Tag Archives: Spain

Rooftop Afternoon, Navy Yard, Brooklyn

euskadi

laburu

veggies

lines

I brought Begonia and Rich a bottle of Urki from the Basque country via Rockridge.  We put it in the freezer for a half hour and then enjoyed it on the roof with the Euskadi cocktail picks I found in a little store in Hondarribia.  We baked in the sun, waited in anticipation for the occasional breeze, and misted ourselves over the kiddie pool with the hose.  No better way to spend an impossibly hot Augest New York day.

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A Different Alameda

For our last night in Spain we went to a restaurant in the old quarter of town called Alameda (not to be confused with the small island city off the East Bay of San Francisco, nor the county in which I reside), which boasts one Michelin star.  On a previous evening we had returned to Sebastian, also in the old quarter of Hondarribia and had the chef’s tasting menu.  I thought to myself, “this is as good a meal as I’ve ever had.  If I lived here I would eat at here all the time.”  While the second sentence holds true, Alameda blew the former sentiment for lovely little Sebastian.

While I managed to take a few pictures, they relate nothing of the scale of this meal.  Alameda is run by two brothers, Gorka and Kepa Txapartegui.  The cuisine has Basque roots, but is classified by Michelin as “Inventive.”  We had two lovely, attentive, and friendly servers, but it was one of the matriarchs of the Txapartegui family who came to ensure our meal met our expectations after our entrees arrived.  Although I consider description of this meal to be a futile pursuit, I will attempt to depict some of it here.

alameda table cloth better

Often, when my dad comes to visit and I am trying to convince him of the legitimacy of my choice of restaurant on any given evening, he’ll say quite seriously, “does it have a tablecloth?  I need a white tablecloth.”  In honor of dad we’ve taken to documenting the tablecloths at various restaurants.  Alameda’s are high-quality starched linen.

amuse bouche

The amuse-bouche was a delicate, super-fine gazpacho, topped with cheese foam, parsley-infused oil, and a parmasan crisp.

spider crab

I began with the spider crab salad arranged atop a tomato reduction and topped with green apples and micro greens.  The crab was absolutely beautiful in texture.

tuna

My entree–the tuna.  This picture hardly does it justice, but eating last night was much more important to me than picture-taking, which I take as a good sign.  It’s funny I just realized that from the blog it appears that I’ve been eating a lot of tuna.  I have I suppose.  The seafood is really what to eat in the Basque country.  I have no words to describe the preparation of this dish; I can’t even remember how it was described on the menu.  All I know is what appears to be a simple tuna fillet transformed into the most unbelievable tasting thing in my mouth.  The flavors of the tomatoes, salt, fish, oil, and potato were beyond this world.  Each bite I took made me crave one more.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that way before.  It was if nothing would be enough, and each time I took a bite I wished I could continue tasting what I was tasting forever.  Quite an experience.  Sort of Veruca Salt-esque I guess.

mint and melon

Dessert was fruit and cheese.  The fruit is above–a medley of melons and apples in a mint-melon sauce.  Amazing.

new cheese

Finally, the cheese plate.  From top right: a semi-soft cows milk, Roquefort topped with a dried apple slice, brie, quince paste, and the last two are two different dry manchego.  The Roquefort was especially beautiful.  There is no better way to end a meal than with Roquefort I believe.

Well, like I said, a futile pursuit.  But, perhaps if you’re ever in the area you’ll have a chance to experience it all for yourself.

At the Biarritz airport, embarking on many hours on various planes.  Ciao!

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Urki Txacolina

Ah Urki.  Some of you might remember that I wrote about a great afternoon I spent with Urki some time ago.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune to actually visit the place where this dreamy liquid is produced.  Many of the vineyards are close together, and just outside of Getaria. We drove around exploring a bit before arriving at Urki.

hillside

Clouds had covered the sky by this time, so we had no guilt or sadness about leaving the coast to go inside and have a tour of the winery.  Cypress hedges divide sections of vines to protect them from the coastal wind.

vines

You might be able to tell from this picture that the vines are trained differently here.  While in France and other parts of Spain the vines are allowed to grow in a more bush-like formation, the grapes for Txacoli are trained to grow about five feet tall on stakes, vertically, and then are spread out across wires in between the tall stakes.  My tour of Urki was conducted exclusively in Spanish, because the owner speaks Euskara dominantly and Spanish as a second language, so I understood bits and pieces, and a bit more with the aid of our co-tourers who were Spanish-speaking French (we had French in common).  Through these somewhat complicated linguistic avenues I understood that Txacoli, a young wine that is aged for only a few months, needs a lot of sun as a grape in order to cultivate enough sugar to balance the natural acidity of a young wine [Wikipedia states “the grapes for this txakoli are grown according to the treille (or trellis) system (called parra in Basque) system. In this system the vines are cultivated at a greater height above the ground, with the foliage forming a continguous canopy to improve the microclimate”].  Many “Txacoli” producers add elements of sweeter grapes such as Chardonnay, Reisling, and Muscat, in order to increase the sugar content of Txacoli.  But, it is essential to note that any wine that has any content of the aforementioned grapes is not authentic Txacoli.  Txacoli is 100% Hondarrabbi-Zuri grapes.

house

This is an old house in the area I found on the way to Urki.

driving up better

Above:  the building at the end of the road ahead is the Urki winery.

urki's uvas

These are the uvas of Urki.  Some other wineries might use grapes from elsewhere, but Urki only uses the grapes they cultivate themselves.  In the fall of each year (approximately October) Urki employs forty people for ten days to hand-harvest all of their grapes for that year’s vintage.  The grapes are harvested and then pressed and processed by an impressive array of French machinery (the French and the Italians make higher quality winemaking machinery, typically, than do the Spanish).  While I didn’t understand much about the machinery, I enjoyed taking some pictures.

machinery

machinery2

galaxy bottler

galaxy

vats

In this relatively small row of eight tanks, all the Txacoli that Urki makes each year is aged.

It is currently late in the Txacoli season.  The 2009 vintage is running low, and the 2010 is months away from completion (Getaria hosts an annual Txacoli festival for the first Txacolis of the season in January each year).  But some Txacoli is kept in tank #5 for visitors, and we got to have some straight from the tap.

tasting

Urki’s Txacoli is 100% Hondarrabi-Zuri grapes.  The effervencense in Txacoli is a natural occurence, which I understand is caused by the reaction of the sugar and acidity in the aging process.  Many inauthentic Txacolis contain a greater appearance of frizzante, but this is caused by an artificial injection of CO2.  It is the custom in Spain to pour Txacoli from a great height, thus increasing the aroma and frizzante qualities.  Do not be fooled.  If you are drinking authentic Txacoli, both effervecense and aroma will occur without your server pouring from a two or three foot height.

Visiting Urki was a truly special experience.  Though this vineyard has only been in operation for two years, they have a clear devotion to the cultivation of a unique specialty from the Basque region.  Muchimas gracias a Kristian para su ayuda y la visita.

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Donostia–San Sebastian

san sebastian

Town Hall

We made our second trip to Donostia/San Sebastian yesterday.  The first time we went was our first day in Spain, and I was too exhausted to really enjoy it.  When we returned yesterday I was really hoping for magic.  Parking was very hard to find, so the forty-five minutes driving around searching took a bit of the excitement away.  But we were happy once we found a lot on the far east side of town across the Urumea River.

Our walk started there, on the boardwalk of La Zurriolo, where most of the surfers congregate.  There is a great long boardwalk that runs the whole length of the city.  From La Zurriolo we walked around Mount Urgull, past the aquarium, all the way to La Concha and Ondaretta beaches.  The walk was a great way to enjoy the views from the coast.

We walked inland to the old quarter, but after so long in the country, the city that is San Sebastian felt frenetic.  Too many people, too many cars, too much construction.  While I loved many of the buildings, the city didn’t produce the relaxing atmosphere rich with Basque cuisine that I was looking for.  So I did what any rational person in my situation would do–head straight for the capital of soothe–Getaria, the epicenter of Txacoli winemaking.

donostia building

One of my favorite buildings I spied on my walk

building faces

Look at the faces!

building tilework

Blue and gold–one of my favorite color combinations

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A Perfect Day For Pamplona

We slept in this morning and awoke to foggy weather on the coast.  After a few strong cups of coffee we decided–Pamplona?  Why not?

The drive was a little over an hour, and before we knew it we were in Pamplona, in the midst of the Fiesta de St. Fermin.  We even magically found free street parking close to the city center.  Of course our first site was the miniature running of the bulls.  It was great fun.

The entire city is dressed in the traditional all white with red scarf tied at the waist and a red neckerchief.  In fact, you really stand out if you aren’t (word to the wise and any lazy ill-informed tourists who decide to wake up and go to Pamplona during the Festival of St. Fermin on a whim–wink wink).   It was almost lunchtime by the time we arrived in the city, and all of the spectators, residents and tourists alike, were filling streetside cafés.

fermin cafe

We walked around towards some of the monuments–the Palacio de Navarra, the Plaza de Castillo, etc., but then found that the real action was on the old, narrow, side streets were the bars were a little more than crowded.

narrow street

At first it was fun, but then I realized I was hungry, and the line to the bar everywhere was about six drunkards deep.  Eek!  Everyone was much drunker than I was, and probably had been for a few good hours by 2pm (being that the bulls run at 8am).  The sun was high in the sky, it was very hot, and the odors of thousands of drunk people were starting to marinate.  I was borderline panicky–where would I find food (as not being able to find food is one of my greatest fears)???  Not even the smell of baking urine (sorry!) would allay my hunger.  I had to stay strong.  “I’m a traveler.  I’m exploring Pamplona (dammit!).”

We walked towards the Cathedral.  All of the monuments were closed due to the festival, and as we got closer to the Cathedral it got quieter.  Alongside the old church many of the revelers had resorted to street-side siestas (one of my most amusing discoveries so far in Spain–the public siesta–I’d like to think it is my great esteem for human dignity that kept me from photographing these hysterical scenes).

When I had gotten to the point where adrenaline had taken over as energy supplier in place of my usual daily calories, we turned a corner behind the Cathedral and found this lovely café:

el caballo blanco

Amazing.  No house music blaring from inside?  No line to the bar?  At least one person in sight who is clearly an employee of the institution?  Sold!  You can’t imagine what a haven this little café became.  It’s called El Caballo Blanco.  The service was necessarilly brusque, but efficient.  They were out of Txakoli by that hour, so I had beer, I’m not sure what kind, but it was cold, and the nice man brought it over to my table, which made it, as far as I’m concerned, akin to ambrosia.

Much to the amusement of the clientele seated nearby (who mostly drank and smoked) we ordered a lot of food–foie gras, jamón ibérico, tomates y avocates, y gazpacho.  They all teased us to see if we would eat it all–and we did.

comida

tomates

It wasn’t until I got home tonight that I figured out the name of this café by Google-ing “cafe behind cathedral pamplona.”  What I found was this timely little piece by on the New York Times.  And what do you know?  They found the same soothing little spot behind the Cathedral.  I double checked by matching up the NY Times and my own photograph of the café exterior.  I couldn’t have planned my sojourn in Pamplona better.  While I love reading travel guides and planning, I hate feeling bound to an itinerary when traveling (you’ll later find out that although I read the Pudlo guide to the South of France cover to cover not once, but twice, I only visited two of the restaurants it lists in my two weeks in the country).  I’d rather just walk and enjoy what’s in front of me.  So discovering El Caballo Blanco was a happy coincidence.  We returned to rain in Hondarribia tired, happy, and with an appetite for a late Spanish dinner.

goodbye

Goodbye sunny Pamplona

hondarribia

Hello rainy Hondarribia

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Exclusive Footage of the Running of the Bulls: Pamplona 2009

My husband shot this footage today.

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We Made It To Spain

Of course between Paris, Marseille, Lourmarin, Guéthary, and Hondarribia (Hondarribia is the Basque, but the town is also known as Fuenterrabía in Spanish and Fontarabie in French), much is missing from my typically daily entries here.  That noted, we are very happy to be in Spain.  This part of Europe is especially striking due to the stark constrast in food, language, and terrain found just across the border from one country to another.  A twenty or thirty minute drive from Biarritz and we’re in a whole other world.  We landed in Hondarribia, in the old quarter of town at an amazing hotel called Obispo, housed in what was a 15th century palace.  I love this place.  It’s charming–old yet comfortable, and impeccably kept including all the amenities a modern girl could want (WiFi!  while it was fun to be liberated, it is fun to reconnect too).

We arrived slightly exhausted from all the fun we had with our friends, the vacationing Parisians, in Guéthary (is it possible to have too much fun?) so we did the unthinkable and sat down to dinner at 8:30 (does it count that it hasn’t been before 10PM or finished before 12AM for the last week?).  The Hotel Obispo recommended Sebastián, which happens to be just around the corner (no walk or drive to the new part of town necessary).  It looks beautiful from the outside, so it wasn’t hard to draw us in.  Here is our meal in pictures and a few words (I was too relaxed to remember to take any establishing shots, but the restaurant’s website has a good virtual tour and great historical photographs too).

sebastian window

The restaurant’s website states that “[the space] was a grocery shop several centuries ago [and] the most representative elements of the shop are still conserved, such as the window displays and glass cases once displaying the groceries which supplied numerous generations of residents of Hondarribia.”  Here are various bottles (age unknown) in the window display case.

our view

We ate upstairs.  This was our view; a window box planted with purple amaranth and ivy.  Across the street are window boxes with red and white geraniums.

upstairs

The upstairs dining area.  Note that we are among the first present for dinner…there was one other couple across from us.  The benefit of the early hour is great photographs.  I loved the alternating colors between the beams on the ceiling.  Only a Spanish chef/restaranteur could pull that off.  Honestly.

chefs suggestions

These are the beautiful cards containing the chef’s suggestions for the evening.  Qué bonita!  Las ilustraciones sólo!

tablecloth

An essential component of any fine dining experience: fine linens for the table.  I found Sebastián’s particularly soothing due to a delicate pique.

txacoli

Txacoli: it has become as essential to my existence as Almodóvar.  Sin txacoli lo que es la vida?  These tall cups (unlike the shorter versions I am used to drinking Spanish wine in) are very cool.  It is like drinking liquid ambrosia, the liquid of life.  The wine is produced in the countryside outisde of Hondarribia.

txacoli autentico

Don’t be fooled by any imitations; the “Getariako Txacolina” sticker across the foil is as essential as any Bordeaux A.O.C.  It is an extremely limited area in which these special grapes are grown, and the special wine produced.

gazpacho

Ah gazpacho, con una anchoa y algún aceite de oliva bueno

monkfish

Monkfish and shrimp–preparation unknown, rather forgotten, in a good bottle of Txacoli

tuna

The “taco de atun rojo de Hondarribia a la parilla.”  With my limited Spanish I have little clue what I ate (sorry).  I half expected some tuna in a corn tortilla.  Wrong.  What came was 1,000 times better.  It tasted like the most beautiful tuna steak seared in a deep seasoned pan of pork fat–there was surely a strong bacon-ish element that was delicious.  On the side are some crispy onions and a drizzle of parsely-seasoned olive oil.  Amazing.

brick of chocolate

I can’t be sure because I forgot to photograph the menu, but I am fairly certain that this dessert was advertised as the “chocolate brick.”  It delivered as advertised.

Overall an extremely successful first night in Spain.  We will indubitably return to Sebastián–did I mention the service is impeccable?  If, for nothing else, the fine pique linens!  Salut!

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