranate work nicely together - almost like a Shirley Temple - since pomegranate is the main ingredient of grenadine.


Xangurro claw (spider crab), a blini made of the crab roe and tomalley, with salad of "gurullos" (rice shaped pasta), more crab, and sea beans.


More pix if you clix >>

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Daytrip: Zarautz & Getaria

I got up early and went to the Bretxa, the local market. It's been renovated not too long ago, so it's modern. But people in the old part still come here to shop. So it's still pretty authentic. Just new and shiny. Then vendors here have taken to sprucing up their displays. It's all about the presentation! In front are the percebes, goose barnacles, just to the left in the bag with the rubber bands are navajas, razor clams, and then a variety of fish.


I picked up a few snacks. People are the same all over the world, and karma is a bitch. I asked the lady at the bakeshop if she had any suggestions. She said, "Everything is good." I said, I know, everything looks good, but do you have any favorites? She said, "They're all my favorites." I said, but are these the best ones? She said, "Different people like different ones." I was trying to be funny but she was not amused. I can relate, I've probably done that exchange almost word for word from the other side. Oh well! This is what I ended up with: On the left, figure eights, which are pastry dough, formed into an 8 shape. These were a touch dry, but ok. In the middle, little Basque custard pies with crisp on top, and anise flavored ring cookies. The custard pies were the best of the three, but a little too yolky for my taste, plus baked a little too hard, so they were a little overcooked and full of bubbles. The anise things tasted like somebody spilled the fake anise flavoring in the dough.


Noel was able to break away today, so he led the way. We took a local train to a town to the west called Zarautz (thah-rahw-ooth), wandered around the town a bit, had a beer, then took a nice 40 minute stroll to the town of Getaria. Um, yeah, it's gorgeous. And I brought the sun with me. That last rock formation out to the right is called the Rat, because it looks like a rat in profile. Head toward the right.


Eh, brah! Da break over by da Rat stay pumpin' today! We go!


More pix after the clicky>>

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March 09, 2012

I Am A Stubborn SOB

Most guidebooks, most Spainards, most anyone that's been to Spain, will advise against foreigners driving in Spain. Having now completed the driving portion of my trip, I must say I agree with them. I spent a lot of time being frustrated, cussing myself out, cussing out the designers of the streets and roadways, going many km out of the way, down one road just to have to backtrack. Then cussing myself out more. Mind you, I have a fairly decent sense of direction. Beyond that, I also have a compass with me. I also have maps and directions. But a good deal of the areas I was driving in do not label their streets nor building numbers. It was a poor choice on my part.

But I did it anyway. Because I am a stubborn SOB. And I got to see some things and do a few things that I would not have been able to had I gone the more prudent, more relaxing, more economical train tracks.

But I do not recommend it. Seriously. Just go to a more convenient restaurant. One that's closer to a train line. Or a bus line.

Respectfully yours,

Restaurante Arzak

About seven weeks ago, when it seemed like this trip might actually happen, I started making lots of lists. At the top of my restaurant list was Arzak. Last year I had gone to see a panel discussion with Jose Andres, Ferran Adria, and Juan Marie Arzak at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. The comraderie between those three is amazing, and chef Arzak might be the eldest of the three, but he is no shrinking violet. He's feisty and opinionated, and he really won me over. Additionally, I've seen the Bourdain episode in Spain where they go to the pintxo bar and chef Arzak and his daughter Elena (NOT pronounced Elenya, by the way) are in the mix, throwing down the pintxos and txakoli with gusto, then going to the restaurant and making beautiful food. I sent them a short email explaining my situation, and if they had any spots during any part of my stay, I would take it and plan the rest of my trip around that. Which is exactly what happened.

The restaurant is just a short cab ride from Donostia center where I was staying. It's its own building, in what seems to be mostly residential. My reservation was at 8:45pm, which is considered early here. As I enter the foyer, Chef Elena is talking to the hostess about the reservations for the night. I give my name and say, "Hola, Chef." She says, "Ah, you are the chef from Los Angeles. Welcome! Please come with me."

I'm still uncomfortable with the title chef in refering to myself, even though I suppose it does apply to me. But hey, when chef Elena is willing to use it, I'll take it! She leads me directly into the kitchen, where there is an army of people in whites, all buzzing around, getting ready for dinner service. Thirty chefs and cooks in the kitchen. Later I would find out that they are serving 27 guests that night. Granted, probably at least half of the cooks are probably unpaid stagaires (kitchen interns/apprentices), but that's still more than one cook per guest, and certainly the front of house makes it at least 1.5 employees per guest. People tradeoff getting paid for learning and being able to put a prestigious name like Arzak on their resume. Having that many people in the kitchen makes teamwork, timing, and communication that much more important. This is normal for them, they are 3 star Michelin, and so everything must always be of the highest standards.

She explained that chef Juan Marie was away that night, at a conference or something. As if she needed to explain to me why he wasn't there to cook for me. She is an elegant woman, and seems very genuine. She pointed out a few things about how the kitchen runs, and her husband was having dinner at the chef's table in the kitchen.

Then, I was led to the dining room - a modern space, with textures of concrete, wood, steel, linen, and panels of light. There's a column in the middle of the room which functions as their server station and jackstand. Probably the most they could seat in this room is about 36, but tonight it's set for exactly the number they have on the book. There's also a private dining room upstairs where they can accomodate about 25.

The lighting was well designed to light the tables without glare, which made for easy picture taking without flash (the camera I'm borrowing from Matt and Tara does a great job without flash anyway). The customers are surprisingly casually dressed. A few suits, a few sport coats, including myself, but the rest dressy casual. One actually in stylish athletic gear with a turtleneck. This is the bread, salts, and flower on the table.


The captain was very friendly and helped me with my selections. Although I was getting the tasting menu, at Arzak you must choose between two dishes for the later courses, for instance, wild duck versus venison. Should anyone visit, I suggest you plan to go with at least one other person who can get the other items, and you switch plates midway, to try more items. I also wanted to add a foie gras course, which he seemed surprised by, but it's not unheard of when there's not one already on a tasting menu.

I started with a glass of cava(Spanish sparkling wine), and all the amuse bouches arrive at the same time, which makes for a nice pace in the whole meal I think. If five little one biters arrive one at a time, there might be an extra lag between one or the other and it makes the meal take substantially longer.. From left to right, on the stand, a pintxo with cod wrapped by extra fine kataifi, a little corn soup with truffle, toward the background a rectangle of potato covered in puffed amaranth on an edible red bell pepper cracker "plate", a gooseberry with potato chips to mimic the gooseberry covering, and a cutout of a goat cheese and turmeric "pate". I don't have the menu with me (it's in a box that I mailed home) so I'll add more detail later. If you can't see the goat cheese on the black slate, right click and open the picture in it's own tab. The gooseberry is on that little rack because there was dry ice under there, and they poured hot water on it at the table to get the "smoke" effect.

More pictures and comments after the jump>>

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Donostia for Chinese Lunch

After I left Etxebarri, it takes just over an hour to get to Donostia/San Sebastian. After some freeway hijinks, I found the right neighborhood for my pension and settled in for the evening.

The next day, on the way to return the rental car, picked up this ensaimada. Deeelicious. Not really native to this area, but this was a good one. Little bit of apple filling inside the rolled part. I admit, I'm obsessed with these things.


Have I mentioned not to rent a car in Spain? Yeah, don't do it. I found the rental place okay, but then I realized that although I had filled the tank just outside of town, just some incidental driving and being lost and whatever, it was like 1/8th of a tank less than full. Were I to return it less than full, I would get charged 20 euro (about $23 bucks, plus like 3 euro per liter, even though it's only about 1,45 euro per liter. So it would have been about US$50 surcharge just because it was one tickmark less than full. So I set about finding a gas station, of which there aren't many in this resort town of Donostia/San Sebastian. So basically, a few miles over to the freeway onramp, then kinda get on the freeway, but they have a chicken out roundabout to head back in town. Then I missed a turn and had to go around the hill again. Good thing I topped off! By the way, gas stations don't have the little fume blocker accordion thing on their gas pumps, so the fumes are rushing out as the gas gets pumped in, and it seems like a static electricity spark or a cell phone call would light the car up in an instant. I'm not complaining - just saying, don't rent a car, don't smoke while pumping gas.

This is the main cathedral close to the center of town. I should mention, the nomenclature around here is a little confusing. The Vieja, or Parte Vieja or Old Part of town, is along the northeast part of the Concha (circular beach) and goes on a bit toward the east. This is where most of the pintxo bars and the Bretxa market are. The center, where I stayed, is not too far, kind of the middle part of the Concha but stretches south, away from the water, but is more modern, and is the cool shopping area. Antiguo (sounds like it would be the old part, but it's own old/modern area), is furthest west, toward Ondaretta beach.


Donostia is the Euskera (eh-oos-keh-ra, the name of the Basque language) name for the town, San Sebastian is the Spanish name. Euskera and Euskadi culture were actively suppressed during the Franco era, so from being a dying language, it is now used openly and taught with regular Spanish to most children. Has some parallels to the Hawaiian language resurgence in Hawai`i.

Noel is a college buddy of mine who I had lost contact with, but we recently reconnected on the facebook. He currently lives in Donostia/San Sebastian, and he graciously rearranged his schedule to show me around, do a bunch of research, introduce me to his friends, and gave me a look at real life here, which I never would have gotten. I'm so fortunate! I would have just eaten from one side of the city to the other without seeing a damn thing or meeting anybody.

I was ready for a change of pace in terms of cuisine, so we went to a Chinese/Japanese place for their menu del dia. This is all over Spain, at all types of restaurants, more commonly for lunch, but occasionally for breakfast and dinner as well - a reasonably priced price fixe menu with a few choices for appetizer, a few for main, a small dessert, and often a drink, like a small glass of beer or wine - all included. Pork cutlet with sweet-sour sauce.


More Spanish Asian food after the jump! -->>

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March 08, 2012

Pastoral Precision

Today, the first order of business is to get on the road toward Pais Vasco - it's a good 4 hour push under good conditions, and I wanted to try and get to the restaurant early to possibly get a look in the kitchen. I was out the door by 6:15am, which is pretty early around these parts. Unfortunately, getting out of Madrid was tougher than anticipated. I got out of the city center fine, but getting onto the autopista del norte was the tricky part. Wrong directions, or bad driving on my part left me on the west of the city, when I wanted to go north. Finally, I asked a bus driver how to get to M-40, the belt freeway around Madrid, and he directed me to continue west. Then a good long endrun around the northwest portion of the city finally put me on the right track. Personally, I have found driving here to be very difficult. I do not recommend it.

Around Spain, you may see this roadside icon: the Osbourne Bull. It's an interesting story - it was originally advertising for a particular brand of brandy de Jerez, but it became adopted by many as a sign of Spanish pride. Not everyone, however. It's 14' high, and some of the placements are so eyecatching, you can see the bull from miles away, silhouetted against the horizon.


I guess this would be the Christmas tunnel. Har har. Sorry.


Ironically enough, even though I had trouble getting to this point and beyond, at least the roads and road signs are more consistently marked up here in the mountains of Pais Vasco. The road from this vista was on the map as G632, but in fact it is labeled G636 on the road. One of the frustrations while driving in Spain was having to stop so often to ask for directions, am I going the right way, etc. I imagine even Spaniards would have to do the same if they weren't in their home area. I started to look at it like a slowly tightening spiral - just get close to this area, then ask for directions. Then get closer, and ask for directions. Go past it, ask for directions, come back. Very time consuming.


Our destination today (you're with me, right?) is Asador Etxebarri, in Axpe, near Atxondo. Those are pronounced et-che-barrr-ee, in AHZH-peh or some people say ATCH-peh, near Ah-tchon-do. Yeah. Euskera, the Basque language, is a little tricky. Fascinating, though. It's not a romance language, it's roots go back further and with less outside influences than either Spanish or French.

Here's more scenery from the back of the restaurant. From what I gather, the climate in this valley is often like this - clouds over the valley soften the light, and little shards of sunlight cut through from time to time. It's like living in a lightbox. From my table during the meal, I watched a small herd of sheep move from one corner of their pasture to the other, all under this surreal glow.


More pix and notes to come.... Clicky >>

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March 07, 2012

Surgical Strike: Madrid

Okay, no time to waste: today I'm hustling up to Madrid to break up the driving to Pais Vasco from Valencia. Valencia to Madrid is about 360km or 224 miles. Then tomorrow Madrid to Axpe for lunch (up in the mountains) and then on to Donostia/San Sebastian is about 600 km, or 373 miles total. Good thing I got unlimited mileage! Otherwise, I would have been looking at a surcharge of 0,49 euro per km, separate from and on top of gasoline, which would have been prohibitive.

The same day as the shots at the Mercado Central, I packed up at the pension and went to the car to leave. I had gotten a good parking spot, because even though it was 15 blocks from the pension, it was a white zone, meaning unrestricted parking - I could have left it there for a week. They're desireable, so as I was packing up, a couple asked if they could have it. So I said sure, but can I ask you for directions to L'Albufera? The directions went something like this, but in Spanish.

"L'Albufera? Hmmm. Okay. Okay, go out here, straight thru the roundabout, then turn right at the Grand Boulevard. Okay? So you're gonna turn right, okay? Okay. Then you go, you go, you go, es-straight, for a long time. Okay. Then you are looking for a sign for Salou. Turn a right. Okay? Okay, then follow that, you're gonna pass the Museum of the Sciences on your left, okay. Follow the signs for Salou, and that takes you to the highway. Okay? Okay. It's a easy. Okay. Good. Have a nice trip. Okay." Replace okay with "vale" for the more authentic flavor.


L'Albufera means lagoon, which is a body of water separated from the ocean by a strip of land. The albufera south of Valencia is saltwater, and is a bird sanctuary, wetlands, natural preserve. It's a birdwatching destination, and people go camping and recreating, lots of bicyclists, etc. The flats around the Albufera are the rice growing areas for Valencia, which takes great pride in it's rice and rice cuisine. I missed taking a picture of the actual Albufera. These is pretty much what the fields look like at this time of year. I saw some that were closer to being planted, they had been irrigated and lines plowed in. Although Valencia is on the Med and further south, it's still a bit chilly at night.


There are a few towns along this strip, and I guess this is where Valencianos would have a little beach condo or something to come down to during the summer. Now, it's deserted. Like post-apocalypse deserted. Little bit creepy.


Flying the Heirloom LA colors!! Standing in the Med! Forgot how to use my self-timer!


More pix and notes after the jump! Clicky-

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March 05, 2012

A Valencia!

Note: I'm falling behind on the blogging, so just FYI, I"m putting these back in chronological order, on the day which they occurred, rather than the date that I'm writing them. Thanks! ~Tad

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm tasting a beer developed by Ferran Adria called Inedit, which I believe means Uncut. It has a similar profile to a Belgian white such as Hoegaarden, but a little more subtle, a touch of citrus, a bit of creamyness, and lighter carbonation. The website refers to barley, wheat, orange, cilantro, and licorice. I enjoyed it, but there are lots of good beers out there.


Here's the sunrise on the day of driving to Valencia. I really enjoyed being in Tarragona, maybe next time I'll actually see all those Roman ruins and whatnot...


The autovia (highway) is over a mountain pass, so it's quite windy, and there are modern windmill farms. It's hard to tell from this photo, but this windsock was s t r a i n i n g at it's tether.


More pix and notes below ...

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March 04, 2012

Sleepy Sunday in Tarragona

I needed to finally kick jet lag, and it's so gorgeous here, I decided to stay another night.

Also, I'd like to thanks Matt and Tara for everything, but specifically because they're loaning me their smaller camera, and I'm using it exclusively. Among other things, my camera doesn't do nearly as well in low light, and since most of my food shots are indoors, I just take their camera for everything. I think it does a great job with all the other pix also. There's a lot less tweaking to do before I post, so that helps speed things along for blogging purposes. I also tried a few of those stitch panorama shots and a short video that I can put up later. I'm going to start saving up for one...after I pay this trip off!

Sun coming up over the Med.

There's a large modern cargo seaport here, as well as a small local fishing fleet, so I decided to walk down to the harbor, even though it's Sunday. There was a little drum core and brass section getting ready for a parade, I'm guessing for Easter? The guys in front are carrying some kind of rack that's not decorated yet, it appears.


Different boats for different catches - this one of the left looks like crab or lobster traps, the ones with lights are for squid, I believe. They're attracted to the lights at night.

More pix and notes after the jump!

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March 03, 2012

Look, kids! Big Ben! Parliament!

After about seven self-inflicted smacks on the head, 45 minutes of complete panic, then grief, then acceptance, then another heart attack moment and a lot of bad words, I finally got a car and got out of Barcelona! I'll be back for a few days at the end before flying out.

I'll spare you the ugly details, I'll offer them as lessons learned and traveller's tips. Keeping it pos...

- Make your car rental arrangements before you leave the US.

-Advertised rates (Internet websites) are for local residents - Americans pay completely different rates because of Loss/Damage Waivers and "other considerations".

- Make your car rental arrangements convenient to the place where you want to actually pick up the car.

-Use an American car rental company, but go to their foreign website, ie instead of, try for Espana, for France, etc.

-Some foreign ATM's are allowed informational access to your account some are not. So some may let you check your account balance, SOME MAY SHOW BALANCE 0,00 Euro.

-Saving a few bucks by using public transit is fine, but it's also okay to take a cab sometimes.

-ALWAYS be nice to your car rental agent. She can let you pay five times as much or discount it AND give you unlimited kilometers for the entire rental.

-When driving solo in a foreign country, have a route picked out with autopista names(equivalent to I-5, I-10, etc) and city names. Tough to read a map and drive.

Having said all that, it is funny how lucky I am sometimes. Sometimes.

Se llama, Pussy Wagon. Or Nissan Note.

I got out of town, but was still hopped up on adrenaline and nervousness, so I pulled off to a rest stop. I found these items. Yes, that's Ruffles, SPANISH HAM flavor! Pretty good, actually, for being chips. They target local markets with local flavors, so I've had ones from Thailand, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and maybe others. And a self-heating cup of tea. Not that it stays warm, it gets itself warm from being cold. There are three compartments in this cannister - the tea, and two separate chemicals. When you want hot tea, you break a seal so they mix, and there's a mild exothermic reaction that warms the tea. Kinda like that one Die Hard movie. I haven't tried that one yet.


The title of this entry refers to the fact that Spain has a lot of roundabouts, which I haven't experienced very much. I'm figuring it out. Super convenient for making a U turn. The reference itself is from National Lampoon's European Vacation where they get stuck on the roundabout for a couple of hours....

Keep going! More pix after the jump.

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March 02, 2012

Moving. Grooving. Doin' it, you know?

Xocolate amb xurros from Dulcinea at the end of my street, just around the corner from the Santa Caterina farmer's market. Really dark chocolate, not as rich and sweet as the other one, which is better by me, but still a little too sweet for me, if you can believe it. Pretty much the best version I can imagine, don't get me wrong, it's delicious, but to me it's just too much like dessert first thing in the morning. Amy would probably put sugar in it. And cream. And then grab mine out of my hand. Ha ha. I do like the little loops. On that Mario Batali tour of Spain, they went to a place that just makes a continuous spiral and sends it out to you, like a large pizza size spiral of just fried xurro. Or actually, I think that one has a different name because it's crispier. I'm still down to find that!!


I moved to a new room today, because I had only planned to stay until this morning, but I just wasn't ready, and there's so much I can still do in Barcelona. Anyway, yet another pass thru la Boqueria. El Quim, which is a tapas/kitchen stall in the Boqueria was on my list, but they're on break for a couple of weeks. Hopefully I can catch them on my last days in Spain. These are live sea urchin - erizos - and whelks, or sea snails. Not sure of the local name.


In the middle, those little purplish things are percebes, which are barnacles. I haven't had them yet, but some people think they're one of the best things out of the ocean. You gotta be careful with that - people will tell you anything to make you try it - like it's good for your sex drive or it's unbelievably delicious. In the front are red gambas, behind the percebes are cigala - langoustines. You can tell because of the long claws, sometimes people call them Nordic lobster or Northern lobsters.


More pix and notes after the jump below...

Continue reading "Moving. Grooving. Doin' it, you know?" »

March 01, 2012

Got the Bull by the Tail

Semi-obligatory picture of the entrance to the Boqueria. Note the official name of the market on the sign.


Gambas rojas (red shrimp) from the plancha, olive oil, grey salt. Done. Delicious. Pinotxo Bar. Ordered pan con tomate to wipe up the oil and juice.


Navajas (razor clams), same treatment, plus a splash of water for steam. Awesome.


More pix!! Continued after the jump!

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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 the link below for the rest.

Continue reading "Tapas, Tapes, Tapac24" »

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.

Continue reading "Why 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

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...