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La Bodegueta

Yes, I love chains in the U.S. (and Canada—go Tim Hortons) but I wasn’t sure if that was the best behavior to indulge in while in Barcelona. And they have enticing chains too. I was fascinated by all the bocadillo shops like Sandwich and Friends (what’s better than friends and sandwiches?), Pans & Company and Bocatta (which we did try on a whim one late night).

After gawking at all the moderniste architecture in the Eixample we wanted a low key lunch, but that strip of the ramblas is like tourist trap central. I scoured one of our guidebooks desperate for a regular, non-fancy, non-fast food option. Mildly hidden on a downstairs corner, La Bodegueta was totally it. (Here’s a photo, not taken by me or anyone I know. I never remember to take shots of interiors or exteriors—I get all caught up in the food.)

Bravas I wouldn’t call it a dive, like I think some have described it. It’s sort of no frills and rickety, maybe more the Spanish equivalent of a faded American diner with a touch of cafe. They did have a three-course menu del dia like I think all restaurants in Spain are mandated to offer during lunch, but we just wanted glorified snacks so we ordered manchego and chorizo bocadillos, halves to be swapped so we’d get a little of each, and patatas bravas to share. Oh, and a bottle of Voll Damm. I noticed a lot of people ordering what I think are called claras. Akin to an English shandy, the drink consists of beer mixed with lemonade. I’m very when-in-Rome, but I wasn’t quite convinced of that beverage.

Bocadillos I’ve noticed that patatas bravas are always kind of different in NYC. I don’t know if there’s a standard in Spain either. My favorites I have had here were from Tia Pol. These came with separate dollops of aioli and tomato puree. The bocadillos were as spartan as can be. The bread is coated with squeezed tomato juice and drizzled olive oil pa amb tomaquet style and then filled with one ingredient. Meat, cheese, whatever, but that’s all, no extras. It’s the anti-NYC deli sandwich in girth, though not completely unrelated in simplicity. Bread, meat mustard is pretty bare bones when you think about it.

La Bodegueta * Rambla Catalunya, 100, Barcelona, Spain

The (Pork) Belly of the Beast

Pigtattoo I do fully realize that the things that get under my skin have zero relevance to like 98% of the world’s population, but isn’t that what blogs are for (I mean besides posting naked pics)? So, I’m getting tired of hearing about chef Zak Pelaccio’s parents' loft in SoHo. Granted, he’s been the subject of the New York Times’s The Chef column for the past three weeks, hence the August barrage, but enough with setting the scene already. Or maybe the three quotes below were meant to be merely informative and endearing and I’m just a fussbudget.

“IN the climate-controlled comfort of his parents' loft in SoHo, where Zak Pelaccio was cooking some of his favorite Malaysian dishes…” —The New York Times, August 30, 2006

“‘I ate a lot of Cubanos back then because you could get them all over Williamsburg, but I wasn't necessarily interested in putting something so ubiquitous on the menu,'’ he said one recent sultry afternoon in his parent's loft in SoHo.” —The New York Times, August 23, 2006

“Arms laden, he crept through the steaming Chinatown streets (‘I learned to move slow in the heat in Southeast Asia,’ he said) to the cool sanctum of his parents' SoHo loft, borrowed for the afternoon.” —The New York Times, August 16, 2006

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I was in Malaysia and reading online how Mr. Pelaccio was opening meatpacking district Fatty Crab, a Malaysian restaurant named after a seafood place in Kuala Lumpur. I kind of love the idea of glamming up this cuisine that’s unpopular in NYC to say the least, but the meatpacking district? Ugh. I’ve half-heartedly intended to check this place out since last September, and never have because I’m not a masochist. His first restaurant Chicken Bone Café, which opened and closed in Williamsburg, was one of my more trying dining experiences. And earlier this year when I went to 5 Ninth to try his much lauded cubano for an article I was writing and they said they didn’t have the pork that day. How do you not have pork, especially when it’s been well publicized how swine crazy the chef is? Plus, I couldn't ignore this 5 Ninth complaint on Eater last week. (I can't help but be a bit porcine focused, myself. I just ran out and got pork belly and rice from the Chinese steam table joint around the corner from my office.) :

"Pelaccio combines a knack for old-fashioned goodness (he's a wizard with pork belly) with an instinct for eye-catching combinations using ingredients from far-off destinations like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur." —New York Magazine, January 9, 2006

"Pelaccio is the punky, pork-loving chef who apprenticed at The French Laundry and Daniel.. "–Daily News, November 18, 2005

"In the end, just like pork-loving 5 Ninth chef Zak Pelaccio, I prefer my pork fresh, not processed.

'Even when my sister lived in Hawaii and I visited her, I didn't eat Spam,' says the hog-wild Pelaccio, who'd just had a 50-pound pig hung in his cooler."– Daily News March 16, 2005

"Mr. Pelaccio makes admirable use of pork in several distinctive forms."– The New York Times, April 30, 2003

His choice of venues give me pause. Now he’s doing dim sum carts (which also sounds cool in theory) at some obnoxious roof top bar 230 Fifth (Ok, I’ve never been but are their un-obnoxious roof top bars in Manhattan)? Double ugh. There aren’t many acclaimed chefs that are so fond of S.E Asian ingredients and are bringing them into the mainstream like he is. I admire that because if I were a chef I would imagine having a similar aesthetic. I’ll even admit to being intrigued by the idea of his often written about watermelon pork belly salad–and I absolutely hate all melons.

But that damn loft. I know I can be closed minded, but I just can’t trust anyone who has parents with a SoHo loft. In the unlikely event that any readers here have parents with SoHo lofts, please enlighten me. I want to understand, not loathe the unknown.

Pig tattoo from SF Gate. I know nothing about chef John Stewart other than what I've gathered from this article.

Where Subways Fear to Tread

Atlas_park The Sunday before last, I needed to kill time in Queens so I decided to check out Glendale’s mall-in-progress, The Shops at Atlas Park because I like going places where subways don't reach. I’d eaten lunch in Sunnyside and also had to eat dinner in Jackson Heights, but didn’t want to go all the way back home to Brooklyn to wait for my appetite to reappear (I have harbored fantasies about somehow being able to remove meals, without barfing, so you can immediately eat another).

I wouldn’t say I’m a mall connoisseur, but I do have my standards. And while I realize this shopping center isn’t fully realized, this one didn’t do much for me. Even though Atlas Park is brand new and ‘00s style, there’s something about it that reminded me of an old beat-up long gone Portland mall called Eastport Plaza. I took a bunch of photos of the raggedy half-empty collection of stores back in the pre-blogging, mid-‘90s but I’m sure what I did with them.

Stein_mart It had its hey day in the early ‘80s and was never much to look at even then. It was small (note that mall wasn’t in the name either) and had stores like Newberry (R.I.P.), Frederick’s of Hollywood, Doo-Da (a Spencer’s rip off) and Orange Julius. (I saw santa there when I was five or so and he said, “here’s a candy cane for your brother.” Hmm, I didn’t have a brother.) Now one of Portland’s only Wal-Marts (weird that both locations are on 82nd Ave.) is in the old space and they’ve completely remodeled the block into a strip mall, (is that website classy or what?) complete with an Izzy's, my favorite NW pizza buffet. I'd dare say it's the same clientele that was attracted to the old busted mall.

Gallerywood38lg All that was open at Atlas Park was a J. Jill, an Amish Market (which I don’t think is Amish but merely a chain of overpriced midtown delis), California Pizza Kitchen and Stein Mart. I had been curious about Stein Mart because I’ve seen TV ads, but have never set foot in one (this is the only one in NYC). It felt like a pricier Marshalls, which is amusing because I used to think Marshalls was a more expensive Ross (which they don’t have in New York state). There’s nothing remarkable about Stein Mart unless you like decorating your home with 3-D wood cut-outs spelling inspirational words like “peace” and “family.”

Atlas_park_cinemas The movie theater was also open and we did that thing that normally baffles me—just showing up with no plan and picking a movie on the spot. Little Miss Sunshine was the lesser of the cinematic evils on offer (I swear I’m not a snob, I just like movies with dialogue and regular kinds of characters where not a lot happens and you end up feeling kind of sad. I would like to see Half Nelson and Factotum in the immediate future). I will say that Regal Cinemas has insane customer service. Everyone’s cheerful and full of hellos and thank yous. No one talks, let alone yells, during the film. I was kind of scared. This is the anti-Court Street Stadium. Even the kid with a broom and dustpan who walked in front of our row during the movie whispered excuse me.

I wouldn’t mind paying The Shops at Atlas Park another visit in 15 years (oh my goodness, I just realized that would make me 49) and seeing if it has turned all ghostly and dilapidated like Eastport Plaza.

The Shops at Atlas Park * 8000 Cooper Ave., Glendale, NY

George’s Bistro

1/2 I must mention George’s Bistro, if only to give one semi-review of a Welsh restaurant. I also ate a beef and onion pie from a chip shop that’s supposed to be quite remarkable (I can’t stomach battered, fried fish, despite loving other fried foods like French fries) and had toffee ice cream in a cone. Oh, and I had an order of chips at a pub. But none of those were actual sit down meals.

I had horrible stomach cramps and heartburn my entire weekend in Wales (and it began before the wedding/12-hour drinking binge so alcohol and assorted substances weren’t the culprit) and I don’t want to attribute it to the food. Maybe I just don’t travel well.

Carvery_1 My mom became irrationally fixated on trying the “carvery” at George’s on Sunday. The few restaurants in town all seemed to have sandwich boards out front advertising this concept, which I imagined entailed cuts of meat. Because I only see my mom every couple years and I’m a wonderful daughter, I went along with her carvery idea. I will admit to liking roast meats and boiled vegetables, though it’s not the kind of thing I ever eat in NYC. I don’t think it’s even the kind of fare I grew up on. Good food memories and childhood aren’t synonymous for me. Neither my sister nor I were crazy about anything my mom came up with (which was why it was funny that our two cousins at the wedding whom we rarely see remarked that they remembered my mom making good spaghetti and garlic bread like 25+ years ago when they visited us).

George’s is in the George Hotel, and it’s sort of a stodgy, musty affair. But fine enough for a buffet. And I don’t think that buffet means all-you-can-eat, but simply that you can serve yourself from a spread of food. I say this because my grandma had like three desserts and then the stepdude had seconds too, and they were all gung ho to serve themselves from the dessert cart even though there’s a girl who’d supposed to do that for you. I don’t think the staff cared much (well, maybe they did—when I finally got around to dessert and politely asked for one slice of cake I was given a shitty, tiny piece with its frosting all falling off when everyone else earlier got huge, tidy slabs) but it didn’t go unnoticed by me because I’m a freak about rule following.

First course was shrimp cocktail slathered with what I’m guessing was marie rose sauce or lentil soup. I tried the shrimp despite fearing mayonnaise. The carvery part comes in when you choose amongst roast beef (with horseradish), pork (with applesauce) or lamb (with mint sauce) and it’s nicely cut for you and put on your plate. I didn’t have the beef because I didn’t want to be gluttonous, but everyone else got all three. The pork was the best because you get cracklings with it, and well, I just love pork. Vegetables included carrots, corn, cabbage and roast potatoes. Yorkshire pudding and gravy was also a must.

The aforementioned dessert cart contained bread pudding (which no one wanted), a fluffy chocolate layer cake, éclairs and something else that I can’t recall. It seemed like the sort of food that should be eaten on a wet, gray Sunday.

George’s Bistro * 23-25 High St., Criccieth, Wales

Senyor Parellada

1/2 It would’ve been hard to ignore Senyor Parellada since it’s situated in the ground floor of the Banys Oriental where we stayed. After 9:30 pm there’s a perpetual line to get in (even around midnight when they close) and an unmistakable olive oil and garlic aroma wafts through the lobby, hovering near the elevators where a door opens directly into the dining room. That’s the Spain smell. Hong Kong was punctuated by whiffs of five spice and Malaysia would hit you with wafting shrimp paste. I’m not sure what scent sums up America. Don't tell me hot dogs.

Cod_1We discovered that there’s something a little cruel about Senyor. The menu you’re initially handed (as well as the one in the window) is entirely in Catalan. It’s possible to get the gist of some dishes if you know any Spanish or French, but much of it is impenetrable. I started feeling nervous and squirmy (which wasn't helped by both Italian couples–young and dull on my right and middle aged and frumpy on my left—continuously giving us looks throughout the meal. There's nothing ruder than staring at people when they're eating and I've noticed this behavior before from Europeans in NYC. I don’t know where this stems from, but it’s incredibly off putting. Even if someone’s a midget, missing limbs, or sideshow obese you don’t stare at them, duh) until I realized everyone else in the room had a yellow laminated menu not the colorful paper fold out version. It turned out they have a multilingual menu in French, German, Italian and English (I guess if you’re a strict Spanish speaker you’re shit out of luck).

Duck_2I couldn't help but notice that one group walked out shortly after being seated, though who knows if language confusion was the reason (this also happened with an American couple who walked in off the street at Cinc Sentits, which to me isn’t the kind of restaurant you casually decide to dine at).

To be honest, I don’t know all the classics of Catalan cuisine so I wasn’t sure what to order. Some of the food seemed to have French leanings, some struck me as very traditional. We split an order of toasted bread with pate, jamon and cheese. James tried bacalao with white beans and I had a duck leg with figs. Dessert had to be crema Catalana, a free form crème brulee that the gentleman next to us scarffed down in seconds (I encountered the same gusto lavished on a serving of paella by an Italian the following afternoon).

CremaFrom reading a few pre-vacation blurbs, I had expected the brasserie style restaurant to be smaller, dimmer and dowdier. It’s actually comfortably frenetic, crisp, bright (though obviously not bright enough to take decent photos without a flash–candle light isn't conducive to capturing food digitally) and much more reasonably priced than the atmosphere might suggest. I wish that I could try it again now that I know the routine. Week long vacations just aren’t long enough for seconds.

Senyor Parellada * Carrer Argenteria 37, Barcelona, Spain

Ham, Bread & Pupu

* Funny, Sunday’s New York Times Consumed column was about jamon iberico, my minor fixation from the recent past. Expect countless articles on the subject as we get closer to the hams’ maturation date possibly some time next year.

Bread * I’ve never been a grocery store label whore. Sure, chemicals and additives are bad but I’m not obsessive about fat grams or sodium content (though I should because heart disease and diabetes are totally waiting in the wings). What I didn’t know that really disturbs me is that virtually all store bought bread has high fructose corn syrup in it.

I was looking at all the hyperbole on the plastic bag of Kirkland white bread that James loves to buy from Costco and one of the sentences screamed, “no corn syrup.” And I was like duh, because I hate unnecessary health claims like putting “fat free” on mustard or chocolate syrup like it’s a new formulation when common sense would tell you these items never contained fat in the first place.

But on my last visit to Western Beef I was surprised to see that every single brand of bread, white and wheat, hot dog buns and hamburger rolls contained corn syrup. No, Western Beef isn’t a bastion of the organic or artisanal. They’re mainstream and rough around the edges—that’s why I love them. I don’t even eat white bread with any regularity, but it still irks me that something as basic as bread should have so much crap in it.

* There’s really not enough Polynesian in the city (or anyplace in the U.S. anymore). And Waikiki Wally’s doesn’t count. I’m determined to check out King Yum, a tiki hut holdout I somehow heard about for the first time a few months ago. The only trick is trying to convince people to come out to the furthest reaches of Queens with me for a pupu platter.

I was discovering Guatemalan food yesterday near the next to last stop of the F train (I finagled a ride because I’m spoiled) in Jamaica. The air on that block was spiced with Indian food (it could’ve been Bangladeshi or Pakistani—my nose isn’t that discriminating) but I didn’t have time to explore any of it because I was too busy eating salpicon, the craziest Latin American dish ever. It’s almost exactly like Thai larb, but not hot–kind of like Carroll Gardens Thai food, now that I think about it. I got papaya salad from 9-D Saturday night and I don’t think there was a single speck of chile in the whole damn thing. It was like the shredded fruit had been doused in limeade and peanuts, which is just unnecessary and wrong. Peeps_halloweenRemind me to stop attempting Thai food in Brooklyn.

*  I just noticed Halloween candy is in full effect at Eckerd and I'm assuming the same is true everywhere.  I originally noticed a candy corn display right after my birthday but before I went on vacation so that had to be late July. Is it now normal to advertise items intended for the last day of October in the middle of summer? I really don't approve of how they changed the Peeps spooky cat from purple to brown, either.

El Celler de Can Roca

Canroca I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant, let alone a two-star (three stars is the upper limit in Michelin’s realm, quite unlike New York’s new five-star scale and Time Out NY’s slightly newer six-star insanity) so I was revved up by the prospect. There are three three-stars also close to Barcelona, but El Bulli was out of the question since I’m no reservations guru, and I’d heard that Can Fabes and Sant Pau weren’t remarkably better than Can Roca, yet pricier.

New York, which was just granted a Michelin Guide this year, has only four two-star restaurants (Bouley, Daniel, Danube and Masa, if you’re curious). It’s funny because I live in a town where high end dining abounds yet I rarely indulge in any of it. I’ve only eaten at three of the one-stars (Annisa, WD-50 and Peter Luger) and haven’t set foot in the higher ranking establishments. I’m thinking maybe the new ballyhooed Eleven Madison Park incarnation for my seventh dating anniversary next month.

We took the hour and a half train ride to Girona. There was a little time to kill before our 3 pm lunch reservation, so we wandered around the station, smoked cigarettes, had coffee. There were taxis lined up outside so we figured we’d be safe. But of course, being me, this would not be the case. We had no idea how far away the restaurant was, but allowed ourselves half an hour for the taxi trip. So when 2:30 rolled around there wasn’t a single cab to be found. We waited, and waited and started getting scared (we had the worst time ever on our last vacation trying to catch a cab to a restaurant in Macau. We couldn’t hail one despite an hour of trying and when we finally flagged one down, they wouldn’t take us to Fernando’s. I was so exasperated with Macau that we just ferried it back to Hong Kong, never tasting the fabled suckling pig we’d come for). Then a freak thunderstorm broke out. Jesus Christ.

I spied a cab on the other side of the station so we ran and grabbed it, but after the driver heard where we wanted to go he was all, “tan lejos” so far. We tried both taxi numbers in our guide book and one no one answered, the other was dead. In a panic, we went to the information desk and asked the nice girl how to call a taxi and she gave us the same number we already had. Desperate, we had her point on a map where the restaurant was from the train station and she was also heading into “tan lejos” territory but I think she meant to walk, not drive because that’s what we were contemplating. It didn’t look far to me at all, but then I’ve discovered that New Yorkers have very different ideas about what’s walkable.

Just then, I noticed a new cab had pulled up outside so I ran and accosted the guy, practically begging him to drive us to Can Roca since we only a had a few minutes before our scheduled meal (I was shaking in my boots because I’m a punctuality nut, but then I reminded myself that late or not this was Spain where time has less meaning—why else would Dali make those clocks melt?). He didn’t have a problem with it. The drive was only like five minutes, if that. Insane. Tan lejos, my ass. If I wasn’t wearing heels, we seriously could’ve hoofed it if need be (though all the roundabouts and lack of right-angled street corners might’ve thrown us off).

So we made it on time and all was right with the world again. The first thing we both noticed was the décor. Totally Ureña. Ok, I’m making my own inside jokes now. When it opened earlier this year, Ureña got so much shit over its bland hotel lobby style that the food almost became secondary. Despite the Dominican chef going trendy Nuevo Spanish with his cuisine, I don’t think his eponymous restaurant is calculatedly trying to approximate a weirdo high end dining room in Spain. He probably didn’t have a big budget and fancy investors, cut the guy some slack.

The tasting menu seven courses for €75 (I don’t have that anywhere in writing, but it’s the number that sticks in my mind) seemed like the best route. A la carte would leave us wanting more and the chef’s menu might be over the top for the middle of the afternoon. We would’ve done dinner over lunch but the last train back to Barcelona is around 10 pm, far too early for a meal that would surely go hours and not even begin until after 9 pm.

I hate that I’m a wine retard almost as much as I hate being Spanish illiterate. I’m working on rectifying both of those situations, but these things take time. We took the coward’s way out and asked for wine pairings. If I’m correct, this was a reasonable €25 or so a person (especially when you read the things other people order. Do you think there was an upsurge in envy and feelings of inadequacy with the advent of the internet?). I’d heard about the three volume wine list that gets wheeled around on its own podium. That’s almost more simultaneously funny and frightening than snakes on a plane (sorry, I had to toss in planes and snakes in there somewhere). I’m not qualified to speak about the wines we were given and honestly can’t remember many of them (except for the gratis [I think] Bollinger served with the amuses) especially since they were described to us in Spanish. There was a port and a sherry in there, it never occurs to me to order sweet wines (which James took to calling "Disarannos," possibly to annoy me like when he intentionally mispronounces “The Devil Wears Pradas,” making fun of the lowbrow tendency towards adding unnecessary S’s to proper nouns. [I've humiliatingly said, and recently heard my mom say Fred Meyers for this popular NW store, simply called Fred Meyer, so no one's immune.] “Oh, another glass of Disaranno.” We’ve never had the amaretto, but it must’ve made an impression from the old Queer Eye days when they seemed to be their only advertiser and got mentioned on every episode) though they make sense with crazy combinations like foie gras and chocolate.

Only one of our servers spoke spotty English so a lot of details were lost on me when they presented each new dish. The additional trickiness is that the cuisine doesn’t always lend itself to simple translations. The dishes are fanciful, there are visual puns, quotes employed in menu descriptions, it’s not always easy to get if you’re not a native Spanish speaker. Like is the coco helado rallado con sorbete de yema de huevo mimicking an egg yolk, the orange orb on white edible grated coconut canvas or is the ice cream actually flavored with egg yolk? I try not to over analyze the food and simply concentrate on flavors. Even that can be difficult with so much going on. I was rattled with the newness of Spain, the fanfare of an acclaimed restaurant, concentrating on foreign words, the giddiness of the alcohol creeping up on me—sometimes it’s hard to stay focused. Thank goodness for the novel concept of presenting customers with a print out of what they’ve eaten (if you ask—I wouldn’t have known to do this if I hadn’t read about it on the web). I’ve never seen this done in NYC. I’ll simply show photos and offer mangled translations and vague descriptions. Delving into the minutiae of taste isn’t for me.

crujiente de tripa de bacallao/
salt cod rinds

These were like pork cracklings but with bacalao skin. Fun to snack on while drinking champagne.

caramelo de sesame and crujiente de parmesano con aceite de trufa/
sesame seed brittle and parmesan strips with truffle oil

More pre-meal snacks. Sweet and savory.

Can_roca_trio sardinas con helado de anchoas, moras y Olivares, veloute de hierbas anisadas con hinojo y agua de mar, higos con foie gras y Pedro Ximenez/sardines with anchovy ice cream, mulberries and Olivares, veloute of anise with fennel and sea water, figs with foie gras and Pedro Ximenez sherry

Ok, I'll admit that this tapas trio is baffling me. They weren't explained clearly to us and the Spanish descriptions aren't helping much because I'm not sure what some of the ingredients are. The spoon in the foreground definitely contained berries and fish, but I have no idea what Olivares is, which translates literally olive grove. Perhaps a brand name of olive oil? The shot glass contained a licorice-y concoction with a smidgen of sea creature that I'm thinking must be the agua de mar. It clearly wasn't a blob of sea water. The dish held a thick pudding, which must've been composed of figs and foie gras. I thought that it was topped with caviar, but there's no mention of that in the name.

Can_roca_cherry_soupsopa de cerezas con gambas y helado de jengibre/cherry soup with shrimp and ginger ice cream

The amazing nearly hot pink hue was much more vivid than pictured (I don't use a flash in restaurants). This was very bright and refreshing.

Can_roca_foie_gras_bonbonbonbon de foie gras con oporto Taylor's/foie gras bonbon with Taylor's port

A play on candy, these bonbons were foie gras encircling a chocolate center, topped with truffles. Olive oil and salt dotted the edges of the plate. The was insanely rich and I'm afraid it gave me a stomach ache later.

Can_roca_eggplant_anchovy_custardberenjena con anchoas/eggplant with anchovies

A smoked eggplant mousse with an aspic layer, anchovy and a little leaf, possibly basil. Our server was trying to search for the right word when describing this and after a few seconds declared, "aubergine." I should've been all, "speak American, dammit." I'm honestly not sure that the typical American (whatever that means) knows what aubergines are. Courgettes either, for that matter. I'll never understand why the British use all those Frenchified words.

Can_roca_codlenguado con "bullavesa" /sole bouillabaisse

This was a sprightly dish, not dark and ominous like the photo intimates. I couldn't really discern what the different green, white, yellow and red circles were, though I'm sure thought was put into them.

Can_roca_cabrito ventresca de cabrito con parmentier de leche de cabra y menta/baby goat confit with goat's milk and mint foam

I had no idea this was goat until I looked up cabrito. For some reason I thought it was suckling pig. I think this is a play on suckling pig in its mother's milk (or some such dish). That's kind of gruesome if you think  about it, but not as creepy as eating flowers (see below).

Can_roca_coconut_yolk_ice_creamcoco helado rallado con sorbete de yema de huevo/coconut granita with egg yolk sorbet

Like I said earlier, I'm not clear if this sorbet was yolk flavored (clearly I have no palate) or mimicking a yolk in appearance. I liked that it was served in a coconut shell bowl.

Can_roca_carolina_herrera_dessertadaptacion del perfume Carolina de Carolina Herrera/adaptation of Carolina Herrera's perfume Carolina: Despite the sheer novelty (I'm normally a sucker for novelty), this dish was the hardest for me to handle. I'm really fucking scared of eating flowers. I'll eat organ meats and baby animals, but flowers absolutely gross me out. (I found a flickr set from someone who ate at Can Roca the week after we did and they had a dish with squab and rose petals. It looks beautiful, but it might've freaked me out a bit.) I used to not even be able to eat lettuce or spinach if I could still make out ribs and stems but I've gotten a little better with that.

Youngest brother, Jordi Roca, is the mastermind behind all these inventive desserts. He is known for creating edibles to approximate the scent of perfumes like Miracle, Eternity and Tresor (I've also heard Polo, which I have horrible connotations with. I can't imagine eating Polo without gagging over bad teenage memories). You're brought strips spritzed with the perfume to smell and compare with the taste of the dessert. It's kind of uncanny.

Can_roca_sweetsEnd of dinner confections. I don't know the details. There was a white chocolate praline bark, fruity gel squares. White chocolate bonbons. The two in the right, front corner elude me.

We couldn’t figure out the youngish possibly-not-a-couple seated diagonally from us. The male was disheveled Euro-hip, the girl more mousey yet still artsy. They had a table already filled with wine glasses when we were seated and they were the only table remaining in our dining area when we headed out. There had to be at least 25 glasses in various states of fullness. I assumed they were doing a lengthy wine tasting, but then food would also come out so perhaps they’d opted for the chef’s choice route. They received a lot of attention from who I think was Josep Roca, sommelier/maitre d’. The girl had on a wedding ring, the guy did not. He seemed intoxicated, she didn’t. When she got up to use the restroom, she hugged him and he forcefully grabbed her ass. Their relationship was ambiguous. What were they doing here on a Tuesday afternoon? We were tourists, we had an excuse. I suppose they could’ve been, too. There’s no reason to think that all Spanish speakers are residents of the city I see them in.

Despite trying not be even an occasional smoker, I do love that smoking is permitted in the restaurant as is the case with Spain in general (though not at Cinc Sentits, where we dined a few nights later. I think there’s a direct correlation between the English fluency of the staff and smoking restrictions). At first James was like, “no we shouldn’t, it’s rude.” But the girl with the 20 wine glasses was puffing away the whole afternoon and I couldn’t let her have all the fun. During a marathon meal it’s luxurious to be leisurely about the whole thing. Stop to sip your wine, relax, converse, have a cigarette between courses. Worry about your health later.

I hate to say this (ok, I don’t because bathroom humor is the only thing that gets me by) but serious, er, digestive troubles slammed both of us later. James was having trauma at the hotel that evening and I refused to believe Can Roca was the stomach wrenching culprit. But me with the sluggish metabolism got my payback in the form of an unexpected accident the following afternoon at El Corte Ingles. ¿Donde esta el baño? (but I knew the word was baño in Spain so I wasn’t only fretting over finding a bathroom but not sounding like idiot while asking. It’s an L word and I’ve already forgotten it) got added to my tiny repertoire quite quickly.

I think the food was just really rich. My stomach isn’t accustomed to foie gras bon bons. James insists it was the anchovy eggplant custard that did him in. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the Can Roca experience. I apologize for the mildly gruesome postscript. I will say that just because you spent $300 on food is no guarantee that it will stay in your stomach for long. But aren’t the best experiences often ephemeral?

El Cellar de Can Roca * Carretera Taiala 40, Girona, Spain

Nha Trang Palace

I’m on my Barcelona kick, but this pre-vacation meal has been sitting in the hopper and I can’t just toss it out for bigger and better things. I really like Vietnamese food, but for me it’s kind of a back burner cuisine. When I think Asian, Thai, Chinese or Malaysian pop into my head first. Vietnamese feels healthy to me and I’m not always in a healthy mood. And now that I think about it, I almost only ever eat the same three things: banh mi, cha gio or pho. I need some serious horizon expanding.

I had originally planned a birthday party for July 28, yet somehow decided to cancel it, had zero celebration whatsoever, ended up eating soup in Sunset Park and going to bed relatively early. And who says 34 isn’t fun? At least I got an ice cream cake.

Nha_trang_pho I'm always amazed by the many permutations of pho available at most Vietnamese restaurants. I usually stick with the everything but the kitchen sink dac biet approach. The ingredients do differ. Here the $5.25they included verbatim: six difference brisket, navel, frank, omosa, tendon and eye of round. Ok, frank I think is flank. I'm a little scared of what navel and omosa are, though at least one must be a variation of tripe, as there were bumpy white sea creature looking strips in the bowl. I do like the meaty contrasts of crunchy, gelatinous and chewy, and how the paper thin rare round cooks in the broth.

Nha_trang_rolls The accompaniment plate had basil, lemon wedges and bean sprouts. Sometimes you get jalepeno, but not here. Of course, no one’s stopping you from adding a little “rooster sauce.”

We also had cha gio because fried rolls are always irresistible, but they weren't remarkable here. The filling was very porky, maybe a bit too much so and the wrapper was bubbly from the oil, but lacked a crisp bite.

Nha Trang Palace is likeable, but no great shakes. If you’re ever in Sunset Park and want pho, it’s as good as any.

Nha Trang Palace * 5906 Eighth Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Sagardi & Euskal Etxea

Barcelona isn't much of a tapas town. Basque pintxos are more the thing (though San Sebastian is where they really do pintxos up big—we didn’t encounter anything nearly as esoteric as the examples on Todopintxos). It's fairly easy to figure out if you're in for tapas or pintxos. One giveaway that you’re in for the latter is if the restaurant has a seemingly superfluous X in the name (funny, that I ended up in two regions—Wales and Catalan—rife with preserving ancient, hard to pronounce languages). Another tip off is a bar covered with plates of sliced french bread topped with toothpick-speared goodies.

Euskalinside If you’re unfamiliar with the routine (I’m obsessed with doing things the right way and not looking like a retard, which kind of makes me a retard),  the procedure is asking for a plate, then helping yourself to whatever catches your fancy. It’s not a simple as it sounds, though, because these bars are often four people deep. You might get a glimpse or two of something enticing but maneuvering to reach and pick up said snack is an art form I didn’t have time to cultivate. If you’re nimble enough to grab a few pintxos and lucky to be standing in the right spot when something fresh and tasty is brought from the kitchen, you’ll be set. Just don’t toss out your toothpicks after eating since that’s how they tally up your bill. I can’t help but imagine that diners try to beat this honor system at least occasionally, or maybe that’s just the New Yorker in me scheming.

I had my trusty list of restaurants to try and weirdly enough, a good majority of them happened to be in the vicinity of our hotel. I'm not used to such convenience. On most of my few other travels, getting to all the places I wanted to eat took more effort (with the exception of the The Scarlet being practically next door to the Maxwell Food Centre) and usually involved subways not strolls.

The only stumbling block was the August closures (I'm still fascinated how entire European countries can take an entire month off at the same time and the world doesn't explode). Oh, and the overwhelming crowds filling eateries during peak hours. Agoraphobic tapas lovers like me must overcome their fears. I suppose a few glasses of sidra helps the nerves.

Sagardi2 Sagardi wasn't on my list. I put a lot of faith in my list, which is essentially just cut and pasted blurbs from various websites and blogs, but it does the trick. Our strip, Carrer Argenteria, was tourist central, kind of more East Village in vibe with the dense foreigner concentration of Times Square, so I didn't suspect Sagardi to be much of a gem (though perennially packed Taller de Tapas, diagonally across the square was on my list, so maybe my tourist trap theory holds no water). Despite my love of chains, I wasn’t sure if my love extended to European ones.

No matter, we wanted a snack around 5 pm, well before proper Spanish dinner time and Sagardi had open outdoor tables, which are a premium on any night of the week. Of course, only tourists are eating tapas at this hour but I was a tourist so I didn’t care that I was being gauche. I needed a pintxos fix before my real 10 pm dinner.

Sagardi1 I was only going to pick out four items, but really if you’re splitting each morsel in two that’s not tons of food. I didn’t know what I was grabbing, but they turned out to include a cod-potato stuffed pequillo pepper that was breaded and fried, mozzarella, tomato, anchovy and oregano, another with sardines, red pepper and frizzled leeks (I think) and a fourth that I can’t even figure out from looking at the photo, but looks like it contained grated cheese and a paste of some sort gluing it down with something vaguely chartreuse and mauvey—a pickled pepper and squid? That makes no sense. I guess it wasn’t very memorable. Maybe they all had anchovies…I’m confused. James ended up going back for a second round and found ones topped with tomato paste, parsley leaf and anchovy, a simple jamon, sweet cream cheese with blueberry sauce, shredded mint and what I swear was a carrot cookie and one using salmon, dill diced onion.

Euskalout On our last evening I wanted a more authentic experience, so we tried to get to Euskal Etxea early, around 9 pm but the bar and smattering of seats were already taken and a strong crowd was taking hold. We still did OK, and I would’ve stayed longer and had a second drink if it hadn’t been so hot inside. I don’t fare well without air conditioning and this was one of the rare places I encountered during our brief Spain visit that was au natural. Is sweating while eating an authentic Basque experience? This bar is so hardcore that they don't even offer Spanish on their website, the two choices are Basque or Catalan. English? Don’t even ask.

Euskalfood Here, it was tough to survey the food scene fully. I ended up picking a few random treats like one with a cheese (possibly manchego) wedge, walnuts and caramel (I don’t think it was honey, despite that seeming more plausible), one with little poached eggs, cheese and anchovies, and another with sardines and red peppers. I also got a mini croissant with smoked salmon a little later. James got a few non-bread pintxos (they’re not all bread based) like a gazpacho shot and little glass dish containing mushrooms and shrimp in a wine based sauce. We also sampled a fresh from the fryer, cheese croquette, or I guess croqueta. You have to get a jump on the hot stuff.

Sidra, hard cider, is a respectable drink with pintxos. Txakoli, a lightly fizzy, Basque white wine is also an option, but I never had a single glass in Barcelona. I did drink a lot of cava, but not with my pintxos. I had wanted to try El Xampanyet, (X pronounced CH so the word sounds vaguely like champagne when said aloud and makes sense since it’s a cava bar) right across the street from Euska Etxea (yes, it was on my list) but unfortunately, they were victims of the shuttered-up August syndrome.

I was surprised when our toothpicks were added up and we’d only spent €17 euros. I’m pretty sure we spent closer to €30 at Sagardi earlier in the week. I recall their pintxos being pricier, €1.92 each to be exact. Euskal Etxea’s were probably more in the €1.25-1.50 range, which seems more typical.

Pintxos, tapas, whatever you want to call them, make me happy. I used to have fantasies of eating hors d'oeuvres and appetizers for every meal. But it’s a lot of effort and you need a lot of ingredients. It’s not terribly feasible for one person. I guess that’s what the whole small plates hoo ha is about. I just can’t help but feel that that’s a thinly veiled move to get people to spend more and get less. I don’t go for it. Can’t a girl love tiny food and still be thrifty?

Sagardi * Carrer Argenteria 62, Barcelona, Spain
Euskal Etxea * Placeta Montcada 1-3, Barcelona, Spain

Clams & Tomatoes: Interspecies Friends?

Clamato I don't normally give much attention to the office vending machine (though I've always been wowed by the one that dispense Good Humor ice cream bars) but it's one of the only things to look at while waiting for my coffee to brew or drip or whatever it does that takes an eternity to come out (they have this fancy Starbucks contraption that grinds your beans on demand and makes a fresh cup, but it takes its sweet time).

The other day I couldn't help but notice the word Clamato staring out at me. Who knew they made Clamato tortilla chips? (They being Poore Brothers, who also make T.G.I. Friday's chips and Cinnabon cookies.) And who on earth would've thought it was a good idea to put them in there? I strongly doubt that it was a request. In the past I've seen handwritten, taped up pleas for more Baked Lays (maybe all those fake fats are the source of the office's apparent bowel incontinence problem). I'm not a chip person, but I am almost curious enough to see if they're really color crayon red like on the package and if they actually taste like tomatoes and clams.

The odd thing is that a bulk of the internet references to this bizarre snack food also mention vending machines so it must be some corporate-geared thing.

Clammy tomato goodness from iamgracie on Flickr.