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Monday, November 30, 2009

Mushroom Pops - The Great Rioja Tapas Crawl Part I

In the Rioja, we ask winemaker Juan Carlos Artadi where to go on and around Logroño’s Caille del Laurel – a foodie heaven of a street with nothing but tapas bars. Technically, we’re in the region for a wine conference, but this is the place that gets my blood racing.

“First, go to Bar Soriano and get mushrooms à la plancha,” he says.

It’s a shoebox of a place with a mushroom-shaped sign hanging out front, thousands of those useless Spanish napkins littering the floor, three men behind the bar and a heavenly smell.

“Some mushrooms?” I say tentatively, looking for a menu.

“Vamos!” he calls to the man at the griddle, confirming there is no menu. Soriano is a one trick pony I could ride all day.

Moments later, two tiny towers of hollowed-out button mushrooms arrive, undersides facing heaven, cupping their own juices and one tiny shrimp.

“How do you eat them?”

The bartender smiles the gentle smile he must give to all the rookies and motions that we should push the toothpick that holds them together down through the bottom, turning the whole thing into something of a mushroom Push-Up Pop, allowing you to eat them one by one and finish with the juice-soaked bread. Rrrrowww!!!

We’re off to a good start…

Bar Soriano MAP
Travesia Laurel 2
+34 941 22 88 07

Food and travel writer and photographer Joe Ray is the author of the blog Eating The Motherland and contributes to The Boston Globe’s travel blog, Globe-trotting.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Copper Top Charge


I always get stubborn when people suggest that I write about something, even on the rare occasion that it’s a good idea. If I’m already working on it, don’t push me in the way I’m already heading. Or, at least, that’s how I justify it.

I recently shimmied my way into a Barcelona Slow Food dinner at Coure – Catalan for ‘copper’ another Barcelona bistronomic, located almost directly across the street from Hisop. The next day, the mails started coming in from my Slow Food friend – “you’ve gotta blog about this place.”

I knew. I knew.

While I could see where Hisop was heading – but had trouble getting there – at Coure, even though I was at a table with 25 people, it’s clear the chef’s feet are more firmly on the right path. Coure is a restaurant confidently hitting the ball on the rise.

Case in point: a perfectly-cooked mackerel ‘confit’ served with spinach pesto dish that made my feet do their involuntary ‘happy dance,’ particularly as the dish centered around local and sustainable products. The chef fought an uphill battle against starch with puréed ratte potatoes that had a pudding-like sheen, but they supported a buttery-textured oxtail stuffed with local Perol sausage. We drooled with happiness.

When my Catalan sweetheart visits me in Paris, she always marvels at how poor the service is relative to the price paid and I do my best to defend France, but here there’s no refuting – I know, I know – you’d have to pay two to three times this much in the City of Light for service this good. Our waiter shyly rushes through the presentation of a dish he’s been asked to do, but the moment he’s finished speaking, he takes advantage of being in front to everyone to scan every seat at the table and instantly knows better where we are than we do.

Bonus? The price – a 35 euro prix fixe dinner menu that includes water, wine (including the fantastic Vinya d’Irto Terra Alta ‘05) and coffee. There’s also a 45 euro degustation menu and à la carte runs about 50-60 euros plus wine.

Restaurant Coure MAP
Passatge Marimon, 20
+34 93 200 75 32

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Drowning Roses


By Joe Ray

My apologies to the non baseball-playing world.

Four of us visited Hysop a while back. The restaurant is one of the city’s most respected ‘bistronomic‘restaurants and, on this at bat, they whiffed.

I think (I hope) that the kitchen just had a bad day. Likely, it also illustrates why a good dish takes time to perfect.

A shelled oyster amuse gueule bathed in some sort of vodka tonic with lime and horseradish mixture and I just wished that they would leave a good thing alone.A first course of gazpacho with mussels was a similar misfire. Fresh ingredients wilted into the soup and, combined with the mussels, the whole thing got a bit mushy.

Both dishes reminded me of the beautiful, submerged roses in the bathroom.

Things started going the other way with a warm, salty sardine with strawberries, soy sprout and salt flake dish. It was a product-first design someone spent a lot of time thinking about how it would taste, look and feel.

I had a great dish that combined white beans, anchovies, and pork jowl. “Salt fiesta! Yum!” read my notes… right next to “Why don’t they warm the plates?”

One of us had the most beautiful lamb shank and… well… it was burnt.

I really wanted to like this meal. The lunch prix fixe is a bargain at 25 euros and at that price, I should probably be told off for nitpicking a meal that is an incredible value.

Maybe I’m just a little frustrated. I can see where the chef is heading, know how well his colleagues are doing and want to be there when he hits a home run.

Lunch prix fixe: 25€

Dinner tasting menu: 48€

Hisop – MAP
Passatge Marimon 9
+34 932 413 233

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sherry’s Sweet Market


Dad’s gateway drug will be breakfast.

Toast a little wheel of bread, pour a liberal dose of olive oil on top, add a few spoonfuls of crushed tomato and a sprinkle of salt for good measure. Watch the city wake up as you down a café con leche.

Later, have your idea of freshness brought up to date at the Mercado Central de Abastos where you sell fish or play second fiddle.

Perhaps due to most stalls’ paintings of Jesus, the big-eyed redfish stare out, looking forlorn and guilty.

All I can think of is following one of these little ladies home so I can see how she cooks her fish.

Mercado Central de Abastos MAP
C/ Doña Blanca
Jerez de la Frontera

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Toe-Tapping Sardines and Pork Roast From Heaven

JEREZ, Spain

It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ll need to come back to a place before you sit down.

Eyes wide and fresh from the plane, we head to Bar Juanito for a crash course of a menu of the good and the local.

We try langoustines and mushrooms in a deep, sherry-laced sauce with bits of shell that give away some of its secrets. Then we dig into a little plate of fried fresh anchovies that, matched with a glass of the salty counterpart-loving fino wine, was toe-tapping goodness.

The bar’s signature artichokes slip by unnoticed - our fault for trying them offseason - but the showstopper is an Andalusian native that arrives with our drinks for free: chicharonnes - bite-sized cubes of pork which are like bits of crispy, fatty pork roast from heaven. My friend who’s on a diet takes one look and groans. I pop another and my heart skips a beat.

Count on 5-15 euros, depending on how peckish you feel.

Bar Juanito MAP
C/ Pescadería Vieja 8-10
11403 Jerez De La Frontera, Spain
956 33 48 38

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Hot Pan. Hot Oil.


When I die, I’m sending friends to scatter my ashes in a couple of my favorite places around the world. Barcelona’s La Boqueria food market will be one of those spots.

I’ve said it before: I’d trade a meal at the market’s Pinotxo food ‘kiosk’ for many a three-star meal in a heartbeat. The world hums at a happier frequency whenever I’m there.

That said, I’ll make sure they keep my ashes on Pinotxo’s side of the market when the time comes.

We checked out Kiosko Universal a while back and though it felt a bit like I was dining with the enemy, a friend had sung its praises and I wanted to see for myself.

One of the wonderful things about the kiosks is how it’s all there for you to see. You sit at the bar and watch the cooks cook up the best the market has to offer. Look left - there’s someone selling fish! Look right - there’s someone cooking fish! There’s flash and bang and life everywhere and there you are in the middle of it all with a glass of Cava to celebrate. If you can’t draw inspiration from a space like this, check your pulse.

You also see when it all goes wrong.

At Kiosko Universal, we ordered Cava and immediately watched somebody’s fresh-cooked lunch get cold on the counter for five minutes before being delivered once a cook finally remembered it. Then we watched a cook work on our mushrooms by sautéing a big batch in a wok. It’s a great idea: blast something fresh with heat and serve it up quick, but there simple rules to sautéing that should be observed, most notably, as a chef once barked at me, “Hot pan. Hot oil.” Heat the pan, then heat the oil and then (and only then) add whatever you’re cooking. Flub up and need more oil? Send a trickle down the side of the pan so it heats up before it hits your food.

Cold oil on cold product leads to mush.

Here, however, we watch the cook pour an extra dose of cooking oil right on the mushrooms.

The cook looks bad, the chef looks worse and we lose our appetite…

…almost. We repent with coffee and dessert at Pinotxo.

Count on about 10-20 euros.

Kiosko Universal - MAP
La Boqueria
La Rambla 91

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monks At The Table


There’s a lot to notice when we arrive at WD-50. The most outstanding is a booth of guys who look like they could be fraternity brothers, yet they’re silent as monks, paying close attention to what they’re eating; the antennae are up, they love the challenge.

You have to be up for the ride. Chef Wylie Dufresne bristles at the thought of preparing anything leaning toward making standard bistro fare for his customers. He’s just not interested.

What would he rather do? Stuff like floating plump scallops and pine needle udon in a bowl of grapefruit dashi. He deconstructs eggs benedict. He chars avocado. (?!?!) Even if his family is in the business you have to wonder how he thinks of this stuff, but when you put bites in your mouth, the combinations and preparations will stand hairs on end and leave you wondering how no one thought of it before.

Daniel Boulud’s kitchen at Daniel has a beautiful wall of spices sourced from around the world while Dufrene’s wall has pectins, starches and syrups. Yet the adjectives Dufresne cuisine inspires are words like ‘clean’ and ‘clear’ – you leave feeling like you’ve eaten a healthy Japanese dinner. His parsnip tart somehow makes me rethink my understanding of the vegetable. Parsnips!

Some argue the validity of this type of experimental cuisine - they should eat here to join the converted.

Finally, all hail Dufresne for having the confidence to keep and highlight the work of pastry chef Alex Stupak. Instead of a clash of egos (that would usually lead to the latter getting dumped), you just sit there and say ‘wow’ all meal long.

Count on about $65 plus drinks if you go à la carte. The tasting menu runs $140 plus $75 for wine pairing.

WD-50 – MAP
50 Clinton Street
New York

Full disclosure: I ate at the restaurant while working on an upcoming story about Dufresne and his collaboration with chef Daniel Boulud. That said, Dufresne didn’t realize we were in the restaurant for dinner until dessert was over and the check was paid.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fork Slapping Goodness?

I lied. I said there was ‘one’ NYC restaurant I’d really like to go back to eat in and, well, like I said…

Even at brunch a short while back, you could tell the new Le Pescadeux is a spot to watch: there’s a perfect smoked trout omelette and a steak and eggs that might stop your heart for multiple reasons at prices that won’t. And that’s not even counting Champagne and chats with Chuck.

Dinner’s what I’d really like to try, preferably with a partner for footsie. The restaurant’s fish-focused Quebec cuisine (harking back to owner Charles Perelmutter’s origins) is on display – and he’s breaking his new chef’s back to please by offering dinner ‘duets’ - a pair of half-sized portions – a great way to showcase what you can do and get a good new restaurant’s good name out there. Perelmutter chalks it up to “culinary A.D.D.”

I checked in with Perelmutter to find out about a chef change – the impressive Matthew Ridgway left and has been replaced by Adriano Ricco (clever poaching on Chuck’s part as Ricco’s done stints at BLT Fish and Tabla) – here’s what Chuck had to say about the ‘duet’ concept.

Even if I am in a great Seafood restaurant I get bored with my fish halfway through, and look to see what I can ‘mooch’ from others, usually with no success (people don’t share anymore). I decided I would not be bored again and now I, and my guests, can enjoy 2 different half orders of fish prepared 2 different ways without getting their reaching fork slapped away.

Note the capitalization of Seafood.

Right now, I’d take the grilled octopus and Wild Rock bass with a little neck nage … kick the tires on a fun concept and see what the new chef can do.

Le Pescadeux - MAP
90 Thompson St
New York
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Egging for More

Now that I’m back home and typing up a bushel of NYC blogs, the one place I really want to go back to is Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance. Not only are the drinks top notch, chef Sam Filloramo wowed me while, thanks to some sort of new restaurant timing/shipping glitches, he was still working from a half-empty* kitchen.

His deviled eggs were so good, I went home and told my mom about them and if that wasn’t enough to get me to want to go back, the ever-changing menu they now post on their Web site does: rabbit and chorizo hash, oysters Rockefeller, pan-fried catfish … my word.

Apparently, they even do breakfast and all I can do is imagine the possibilities.

I’m interested to see how the combination of a serious drinks bar combined with chef who’s making his mark pans out. It can only be good.

Fort Defiance - MAP
365 Van Brunt St
Brooklyn, NY
+1 347-453-6672

*Apparently, in mid-September, after the equipment arrived, a health inspector stopped in to check the kitchen and found gas equipment without gas service - like a car with an empty gas tank - and decided the restaurant would be better off closed for the week until they got the pipes hooked up… go figure.

Click here to see my Boston Globe Travel story, “Small Wonders” - featuring an interview with Fort Defiance owner and drinks expert St. John Frizell.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Eye Food


They could serve Spam in the can here and I’d still come back. With a view this good, it really doesn’t matter what you eat. At Alma, it’s all about the view of southern Manhattan from the roof.

I joined friends of mine here - they were nibbling away on sturdy Mexican food - and accidentally figured out a peculiar system that allows you to bypass the restaurant’s Mexican-themed drink offerings, get a tasty microbrew at the b61 bar downstairs (try the Sixpoint Ale), then walk it topside and enjoy it with your guacamole and fish tacos.

“It’s almost winter!” you cry?

No worries - the roof deck is still open on the weekend and imagine it to be just as blissful watching an autumn sunset or when the snow flies.

Alma - MAP
187 Columbia Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231

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