Food & Travel / Words & Photos
By Joe Ray
ILE DE RE, France
I’d trade a friend in a high place for one who knows where to eat.
Spend a bit of time on this island and you’ll inevitably end up at the Café du Commerce in Ars en Ré. It’s one of the few places open all year, a good place to socialize and renew your love for bric-a-brac, but I don’t remember a thing I’ve eaten there.
Visit a few times, however, and a friend might start bringing you to their favorite places.
Olivier and Moumoune (his ‘Mama’) brought me out to Aux Frères de la Côte which sits on a seawall – la digue – at the end of the road in Ars en Ré. If I’m going to splurge and get a plate full of seafood or a dish of oysters, the edge of the sea is where I want them.
Service is flighty but friendly, wine is chilled in a plastic beach bucket and the fries on the neighboring table look so good, we order a plate for ourselves.
Star of the meal? Tiny, plump clams known as palourdes, served raw in their unopened shell; it’s up to you to liberate them with a knife and their sweet, briny and fresh flavor are worth the trip.
Count on 20-40€.
Aux Frères de la Côte - MAP
Route de La Grange
Ars en Ré
+33 (0)5 46 29 04 54
Warm months only.
Take a walk through La Boqueria food market and you can’t help but get the feeling that Barcelona should be a sushi-lover’s paradise, yet I never found proof. I’ve had good Asian at Ly Leap’s Indochine restaurants and Ferran Adria apparently swears by Shunka, but still, no sushi for me.
Then I went to Ken Restaurante – bristling with sushi potential – and nobody ordered sushi.
A plate of tasty noodles came out, adorned with ultrathin feathers of dried, smoked tuna that fluttered in the heat, and there were tasty (though heavy) shrimp and veg tempuras, but nothing to write home about.
Ken came out to say hello to the family I was with and perhaps he saw the sadness in my eyes, because after that the raw and the beautiful started appearing.
A set of breaded cherry tomatoes appeared which were cored and gently stuffed with salmon eggs then flash fried and served with a delicious, mayonnaise-y secret sauce. A bite is sweet and salty, crisp and bursting. Pop a few of these and down them with a glass of Cava at the beginning of a date and your sweetie will be putty in your hands for the rest of the evening.
The dessert menu came and I panicked. I looked frantically around the table for support and found a taker in the patriarch. I don’t think he was hungry, it was probably just foodie pity. I didn’t care.
“Sushi plate please!” I said to a perplexed waitress.
Know that sound Homer Simpson makes while drooling over a bowl of chili? Nnnghhhh!!! That was me.
Each piece had its own, distinct flavor and firm texture, including a tuna belly reminiscent of the other night at Inopia.
Sushi in Barcelona? I knew I’d find it.
Ken Restaurante MAP
C/Benet Mateu 53
+34 932 032 044
Before revisiting this classic, I check directions and find an online guide to Barna that says I might be the only tourist in the place.
Fat chance. Two ladies in the back are flipping through a Time Out guide and above the bar, there’s a framed, two-page spread from the Wall Street Journal about Bar Tomas’ raison d’être: “Splendid Spuds: Spain’s Obsession with Patatas Bravas.”
No matter. For spuds this good, I’m willing to share.
Just remember the Two B’s: Bravas and Beer. Like seafood in Omaha, most of the rest of the offerings (save Coke and Fanta in glass bottles) can be ignored.
The spuds are downy on the inside, crisp on the outside and partially submerged under a blob of aioli from heaven and served by a guy whose voice sounds like a yard of rocks in a cement mixer.
Bar Tomás – MAP
C/ Major De Sarrià 49
932 031 077
BARCELONA – While the Tour de France approached Barcelona today, I took a different sort of bike ride – The Tour Gastronomico.
The tour was hosted by a food group called Cassaques – a band of guys who get together, blow loads of money on incredible food, jump around in circles and do a call and answer that goes: “Festiiii….” “….valll!!!!!” Apparently, they once went to El Bulli together dressed as a bunch of toreadors.
Today’s buckets of rain ride stopped at a host of Barcelona foodie hotspots; most worth noting was a sneak peek at chef Carles Abellan’s new digs – the appropriately-named Velódromo – which is supposed to officially open today.
Chef should make a lot of money here as it’s well decked out and the papas bravas – these shaped like fat French fries with a tasty, sweet aioli and an addictive saltiness – are very tasty. I’m guessing a high turnover of beautiful people.
Other Tour highlights included bacalao bunyoles at Fonda Gaig – which is saying a lot, as I’m still on the fence about bacalao, but not about these.
Favorite part of the day? Hoisting Joanito Bayen of Pinotxo at La Boqueria on our shoulders. The guy’s in his mid seventies and should UNESCO classified.
Two separate BCN notes I discovered today on a run – restaurant Xemei in Poble Sec bumped out into an adjoining bar-like space where they’re specializing in drinks and tapas while still offering a full menu.
Further up, at the top of Montjuic – the city’s monster green space and home of the ‘92 summer Olympics - I found La Caseta del Migdia, a world away from the city and a great spot to grab a drink or enjoy cheap – 10 euro – barbecue. I’m heading back this weekend to have a drink and watch the world go by.
Velódromo - MAP
+34 93 430 6022
La Caseta del Migdia - MAP
Passeig del Migdia
+34 617 956 572
NOTE: open Thursday through Sunday – call ahead for hours
BARCELONA – Go to Inopia on any given night and despite the bright lights and bustle typical of many tapas bars, there’s also something a bit bizarre: a bouncer.
It’s a little weird, but though I’m sure there’s a bit of favoritism, the bouncer is mostly there to keep the inside full without drowning the chefs and waitstaff.
Then night we’re there, Tapas 24 and Comerc 24 chef Carles Abellan, along with a chunk of the local 7 Canibales food writers are all waiting in line with the rest of us.
Inside, the lights glare and four of us sit on stools facing some sort of hen/bachelorette party, yet the Cava arrives and tickles our palates and a plate or two of food lands in front of us and is gobbled up – we take on our own momentum.
A cutting board of thin-sliced cooked ham appears and disappears, fried artichoke hearts cradle a quail’s egg and raw fish eggs.
This is before they bring out the big guns.
Lomo de atún a la parrilla con mojo should just be called ‘Kobe tuna.’ The mojo sauce is lost in the shuffle, but the fish, wonderfully fatty, marbled and full of flavor has been grilled, making it smoky, meaty, carnal and crisp.
At dessert, the waiter sprays an anise liquor over a bowl of cherries. There’s a sweet and almost vegetable flavor of the spray, followed by the explosion of the taut cherry skin. The fruit’s sweet and acidic flavors compete for your attention as they fill your mouth and dribble down your chin.
RRRRRowwwww!!! No mas! No mas!!!!
By Joe Ray
Paris is good to my comings and goings – little things to welcome me back or make me miss her when I go.
Before heading out for the summer, I bumped into Fred Valade in the northern reaches of Belleville while looking for my last lunch in Paris and asked where to get a good steak tartare in the neighborhood. He gave me a ‘no-can-do’ shrug and instead pointed me toward the new divin restaurant – a shiny, new and unfettered by capital letters.
The concept isn’t new, but there’s nothing to be tired of: a product-centric menu that cleverly goes easy on the chef at service time and a host of good organic and natural production wines. The restaurant is run by a pair of brothers, but divin is a direct cousin of the likes of La Crèmerie and Le Verre Volé; the more the merrier for this kind of place.
I had a thick slab of chunky pâté, full of deep, meaty and wonderfully liver-y flavor, all protected by a snow-white layer of fat and served with big, plump capers and good bread.
I washed it down with a (well-recommended) Côtes du Rhône, smacked my lips and headed to the airport with a smile.
Count on 10 - 20€ for your meal.
divin – MAP
35 rue des Annelets
+33 1 40 40 79 41
Photo note: lacking my camera at divin, I’ve substituted a shot of organic and natural production wines at the Crus et Decouvertes wine shop in the 11th.