Friday, April 28, 2017

Seafood All Around San Sebastian

Trip date: November 2015

Northern Spain Trip Day 8

We started our second day in San Sebastian with a stand-up breakfast at the Santana Cafe before taking a nice walk through the city's market, Mercado de la Bretxa. 

I love browsing market stalls and had not been in this one before. We all split up so that we could do things at our own pace and planned to meet back up at a designated time. There are always so many things, especially different species of fish, that I've never seen when I'm in the markets of Europe. Being that this one is also in one of the gastronomic centers of Spain there were specialty items like monkfish liver, hake roe,  various pork pieces, etc. 
We left the market and strolled through old town so the folks who hadn't joined us the night before could take a peek. 

I love this church which seems to be built right into the hill behind it. When we were done our driver Antonio took us to a small port where we boarded an even smaller boat and crossed over to an adorable and colorful fishing village, Pasajes San Juan. 
What a fantastic side trip this was, I didn't know anything about it! The houses are all from the 16th and 17th century and the inhabitants are fiercely Basque. 

Besides wandering the narrow streets and taking in the views, we visited a restaurant where they have a basket of live lobsters held in the sea below. The owner showed us how they pull it up when someone orders one, well she had George demonstrate for us!
Although we had lunch plans, it had been a while since breakfast so we stopped at the Plaza de Santiago and ordered some wine and delicious roasted prawns from the Yola cafe. It was quite a spectacle, all of us sucking on these prawn heads! One of our hosts Gerry managed to get prawn/butter juice all over his shirt and pants, luckily he knew of a special powder spray that the Spanish use to treat such stains and asked one of the waitresses to spray him down. That was also quite a spectacle!

This town was adorable, I'd absolutely suggest making the short trip over should you be in San Sebastian!

Back on the other side, Antonio drove us to Getaria where we would be having lunch at Kaia- Kaipe. This restaurant is owned by the same family who has the very well-reviewed Elkano, which was unfortunately closed for vacation. Although our lunch was so superb that I'm not sure we missed much by not getting there. 

Both restaurants are known for their grilled whole turbot. While ours cooked we enjoyed some incredible tuna, a decadent lobster salad, hake cheeks, and roasted spider crab. Each course was served with a different wine, of course! The main course of turbot, while not particularly pretty to look at, was spectacular! The 1947 Viña Bosconia was a stand out as well. Now I should mention that this wasn't really included in our package but John was kind enough to order it and share it with the table. Officially the oldest wine I have drunk!

We had such a fantastic time at lunch, our table of 9 overlooking the harbor, eating absolutely delicious seafood, and drinking some stunning wines. There was a table of about 6 older gentlemen, regulars for sure, who were also having a fun, long wine-filled lunch. That's just the kind of place this is!

Besides a nice dessert, we finished our meal with Judy and my new favorite liqueur, pacharan. Seeing how happy it made Judy the restaurant even sent her off with a bottle of it!

It was dark when we returned to San Sebastian, and Antonio pulled over at a great viewpoint to take in the lit-up La Concha before heading back to the hotel.

We were having dinner at the 3-starred Akelaré and even though I was hardly hungry after our lunch, I was really looking forward to it. I love that kind of dining experience! I got ready and headed out on my own back to the Museo de Whiskey for a gintonic and some me-time. 
At Akelaré, Chef Pedro Subijana greeted Gerry and our table. He was very nice and seemed genuinley happy that we were dining there. The courses started to come, there would be eight in all, and it became apparent that although these dishes were quite beautiful and creative to look at, they felt a little passé. 
There wasn't either the amazing flavors that accompany many seemingly simple dishes, like we had that day at lunch or at Asador Etxebarri, nor the elaborate over-the-top experiences I've had at other 3-stars. 

But fear not, we still had a good time and really the service here was excellent. And restaurants are all a matter of personal taste so YMMV.
Gerry, John, Beth, and I decided to go have nightcaps afterwards at Dickens, supposedly the origin of the gintonic as it is made throughout Spain today. And in case you think that I am just too lazy to write gin AND tonic, I will inform you that in Spain gintonic is the proper name of the drink!
The owner himself was in the house and made our cocktails. They were ridiculously priced and no better than the ones at Museo de Whiskey; in fact I preferred the drinks and the space over there. So we were 0 for 2 for the night! But the day more than made up for that.

Day 9

The next morning was our last in San Sebastian. I headed out on my own for a bit, my first stop being our fantastic neighborhood spot Bar Gorriti, where we had started with vermouth just two days before. It was 10am and I was the only non-local in the place and the only one without a beer or a wine to have with breakfast pinxtos. 

From here I walked down to La Concha to soak up some sun and take in the beautiful beach. I'm not gonna lie, going back to someplace that holds such past, dear memories is bittersweet, as it was on this visit. I was happy that I was with such a fun group and having some new experiences and memories.
Before heading back to the hotel and boarding the bus, I stopped back in at Bar Gorriti and rectified that wine situation with a pour of Txacoli. And then we were off to the Navarra region!
All photos from the Basque country here.

Other posts on this trip:
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour
Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia
On the Move in Galicia
Shooting Sidra in Asturias
Beef and Basque

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Beef and Basque

Trip date: November 2015

Northern Spain Trip Day 6

We arrived in Bilbao after dark and checked into the Hotel Ercilla. Although the hotel had a great location, it felt like an anonymous business hotel, lacking the charm or ambiance some of our other hotels on this trip had. It did have a bar, and while I waited for the others to get ready for dinner I enjoyed a nicely poured gintonic.

A few of our tour mates decided to pass on dinner, so a smaller group headed to La Gabarra, a casual steak house near by. Their massive ribeyes, or chuletone as the cut is called in Spain, were perfectly cooked and delicious. The sides were no slouches either; simple white asparagus with mayo, some of the best croquetas, and a lovely tortilla Espanola. Dinner was followed by custard and honey and Pacharan, a delicious liqueur made from sloe berries. 
Day 7:

The next morning we walked to the Guggenheim Museum and wandered the galleries. Unfortunately, the 3rd floor was closed which is where the gorgeous Rothkos are that I love. It had been 11 years since I was last in this part of Spain but I still remember standing in front of those and being incredibly drawn to the saturated colors. 

We did, however, get to see the famous Jeff Koons Puppy, which happily sits in front of the museum, being planted which only happens a few times a year one of the "groomers" told me. 
It was time for lunch! We were all super excited to make the 40-minute drive to the 2-starred Michelin and #6 of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Asador Etxebarri in the beautiful little town of Axpe.
This goes up there on my list of most memorable and favorite lunches of all time. It's a good list including standouts such as Paris' l'Astrance and Passage 53 , Vienna's Steirereck im Staadparkand of course most recently Copenhagen's Noma

We were seated in a semi-private room and welcomed with a cup of house-brewed beer. Our tasting menu consisted of 15 small to medium sized courses, various wines mainly from the region, and an order of the biggest percebes I have ever seen!

Everything was delicious and the service was over-the-top spot on! Standouts for me included buffalo milk cheese with honey, house salted anchovy on toast, prawns roasted in their shell, artichokes with wild mushrooms, and the steak. Oh lord the steak!

It sounds silly to say that Etxebarri is both known for their masterful grilling and for using the best, fresh ingredients, but it's true. You can taste the depth of flavor in Chef Arguinzoniz's dishes; superb to say the least. If you are in this region it would be a terrible shame to miss a meal here. 
photo credit DocSconz LLC
Our 4-hour lunch came to a close and we boarded our van, trusty and patient Antonio driving us on to San Sebastian during sunset.
We were staying at the Pension Casa Nicolasa right in the middle of San Sebastian. Our room had a cute little balcony and decor with just the right amount of hipster modern. I really liked this place!

I was so excited to be back in San Sebastian! I remember it being incredibly beautiful, small and easy to navigate, and having the most delicious pintxos (the Basque word for tapas). We started our first evening by trying a selection of Spanish vermouths at Gorriti Taberna, located in the square across from our hotel.

From here we walked through town and down to the stunning Concha Beach; one of my favorite sites.
After well-made gintonics at the Museo de Whiskey of all places, we started our pintxo crawl. San Sebastian in particular is well-known for their food. Although almost everything is always good everywhere, each bar has an item they specialize in and locals know that you get that and maybe one other thing and then move on to the next bar. And that's just what we were doing!

First up was La Cepa, an institution and one I remember from my last visit. Txakoli wine was poured and a few plates were had, including some lovely padron peppers.

We continued down the street to Cuchara Telmo whose dishes, while still small, are quite substantial. Telmo is best known for their seared foie gras with apples dish and it did not disappoint!
Last on our stop was Ganbara where our hosts John and Gerry knew the owners. We had delicious gildas, wild mushrooms with raw egg yolk, and the star of the show- artichoke hearts with seared foie gras. Swoon!
I really loved this last spot!
It was 11:30pm on a very delicious food-and-wine-packed Wednesday and so we headed back to the hotel to sleep. More Basque fun was coming up tomorrow!
All Basque photos here.

Other posts on this trip:
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour
Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia
On the Move in Galicia
Shooting Sidra in Asturias

Thursday, April 20, 2017

San Francisco Work & Play

Trip date: September 2016

Have laptop will travel- my friend Lorraine had some business to do in San Francisco and nicely invited me along. We booked a room at the Kimpton Sir Francis Drake using my Friends & Family booking code and her corporate card. A good collaboration!

Lorraine wouldn't arrive until that evening so I took an Uber pool from SFO to the hotel for just $20. Upon check-in, the hotel upgraded us to a larger 2- queen bedroom which was great since the rooms in San Fran tend to be small!

Although I would be working each morning and afternoon, I planned to spend my evenings checking out a ton of places that have opened since I was last in the city- 6 years ago! And first up was lunch at Kin Khao!

I had an absolutely delicious cocktail here as well as a huge plate of amazing Thai food. The 'Pinto Market Lunch' was a combo platter of sorts with green curry and rabbit meatballs, salad, pickels, riblets, chicken broth, and rice. Even though my dish allowed me to taste quite a few things, I'd love to go again with some friends and order the entire menu!

That evening, after I had finished some work at the hotel, I headed to ABV for absolutely awesome cocktails. This cool neighborhood bar is owned by Ryan Fitzgerald who I hadn't seen in years, luckily he was there and I got to catch up with him a bit. My bartender Donnie could not have been better, making me a great off-menu drink called The Late Check Out with gin, sherry, lemon, passion fruit, Campari. He also shared some suggestions for me in the city.

Lorraine was finally in town and we met for dinner at Foreign Cinema. This place is so cute, we were seated "outside" in an interior courtyard of the building which was meant to resemble an old fashioned drive in. Unfortunately, our food was really unimpressive and with so many great places in town, I wouldn't recommend this one.

After dinner cocktails were had at Trick Dog. We could not have had a better time here. They are known for their creative menus and as this was just before the US elections, the menu looked like campaign buttons and the drinks had humorous names. Trick Dog isn't all show though, our cocktails were absolutely delicious and the presentations are impressive. Bonus as some guys bought us our first round!

The Sir Francis Drake doesn't provide coffee makers in their rooms but there is a Starbucks next door for morning latté needs. For lunch, I found a cute little wine bar called Aquitaine while walking around Union Square. Duck Reuben sandwich. You need one of those!

I worked the lunch off with a bit of walking and shopping before meeting Lorraine back at the hotel for the Kimpton's evening wine hour.

Cocktails started that night in North Beach at 15 Romolo, which looks like an old western saloon but has great upscale drinks.

From here we walked to Comstock Saloon, on the edge of Chinatown, which doesn't look anything like a saloon but more like a pretty little speakeasy. It was busy and we were lucky enough to snag a window table. The menu here focuses on classic cocktails which I am always a fan of!

We continued our walk into Chinatown and found our dinner destination Mister Jui's on Waverly Place. The fairly new restaurant is doing a modern take on Chinese banquet style dishes. The space is absolutely gorgeous and the food was amazing!

We chose the four-course menu and were super thrilled with the flavor and presentation of each of our dishes. You pick an item from each section; our pig's head, sizzled ling cod, Maine lobster custard, and shrimp fried rice were all fantastic. HIGHLY recommend!

We decided to have after dinner drinks at the Tonga Room inside the Fairmont as I had never been. Watching the band play on a stage in the middle of a fake lake, while business conference attendees awkwardly danced with each other, drinking sticky tiki drinks, was hysterical. Unfortunately the drinks here aren't very good so we were one-and-done.

It was an easy walk down the hill to our hotel and Harry's Starlight Room was calling for us to continue our "tacky bar" tour. We headed to the top of the Sir Francis Drake, had another single drink while watching the fog roll in and the white-people dancing continue. We made a final stop downstairs at the Beefeater Bar before calling it a night. Phew!

The Kimpton has a restaurant connected to their hotel called Scala which I had lunch at the next day. The food was ok but the service was just bad- I was sitting at the bar. I'd skip this as there's better and much less expense places to eat in the area.

When I was finished work for the day I decided on cocktails at Bar Agricole in the SOMISSPO area. The bar had a really interesting small selection of booze and a nice "Aperitif Hour'. There's also a really lovely looking outdoor patio.

I was meeting Lorraine at State Bird Provisions for dinner. We didn't have reservations as we were trying for the Chef's Counter, so we got there a bit early, put our name in and had a drink next door at The Progress.  I'd love to go for dinner here next time, it was super sweet inside and the service was great.

State Bird is fun and utterly delicious. There is a menu to choose from but then trays and carts will come throughout your meal offering small dishes like mini corn muffins with duck liver mousse and house-made chips with a salmon dip.

I loved this dinner and would absolutely recommend!

I was very excited to try Martin Cate's new-to-me gin bar Whitechapel after dinner that night. The space is beautiful and very large. So is their inventory of gins from around the world and some even made just for them. We sat at the bar and unfortunately had an extremely rude bartender who really could not be bothered when we asked questions about the different choices. She also only handed us the short list bar menu even when I asked if there was a larger tome as I had heard about.
Luckily some people next to us gave us the big menu and a new bartender stepped in who was happy to answer questions and provide tastes. It's such a shame when a server can almost ruin a nice experience though.
Lorraine and I both worked from the room the next day, taking advantage of free room service breakfast that had been offered to us when we found our room hadn't been cleaned the day before. We finished our work over mimosas, packed up, and checked out- leaving our bags with the front desk.

One last lunch before we caught our flight home; I really wanted to try the Chinese fried wings at San Tung's. It's not close to downtown but they were delicious and worth the Uber fare.
It was Friday night and I was headed home to play for the weekend! And maybe have a salad!

All San Francisco photos here. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

36 Hour Parisian Birthday Party

Trip date: December 2016

The morning before my birthday I woke up early and headed for the airport. The twelfth annual New Year's Eve trip was about to start but first I would be spending five days in France. It was on the way after all.

I had a 45-minute flight from Seattle to Vancouver, on which I was given a new boarding pass as I boarded for seat 1D. I'm always happy with a free upgrade no matter how short the flight! In Vancouver I found the Business Class lounge and helped myself to some champagne and dim sum; I've never seen dumplings in an airport lounge before!

I was flying Business Class on Air France to Paris and the flight cost A LOT less flying from Vancouver, something I will be keeping in mind for future trips. The Air France lay-flat seats were some of the nicest I have been in so far. There was a little cupboard built in to keep my things in, complete with a mirror on the door. There were also slippers! A cute Tumi toiletries bag was passed out, filled with products, as were glasses of Billecarte champagne. Happy birthday to me!

I enjoyed my 4-course dinner with wine pairings, watched a movie, and got a great night sleep. Upon arriving at CdG, I was able to use a special lane for passport control and was out to the cab queue in no time.

Normally I take the train from the airport but since I was bringing Christmas presents with me I had 3 bags instead of 2. There is a 55Euro flat rate into the city and as it was about 9:30am the traffic was really light. And it was really fun to drive under the Eiffel Tower on the morning of my birthday!

While I was in the taxi I had a text from my friend who I was staying with asking me if I wanted a warm croissant. Is there any other answer besides yes??? As I pulled up to my friends' apartment there was Thibault crossing the street carrying a bag of fresh croissants. Now that is a birthday breakfast I'll say!

Forest came home from work around lunchtime and the two of us went to a nice little Peruvian restaurant in her neighborhood for lunch. Ceviche, a few glasses of wine, and a birthday dessert compliments of the restaurant, with my best friend in my favorite city.

That evening Forest and I had cocktails at Le Syndicat, a really cool bar using all French ingredients in their drinks. Great music, great space, and excellent drinks. And the bartender sent us some nice vermouths to try as we tabbed out.

The birthday dinner plan was to go to Bourgogne Sud with a small group of friends for a casual and classic French meal. One of the girls had graciously invited everyone over to her lovely apartment for pre-dinner bubbles. It was so fun to see everyone, including getting a chance to meet Nicky's mom who had just arrived that day from Ireland. And before we all continued on to the restaurant, Nicky's daughter Naoise played the piano and sang me "Happy Birthday". So sweet!

The restaurant served really good Lyonnaise food, the ten of us drank many bottles of wine, and we did lots of catching up! Such a fun night and exactly what I wanted for my birthday.

Forest, Thibault, and I grabbed an Uber home, passing the pretty Christmas lights of the city, and Forest and I finished the night with martini nightcaps. As we do.

The next morning Thibault went out and returned with fresh warm croissants again. I was feeling spoiled for sure, but for him it was just a typical morning!

Forest and I had a little walk around her arrondissement's Christmas Market, picking up a few stocking stuffers and enjoying the decorations.

We had planned on doing a big platter of oysters for lunch at the 2-storied restaurant Cafe du Commerce but when we got there we were told they didn't have any oysters that day. I'm still not sure why but we had already ordered a cocktail so we enjoyed those and then moved on to Huitrerie.

At Huiterie we proceeded to order 2-dozen oysters on the half shell; the big flat shellfish so different than what I get in Seattle. Here they remove the top shell entirely (unlike what we had in London) but they don't free the oyster from the shell so you have to dig it out a bit.

The oysters were delicious, the bottles of wine were cold, and the restaurant was gracious to include a couple of raw cockles and clams for us to try too. I'd absolutely recommend this place in the 15th but it seems that they recently closed.

We went back to the apartment, met Thibault and hopped in an Uber to the Gare Lyon. We were taking the train to Beaujolais to spend Christmas with Thibault's family.

I absolutely love train travel and this was a great ride spent enjoying the scenery as we passed through tiny towns and vineyards, while sipping on some white wine Forest and I had brought along.

All in all a pretty wonderful birthday spent with people I don't get to see often enough!

All Paris photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Christmas in Beaujolais
Baltic Bash Kick Off
Out and About in Lithuania
A Very Baltic New Year
Latvian Eats & Drinks

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