Food & Travel / Words & Photos
I reconnect with the city a few steps below street level.
We share a little plate of artichokes hearts that are drizzled with olive oil and spritzed with fleur de sel. They’re so tender, you don’t need teeth.
There’s also a little wheel of oil-bathed goat cheese that’s somehow has the wonderful tang of cheddar. We get a bacalao-tomato dish with olives and a separate plate of olives that I’m supposed to share. Oops.
We wipe up our fingers with the ubiquitous useless napkins and wash it down with vermouth and seltzer water.
It’s good to be home.
Count on about 10-20€
La Bodegueta – MAP
Rambla de Catalunya 100
+34 932 154 894
As a holiday card, I had this odd idea of setting the camera on the tripod and hefting the lit Christmas tree so all you’d see would be my arms and jeans, with Guido’s painting in the background. Luckily, I remembered the Catalan Christmas connection with La Boqueria Market, which regularly graces the front page of many newspapers here on the 25th.
It also makes a much nicer photo.
Time for a Turkey.
(No, not me, the one in the oven.)
P.S. - For a Christmas-esque message of peace from Guido, click here.
The “Run Away!” category was designed for meals like this.
A rainy, hungry cold and dark afternoon in Paris called for something warm and reassuring. We almost went for pho in Belleville but my visiting friend suggested soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup) it seemed perfect.
Le Pied de Cochon is a Paris classic dating back to when Les Halles was the mammoth food market I’d give my pinky to have seen, not the current resident: a subterranean shopping mall that both houses and smells like a swimming pool. Restaurant names from the market period were designed with its oft-illiterate workers in mind. If you were looking for the boss who was cutting a deal for broccoli or tossing a couple back, he would be at the Chicken in The Pot, the Bell, The Drum or…the Pig’s Foot.
I was reassured that though the tourists were making up a majority of the customers - particularly as it was only four in the afternoon - there was was also an older, distinguished looking gentleman eating by himself and reading Le Monde dated the following day.
Waiters and waitresses buzzed around, giving the restaurant a wonderful, busy feeling and when the soup arrived, and we breathed in its wonderful smell - a bit reminiscent of Mom’s chicken pot pie - we felt like happy and lucky little kids.
We should have stopped there. The soup tasted like soap.
At least the broth did. I nibbled my way dutifully through the cheese on top, hit the broth, winced, tried again, tried my friend’s broth and then just stopped eating.
I never stop eating.
What’s worse is that this is the traditional food for served in Les Halles, arguably the birthplace of soupe à l’oignon. I tried distracting myself by thinking of the word Francois might use when confronted with something like this, but in the end it was all mine: atrocious.
We split duck confît that arrived cold and limp and when we sent it back for a warm-up, it came back lukewarm and limp.
That was enough. We left.
Count on around 15-30 euros better spent elsewhere.
“At El Soldado de Tudelilla, get the tomato salad and the little sardine sandwich with sport peppers,*” says Artadi.
The notes for the little sandwich (a pincho) say “Why don’t we eat more sardines in the U.S.A.?”
The question floats into space as I take a bite and flag the stout-bellied barman for a tomato salad which turns out to be the star of the show.
Said barman makes the salad on the bar beneath our noses by plucking a tomato from of the cooler with the wine and the onions and cuts it into bite-sized chunks with a pocket knife. He does the same with the onion.
“This is not just any onion,” he says, “This is the white onion of Fuentes de Ebro,” which, we’ll learn, is more mild than a Vidalia.
“It is a town consecrated to the onion,” he says.
He adds a can of still faintly-pink tuna to the plate and drops a few olives over the top before giving the whole thing a shot of vinegar, a 15-count drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of gros sel.
It’s a little mountain on a plate that disappears in a heartbeat.
“We’re going to be late,” I say.
“I don’t care,” comes the response.
Count on about 10 euros for salad, sardines and a glass of wine or two
El Soldado de Tudelilla MAP
C/ San Agustín 33
+34 941 209 624
*Truth be told, he said “guindilla.”
“At bar Cebas, get everything,” says Artadi.
Pressed, he mentions a tortilla and the anchovies and the chroizo I immediately burn my mouth on when we get there.
“It’s hot!” I warn my friend before burning myself again.
The tortilla is fantastic, I even had a lamb’s ear sandwich (!), but the sublime star is a toothpick with a pair of olives and a pair of anchovies sandwiching a guindilla – a pickled green pepper folks in the Midwest would call a sport pepper.
There’s vinegar, spicy heat, salt and texture, all at once – it’s mind-blowing goodness, especially when coupled with any of the wines on their wonderful list (just scan the wall – it’s somewhere near Artadi’s picture with the owners).
Count on a few well-spent euros for snacks.
Bar Sebas - MAP
Caille del Albornoz, 3
+34 94 122 0196
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.
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
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
JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, Spain
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
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.