Monday, November 23, 2009

TRADITIONAL BARCELONA TAPAS

went to BCN on a pilgrimage to Commerc 24, the hot, contemporary tapas restaurant run by ex-Adria chef Carles Abelan. It's perfectly located in the less salubrious, but up-and-coming area of El Born. I think there is an unwritten law that seems to state that the best places are never in the 'best' areas. There's something about the integrity of a place that can't afford the best location. The food has to be good, to get people to come there. Anyway we couldn't get in. So had to shelve it for another day. In the mean time I managed to go to this place which was more old-school and very charming for it. Counter displays of raw ingredients which got passed back to the kitchen through a hatch for cooking and then delivered to you. The place was slick,busy and looked the part. Staff were nicely kitted out in white jackets and attitude; clearly from the school of 'bark and don't smile' which i'm actually begining to get used to. I've stopped taking it personally as it seems to be an 'across-the-board' policy. I orderd a pile of oyster mushrooms and some croquetas. Mushrooms were greasy and underseasoned with burnt flecks of something...maybe garlic....and lacked that vital acidity. No lemon/wine/sharp herb to lift them. I've come to the conclusion that the best way to cook mushrooms is to effectively steam them in an emulsion which reduces to become a dressing lifted by a squeeze or squirt of chosen acid. Season. Add herb. Done. I keep trying the croquetas in the vain hope that one day I'll find one that dosen't taste like wallpaper paste. I guess i'll have to keep trying....Spain has some nice food...but there's a lot of average stuff too. video

Friday, November 20, 2009

MY GOD I FOUND IT!!!


After many a disappointing 'pa amb tomaquet' (apart from the ones at Bodega and La Nau which, although different, are sensational in their own right due to the freshness of the bread and the quality of the oil) I finally found somewhere where they grill the bread for that smokey, burnt taste. They also serve whole garlic cloves so you can 'rub you're own' and therefore adjust the power of the allium to suit your mood/afternoon commitments. I have come to the conclusion that the fresh bread versions don't actually include garlic at all. Maybe this is deemed as a refinement in this region. I deem it as a churlish deprivation of joy. Anyway I feasted on bitter/smokey toast redolent with the AROMA of rubbed garlic, sweetened by freshly sliced ripe tomato, anointed with the sacred green oil and set alight with rocksalt. A shiny, timeless, fashion-proof example 'par excellence' of true food alchemy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BLACK RICE WITH SARDINES


With Pete I ordered Rrossejat, a local signature dish variation on Paella, The rice is fried first which gives it a chewey texture not dissimilar to Farro (spelt). The flavour is built as usual with a 'sofregit' of aromatics and a stock which I guess includes squid ink as it always appears to be quite dark. This particular restaurant chose a garnish of baked sardines which were just that...a garnish, cooked on top of the rice. I have to confess it was ok....but not outstanding. I've had more sensory pleasure from Valencian Paellas and Aroces in their various meat/fish combinations, particularly a Rabbit and Snail recipe I had once with tender broadbeans. The dark Rossejat had also taken on a slightly metallic taint from the castiron pan it was cooked in. I'll try it again soon and see if it impresses more. but for the time being the jury is out...

Friday, November 13, 2009

TRAVEL DISASTER NO. 1

Last time I went home I planned it well and felt I knew the local area well enough to get from Tarra to the airport by bus. It's only 8 km. No problem. Located sales office. Tapped on window. Got ignored for 2 minutes. Then she left the office for 5 minutes. Then she came and barked 'dime' at me ( what do you want) so I said these very words in spanish.; " A TICKET TO THE AIRPORT PLEASE'. She said 'which terminal?'. I thought 'that's wierd', it's a tiny airport, there's only one terminal. She said she needed the information for the ticket. So I just said terminal 1. She printed the ticket and charged me €13.50. I thought it was a lot for a short journey but didn't say anything. Next day I was on a lovely plush bus half way to BARCELONA AIRPROT before i realized something was amiss. The miserable old bag had sold be a ticket to an airport 60 km away instead of the local one. And before you ask...yes....it's the same bus company...same ticket office...same woman. Of course I missed my 10€ flight and had to buy one on the spot for a cool €135. Ouch!!!! i'm still wincing at the memory. It appears that unless you specify, they default to BCN airport. I think they consider Reus airport to be little more than a cowshed in a field where planes are sometimes allowed to land. Admittedly it is small and basic but perfectly adequate. Oh well you live and learn....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

THERE ARE SNAILS!!!!


Locals love their snails..and most bars advertise their availability with a simple sign in the window saying "Hay caracoles" or "cargoles" in Catalan, sometimes illustrated with a cartoon drawing which looks like Brian from the Magic Roundabout. This means 'there are snails' but translates as 'snails are on the menu'. The classic recipe produces a bowl of snails in a spicy, slightly murky and thinnish red/brown sauce. I think the murk comes from paprika which can have that effect on a sauce. They are quite delicious and very different to the classic Burgundian treatment. All you need is a toothpick, glass of wine, lots of noise and wafting cigarette smoke (yes they still allow that here) for a truly definitive gulp of Spain.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MIDDLE-AGED RANT

I’m quite bored by the number of bars that seem on the surface to be avid followers of the ‘grunge approach to hospitality management’. This takes the following form: Not beign ready for customers at your advertised opening times. Rubbing sleep from your eyes when said customers try to order. Sweeping the floor around your feet. Having last nights dirty glassware on display on the bartop. Not having any of your preparation (menus napkins chairs etc) ready for incoming customers. Looking like you've slept in your clothes.

Grunge is cool when it is a fashion statement, when it challenges previously established views which have become flabby and dull. Views that have started to drown in their own sickly niceness. It’s a breath of fresh air, an un-ironed revolt, a faded-denim slap in the face, an uncombed, unwashed wake-up call. But like any worthy movement it takes planning, consideration and attention to detail. To quote Banksy, ‘mindless vandalism takes a lot of thought”. What I see here in some of the bars has nothing to do with intelligent anti-fashion and everything to do with laziness and scruffiness. As with many movements before, it has hit the mainstream and been adopted by those who have no clue of the original ideal.

The trick with grunge is that it should be an illusion. It’s a fashion. It’s for looks only. The art is to look like you haven’t taken any care over your appearance…..to appear to disapprove aesthetically with ironing clothes and combing hair………to pretend that you don’t wash or shave every day because you’re just too damn cool.
Sadly I’ve been in to too many bars where the grunge leaks from personal fashion choice to slovenly, badly run business. To paraphrase Shania Twain “ so you think you’re Brad Pitt (in Kalifornia)….that don’t impress me much……unless the service and food/drink are amazing and you make me feel like I am wanted” …a sticky bartop is not cool, it’s just unpleasant…….an un swept floor is a sure sign of the state of the kitchen,……the miserable pout of the waitress who would so obviously much rather still be in bed is the antithesis of hospitality in any context. I would happily welcome any of the grunge puryeyors if only they could show me how their approach has elevated their artform and made things better for the customer. Bah humbug!!!!

BATTY VISITS




Had visit from best friend. we go back a long way and share various obsessions such as food, markets, travel, wine etc. so had a great time. It's nice to share the experience so all visitors are welcome. Managed a one night in BCN which was nice. That city needs some serious time spent to really uncover it's hidden treasures. Gastronomic highs included Pete's baked Hake on sliced potatoes with garlic, (menu del dia €12 for 3 courses) the Priorat red at Bodega where they give you wine straight from the barrel (see Priorat label) chipirones (fried baby squid), a tapa of wild mushrooms and jamon in BCN, as well as a sausage and bean tapa. Of course we went to the market as well. Bought Galeras....mantis shrimp....which seemed too cheap to be true. €6/kg. ~They looked great and indeed tasted FANTASTIC, a real sweet prawn flavour. The reason for cheapness is that they are very hard to peel and contain little meat. You can't suck the shells either coz they are razor sharp and adorned with defensive spikes. But for the money would be amazing as the base for a rice dish, soup or pasta sauce. Well worth a try. Played 'russian roulette' with a plate of Padron peppers...small green peppers, sauted whole and served with rock salt (I add a squeeze of lemon and black pepper) the catch being that one in ten of the peppers are hot like chillis.....eat at your own risk!!! Finally Pete decided to join my special 'club for travel-navigation disasters' and gave me a panicked call from Vilanova i la Geltru when he should have been at the airport. Suffice to say he was in the wrong place...and time was ticking. But to his credit he hatched a plan involving a train/taxi combo based on me looking a googlemaps at home and approving his proposed route via mobile. He made it!!! the wonders of modern communications.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

MISTAKES COME IN 3's so they say....

Well I managed to accrue my 3rd food-based cock-up to follow on from the Prawns and Percebes. Let's hope this is the end of it and I can get back to some good gastronomic discoveries. Anyway I was in one of my favorite tapas bars and wanted to try some new stuff. Liked the sound of 'Aros de cebolla rebozado' believing that aros must be Catalan for Aroz (rice). So I had made up my mind this was some kind of interesting rice dish with onions. I asked the waitress and she gabbled away at me and I made the fatal mistake of nodding when I didn't really understand. Actually I did understand her, but her explanation didn't match my preconception, so I assumed I had misunderstood. She said 'it's a bit like Calamares (fried squid rings) and very delicious'. I assumed there would be squid in the rice dish. So I ordered it and almost burst out laughing when I realized what it was. DEEP FRIED BATTERED ONION RINGS!!! 'Aros' has nothing to do with 'aroz' but means 'ring' . So I sat in the deepest of Catalan bars trying to explore the inner mysteries of Catalonia's most fundamental ingredient and all I get is a McDonalds-ish bowl of onion rings. What's that expression about 'assumption being the mother of all cock-ups......'?