France and Spain – repeat

I had the opportunity to visit these countries for the third time in 10 years! It’s not a lot but hey, it’ll do for me! In France, besides visiting Paris for the third time, we also visited:

-Nice
-Cannes
-Le Rouret
-Mougin
-Verdon Gorge
-Moustier-Sainte-Marie
-Rousillon
-Luberon
-Aix
-Avignon
-Tavel
-Chateauneuf du Pape
-Gigondas

We also went to Monaco while in France!

In Spain, besides visiting Barcelona for the third time, we got to see Ibiza! 

There were so many wonderful experiences during this trip…driving along the south of France, which some have said is comparable to driving along PCH but I have to say it is such a different drive. Both are beautiful but have its own character. My favorite part was when we drove through Villefranche, going towards Monaco. I also feel so fortunate that my husband and I were able to visit the Cote du Rhone region, one of our favorite wines prior to this visit! Chateauneuf du Pape had a cute, small town and a castle with 360 degree view of the region! I love how intimate it felt and seeing how the wines we love grow. I would be curious to see what other oenophiles feel about this area.

We also had the honor of going to a wedding in Barcelona. It was by far one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. It was in a castle…the food was delicious…fireworks…and an awesome couple! It was my second wedding overseas (India was my other).

While I love traveling every time I return home I love the feeling of coming back to California. This is repetitive but seriously, the weather here is awesome! 28 countries later and I still love CA! So where to next? I’d love to see more of Spain, like southern Spain (Granada, Seville, Valencia, etc). I guess we’ll see 🙂

I’ll leave you with one photo…when we stopped in Villefranche.Image

Advertisements

Asador Etxebarri – Bizkaia, Spain

Another restaurant that we tried during our honeymoon was Asador Etxebarri. If you’ve ever seen the Anthony Bourdain episode where he goes to Spain, Bourdain stops by a place that is famous for grilling meats. It is also one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, according to San Pellegrino’s list. Supposedly they have the best grilled shrimp in the world. My husband loves shrimp so we had to find out!

We started with chorizo. It was thinly sliced and had intense flavor. One of our friends said for such a thin slice it was very meaty. It also wasn’t too greasy for sausage.

Next was the shrimp! They were prepared very simple…isn’t that the best way to do it? It was cooked perfectly, you didn’t see any grill marks or anything burnt about it…but you could taste the grilled flavor. They were lightly salted. The best part was how sweet the shrimp were. I’ve never had shrimp so sweet. Prior to this meal, we thought maybe it IS the way they grill it. But after having shrimp throughout the trip, the shrimp in Spain is AMAZING. For one thing, the shrimp is already bright pink/orange in color while live. The closest thing in California would be the Santa Barbara Spotted Prawns…which come at a pretty steep price (unless you get them in the Asian markets like 99 ranch!). Awfully sweet shrimp + grilled to perfection = absolute shrimp bliss.

 

Then we had clams. They weren’t grilled but perfectly cooked! Sweet, buttery, and you could taste some white wine. It was great to dip with bread.

Up next, the beef chop! We had it rare and split among 3.25 folks (the 1/4 being our friend who doesn’t eat beef at all, but for this occasion she decided to give it a try!). It was a lot of beef and SO good. I also liked that it was grilled, some restaurants char the steak and I’m not a fan of that style. Oh and as you can see, they also served salad with the beef.

At this point I gave up eating and it was up to the men to finish the beef. What a dilemma 🙂

We then had dessert. I don’t even know how I managed to eat any because I was soooo full from everything else! It was smoked milk ice cream…which tasted more like frozen yogurt. It looked heavy but was actually light tasting. It was a pleasant surprise.

This was a pretty satisfying meal. If you happen to visit Bilbao and San Sebastian, this is definitely worth a visit. Besides having great food and a break from the drive, the area where this restaurant is situated is lovely. You’ll see pretty green hills full of sheep! How cute! This concludes me posting about the food during our honeymoon.

So where to next? I feel like I’m running out of time to travel! We’re debating between Thailand or Vietnam for our next trip to Asia. For Europe I’d like to visit Greece, specifically Santorini or Mykonos, or is that too touristy? I’d also like to visit Istanbul, Turkey…and I’m interested in Croatia. I heard Croatia’s pretty and they even have vineyards! I’m definitely keen on visiting anywhere that is known for wine! Maybe Champagne, France? I figure it’s best to visit the places that are 12+ hours of flying now, while my body can handle these long haul flights!

Asador Etxebarri
P
laza San Juan I
48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia, Spain

 

Mugaritz

I haven’t posted about our meal at Mugaritz which according to San Pellegrino & Acqua Panna is #3 best restaurant in the world! We were fortunate enough to score reservations, given that we booked our flights a month before our trip. We also tried to make reservations at El Celler de Can Roca and Asador Etxebarri. We didn’t luck out on the former but was able to go to the latter which I hopefully will post soon. Anyway, the reason we were lucky to book Mugaritz is because they were on their winter break. The restaurant closes down for the winter and re-opens in the spring…we got the third service for 2012, which means they were open for two days! During the break the entire team goes off in R&D mode, discovering and experimenting with new flavors. So the staff was very excited to serve us this very new menu. We even got to try items that did not appear on the menu. Mugaritz’ food should evoke different senses. Even the way they word the dishes sounds fancy!

Mugaritz is located outside of San Sebastian, we had a rental car and GPS, thank goodness because no one tells you about the numerous roundabouts in Spain!

So let’s get started!

“Satiation eludes bread and olives…” Is it sad that the Robuchon bread cart is still the most epic bread cart I’ve ever had? Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of their bread tray 😦  Anyway, get it? Instead of bread you got paper, instead of olives you got butter that tasted like olives! Yes it looks like paper and even has the texture of kraft paper. There is this one snack that is sold at the Vietnamese supermarkets…it looks like white crackers that have roasted peanuts held together by a hardened sugar. I don’t know the name of this snack but the white cracker part tastes just like this paper! It was served with olive oil tasting butter.

“Grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and horseradish ash” That’s a whole piece of bone marrow, it was like meaty butter on toast!

“Flax and wheat “Kraft” paper with roe and Arrow-grass buttons” Underneath this “paper” there was roe!

“crunchy sauce with citron and peppers” this reminds me of shrimp crackers, the same concept but much thinner. However when you bite into it, it immediately melts in your mouth like a creamy sauce! the black dots represent the peppers…it definitely balanced out the creaminess of the sauce.

“Lukewarm cannelloni of sea urchin and milk” Looks like cheong fun from dim sum, doesn’t it? Except the texture/flavor of the “cannelloni” piece does not taste like rice noodles, it tastes like non fat milk in…noodle form and when you bite into it you have HUGE pieces of sea urchin.

“Strings of skate and chard with Molli made with sunflower and pumpkin seeds” The strings of skate…also reminded me of another Asian dish, have you had dried cuttle fish? It’s like that but as if it’s been moistened in water, except in this case it was moistened by a sunflower/pumpkin seed sauce. Very interesting take on a childhood snack!

Here’s the bonus dish! Looks like de-skinned grapes right? When we bit into it it tasted like winter melon soup! The staff eagerly watched us eat this one to see how we reacted. When we finished they asked us what we thought it was, husband said winter melon soup and they said yes!

“cured cheese, in its own rind, mushrooms and coastal herbs” This one tasted as described, like a very creamy cheese, even creamier/softer than brie.

“Vegetable noodles in a meat and toasted onions consomme” It was like french onion soup, without the gruyere cheese. Without the cheese it tastes a lot lighter!

This next dish was fun:
“Bonding…” Toasted seeds and spices served in a Mortar with a paste of chopped shrimp
Yeah that’s exactly what we got, except the “bonding” part is where we did some work! This is what we received:

Once you smashed the seeds/spices, you received the broth:

And you also received a bowl of chopped shrimp, the shrimp looked like they were toasted or baked until it was crunchy:

And then you mix it altogether and had a yummy soup!

Back to more eating and less working! “Tagliatelle of concentrated milk lightly soaked in a silky juice of roasted squash and tomato.” The “tagliatelle” part of this was really interesting! It was like the texture of the part of the creme brulee or flan where the edge tastes harder than the rest of the custard, but harder and chewy, but tasted milky. Hope that makes sense.

“slices of monkfish cooked with the steam of its bones. crispy stew of roasted rinds and lilies.” There’s a steamed fish that my mom would make which included dried lilies…this dish reminded me of my mom’s dish. the fish was perfectly cooked, the crispy rinds/lilies were a nice compliment to the firm fish.

“Coastal fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and sweet pickled daikon.” This fish didn’t taste like monkfish bc of its thickness…it was very thin like sole but rolled up. It was well cooked too!

“Breast of guineafowl with lobster emulsion and its roasted skin” I’m not sure what guineafowl is but it tasted like a very tender chicken breast!

“Tender sweetbread with roasted parsnip and artisan praline” This was ok, maybe I’m just not a fan of sweetbreads in general…

“Light dices of sculpted apple with figs. Crunchy dark chocolate and mint” The apple part tasted like super thin slices of…apple pie crust!

“traditional almond fairy cake” I really liked this one…it tasted like very light vanilla ice cream with a nice coating of crushed raw almonds…it was a lovely, light dessert!

“Forgotten memory from childhood. Small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream” This ice cream was nice because it wasn’t pucker-y lemon. I’m not a fan of lemon/lime desserts but I was ok with this because of that.

Nails and flowers. Looks like rusted nails but it was chocolate shaped into nails, dusted with chocolate powder!

Candies of frankincense. The perfume of eucalyptus barks. After having the nails we weren’t sure which part to eat on this one! Turns out you eat the incense that was still burning! The texture reminded me of cigarette candy that I had as a kid but tasted a little anise-y. I wonder if it was intended to be another rendition of those cigarette candies?

Overall I really enjoyed the experience. Everyone was super helpful and well versed in their new menu. It was cool how they had so many renditions on Asian dishes. Fun times indeed!

Mugaritz
Otzazulueta baserria, Aldura-aldea 20,20100
Errenteria, Spain

La Rioja – Baigorri

Sorry for my lack of updates, I’ve been feeling quite tired lately but I’ll try to do my best!

One of the bodegas that we visited was Baigorri. Since La Rioja is SO stretched out and we already had tapas the night before in Logrono, we also ate lunch at Baigorri since they were one of the few places that offered a tasting menu. Just to note, one of the interesting things about La Rioja is that visitors cannot just walk in to any bodega expecting to be served wine, like you would at most of the wineries in CA. You have to make a reservation and usually it comes with a tour. Anyway onto the food! Per the English translated menu which I’m sure, probably sounded much more pleasant and more descriptive in Spanish. So what I’ll explain to you is my interpretation of what I ate, and what I think was in the food, due to my limited Spanish and the staff’s limited English (it works perfectly well if one person knows both really well, haha).

Crunchy Salmon: toasted whole kernel corns aka America’s “Cornnuts” with smoked salmon. Good thing they crushed the kernels instead of serving them whole.

Mini talo riojano with idiazabal cheese sauce. This was like a firm quesadilla with a red bell pepper/onion filling. Idiazabal cheese had a slight goat cheese taste to it, but it had a room temperature – butter like texture which made it spreadable.

Morcilla delights with apple marmalade. The morcilla was covered in toasted hazelnuts so you couldn’t taste the typical blood sausage. I really liked this one. The apple marmalade was warm, like the thick, gooey parts of a homemade apple pie. It went really well with the morcilla.

Riojan bean cream. White bean soup…mixed with onions and red bell peppers…which caused the red color, but definitely had the red bell pepper taste to it…all blended together to make this rich/smooth soup. Then it was drizzled with olive oil and a pickled pepper to top. The pepper wasn’t too spicy and it wasn’t sour like those dreaded banana peppers. It definitely added a little bit of kick to the soup. The bits on top tasted like crunchy bits of pork, most likely Iberican pork as our next dish was that.

Iberico pork slow cooked in baigorri red wine with garnish. I was too full at this point to even eat this! Husband said it was excellent, very tender pork.

Crunchy ice cream. Oh, it was sure pretty, at this point I felt like I was going to explode!

All of this yummy food. I was worried. I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy my time in our next city, San Sebastian, especially with our much anticipated meal at Mugaritz! Will post that soon, if I remember…

http://www.bodegasbaigorri.com/
Carretera de Vitoria, 0, 01307 Samaniego, España 

Spain the honeymoon – Rioja

Got back from Spain two Fridays ago. We were there for two weeks and it was technically a “doublemoon,” where we went with our friends that got married in September. Overall of Spain? I really enjoyed it! We visited La Rioja (staying in Logrono), Bilbao, San Sebastian, Mallorca, and Barcelona. Let’s start with La Rioja!

We drove from Barcelona to La Rioja. We stayed in Logrono since it was our first day in Spain, I had a feeling we would feel some jet lag and needed to be in an area that was close to lots of restaurants. If we stayed in any of the winery area, then it would’ve been tiring to find a restaurant after our long flight and drive. Logrono has a couple of streets that are famous for tapas. Here is what one of the streets (Calle Laurel) looks like in the day time. I forgot to snap a photo at night because I was so excited to start eating!

Each place has a specialty so it’s easy to know what to get. Alternatively, some places display all the tapas that they have available or you can have something not displayed made to order. It was awesome because we got to go on our first tapas crawl together. So much good food for reasonable prices! It is helpful to know some Spanish, like understanding what they are asking you and knowing how to order. Here is one of my favorite tapas on our first night. It’s so simple and yummy. Mushrooms grilled with lots of olive oil, garlic, and salt. A shrimp is placed on the toothpick and then three mushrooms are placed beneath the shrimp. Then, the stack is placed on top of a piece of bread to soak up all the juices. So easy!

The next day we drove through the wine area. It’s so BIG compared to Napa! I’ve been to most of the major wine regions of CA but nothing prepares you for how big La Rioja is. Maybe it’s because in CA, there are lots of hills so you can’t see how far the vineyards stretch? I want to go back when the vineyards have grapes on them! Prior to our trip, we did our due diligence with wines from this area. Luckily we live super close to a few great wine shops. We learned about Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. All labeling intended to tell the reader how long the wine has been in the barrel and bottle before selling. Crianza being the youngest and so forth. It was cool seeing that our local wine shop really did carry the famous wines…we even tried two wineries that we had from our wine shop! Speaking of wineries, in Spain wineries are called bodegas. 🙂 Here is a photo of the vineyard at Bodega Baigorri.

Hopefully I remember to post about the other parts of Spain!