It was our last evening in Madrid and we were feeling a bit, well, sad. The city was definitely much better the second time around. During our first pass through Madrid, we thought it, hot, loud, gritty, somewhat dirty....the second time around we took to the city, it seemed so vibrant, alive, for some reason it reminded me of China. Folks really seemed to have a good time and enjoy life. Perhaps it was the apartment right on Tirso de Molina, where we took such watching folks out socializing. At 630 in the evening, most folks weren't even thinking about eating.
Instead of having the obvious (tapas) for dinner, we decided to go with another recommendation from Emilio, a rather new (at the time), modern-fusion place named Metro Bistro. We even dropped by during lunch to make reservations for dinner.
They even started dinner service at the ungodly hour of 7pm! Our reservations were for 8pm and we were happy to not be the first customers of the evening.
The interior is quite modern, the staff, very nice, friendly, though some of the folks were somewhat eccentric and the service was a bit spotty as the pacing seemed a bit off.
Things started off quite nicely as we were brought a nice aperitif, a celery based cocktail that was like a celery mojito. Very nice, quite refreshing.
The menu itself was quite interesting, classic dishes with fusion-y touches. Braised butterfish with ponzu, Sweet and sour IberianPork, Salmorejo with Olive Oil "Ice Cream", stuff like that.
The bread was nice and made even better by the nice herb butters provided.
We started things off with Metro Bistro's take on the classic Catalan roasted vegetable dish, Escalibada (9,40 €). This version was topped with cold smoked eel, which added a nice savory-smokey flavor to the dish.
We were less impressed with the vegetables which were underseasoned and could have used a bit of color.....the vegetables were basically limp and flavorless.
The Steak Tartare (19 €) however, was excellent.
The wonderfully tender beef, which was rather lean was bolstered by having minced foie gras mixed in. The minced capers and more so the mustard seed gave the dish zest and a nice finish. The egg yolk added even more velvety texture, possibly overkill. The micro greens balanced out things with a touch of bitter and a nice crunchy texture. This was really, really, good.
What was delici-yoso was the wonderfully Roasted Mushroom topped with 65 Degree Egg (10,80 €).
Man, egg porn. The flavor of that egg was so pure, the yolk so rich and runny, you'd think it was the star of the dish. But for me, it was the intense, earthy flavors and meaty texture of the mushroom base and the crunchy and earthy fried trumpet mushrooms that really made this stand out for me. The Missus? Well, She's a big time egg lover.....'nuff said
The pseudo sousvidish Lamb Gigot (18€) was solid if not outstanding.
The truffle potatoes seemed a bit out of place in this dish and for some reason clashed with the gamey lamb. Still, eaten separately, each was tasty.
We had a nice Cava with dinner and the Missus destroyed the dessert.
In what ended up being the evening's entertainment, we watched one of the Server's struggle with opening a bottle of wine....first breaking the cork and then fiddling with whatever was left, pushing the cork into the bottle. He should have just quit and gotten a fresh bottle. It was somewhat painful watching him struggle.....I felt like standing up and grabbing the bottle away from him.....it was like passing that accident scene....you just can't help but looky-loo. Still, we enjoyed our dinner. When the flavors and textures "clicked" it was really good. We found the prices to be not too bad. It was nice finding a place like this around tourist Plaza Mayor. We'd gladly return.
Metro Bistro Calle Imperial 3 Madrid, Spain
We picked up a nice bottle of Crianza on the way back to the apartment. Popping it open, we opened the window and watched the action below.....this is Tirso de Molina at 1030pm. Notice the kids playing......
Some folks are just starting to eat dinner....this was a Thursday mind you.....
At midnight, folks were just starting to eat at the place further down the block!
Talk about really knowing how to enjoy life! Of course, at 8am the place looks like a ghost town.
The next morning we walked the mile or so down to Atocha Station and caught the airport express. Remember the Jamon we bought at Ferpal? It came in real handy. The international gates at Madrid-Barajas Airport is like a cattle pen. There's no place to buy snacks, coffee....just vending machines. That package of Jamon Bellotta Pata Negra was sweating away in my bag. Man, it was delicious. Just looking at the photo makes me want to head back to Spain.
We really hadn't planned on getting Chocolate con Churros, even though it's a favorite breakfast for many. I'm just not a big fan of Churros....as we know it in SoCal. But Emilio, one of the owners of the apartment we were staying in really said that we should try the Chocolate con Churros (for some reason folks tend to call it Churros con Chocolate) at Maestro Churrero in Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, which was quite close to the apartment. So on our last morning in Madrid we headed over. We cracked up when we found the place; we'd passed it once at least everyday we were in Madrid. It really looked like some fast-food joint.
So, how did we like it? Well, the churros weren't overly sweet, but crisp, light, and reminded the Missus of youtiao for some reason. The chocolate was thick like pudding and not overly sweet either. The Missus enjoyed it much more than I did, so I'm thinking we may have this again if we're back in Spain.
Maestro Churrero Cafeteria Churreria Plaza De Jacinto Benavente 2 Madrid, Spain
After a nice stroll in the park we headed up Calle de las Huertas, then, somehow ended up on Calle Concepcion de Jeronima...and the intersection of Jeronima and Calle Toledo. The Missus immediately recognized the shop on the corner Calzados Lobo. this store specializes in espradilles; shoes and sandals and has been around since 1897. The Missus suddenly just "needed" some sandals. Though it looked pretty mellow from the exterior, it was packed......
I just tried to stay out of the way and hide in a corner while the Missus went about things.
Actually, the guy that helped the Missus was a total pro; the Missus told him Her size.....metric of course, which he brought, in addition to a size smaller, which he thought would fit Her better and did.
The Missus was quite happy, until She came upon Casa Hernanz....which claims to have been in business since 1845....check out the line.
Talk about buyers remorse. I didn't feel so bad though, as I really didn't want to stand in this line. As we walked around the streets near Puerta del Sol, the Missus reminded me of how boring my tastes are in clothes....so I ended up buying some bright, bright, blue loafers....I was actually going for the red; but even the Missus backed down on those.
And got some of the Jamon Iberico Pata Negra; the top of the line Jamon......as you'll see in a later post, even at 160 euros a kilo, this was worth much, much more.....
It was getting close to 1pm....early for lunch by Madrileno standards, but we were hungry. Emilio had recommended trying La Posada de la Villa, which, for some reason we had never seen during our visits to Calle Cava Baja.
This restaurant, built on the site of an inn which dates back to 1642 is full of character. From the somewhat formal, though still relaxed service, to the chairs, which have the names of famous customers carved in them.
Want to know who this dude was? Well you can find out here...... there's even some scandal involved!
The meal started rather inauspiciously. The croquettas didn't impress. The Revuelto de Esparragos was nice, the eggs fluffy, but the dish wasn't anything special.
The mushrooms were nice, the portion size amazingly large.
But it was the Callos Madrilenos, tripe stewed in the style of Madrid that really got us. The "stew" was thick and just coated your belly, rich and slightly gelatinous.
The texture of the tripe was perfect; not too chewy, but toothsome; the morcilla was fine, nothing special, but it just fit well in the dish. This was a nice, hearty dish. and while we were a bit afraid that the place would be a tourist trap, it was not. In fact, if we're ever in Madrid during the winter season, we might just stop in for the house specialty; the roasted kid lamb for two!
Posada de la Villa Calle de la Cava Baja 9 Nadrid, Spain
We had been told that the department store El Cortes Ingles had what they called the "Gourmet Experience". Having been to Japan, I wondered how this measures up to the "Depachika", so we headed to the Callao location to check it out.
There were some nice gourmet items, but we were looking for something to eat and the shops really didn't grab us.
They view though, it very nice.
So it was back down and around to Puerto del Sol, where I finally got a decent photo of Real Casa de Correos which used to be the Post Office Building and now houses the Regional Government of Madrid. The clock in the tower of the building officially chimes in the New Year.
As I noted in an earlier post, the Missus really wanted a photo of the Tio Pepe sign at night. Well, it was dusk (845pm) and still a bit too early, so we had some time to kill. So we made a loop back to Plaza Mayor.
Where the Chinese Massage/Reflexology folks were making a killing.
And then there was this weird "creature", the one to the left in the photo. It would site quietly, then jump up when some unsuspecting tourist walked by scaring the crap out of them. Strangely, folks liked taking their photo with the "thing".
Down through the corridor is Mercado de San Miguel.
The last time we walked by was during morning hours and the place wasn't open. On this evening it was quite busy.
We weren't tempted by the stuff here either as it seemed a bit too touristy for us.....
By now the sun had set (945pm) so we headed on back to Puerto del Sol. And finally! The Missus (well, at least I), got Her shot of the Tio Pepe sign!
So finally we decided to get something to eat. Nothing too heavy, but we knew we needed to get something. So back to "Emilio's list" and I found a recommendation. We headed back toward the La Latina area. Instead of heading to the busy Calle Cava Baja, we went one street over to Calle del Almendro and a place simply named Almendro 13.
The scene here was totally different from Calle Cava Baja. Much more chill, quiet, laid back, and local.
We were greeted with a smile and they found a small corner table for us in the corner which was perfect. The Missus got the house white Vina Almendro 13, which you drank from Caña sized glasses and I got a beer. The Huevos Rotos was the dish Emilio recommended we get here. It was good thing we saw an entire portion (racione) come out. It looked like it could feed a family of four! We ordered a media racione, which was still more than enough for us.
If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll know that the Missus loves Her eggs.....She can easily put away 6 a day if left to Her own devices. The eggs were fabulous, rich orange in color, yolks creamy, the yolks so flavorful. Why do potatoes in places like Spain or Peru taste so much better? I didn't dwell on that too much, I just enjoyed the potato-y goodness. The jamon was thick sliced as if from the ends, thus nice and salty, adding some toothsomeness to the dish. Just what we needed on this evening.....I don't recall the prices, but we got away really cheap on this evening.
We wanted something simple and got exactly that.
Taberna Almendro 13 Calle del Almendro 13 Madrid, Spain
I'm going to do a few posts out of chronological order. We did visit the South of France following our stay in San Sebastian, then ended back up in Madrid. The city, the first time around just didn't impress us much we'd walked around a bit, eaten some decent, but not outstanding meals and were just a bit underwhelmed. The rather griminess and grittiness of the city along with the heat and such had not impressed much on us. This was to change soon enough. This time around, we were staying at an apartment right on Plaza de Tirso de Molina a very busy square in Madrid. It meant a walk of over a mile from Atocha Station, which wasn't so bad. You'd think that being in the middle of the crowds would make things worse; but the opposite was true. First off, the apartment we were staying at. Not just the view of the plaza.....
But the set-up as well with good A/C....quite important as the temps would be in the 90's until 9-10pm...no wonder dinner was eaten so late. But the double paned windows minimized the sound of the lively square below.
As a big bonus, one of the owners; Emilio apparently loved to eat. While checking in, I mentioned his great list of restaurants....then, just by luck, we started talking about Jamon....not Jamon Iberico....but Jamon Bellota, and the importance of how the jamon is sliced. We were in like Flynn! He asked us to stow our luggage, then walked us to his favorite local eatery..."nothing fancy, but very good, local style food"! It would turn out to be just the kind of place we'd been looking for. It was right down the side street, but there was no way we'd have found Restaurante Badila without him. Emilio introduced us to the owner....they found us a table in the packed little restaurant, which featured "menu del dia".....a menu of items available for the day.
The little place was packed.....all locals, looking for a good lunch at decent prices. The deal was a soup or salad, a main, dessert, and drinks (which included a glass of wine on weekends) for a set price. This would turn out to be one of our favorite meals of the trip....even without foie gras!
The wonderful "taste of sunshine" from the ripe tomatoes, the grassy-peppery flavor of the olive oil...it was refreshing on such a hot day and had that "aaah" factor to it. Smooth and creamy, onion for pungency, the jamon for a bit of salty-savory flavor. Man, this was so good......it left an indelible mark on me.
And provided in salad was just perfect for such a hot day.
The Huevos con Chorizo was probably the most mundane dish of the day.
But since the Missus loves eggs, this really didn't disappoint either.
The Estofado Carne was also delicious and quite different from what I thought I'd get.
The beef was so flavorful and tender, the sauce almost like a light béchamel.........this was delicious.
And there was dessert....which the Missus enjoyed.
No, there were no Michelin stars here. Just honest good food, the type locals like to eat. It really made our day and we started seeing Madrid in a different way. We started understanding things. A good meal can do that. In fact, I'm looking forward to returning someday soon. To the simple restaurant down a side street......
Restaurante Badila Calle San Pedro Martir 6 Madrid, Spain
Emilio had left us to our own devices once he found us seats in Badila. We had the keys to the apartment and a list of places to eat and the rest was up to us.
It was getting fairly warm so we did the Spanish thing....it was siesta time!
There were actually quite a few people waiting to get into the museum, but the line moved fast......and heck, it was free (between 7 and 9pm).
As I've mentioned before, I really don't know much about art. But this trip has really given me a greater appreciation of it. I was truly moved by viewing Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. One artist I do know of is Joan Miró whose works I recall seeing at the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu. I've always enjoyed his somewhat whimsical and almost playful works. So of course I enjoyed viewing his works here. Next time we're in Barcelona, we'll make sure to visit his museum.
There was of course, works by Dali, Diego Rivera, and many more, like this work named Un Mundo (The World) by Angeles Santos.
There was one particular work that I wanted to see. I'd mentioned gaining a real appreciation of the work of Picasso, then being moved by his painting and the story of the Bombing of Guernica. So the main reason for really wanting to visit was to view Guernica by Picasso. Just viewing a photo of the painting inspired us to visit the city. The painting is huge....much larger than I expected. The size creates a greater impact...the vignettes...the stories each part of the work tells.
Museo Reina Sofía Calle Santa Isabel 52 Madrid, Spain
Days were fairly long during this part of the year. It was past 8 when we left the museum but as is the way in Madrid, things seemed to just be getting started.
And as is the way in large cities. There are thousands of little scenes. In this one, the older man slowly makes his move......
And in the end, got a peck on the cheek and a slap on the shoulder.......
With beautiful landscaping, ponds, trees, and interesting white marble clock-table, surrounded by Neo-classical buildings, it made for a nice stop to stroll, people watch, and just enjoy the fresh air.
I'm sometime interested in statues you'll find in these parks. The one I saw here is for native son José María Usandizaga, a Basque Composer who succumbed to tuberculosis at the young age of 28.
The meteorological pergola (gazebo) was quite interesting as well. Though I really couldn't quite make out how it worked. It did keep me occupied for a while though.
We wandered a bit more through the street of "Centro"....doing some window shopping, the Missus considering a few purchases.
Until She'd had enough. It was time to walk back to the apartment.
So, we got back to the street where our apartment was located.....
And suddenly decided to make one more stop. This one was close by, just a few doors down at Casa Urola.
The upstairs area features a well regarded restaurant; but we decided to sit downstairs and have some pintxos.
We started with the Ensalada de Hongos, Pinones, en Idiazabal.
A nice refreshing salad; the light Idiabazal (this one didn't taste smoked) cheese bolstered by the pine nuts.
The Brocheta Pulpo y Papada (pork jowl fat) was amazing......
Tender octopus draped in pork fat......need I say more?
The Carrillera was passable. Man those potatoes had a texture of thick cream......
And no meal would be complete without some "Basque Butter" Foie Gras.
You'd think that after having Foie Gras for almost every meal; sometimes twice, we'd be getting tired of the stuff. Ummm.....no way! Nicely seared Mi Cuit with an almost jelly like interior. Decadent and delicious.
Along with a couple of beers (for me) and a "tinto" (for the Missus), this was a nice low keyed last meal in San Sebastian.
Casa Urola Fermin Calbeton 20 San Sebastian, Spain
Our apartment was literally a few steps away from Casa Urola. Eating that last piece of Foie Gras, I was suddenly worried that we'd be marching back up Monte Urgull. But the missus only wanted to take a short walk, "to help digest" and all that.
While walking around we passed these two American "street kids" whom we first saw begging for money near Brexta Market. We later saw them partaking of the "cash crop" on Mount Urgull, and now they asked us for money the second time around. We acted like we didn't speak English or Spanish. It was time to go..........
But first, we had a nice Txakoli break.
While I couldn't get up to the pouring height of the really nice bartender at Bar la Cepa; Txakoli is a very dry, acidic, "fresh" wine that is traditionally poured from a height of about two meters to aerate the wine, creating bubbles, and reducing the carbon dioxide. It was a nice way to end our last evening in San Sebastian.
The next morning we headed to the train station. Instead of catching a cab or the bus the Missus (of course) chose to walk.
Actually, it was a nice walk. We had a cup of coffee in the train station, then caught the train to Hendaye, then Saint Jean de Luz.
After a nice self catered lunch and a short nap, the Missus decided we needed to "do something".
Not quite sure what "something" was, we headed out. The streets had definitely gotten much more lively with both tourists and locals. As we arrived at the port, the Missus looked up, pointed, and said, "this is where we're going".....
She had pointed at the Statue of Christ at the top of Monte Urgull.
So we headed off......
There's a church located at the port and there was a wedding taking place. And you know....the (amateur) paparazzi just love a wedding.
Especially when, whom I think is the Flower Girl, looks so adorable.....
Even the washroom attendants have to watch!
I really enjoyed the port area......even though there are touristy restaurants, the aquarium and all that, there's still a "lived in" feeling to the place.
The walk up the Mount Urgull was nice....there weren't too many people to be found.....except small groups of young folks partaking of the...ahem....."cash crop".
For some reason, I really like cannons....don't ask me why. Even when they seem to be pointed in the wrong direction. These were aimed back at the city.
The view at the top is rather anti-climatic, though it's a nice little walk and the views are quite nice. I'm sure on a clear day, it's quite stunning. We'd always look to find the Cathedral, which rises quite distinctly above the San Sebastian skyline.
There was this pair of street kids.....ahem musicians we kept seeing; first earlier in the day at the bandstand; then outside Brexta Market asking for money. We saw them up here having a nice "smoke" as well. The Missus told me, "you know, when we start seeing the same people over and over, it's time to go, right?"
But, there were more cannons to see!
We headed back down on one of the trails which actually led back to Old Town.
And so we ended up back in Old Town. The Missus however, wanted to see more. So I told Her, why not head on over then Urumea River to Gros; which kind of looks like San Diego with a decidedly Spanish vibe. I was told this is San Sebastian's version of Surf City. My bad for not taking photos of the beach....which...well, being from Hawaii and living in San Diego...you know...
Gros was interesting. It seemed more local. I had a recommendation which I followed up with some research of a tapas shop that had won a bunch of awards named Bar Bergara.
So, I really thought it would not be right if I left San Sebastian without trying just regular tapas, the stuff from the counter.
And there's no denying, the stuff here looked very pretty.
As a whole it was a mixed bag, for me, the bread really did not stand up well. Especially with the Piquillo Peppers and the Anchovy. The flavors though, were quite good.
The Foie Gras was very tasty; but again, the bread had suffered from sitting around.
The one item that really did well was the "De Pato al Calvados", basically duck in a apple brandy in puff pastry. The pastry held up quite well, the pine nuts really added to this this.
Overall, a very inexpensive meal, though I'm not sold on the counter top tapas. Very nice folks, the place has the feel of a fast casual restaurant. And while I'm still not sold on the stuff lying along the bar....the presentation at Bergara is quite stunning.
Bar Bergara General Artetxe Kalea 8 San Sebastian, Spain
As we walked back....of to try more tapas; it became quite clear. There's unfinished business here; we'd arrived on the wrong days, there was much more to see and eat, we'd have to return some day soon. And all of this before our last stop of the day!
To think we'd been to Tasty n Alder three times (it would be four by the time left) over the last year and had even been to Tasty n Sons, but still hadn't been to the first, John Gorham's original; Toro Bravo. I'd indeed read and heard a lot about the place; the Spanish inspired dishes, and having just returned from Spain, possibly my second favorite country to visit, the time seemed right.
Even though we'd done a good amount of walking already, the Missus was determined to walk to Toro Bravo. Hacing walked to Tasty n Sons the day before, this two mile walk was a piece of cake. It helped that it wasn't quite as hot as it was earlier in the day.
As you can see....Toro Bravo is the place to be. There was a line when we arrived. The place only takes reservations for groups of 7 to 14 people, so we had to arrive a bit before opening. We loved the service here; it was both efficient and polished, but relaxed, and not stuffy at all. There was never a time when we even had to consider flagging someone down, as our drinks were always full , the timing of clearing the table was amazing. And yet, we never, ever felt like anyone was hovering over us.....a nice plus was being seated in the comfy and cozy little nook called "the Make Out Room". Compared to the busy dining room.....
It was such a nice, private, space.....
While it seems like the Tasting Menu would be a nice choice, we went a la carte instead and were glad we did.
We started with two "kisses", think amuse like starters.
First up, the Spanish Kiss - "spherical olives".
Had we not been to Disfrutar a few months before, this El Bulli inspired, olive flavored spheres would have impressed us a bit more. As it stood, we found this to be quite mild in flavor, not quite the stunning bite we expected.
I have to say, while this was decent, it really missed the richness, smokiness, and pure savory goodness of the TnA version. The vinaigrette was nice, but I think the tangy-creamy-rich dressing that TnA uses is better.
The Basque Piperade had all those components we love.
But in spite of the hearty look of the dish, this one also missed the mark. The grilled bread; was a bit too burned and bitter for us; and the entire dish was a bit lacking in overall flavor. We would have enjoyed a bit more acid, more salt...as a whole this tasted a bit flat to us.
At this point, I noticed something with the last two dishes; it seems that we were consuming what were the base of other dishes we'd had at Tasty n Alder and Tasty n Sons...the radicchio salad is obvious....but the piperade was so close to the shakshuka at Tasty n Sons, down to the grilled bread, and even the base flavors...we also found the shakshuka at TnS to be a bit lacking in flavor overall as well.
For us the real star of the "Beccerita" were the potatoes, which were prepped quite well and had great flavor. The sauce overwhelmed the octopus, which did have a very nice texture.
We also loved the potatoes the accompanied the nicely seasoned and very tasty Moorish Lamb Chop.
Loved the flavors; the charred and smokey lamb was very gamey.
By now we had a thought that perhaps the proteins here were the way to go and decided to end with the Drunken Pork, which proved to be a favorite.
While it looked like a hot mess; the combination of textures and flavors really did well together.
So things ended really well. Still, I think that Ataula is more our thing. Still, I'm glad we finally had a chance to check out Toro Bravo.
Toro Bravo 120 NE Russell St Portland, OR 97212
We had really wanted to check out several breweries, but were just not able to this time around. With our time in PDX short, I decided that the one place we needed to check out was Upright Brewing.
Located in the basement in the office building, I loved the setting. You go and find the elevator (we found the stairs) and head down to the basement.
Past those double doors.....
And you were there......
A couple of tables in room with a few pulls, the place had this real speakeasy feel....you were in the basement of some business building in who knows where... Also, I love my Belgian style brews, so the French/Belgian Farmhouse style beers were just up my alley.
My favorites were the "Six" and "Seven", the six a bit prune-raisiny with sweet touches. The seven was a wonderful farmhouse saison, fresh, perhaps a bit too sweet for a saison, but I enjoyed it.
Upright Brewing 240 N Broadway Portland, OR 97227
As always Portland is full of surprises for us.
Speaking of surprises....anyone know what this is?
As I mentioned previously; Sundays (and Mondays) weren't prime days for many of the better Pintxos (tapas) places during the off season in San Sebastian.
Still, I knew of one place on my list that was open. Right across from The Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro is Atari Gastroteka.
Atari came highly recommended by Candice, so we were glad they were open and doing some pretty good business. I quickly noticed "another Atari" around the corner. Sirimiri Atari Akademy, so I thought why not start there?
It seems that Sirmiri is more of a craft cocktail place. Since it was relatively early; just after 7pm, we managed to get a seat at the counter in the back.
Not in the mood for the typical pintxos on the counter, sitting at a table means ordering the pintxos calientes....basically items off the menu, which suited us fine. The missus got a tinto and I had a crianza (an older aged wine).
We really enjoyed sitting here because we got to watch the garde manger area and the folks expediting the dishes. And isn't that a sous vide immersion circulator?
Of course we started with the Foie Gras Terrine. Remember when I coined the term "Basque Butter"? Well, I think this is a perfect example of that.....looks like a stick of butter, doesn't it?
This was quite a huge portion. It was nicely "foie forward", the pear puree added a mild sweetness without going overboard, the butter toasts were almost like brioche. Hard to fault this.
The Ensalada de Queso de Cabra wasn't very exciting. But we felt a bit guilty having all that foie.
The Solomillo was very tasty, though a bit on the chewy side.
That cherry compote did a nice job of cutting the rice mushroom based sauce. Nice dish.
At this point we had finished our wine and decided to make it Atari times 2 and go next door.
Man, the bar was packed.
We asked on of the Servers for a table and she said it would be a short wait. So the missus got a glass of Txacoli and I got a beer. I really didn't get my hopes up because the place was so busy, but wouldn't you know it, somehow the woman found me about 10 minutes later and told me our table was ready. I was quite impressed and thankful. I told her I really appreciated her work and she said, "oh, do not worry.....this is your table, all night if you want, please enjoy!" And we did our best.....
Starting with the Huevo a Baja Temperatura - basically an egg cooked at a low temp..... The Missus was in heaven.
The texture was amazing, rich and velvety, the flavors tempered by the jamon; this was really good.
Only to be topped by the Foie a la Plancha - this was so good, seared, rich, the flavor amazing.
And yet, the Carrillera (pork cheeks) might have easily been the best item of the evening...perhaps of our entire stay in San Sebastian.
Fork tender, the sauce having a slight hint of sweet, teetering on the edge of too rich....but just holding that line. The texture of the pork was just plain perfect for me. Not falling to pieces, but yielding to the touch.
Plus our Server was just amazing. So busy, but also very friendly and efficient.
So, perhaps we missed out on places like Zeruko, Ganbara, La Cuchara de San Telmo, and A Fuego Negro, but we got to do Atari times two, and that made our stay in San Sebastian a success.
Sirimiri Atari Akademy and Atari Gastroteka Calle Mayor 18 San Sebastian/Donostia, Spain
After dinner we took a walk around. Business was picking up, but things were still rather quite as we walked to the muelle (port).
Then past the City Hall......
Then back to the apartment for a nightcap of Txakoli........
To be perfectly honest, I should have planned our arrival in san Sebastian a bit better. All but one of the places on my were closed during our stay which spanned from a Sunday, leaving on a Tuesday morning. But like the Missus said, "we had a direction and a plan of where we needed to be when and you can't just skip Sunday and Monday!"
We caught the best from the Bilbao Bus Station....basically a big parking lot and ended up at the Amara "Bus Station", basically another big parking lot. From there we caught the local bus to the "Boulevard" and rather quickly found the street we were staying at on, Calle de Fermin Calbeton. Our apartment was basically right at the edge of things; a great location.
So even though the apartment was rather old the location couldn't be beat.
I guess May is still the low season, the places I thought were only closed on Sundays, were also closed on Mondays and visa versa. So we had a bit of a scramble on our hand when we went looking for a place to have bite for lunch. On De Agosto Kalea we came across a place that was doing some decent business. The bar was covered with pintxos (tapas), but as I mentioned in my post on La Vina del Ensanche in Bilbao, I really never took to those.....they looked pretty, but it just wasn't my thing.
Instead we usually went for pintxos caliente or like this meal, some charcuterie. In this case, the lomo iberico de Bellota, cured pork loin sausage.
he portion was quite generous and this combined with the bread made this more than enough for a light lunch. The sausage was very tasty, paprika forward, with a light garlic and herbal touch. Not overly salty, tender and not too waxy.
The Missus also wanted to try Txakoli, a very dry, acidic, "fresh" wine that is a specialty of Basque Country.
It is traditionally poured from about a two meter height. I was told this is to aerate the wine, creating bubbles, and reducing the carbon dioxide. Our bartender was all to happy to demonstrate..... he was really a friendly and funny guy.
The Missus really took to this and I'd try; with mixed success, to try to pour it from a decent height without spilling stuff all over the place. I guess that's best left to the professionals. and while I've read that special pourers are available to help with the process, this guy didn't need that.
La Cepa was a relaxed, fun place to have lunch and a couple of glasses of Txakoli.
Bar La Cepa 31 de Agosto Kalea Donostia / San Sebastián, Spain
After our meal we needed to "burn off the meal" and headed off; around Monte Urgull. That's Playa de Zurriola and Gros in the background.
On the other side of the Mountain is Isla de Santa Clara and Concha Bay.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Coro is quite striking, sitting at the base of Mount Urgull. Completed in 1774 it looks impressive when viewed down Calle Mayor. I'll have a bit more on this place in a future post.
We ended our walk at Plaza de la Constitución.
Established in 1723, this version was rebuilt in 1817 after being destroyed by fire. The apartments ringing the plaza have large and distinctive numbers. You see, these apartment used to be boxes from which to watch bullfights that used to take place in the plaza.
On this day, the entertainment was perhaps a bit less exciting......
At this point, the Missus decided we should take a nice afternoon nap, then head out for some evening tapas. Sounded like a good idea to me!
After a badly needed, though seemingly all too short nap and shower(s) we headed off to dinner. And yes, we were walking there.
Past the First Presbyterian Church, headed into a part of Portland called the Alphabet District in Northwest Portland. Up funky and eclectic 23rd (often called "trendy-third") Avenue. Trendy eateries and boutiques, next to dive bars, next to New Age Bookstores, this tree lined street sure has character. The Missus told me; "this is what Adams Avenue wished it looked like...."
Taking a left on Thurman onto quiet NW 23rd Place is a rather new; and much heralded restaurant named Ataula. The Chef, Jose Chesa is from Barcelona and I noticed quite a few familiar names when looking over the menu online; "Montadito", Pa amb Tomaquet, Berenjena....." spilled off the menu. We were just a few months removed from our trip to Barcelona and Spain. Any meal that would vicariously take us back was something to be treasured. I also noticed that Ataula had won many accolades in the rather short time it had been open. So it was really a no brainer.....
What was also a no-brainer was getting there early as Ataula does not take reservations for parties of less than 6. Good thing is; they open at 430pm....and we managed to get there via footmobile at just past that time.
The dining area is pretty simple, with high ceilings, though the hard surfaces really reflect the sound and it was pretty hot in the place on this day.
The best way to describe the nice folks here is....well....enthusiastic with a nice dose of Portland friendliness.
We started with the Pa amb Tomaquet, the classic Catalan bread rubbed with tomato and drizzles of Olive Oil.
The olive oil really lacked the nice, strong grassy flavors that we enjoy and the tomatoes, while sweet, lacked a good acid bite. The kitchen was a bit over zealous in the use of salt in this as well. It wasn't bad, but it won't make us forget the Pan con Tomate we had at Bar del Pla. Sometimes it's the simplest dishes that are the hardest.
The Empanadilla; this one filled with oxtails and Jamon Bellota, no cutting corners here; real Jamon de Bellota, acorn fed Jamon is used here.
Man, these were so crisp, the filling so rich and beefy, without being salty; hints of an almost red bell pepper flavor with a touch of heat. This would have been perfect with some kind of sauce, alioli, or like Galician Empanadillas, where a Sofrito (Spanish style - tomato based) is used in the filling to add that touch of acid.
Still these were delicious.
You might recall in my Le Pigeon post, I mentioned that while the Grilled Short Rib dish was our overall favorite entrée; it was not my favorite single "bite" of the trip. Meet my favorite bite:
This is Ataula's take on the classic tapa, the Cojonudo. It is pretty much a Cojonudo, but the presentation is plain beautiful; the quail egg perfect; the yolk soft and runny, the edges crisp. The chorizo had a mild spice, but lots of smokey paprika flavor; that slice of piquillo pepper just balanced everything out. The crisp crostini added a wonderful crisp component.....the perfect bite.
The theme of taking classic Spanish tapas and adding a spin to make the dish both fun and familiar was on fine display when the Berenjena arrived.
If you've read any of our posts on Spain you'd sort of recognize this dish. In places like, say Los Huevos de Lucio in Madrid, sliced, fried eggplant, would be served with a thick Salmorejo sauce, much like what I make in my recipe. Here, the eggplant is fried with a crisp exterior and creamy interior and shaped like fries. Instead of the salmorejo, a garlic forward romesco sauce is used. The seasoning danced on the edge of being too salty, but the other spices, hints of cumin and coriander, helped balance that out. A really good dish.
The Costilla was interesting.
The confit boned pork rib was wonderfully moist and tender, but I'd have enjoyed a bit of textural contrast. The sauce; which was claimed to be "salmorejo" really cancelled out the flavor of the pork. It was too strong and on the salty side.
I really wanted to try the "Pulpo" and I'm glad we did.
The thinly sliced octopus was super tender and full of flavor....the pulpo flavor hadn't been masked. I loved the simply dressed greens; each type, from the arugula to the various lettuces had their own taste sensation; bitter, aldehyde flavors, and so forth. The pine nuts went so well with the vinaigrette that you could probably just eat pine nuts and dressing. If anything, I thought the shaving of the parmesano reggiano was too thick and large...it was too much for a bite in terms of milky-saltiness. That's splitting hairs though, as this was a fantastic dish.
And the really amazing thing? Along with two "Spiced Sangria", the bill came out to less than $60! Just think what something like this would cost in San Diego? Plus, no tax!
What a wonderful meal....we'll be back.....
Ataula 1818 NW 23rd Pl Portland, OR 97210
After dinner we headed across the street to the Organic Market where the Missus picked up several different apples...Her dessert.
We then headed down 23rd.......but in a moment of mercy (I think She was feeling the mileage too), I saw that my (now) favorite bus line, the #15 headed back into downtown.
Of course after getting back to the hotel and taking (yet another) shower, the Missus decided that we should....take a walk of course!
You gotta love some of the window displays.....
And then there were the "window displays" that were actually real! This rather scary looking dog with the evil eyes....was an actual poodle. It was standing totally still......
When the dog moved it made us both jump!
As we headed back to the hotel I saw the Missus looking at Her iPhone. She told me, "let's go around the block this way...." When I asked Her why, She said "my app is saying that we've walked 12.65 miles today....I want to make it an even 12.75." Say what? But of course I went along....and according to Her handy-dandy app we walked 12.75 miles and the next morning my body felt every step! But we were on vacation so I'm supposed to feel that way...right?