On our last evening in Osaka, we finally managed to meet up with one of my favorite Food Bloggers, Kat and her husband Satoshi. Over the years I've seen blogs come and go, I really do miss many of them. But Kat has been a constant with me since probably late 2007 and has been blogging as many years as I. We'd come close to meeting up a few times, but timing and scheduled were never in synch. So finally, the Missus and I got to meet the both of them. We met them at the local Don Quixote had some snacks and coffee and basically strolled around and chatted.....the thing about knowing each other in the bloggas - sphere is that there was a wonderful familiarity to the whole thing.
When dinner came along, we just popped into this Kushiage shop, named Gokakuya.
First rule of Kushikatsu...."no double dipping"!
Satoshi did an amazing job of calling back our orders.....the Missus loved the sauce.
I don't think a trip to Kyoto/Osaka would be complete without a short detour to Nara, once the capital of Japan.
It was a quick 45 minute train ride to JR Nara Station. From there, we decided to take a leisurely walk to Todai-ji.
It was a quiet and rather relaxing walk...... we passed an interesting looking "local-kine place" along the way.
We saw a branch of Ko Hi Kan Coffee along the way, so we decided to stop and get our caffeine fix for the morning. Pour-over of course.....per the Missus.
The women working here were very friendly.
It was a nice cup(s) of coffee, which energized our rather tired bones for the walk.
It was just a short walk to the Nara Park area.
We ended up spending the most of our time in a couple of areas; the first being Kofuku-ji, once the temple of the Fujiwara-shi, once one of the most powerful families in Japan.
The Pagoda here was undergoing repairs when we visited; but the grounds were really quite beautiful....in a stark and spartan way.
We soon entered the heart of Nara Park; famous for their temples...and of course the aggressive deer. Actually, I found the deer here to be much more mellow than the super aggressive deer in Miyajima. Though you might have a different opinion if you've ever read Lynnea's post on Nara. That last photo in that post is still a favorite of mine.
Just in case you hadn't been informed of the risks of screwing around with the rather cute four-legged friends....there are signs that explain the possible hazards of messing around with them.
I believed that the biggest draw to Nara would be Tōdai-ji.
Based on the crowds that lines the Main Gate, I'd say that my statement is pretty much correct.
The Daibutsu-den, which houses the world's largest bronze rendering of Buddha is quite impressive.
The bronze Buddha which is also quite impressive at 49 feet tall and 92 feet across at the shoulders! This is a image of Dainichi Buddha, the "Celestial Buddha", the source from which all other Buddha's emanate.
There's a lot to see here. There are other statues, like the rather mencing and imposing looking Komokuten; Buddha's Guard who is stepping upon a demon, yet brandishing a scroll and brush, symbolizing both the power and wisdom of the Sutras over ignorance.
To the right of the Buddha sits Nyoirin Kannon.
In contrast to the rather scary and imposing Komokuten, the Nyoirin Kannon represents compassion and boundless love for all.
And, for those who want enlightenment.....you can try to pass through a hole in one of the pillars deemed Buddha's Nostril. Passing through the hole means that you be granted enlightenment....though I believe it doesn't happen until your next life. Plus, I read that it's only about 20 inches wide....the size of Buddha's nostrils.......better leave this to the one of the school kids; many of whom still struggled to get through.
It was fun watching all the school kids trying to pass through the hole....each one had a photo taken...proof that enlightenment will be bestowed upon them. Personally, I did gain a bit of enlightenment....but it happened in the form of the restroom sign. I learned the power of a single space...where Gentleman....became "Gentle Man". Now that's powerful, right?
Kids of all ages came to visit Tōdai-ji. This group of really young ones seemed so cute and charming. They were so little, that a few of them needed help going down the stairs.
And of course, they sell "senbei".....crackers for the deer...which means every group of school kids became a feeding frenzy.
It was starting to get really crowded. Which meant it was time to "hele".
It definitely is a must see if you're in Kyoto or Osaka.
Initially, the plan was to have lunch in Nara, but we decided to head back to Osaka. Just a few blocks from the busy arcades of Dotonburi resides Kuromon Market.
Along with the numerous shops were countless food stalls, selling everything from live blowfish to Kobe Beef. And there was even a good sized supermarket in the middle of it all.
It was quite a variety. We then decided to just buy a couple of items and have lunch in the market.
It also wasn't easy deciding on what to get. We actually did a walkthrough of the entire market area before making our selections. It was hard resisting all the Kobe beef....especially since you could "burn your meat after ordering"....
In the end I chose some really nice toro from one of the market stalls. The woman sliced everything quite nicely and provided me with wasabi and shoyu.
The Missus chose a selection of nimono and ohitashi for a nice meal from the very friendly folks at another stand.
It made for a very nice lunch.
After finishing up, we headed to the market to grab some beverages and snacks for the evening. At first I was just going to grab 2-3 items, but ended up with quite a load. While walking the aisles I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned to find a kind looking, elderly gentleman smiling at me. He had two shopping baskets in hand....and passed one of them to me. Such a thoughtful gesture. You gotta love Osaka.
We arrived at the modest roadside factory/shop of Nicasio Valley Cheese a bit before they opened.
We were able to pass the fifteen minutes or so before the shop opened by wandering though the Pumpkin Patch......yes, it's that time of the year. Watching the kids take to the hay made us realize that this lifestyle is a million miles away from what we're used to.
When the shop opened we walked on over. The space is rather small, the staff enthusiastic, if not particularly well versed on the cheese. Nicasio makes cow milk cheeses. I had read that the style of cheese here is based on the traditional cheeses of the Lafranchi families Swiss heritage.
They so a nice job of lining the samples from the mildest to the semi-soft and flavored versions.
The Foggy Morning, was probably our favorite, very soft and mild, buttery, with a slight tang like a mellow sour cream. It also won first place in the Fromage Blanc, Fromage Frais, and Quark category in the American Cheese Society's Annual Competition. We could tell however, that this would not travel well.
Instead, we went with our second favorite. The wonderfully textured, mild salty-tangy flavored San Geronimo. The fragrance is rather strong, but the flavor is quite tame. A nice everyday cheese.
Folks are quite friendly, it's a nice little stop.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Company 5300 Nicasio Valley Rd Nicasio, CA 94946
A short drive away is a place that's much more of a destination; the Marin French Cheese Company. It's also the oldest continuously operating creamery in the United States; established in 1865.
They don't mess around with samples here....you open the top and slice your own.
The Missus enjoyed the shop....there's a stand selling sandwiches and coffee; the cooler is stocked with beverages; wine, sparkling wine, etc....
The young lady manning the counter was quite knowledgeable. We enjoyed a few of the samples , but thought they'd never make it back home in good shape. She told us that all the bries and camemberts will easily last 24 hours without refrigeration.
We ended buying a little insulated bag for cheese and picked up the truffle brie, not a big fan of flavored cheeses, but the Missus loves Her truffle. Plus, we were putting together a collection for Missus' work....She was going to do a cheese tasting upon returning. We both really took to the "Petit Breakfast", a wonderfully mild, but particularly creamy cheese. It's currently labeled as the "1865" in commemoration of Marin Cheese's 150th anniversary.
If you're in the area; this might be a nice stop for a short break or lunch.....
The Marin French Cheese Company 7510 Pt Reyes Petaluma Rd Petaluma, CA 94952
We, on the other hand, had to be off to our next stop, which was about 40 minutes away on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.
Down, off the beaten path outside Santa Rosa you'll find this sign alongside a single lane unpaved road. This is not one of those impulse stop kind of places you see while driving by. It was also our favorite stop on this day.......there's a real charm to this place which was founded by Joe and Mary Matos who relocated from the Azores in the 70's. Joe Matos is a fifth generation cheesemaker who brought his family's recipe with him.
At the end of the gravel road you basically come to a barn and what looks like the back of a house.....
As I parked in front of the "office" a young lady working in the barn area came over and opened the door to the office for us. Upon entering the wonderful fragrance of cheese met us.
Matos Cheese makes one cheese; a nice simple firm cheese called St George. It's much like everything you see around you; simple at first blush, but it rises above, a good, honest, everyday cheese, lighly milky, slightly acidic, not too sharp...that well; I'd eat everyday if I could.
The friendly young lady let me check out the drying room....I loved it! I asked about the cows we had passed...and yes, these were all of their cows. At peak they produce about 10-15 wheels in a day. The young lady said Joe Matos is happy with doing things this way. And really isn't interested in expanding or being famous.
And we got hang out with truly "happy cows".....
I wonder how many wheels, this not-so-little lady will put out?
Matos Cheese Factory 3669 Llano Rd Santa Rosa, CA 95407
I know I haven't mentioned this before....but the prices are quite inexpensive...like 40-60% less than what you'd pay for the same product here in San Diego.
So, we were in Santa Rosa and had two places on our list. Unfortunately, we went oh fer two. The first stop, a Chocolatier named Recherche Du Plaisir was closed for the day because they were at some fair. The second was the Russian River Brewing tasting room......but when we drove by, the line was all the way down the street....this was not going to do.
So we ended up going to the local Whole Foods, grabbing some salad, bread, and a beer and headed back to Petaluma. We ended up having a very nice lunch....that's the St George, which we almost polished off.
So if you're in the Marin - Sonoma area and want a break from your wine tasting....why not visit a couple of stops on the cheese trail. You can find up to date info here.
We had a blast.
It was now time for a nice afternoon nap...then off to dinner!
We were both excited about staying in Osaka. Even after stopping in Kobe for grade A5 beef for lunch. Wouldn't you get excited about visiting a place whose love for eating is expressed with the term "kuidaore", which means to eat oneself until bankrupt, to ruin one's self with food? In other words....eat until you drop. But first we had to find our apartment. Upon arriving in Osaka we got kind of turned around in Namba Station. Eventually, we just took an exit. We had been instructed to find a taxi at the taxi stand....which proved to be a bit problematic since we didn't know where the heck we were. Seeing a parking lot attendant I asked....in very, very poor Japanese something along the lines of "Takushii noriba wa doko desu ka". The gentleman smiled and made a motion for us to stay jogged away and came back with a cab! There were a couple of these little interactions which led us to believe that folks in Osaka were a more friendly, more outgoing, fun loving, and they all went to the right side of the escalator instead of the left! Go figure. It was a bit of an adventure finding the apartment we were staying at. But we got there, freshened up, checked our location with the map left for us by the apartment's owner....that's the view from the balcony above.
We then headed off......to try and ruin ourselves with food. In Osaka, that meant finding Dōtonbori.
I'm not quite sure how many eateries and bars are located on this street parallel to Dōtonbori and all the arteries and arcades emanating from it; but it must surely number in the hundreds. Along with all the amazing signs it's truly sensory overload.
It gets more boisterous as darkness arrives and the crowds of tourists start mixing in with the locals.
And then there's the sign that I'd seen a hundred times; the mechanical crab that is the sign for Kani Doraku Honten.
This was Osaka and I had a short list of places; none of which were particularly fancy or expensive. The one we both really wanted to try was Mizuno. So there we were, pocket wifi going strong, knowing we were close. In fact there was that dot on the screen....but it seemed we kept walking around that dot. What the heck. Finally, we saw "Mizuno" actually written on a small sign in front of a restaurant, with a pretty good sized line.
Things move pretty quick. Within minutes we were seated behind the customers, menu in hand and placed our order. When seats opened up, they'd have our order, and things would get started rather quickly.
We had ordered the "Popular Set", which included three mini (though not so small) okonomiyaki; a yamaimoyaki, "mizunoyaki", and a negi yaki.
It was a blast watching these guys work.....
The Missus favorite by far was the yamaimoyaki. She loved the lightness, creaminess, and of course, the scallops.
I enjoyed the mizunoyaki (6 ingredients)....well, there's noodles of course.
We noticed that these were much lighter than what I've had here in the states.
We had a blast.
It was delicious and we seriously contemplated returning the next night.
Unfortunately, I think things have changed since we visited. Two people whom I recommended this place to had terrible experiences with surly staff (?!?), undercooked okonomiyaki, and there's now a "no photos" rule in place. Sad if true.....because I would want everyone to have the same great meal we had here.
Mizuno 1-4-15 Dotombori, Chuo-ku Osaka
After dinner we walked around the area......checking out the bright lights. Just walking up and down the streets is entertainment itself. As the sun set, we could see the Salarymen headed for drinks, dinner, and possibly a long evening. This was fun.....totally different from the just as bright, but quite orderly and quiet Tokyo. Folks were out having a good time laughing and carrying on.
Right across the bridge and over the canal is the major shopping area known as Shinsaibashi. As crazy as Dotonburi was, it was even more packed here.
And as boisterous as we might say folks from Kansai are....they got nothing on the packs of Chinese tourists, whom you could hear loud and clear, and see cutting in front of folks standing in line. Crazy....
There was one shop the Missus just had to check out.......
It was a multi-floor shop full of dog accessories. The Missus was smitten. I was truly afraid She was going to buy something sweaters for Sammy and Frankie. Sheesh......
Man, I was getting tired.
It was time to head back.
I was starting to feel like this little guy.
We walked the half mile or so back to the apartment. And while we could make out the bright lights of Dotonburi from the patio, it was quite and peaceful. A world away from the crowds of Dotonburi....
Having completed breakfast, the Missus was ready to start with today's mission....first chocolates, then beer.
A few blocks away was a location of Moonstruck Chocolate Café.
We entered the tiny shop so the Missus could add to Her collection of confections. The woman manning the counter was very nice and we found the Oregon Craft Brewers collection to be quite interesting. I did have a taste of the Rogue Hazelnut Brown, which was really, really, good.
And so the Missus was able to add to Her collection and we were able to grab a few gifts as well.
Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe 608 SW Alder St Portland, OR 97205
On our way back from The Cheese Shop the previous day, I pointed out a chocolate shop named Alma. The Missus did a Google Search and came up with an address. It said NE 28th Street......which was strange since I recall seeing the shop fairly close to the Hawthorne Bridge. But we trudged onward for 2 miles and change.....
I did get to take this really nice photo of the Steel Bridge though.
Upon arriving, I knew we hadn't passed this shop the day before. Temps were going to hit the mid 90's on this day and I was already hot and bothered by the time we arrived.
But at least the Missus got to add to Her chocolate collection.
We did learn that Alma had just opened their second shop on SE 7th a few days ago....which is why it didn't appear in the Google search. The girl here thought it was pretty funny that we'd walk all the way from Downtown to visit....
Alma Chocolate 140 NE 28th Ave Portland, OR 97232
Man was it getting hot......and the Missus could tell it was getting to me. We stopped and had a Pellegrino at the nearby Whole Foods, which I recalled from the time we ate at Davenport on our last trip. Revived we decided to do the mile and a half walk to The Commons Brewery, which we had also seen on the #15 bus the day before. It was a long mile and a half and by the time we saw the building, the Missus was doing a good bit of whining.
Loved the industrial look, the high ceilings and wide open spaces. I do wish there was some A/C though as was getting a bit warm in the building.
Loved the beer selection and the place seemed to complete the set with their own resident Hipster.
The Commons brews Belgians, a lot of Saisons, which seemed perfect for a hot day like this.
So we started with a flight of tasters.
My favorite on this day was the very clean, slightly grassy, refreshing, "Petit Classique".
This was a nice stop.
The Commons Brewery 630 SE Belmont St Portland, OR 97214
We decided on catching the bus back...on our now favorite route, #15. As we left, the bus had just stopped across the street. We were stuck on the red light. But this is Portland and they have some of the nicest bus drivers we've ever run into. I waved at the driver, she smiled and waved back and made a hand sign telling me not to rush across the street....you gotta love these folks!
After lunch in Sonoma we drove over to Petaluma and the apartment we'd be staying in. So glad it had A/C as it was pretty hot out.
We loved the location, about a mile and a half from downtown Petaluma, we would get some exercise walking to and from dinner. A big plus were the lovely Victorian homes that lined the streets on our walk to and from dinner.
Even those homes that were sort of ranch or adobe style had their own unique touches......I loved this front yard.
We really enjoyed walking down "D" and "B" streets.
Petaluma's historic downtown is quite charming. The city was once called the "Egg Capitol of the World" and this is where Lyman Byce perfected the Egg Incubator. It was also the agricultural crossroads for Marin and Sonoma counties. The downtown area still has a stately, but also a "cow town/agricultural" kind of feel. And it's home to two other important "names"; Mesa Boogie and Leo Laporte.
When deciding on dinner; the name "Central Market" kept coming up. Even by Leo Laporte! After reading about the "farm to table", made from scratch philosophy, this seemed like a perfect fit for dinner in what was once the agricultural center of the area.
Loved the space with its high ceilings. The place was fairly empty when we arrived but filled up quickly. Our Server, Ashley was the perfect balance between polished, professional, and friendly. The feel was up-market, yet
casual, with folks in everything from jackets to shorts and sandals. I believe they call their style "Cali-terranean" or something like that.
Now call me a terrible Food Blogger for not photographing the wine....we had the Sauvignon Blanc from Six Sigma Vineyards with our starters and salads and the Cuvee, and really nice red blend with our main.
And then there were the Pork Cracklins ($6.50).
Very light and crisp, not overly salted, with enough paprika to give it a wonderful smokiness.
We liked the Fresh Burrata with Beefsteak Tomatoes with Capers and Anchovy Dressing ($12.50)
As one would expect, the tomatoes were quite meaty, but we'd probably have enjoyed them having a bit more flavor and acid. The combination of Burrata Cheese, the deeply savory anchovy, added with restraint, and the peppery and grassy olive oil was quite a hit.
The Farm Chicory Salad ($11) was nice.
While it was bit too "lukewarm" for our tastes; the fennel and the olives, lifted this from being just another ho-hum salad.
The Missus loves Her Beets, so the Red Beets - Cherry Tomato - Cucumber Salad ($9.50) was a must have.
This was a well put together dish, the cucumbers and arugula made it for me. I thought the pesto clashed with the Greek yogurt dressing, but there were no complaints from the Missus.
Without a doubt; the best single dish we had on this trip was the special for the day; the Pork Confit.
The pork was just simple perfection, crisp on the exterior, moist and just firm enough, not falling to pieces interior. It was also so very "porcine" in flavor and went really well with the refried beans, in lieu of the what would normally probably be mashed potatoes, was a very pleasant surprise as I'd never have thought of that combination. Which tasted really great with the pork. The demi-glace was also very good, not overly salty. The Missus was smitten with how light and crunchy those onion rings were.
Dessert? Well, the Missus has a new favorite, as She loved the Affogato.
Call it fire and ice; espresso poured over ice cream. The Missus just loved this, the best of both worlds as it were.
Me, I was still feeling the heat and wanted some liquid refreshment for the walk back to our apartment. I decided to get something light and refreshing and the Scrimshaw Pilsner from North Coast Brewing Company (Ft Bragg) filled the bill.
We really enjoyed our meal at Central Market. All the dishes were at the least "solid", prepared well, and the service was the best we had on our trip. The space is very warm and welcoming and we'd gladly eat here again. And that pork was just amazingly perfect.
Plus, I loved this sign above the men's urinals.....
Central Market 42 Petaluma Blvd N Petaluma, CA 94952
We were really enjoying the vibe here......
We walked back to the apartment and headed off to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a fairly long day....lots to do. There was that Cheese Trail thing after all.....
I thought it quite a coincidence, Ed from Yuma told me he and Tina had just returned from Sonoma and had a post ready. I mentioned that we headed in that direction in just a couple weeks. Ed and Tina both enjoy nice wines, so a trip to Sonoma made perfect sense. So what were we after? Well, cheese of course! We'd been enjoying various Northern California Cheeses for a while and while doing a bit of research, I came across the Sonoma Cheese Trail and soon enough I was looking for flights and accommodations. In the end, we flew Virgin America, and really enjoyed the service....and ended up staying at an AirBnB in Petaluma. The drive up from SFO was nice, the Missus always gets a kick driving on the Golden Gate Bridge. Since we couldn't check in until later in the day, we headed straight away to Sonoma......man, it was pretty darn hot when we arrived.
Things went off the rails a bit when we found that the place we had planned on having lunch at; the Epicurean Connection had closed and we had to find a Plan B. Which turned out to be right on Sonoma Square named OSO. The name hit home since "Oso" in Spanish means "bear" and for some reason this brought me back to our recent trip to Madrid and El Oso y el Madroño, The Bear and the Strawberry Tree, Madrid's Coat of Arms.
The place had a very relaxed vibe, our Server, who asked us to forgive any small errors because she was in training was perfect. The menu featured some small plates, salads, a burger, salmon, and the like.
The Missus enjoyed Her Cucumber Gimlet, which was very clean tasting and refreshing. I had a Orange Mule, the ginger beer did the same for me.
We started with the Little Gem Salad ($8).
Simply dressed, very petite, the Missus loved the beets. I thought the pistachios were a nice touch.
Without a doubt, the best item we had were the Deviled Eggs ($10).
The filling was perfect, light, with just the right amount of curry to enhance and lift the flavor of the yolks. The paprika added a touch of smokiness....and the crown jewel was the sweet crab that topped the eggs. The Missus loves Her eggs....and She really enjoyed this.
The Mole Braised Pork Shoulder Tacos ($14), left something to be desired.
The mole negro was very bland and mild, something that a mole should not be. The pork was dry and the centers cold. The tortillas rapidly fell apart.
Overall, a decent start to our couple of days in the area. We enjoyed the vibe, casual, relaxed, and the friendly service.
OSO Sonoma 9 E Napa St Sonoma, CA 95476
Our next stop was right up the street. Tucked into a small shopping arcade. Blink and you might miss the sign.
Belgium really made the Missus into a chocolate lover, so this was a nice stop for us.
The place was doing some great business.
The Missus had a few tastes and made Her selections. I saw Her having one the other day and She told me they are quite enjoyable. I believe the chocolates are actually made in Glen Ellen.
Wine Country Chocolates 414 1st St E Sonoma, CA 95476
We headed away from Sonoma Plaza, a few blocks North and found the actual reason we decided to stop in Sonoma; Vella Cheese Company.
Located in the old Sonoma Brewing Company Building which was built in 1904. When prohibition hit, Gaetano Vella took over the building to make cheese in 1931.
Vella Cheese is known for their "dry jack" a Monterey Jack styled cheese that is aged for 7-10 months. We ended up having a nice round of tastings and decided that it was the Mezzo Secco that we enjoyed the best.
"Mezzo Secco" means "half dry" and this version of Jack cheese is aged from 4-7 months. It's nicely neutral with nicely balanced nutty-grassy-milky flavors. It tastes great solo. It's also fairly hardy and would make the trip back to San Diego with no problem.
Vella Cheese Company 315 2nd St E Sonoma, CA 95476
On the way back to the car we ran into this rather friendly guy....
In spite of the little "hiccup" at the beginning; things were turning out well. We were happy to get back to the car though.....the temp in the car read 97 and we were happy for some AC. Next up...we were off to Petaluma.
If this post seems familiar, well, it should. Call me a creature of habit....or perhaps as the Missus puts it; "boring". On our second morning I got up before the Missus and went for a walk. Not far mind you. My joints were creaking from the day before.
I could tell that it was going to be a hot one as the sun rose quite brightly over Pioneer Courtyard Square. Though I've walked through this square quite a few times, I realized that I had never taken a decent photo of that iconic Bronze Sculpture named Allow Me, by Seward Johnson. So I finally got a fairly decent shot.....
I then headed up (down?) SW Washington and back to Blue Star Donuts.
Things weren't quite as busy as they were the last time around.
Since our breakfast destination didn't open until 9am, I decided to pick up (only) 2 donuts for the Missus and I to sample. I got the Missus the Chocolate Ganache...She loved the chocolate topping, but apparently is not a big fan on the brioche style dough used for the donuts.
Me...the one without a sweet tooth, really enjoyed the Orange - Olive Oil donut. It was totally an "grown up" flavored treat....not too sweet.
Just something to keep us until breakfast.....
Blue Star Donuts 1237 SW Washington St Portland, OR 97205
It might sound a bit strange, but we both enjoy veggies/salads for breakfast, so the "Simple Greens" was really nice....especially since it was already getting pretty hot outside.
Crisp,. nicely chilled vegetables.....very refreshing with a simple dressing.
I believed we needed something more substantial, so we went with Aaron's Northwest Migas.
Sort of like a Chilaquiles meets Tex-Mex version of Migas....this was fine. The corn and the green chilies made the dish. It was hearty without being too filling. Not sure if I would have this again....for us, it seems that TnA does veggies the best, but it was quite filling as we'd end up walking a lot more (duh) than I'd anticipated.
Tasty n Alder 580 SW 12th Ave Portland, OR 97205
After breakfast....we were off on a chocolate hunt for the Missus....stay tuned!
It was on our only full day in Bruges where we really got to enjoy the city a bit. Earlier in the morning, on a weekday, we took a walk around Market Square. Even in the drizzly mist we were able to appreciate the Belfort (Bell Tower) which has risen over the square and Bruges since the 14th Century. We wandered around the courtyard and down some side alleyways.
The buildings lining the square, housing various restaurants and tourist focused businesses are built in Neo-Gothic style. This square is considered the heart of Bruges and was once the economical center as there was a canal that came right up to the square.
It was Wednesday...usually market day, but there were bleachers set-up so we saw no market stalls. We did hear a bit of noise from the nearby Burg Square.
I guess the market had been moved here on this day to accommodate whatever event was happening in the Market Square.
It was still early; before 8 and the market didn't get going until 10am, so we just walked along the booths....
And vehicles.....we called this one the Cheese-mobile.....
I love the way this pooch manages to keep dry....under the table and in a box....
While checking out some of the cheese and charcuterie we had an idea.....
We'd ask the wonderful Caroline, who ran our little two room B&B if we could use the dining area and self cater lunch!
As we crossed over one of the canals, I saw a statue that looked familiar. It was Saint John of Nepomok! Remember him from my posts on Prague?
They call Bruges the "Venice of the North", so of course I had to include a couple of canal shots.
We headed back to the B&B and breakfast was served downstairs. It was quite a nice spread.
I'm not quite sure what it was...perhaps the sickly sweet smells that all the shops had; but I'd been avoiding waffles. I know heresy....you're in Belgium and no waffles? Until this morning. Caroline made us fresh waffles, her own secret family recipe and they were delicious.
Light, crisp and creamy, not too sweet.....just perfect. I loved them...and she made me another!
We had discussed having our own self catered lunch in the dining area with Caroline and got the green light. So we headed back out. On the way out, we passed this doorway. I stopped....this was the back entrance to the Old St John's Hospital. Which is now the Memling Museum. We hadn't visited any museums in Belgium and this one had artifacts and displays of medieval medicine as well as art. This is our kind of stuff. And we really enjoyed the Memling.
The painting is full of different vignettes of what patient care at St John's Hospital was like, from the Nuns that served as Nurses, to the fact that dogs were welcomed in the wards.
The ambulance? Well, it was a man powered sedan chair.....
Which I believe was this sedan chair.....
While checking out some of the displays, I heard the Missus go, "oh my....check this out. Those are some awesome stones" (it's not what you might think by what she said). Holy smokes! Check out those stones....kidney stones. My goodness, can you imagine the pain?
I'll not go into any great detail of how the stones were removed, but in case you're morbidly interested, here's an interesting link.
The main attraction of the museum is probably Hans Memling'sSt John Altarpiece. Dedicated to the Patron Saints of the hospital, this work was displayed on an altar situated at a height and distance so all beds in the ward could view this painting.
We then quickly returned to the market which was just starting to get into full swing.
We made our purchases, returned to the B&B, placed them in the fridge and headed off. It was still a bit too early for lunch, so we decided to grab....well...should I call it a "brunch beer"? At De Halve Maan Brewery.
You might recognize the names of the beer brewed by Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan....Staffe Hendrick and Zot. I went with the Staffe Hendrick Quad, the Missus a Brugse Zot.
I found the quad to have kind of a burnt sugar fragrance, though slightly boozy and mildly sweet. The 11% ABV sneaks up on you. Strangely, I recently had a SH Quad at Iron Pig and unlike my experiences with other Belgians it held up pretty good and tasted quite similar to what I had here.
They also have tours at this brewery but we decided not to take it.
De Halve Maan Brewery Walplein 26 Bruges, Belgium
After our liquid refreshment, we headed to a quite busy shop on the same street.
Dumon Chocolatier is quite popular.
So we decided to add to the collection of chocolates for my MIL.
Dumon Chocolatier Walstraat 6 Bruges, Belgium
We meandered a bit, then headed back to the B&B. Caroline had kindly set aside some plates and silverware for us and we had a nice light lunch.
After cleaning up, we headed upstairs for a nice afternoon nap.....
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?