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Here are some photos of the sights around Haut-Medoc and the chateaux that we passed on our drives through the region.

From Blanquefort, we drove north on D2 along the river, passing Macau (where we stocked up on cheeses and crackers), Margaux, Saint-Julien, and Pauillac. We did not go further up to Saint-Estephe. Each of the villages producing wine has its own tourist information center (maison). There are 8 appellations in Medoc (Medoc, Saint-Estephe, Haut-Medoc, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis and Margaux), all producing AOC wines.

We stopped at Margaux to visit Chateau Ferriere (see earlier post) and had lunch at Le Savoie (nothing remarkable).

In the Medoc region, a total of 60 Grand Cru Classé wines were included in the 1855 Official Classification.

Pauillac visiter center with a giant unlabelled bottle.

Along the way, we stopped briefly at Chateau Pichon Baron, Pauillac.

The chateau was built in 1851 in Renaissance style with two turrets.

In front of the chateau are two ornamental pools, which with a blue sky created a Margrittesque canvas.

The wine of Pichon Baron was recognized in the 1855 classification as Second Growths (Deuxièmes Crus).

We walked in the grounds of Chateau Beychevelle, Saint-Julien.

Missed the tour but loved the garden.

The wine of Beychevelle was recognized in the 1855 classification as Fourth Growths (Quartrièmes Crus).

A typical scene of a generic Bordeaux vineyard and chateau. No idea now where in Medoc was this taken.

Voilà, les vignobles Bordelais.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing with our travel in the Bordeaux-Medoc region …

At Pauillac’s tourist information, we asked about any last minute tour and they suggested we try Château Lamothe Bergeron, Cussac-Fort-Médoc, without a reservation.

By the time we got there, all the visitors had left already. The owner/manager saw us lingering and asked the guide to give us a tour.  A private tour !

Everything about this establishment seem new even though it has been around for a long time, the chateau was built in 1868. The wine is classified as Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Medoc.

The reception area is decorated like a living room.

The tour started with a visit to a hut overlooking a field of grapes.

Some of the big production spaces on the tour have nightclub lightings.

With massive stainless steel tanks lining the space, reflective walls and high ceilings, all one need is a DJ and nice sound system.

The tour included a multimedia experience, a kind of augmented reality without the headset. Very slick presentation of the blending process projected on a glass partition with the barrel room in the background – state of the art technology.

According to its web site (click here):

Nestling between the terroirs of Margaux and Saint-Julien, Lamothe-Bergeron forms part of the closed circle of châteaux “with a river view”, in other words those occupying the best gravels left by the Gironde estuary. This magical soil warms the grapes, provides perfect drainage and produces grapes with finesse…

The vineyards cover 67 hectares, of which 58% are planted with Merlot grapes, 38% with Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.

At the end of the tour, we were invited to try 2 vintages.

The tasting station is diffusely lit from the bottom.

The wines were both good. We bought a 2009 and a 2014.

Fun.

 

 

 

Continuing with our travel in the Bordeaux-Medoc region …

Everything was last minute on this trip and that made it impossible to join a tour of any one of the famous first growth (Grand Cru Classé – Primer Cru) winemakers. We kind of knew it but kept our plan loose.

The staff at our chateau (see earlier post) was very kind and secured us a spot on a tour of Château Ferrière.

Château Ferrière is a winery in the Margaux appellation of the Bordeaux region of France. The wine produced here was classified as one of fourteen Troisièmes Crus (Third Growths) in the historic Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.

Interesting machine. We thought grapes are still picked by hand … probably depends on the vinyard.

The 1855 classification contained more wines from Margaux than from any other appellation, and its best-known vineyard, Château Margaux, was one of only four wines to be awarded the Premier Cru status.

We started with a cool dark room where the tanks made of concrete are used for primary fermentation. We did not expect concrete as a material to make the tanks.

The Château has 29 acres (12 hectares) planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It has the smallest surface of vines of all the classified growth in 1855. A parcel of this small terroir lies in the heart of the Margaux village, next to Chateau Margaux.

The 1855 Classification resulted from the 1855 Exposition Universelle de Paris, when Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system for France’s best Bordeaux wines that were to be on display for visitors from around the world. Brokers from the wine industry ranked the wines according to a château’s reputation and trading price, which at that time was directly related to quality.

The tour was led by a staff member using English, although an Italian family joined us on the tour.

The second stage, malolactic fermentation is carried out in new oak barrels.

A second wine is produced under the label Les Remparts de Ferriere. We tried a few vintages and bought two bottles of Chateau Ferriere.

Buying and taking wine home over a long drive is generally not recommended because the temperature in a car under the sun might ruin the wine.

Bon vin.

After reaching our westernmost destination on our Alps-Atlantic trip at Biarritz (click here to see related posts), we came back via Bordeaux and stopped for a few days to explore the area.

The Cité du Vin is a museum as well as a place of exhibitions and academic seminars on the theme of wine located in the city of Bordeaux.

The building, meant to suggest a decanter, was designed by Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of XTU architects.

La Cite du Vins was official opened by the President, François Hollande on May 31, 2016. So the place is not even a year old, it is brand new.

The building has 8 floors with most of the exhibition spaces and classrooms on the lower floors.

In an open exhibition space occupying more than 3,000 m², nearly twenty different themed areas invite you to take a voyage of discovery and enjoy a unique experience exploring the many and varied facets of wine across time and space.

One can spend hours watching, listening, and even smelling the exhibits. There is so much media content to be consumed.

One darkened area has several tables where visitors can sit around and watch a virtual host explain various topics – history, entertaining, food pairing.

The table is actually a screen and the image changes continuously – sometimes it is a dining table but it could morph into another image seamlessly and quickly.

There were several tables that allow visitors to discern the aromas present in a wine. A squeeze of the small black rubber bulb releases the aroma which can be inhaled from the copper horn.

This part of the exhibition was unique in that they provided many different sources of aroma.

We participated in a multi-sensory workshop where we tasted several wines, learnt about its origin (not all were French) and pairing with food around the world. It is “multi-sensory” because certain aromas were sprayed into the room to invoke a sense of a place and its food which were projected on surround screen.

The workshop was entertaining and its delivery employed state of the art technology.

There are 2 restaurants. We did not eat there. Our entry ticket include a free glass of wine to be enjoyed at the belvedere which affords a 360 degree view of the northern end of Bordeaux city and the river Garonne.

“Downtown” direction view of the city of Bordeaux.

There is a souvenir shop “La Boutique” which sells every wine-related gifts one can imagine.

Next to it is the wine store which stocks thousands of bottles from around the world. Not just Bordeaux or French, a truly comprehensive international collection.

We spent almost the entire day here. The city really did a good job in creating this museum to educate and promote wine culture, and giving adults the sense of fun that kids have in a themed amusement park.

One morning in Biarritz, we went over to the town’s main market to get coffee and some breakfast.

Pastries.

Busy, as expected. But lots to see and buy.

The sandwiches for Fa and An looked really good. Very fresh.

This stand specializes in goat cheese, so many varieties.

Fresh goat cheese with fruits.

Poultry and rabbit.

Something internal (gesiers) and drumstick (manchons) smeared with duck fat – only in France.

As Biarritz is so close to the Spanish border, there were lots of jamon. Wanna see more Spanish ham ? – click here.

Hams, ruccola, grilled eggplant and peppers wrapped in mozzarella.

Canned seafood for tapas.

A nice way to spend a morning.

La Cabane à Huitres – we went to this oyster shack on rue Gambetta – a street lined with shops, and at the top end, restaurants (that are not overly touristy).

Small place with brisk service. Simple decor made it feel like a shack.

They have oysters from Marennes d’Oleron Fines de Claires at three different sizes as well as Regal oysters from Ireland.

Everything on the menu is in the refrigerated display cabinet.

Between the French and the Irish which we tried, the Irish tasted sweeter.

Our dinner was mostly seafood except this grilled, salted chili peppers.

We also had fresh anchovies, and octopus marinated in red sauce.

The garlicky-chili clams (palourdes) were great.

Apple crumble for dessert.

This local wine was refreshing and had a subtle mineral taste that went well with the shellfish.

Recommended.

Saint-Émilion is rustic and picturesque. Hostellerie de Plaissance is located in the center of it sitting above the Place du Marché next to the Monolithic church (Clocher de l’eglise Monolithe).

The restaurant has a private courtyard that overlooks the square and restaurants below. We could have sat outside but due to the pollen, we opted to be inside.

We did not make a reservation and as it was a spur of the moment thing, just walked in very casually – so much so that the staff felt compelled to ask if we knew the restaurant has two Michelin stars. We thought it was a bit rude of them.

At the entrance, the dining room is partly hidden behind a lacquered curvy screen.

The dining room was not even half full – it was only the beginning of the season. We liked it this way.

The chef is Ronan Kervarrec. We chose a relatively simple menu with wine pairings.

We started with a number of appetizers, including churros (in the background of the photo).

Chefs like to use lentil to form a base, like soil, to present food constructions (second time we saw it in a few days).

Asparagus was in season (it was on all the menus during this trip). Here it was served as “Green asparagus braised in a chicken broth, frangipane tart with peanuts and zabaliglione”.

On the menu that they printed for us to keep, the second course is “Deep sea scallops poached in a stock sauce and cauliflower”. We pondered on the term “stock sauce” – it is so understated that is bordering on laziness or being mysterious.  The sauce was however very good whatever it was made with.

“Basil in small ravioli, vegetal broth, white cheese sorbet”. This was taken before the green vegetal broth was poured over it.

“Cherry amaretto, almond soufflé and cherry sorbet crisp macaroons”

We added a cheese course to the menu to go with the wines.

Assorted desserts.

They also made a miniature canelé served on top of a brass full-size canelé mould. Very popular in Bordeaux, canelé is a pastry flavored with rum and vanilla having a soft and tender custard center, and a dark, thick caramelized crust.

We had coffee and not tea, otherwise, we would have been offered a selection of fresh herb leaves that are plucked directly from potted plants. It was fun to see the potted plants being carted around the dining room – certainly caught the eyes of some diners. It is chic to do it now, even our office canteen started having these live plants around the coffee/tea areas.

According to Wikipedia, Plaisance is a French word, meaning pleasantness, derived from the Latin placentia ‘acceptable things’. Google Translate offers “recreation”, and it is not “pleasure” as we jokingly suggested.

We noticed a certain well known, local wine – the “white horse” – in its collection.

A fine establishment indeed. Highly recommended.

 

Today is the day of the French presidential election. The future of Europe depends much on this result. Apt that we blog about France here aujourd’hui.

We spent a week on the west coast of France over Easter. On our drive towards the Atlantic from the Alps, Clermont Ferrand is roughly the midpoint after Lyon. Our  friends, Fa and An were heading in the same direction for their vacation. So we decided to drive together, two cars in tandem. Our first night was at Saint-Émilion.

Fa volunteered to find a good restaurant around Clermont Ferrand to make the boring drive more enjoyable (Google estimated that it would take about 7 hours). As he rightly said, it is not often that he or any one of us will likely pass through this part of France (Auvergne) in the near future.

He made a reservation at Le Pré in Durtol near Clermont Ferrand. The restaurant stops receiving diners for lunch at 1:15pm. To make it there on time, we had an excuse to drive rather fast (… I got a speeding ticket through the mail after returning to Switzerland).

The restaurant is in a modern building and the dining room and bar are located in the mid-section. We had a hard time finding the entrance in the beginning. As we arrived a little bit after our reservation time slot, the maître’d gave us the most frosty welcome. (This is not Switzerland, come on).

The main dining room was almost full so we had our private room. Hehe.

The chef of this Michelin 2-star restaurant is Xavier Beaudiment.

There are 86 two-star restaurants and 12 new ones in 2017.

He won his second star this year – that is probably why it was so full for lunch on a weekday.

There is a poached egg down there. Went very well with the white asparagus.

” … a unique menu elaborated according to the inspiration of the moment, with the complicity of a whole network of small producers and wild herbs in the region. A “kitchen of instinct”, allied to a true sense of flavors, …”  – The Inspector’s words (translated, courtesy Google)

We did notice unique flavors – clearly distinguishable and not muddled – which were much appreciated.

A detour to this restaurant took us off the monotonous motorway and we drove through the Auvergne regional park built around a long-dead volcano range – Chaîne des Puys.

The source of the international brand of mineral water – Volvic – is not far from the restaurant. And we were drinking the local water with our meal.

One of the dessert is all about chocolate – five or six ways of preparing it – I (Chris) am not a die-hard chocolate fan but really enjoyed it.

The bar/lounge area is nicely decorated. While the nice large windows give the space lots of light but there is not much to see outside. Suburban homes and the parking lot.

Quite a collection of cognac and armagnac.

Recommended.

In our bookstore tour of the world, we increasingly see the merger of bookselling with another retail concept – for example, the T-site in Daikanyama 代官山 in Tokyo and the Eslite Spectrum in Hong Kong – see our posts here and here. In Bologna, I (Chris) visited the Librerie Coop + Eataly Bologna – a combination that is more 50-50 than the earlier examples.

 

Librerie Coop is a chain in Italian bookstore with more than 30 stores.

 

Eataly is an international operator of food halls selling Italian food stuffs and restaurants – their stores are apparently wildly successful in NYC at first (that was after we left the city) and then in Chicago.

 

Admittedly, we have not yet been inside one in the US but we imagine them to be a kind of European imported food megastore with a high-end food court. The food halls of Harrods (London), Shinsegae (Seoul) and KaDeWe in Berlin (see post) come to mind.

 

The corporate parent is an Italian company founded near Alba and started first in Torino. Apparently, the two companies have collaborated at multiple locations in Italy.

 

The book-food store is located not far from Piazza Maggiore at Via degli Orefici, 19.

 

This location has a cafe, a wine bar…

 

a trattoria …

and an osteria.

I wonder if they will let customer take a book to the table to read while waiting for or consuming his/her order.

The bookstore floor space is tight, although it has several floors. Compare this with the oldest bookstore in Bologna, Libreria A. Nanni which I also visited – see post here.

The space feels intimate and cozy overall. Great idea, well executed.

I read in the news that Eataly will open a food theme park – Eataly World – in Bologna in 2017. It will convert 20 acres of old warehouses into 25 restaurants, 10 classrooms, a convention center, farms, and labs. Buono appetito. Looking forward to it …

Ciao

Spanish cured ham (Jamón Ibérico) is well known worldwide. They are sold and consumed in specialist shops – Jamonería – in Madrid.

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One such store situated just off the Puerta del Sol named itself Museo del Jamon.

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Its location suggests that it is a touristy place, but surprisingly, it was packed with locals or domestic tourists.

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One can have a sandwich with any ham in the shop.

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Platters with specific kinds of ham (jamon iberico, jamon serrano, lomo etc), sausages and cheeses.

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There were many kinds of ham and various price points.

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It reminded us a little bit of the sausage shop on the top floor of the KaDeWe in Berlin. Click here to see 100’s of sausages on display.

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The whole leg of ham is typically placed horizontally on a Jamonera and thin slices are hand cut and lifted individually.

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The little inverted umbrellas collect the fat dripping off the leg of ham.

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We saw several jamonerias in central Madrid but wondered if they are also set up in other parts of Spain.

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This is a big one and does not appear to be touristy.

Adios.

 

We spent a weekend in Verbier during the summer this year and luckily it coincided with the annual Alps en Fête where we saw the Bataille des Reines, see the post here.

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The event was held at the Alpage des Grand-Plans, Les Planards, an alpine pasture above Verbier that was reached by public bus and a minibus operating for the day. The scenery is very much like “The Sound of Music” which is really Austrian.

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A road led us up from the bus stop to the pasture where the event was held. The road continues, sloping gently upwards. Along the way, there were two restaurants/lodge. They appear to rent out rooms.

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One of the restaurants is called La Marmotte. It was nearly full with people sitting on the outside taking in the sun, breeze and view.

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We were lucky to be offered a table with a view under a sun umbrella. After we ordered, we were served a free simple starter – olive paste on crispy bread.

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We had a generous portion of tomato soup …

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… and assorted mushrooms (mostly girolles and possibly some other kinds) in creamy sauce and a puff pastry. The Swiss likes to gather wild mushrooms.

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We also had a beef tartare and fries.

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All were excellent. The service was friendly and we had great seats facing the wide open space. Looking up, the nets set up to prevent avalanche and/or falling rocks were clearly visible (not in the photo), as are paths that lead up to the top.

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The view here is stunning, blue sky with a few clouds – the entire community of Verbier below –  the pastures on the other side of the valley, fresh air …

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Climbing wall for the energetic.

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The inside of the restaurant was open but no one wanted to be indoors.

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But we can imagine this wooden lodge, now in December with snow falling outside, it must be very cosy. A classic alpine mountain experience (if it is open).

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We said we would come back summer or winter.

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Highly recommended.

Pintxos and tapas are usually eaten in bars or taverns as a small snack while hanging out with friends or relatives; thus, they have a strong socializing component, and in the Basque country they are regarded as a cornerstone of local culture.

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It is also very convenient for tourists too. Our previous post (see part 1 here) showed various platefuls of pintxos we had along our way to some sightseeing destinations – a market here and a museum there.

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The photos shown here were all taken during one lunch period at the bars and taverns located in the old town (Parte Vieja) of San Sebastián-Donostia.

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The area is a bit touristy but it became famous partly because of the pintxos bars here. The beach, waterfront and some of the city sights are just a few minutes away.
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We were doing a kind of bar-hopping, except that the main objective was to try different kinds of pintxos.

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If you search, there are lists of the best pintxos-tapas bars in this part of town online.

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We stopped by Ganbara which is one of the better known tapas/pintxos bar. It was packed and nearly impossible to place an order.

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Cool sparkling white wine on a hot day.

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Ganbara piled their special ingredients on the counter – mushrooms and peppers.

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We ordered their famous mixed mushroom with egg yolk. It is so simple and delicious that we have made a note of the idea and will try to replicate the dish at home.

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We had jamón ibérico in croissant – it was light and yet fatty, salty too.

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We also had the spider crab baked tart and chorizo sausage roll. The idea of the tart sounded more interesting than its taste. The rolls were however divine.

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All were accompanied by skewers of something sharp and salty – olives, pickles and anchovies.

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One of the other places where we stopped do not display the tapas dishes on the counter. At Borda Berri, another well-known tapas bar, the items were all listed on a board. As far as we saw, few items were served on a stick here.

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We ordered the mushroom risotto – Arroz “Bomba” con hongos.

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We also tried grilled octopus – Pulpo a la plancha con Membrillo.

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And we ordered Oreja de cerdo con romescu (pig’s ear). The photo looked rather dull so we are skipping it here.

It was fun eating lunch this way, albeit a bit hectic. Everything tasted great here.

 

 

While visiting Northern Spain, we had several opportunities to try pintxo. A pincho (literally “thorn” or “spike”) or pintxo (Basque) is a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country.

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The first place we went was in Bilbao which is not a touristy spot. There, we paid 1 euro per piece.

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Pintxos are related to tapas, the main physical difference being that pintxos are usually ‘spiked’ with a skewer or toothpick, often to a piece of bread.

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They are served in individual portions and always ordered and paid for independently from the drinks. The main differences, apart from the local ingredients, is that in southern Spain one would get a tapa for free with a drink, while one pay for pintxos in the North.

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We also had a few sticks of pintxos at a cafe, sitting in the middle of a square in San Sebastián-Donostia. These were really disappointing – for a start, the bread were not even toasted !

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We also had a snack of pintxos at the cafe inside the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao (see photos below).

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Each item had an explanation of what were in it, in Basque, Spanish, English and French.

White tuna and vegetable pasty – 3 euros

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Anchovies with Bilbao-style ratatouile – 2.5 euros

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Stuffed egg and prawn – 2.5 euros

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Roll with goat cheese, celery and sofrito – 2.6 euros

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The other place where we had pintxos was in Madrid. Lizarran is apparently a chain of restaurants specialized in tapas/pintxos.

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It was located in a touristy area and the prices were almost twice or 3x that of the other place in Bilbao.

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We wondered if tapas is free and pintxos are not, does it mean drinks are more expensive or smaller in southern Spain ?

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More pictures of tasty snacks to come.

 

 

San Sebastián-Donostia is well known for its collection of Michelin-star restaurants (at least 16 stars in one city, just behind Kyoto – see our visit to Arzak here).  It also has a fair share of popular fun restaurant such as Va Bene, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying.

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It’s a burger joint. Va Bene sounds Italian to us but it might also be Spanish (feel free to comment below). Its full name might be “Va Bene Disco Burger” (see sign below).

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Behind the red bar is a DJ setup and racks of vinyl LPs – may be it turns into a disco after dark.

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There is a disco across the street, we imagine these places would be packed after dark.
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The interior is mostly painted firehouse red and packed wall to wall with American signs from the yesteryears. Norman Rockwell posters galore.

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They have a Coca-Cola bottle dispenser and assorted vintage knick-knacks, except everything looks shiny and brand new.

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This is really a complete package of Americana that is designed to create that warm and fun environment.

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The menu is extremely flexible, every ingredient can be combined with every other ingredient in different combinations.

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One of us tried the white toast with Spanish ham and cheese.

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We went during lunch. It was not busy but a stream of people kept coming in.  This place is not far from the beach so this kind of American fast food must be popular.

Gastronomy is a major reason to visit the northern coast of Spain. At Donostia-San Sebastián, we tried the restaurant Arzak.

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Arzak received and held onto three Michelin stars since 1989 and is ranked no. 21 on San Pellegrino’s world 50 best restaurants (in September 2016).

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Juan Mari Arzak earned the stars and is now joined by her daughter Elena who won San Pellegrino’s Best Female Chef award in 2012. She came to our table and chatted with us for a bit.

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He is one of the heros of the region who started the Nueva Cosina Vasca (New Basque Cuisine) movement in the late 70s.

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They have interesting ways to serve appetizers.

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We were lucky to get a table only a few days before that evening.

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.

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We all chose the 7-course tasting menu (excluding various amuse bouche and desserts).

Scarlet prawn with krill

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Fish of the day with patxaran and purple corn

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Red space egg – one of the famous dishes here.

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Monkfish Cleopatra (hieroglyphics in pumpkin and chickpea)

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The idea of printing edible hieroglyphics is laudable but it was not that special tasting.

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Lamb with cypress aroma

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At this point, none of the dishes stood out as particularly memorable.

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Square moon

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Additional desserts

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.

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Overall, it was very delightful and delicious, lots of imagination has gone into creating the dishes. However, given a certain degree of anticipation, none of us was surprised or overwhelmed by the dishes.

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Check out their pretty and dynamic web site here.

We arrived at Madrid in mid-afternoon and missed lunch. So we settled for a snack at this hotel situated in the same plaza as our apartment. This was in June 2016.

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The eatery is located in the ME Madrid Hotel Reina Victoria situated in the west end of Plaza Santa Ana.

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There are several different areas – upon entry there is a bar.

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The eatery’s front door faces the plaza in the heart of the Literary Quarter (Barrio de las Letras).

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… then there is a lounge area for reading or surfing …
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There is a restaurant at the back that looked decent.

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We sat in an area where they served us snacks.

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It was really relaxing as we can watch the activities in the plaza, while sitting in the shade under a ceiling fan with a cold drink. It was sunny and quite hot outside.
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Our snacks were standards with a slight twist and they were tasty. Do not remember seeing tapas/pintxos on the menu – may be because the real kitchen is closed.
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We had quite a few of these dishes as we were hungry.

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As it got later at night, there was a velvet rope scene outside for the roof top bar next door.  But this place was packed. There was a DJ spinning, facing the plaza, so it was very lively in the evening – almost too noisy for we had an apartment facing the plaza.

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Plaza Santa Ana reminded us of Washington Square Park in NYC.

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Definitely worth stopping by for a drink, especially in the evening.

 

El Caldero is situated in a central, pedestrian-only touristy area of Madrid. It was only one block from Plaza de Santa Ana where we were staying.

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It was founded in 1973 and specializes in Spanish rice dishes – paella.

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Their signature dish is rice cooked in a cauldron (more like a bucket) as illustrated by this painting – which is much deeper than the pan typically used in cooking paella.

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We ordered the paella and the “bucket” of seafood-flavored rice.

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The waiters distributed the food on our plates – so we did not have to scoop the rice out of the bucket.

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We came here towards the end of our trip and at that time during the trip, we have not even touched rice once, having been focusing our attention on tapas/pintxos.

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According to their website (click here), which is quite colorful, they follow the cooking traditions of Murcia – which might explain the sauces, not sure if this is true.

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They claim to combine the ingredients from the Mediterranean and the Spanish interior to make the dishes –  Murcia as a province, has a coast and a vast interior land mass.

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Dessert drinks on the house !

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We enjoyed our meal there. Recommendable.

After all that Russian art that came before this post, we thought a post about a hearty meal is apt.

El Asador de Aranda is a chain of steakhouse in Spain that are well-known for their suckling lamb roasted in clay oven. We went to the one in downtown Madrid on Calle de Preciados. Given its central location, it is a bit touristy but we were hungry and a bit intrigued by its appearance.

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We suspect the restaurant wants to replicate the ambiance of a castle and therefore surrounded the entire dinning space with heavy wooden panels – the kind one expect to see in a church or a court of law.

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The almost-medieval decor gives the impression that the restaurant takes its food seriously, the old-fashioned way.

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We trusted their statement despite its touristy location.

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They claim to have over 50 years of experience in slow-roasting suckling lamb – their slogan is “el cordero como ya nadie lo cocina” (lamb like nobody cooks it anymore).

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We ordered the touristy basics – started with sangria and gazpacho.

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All good.

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The steak was good. Probably because they showered it with salt flakes just before serving.

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We order their specialty – a leg of lamb  – which they show you and then cut up into pieces. It was certainly very tender, but the steak was better if you ask me.

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Here is the clay wood-burning oven and somebody’s order of steaks and half a lamb.

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We are so used to going to the supermarket instead of the butcher – it is a bit startling to see a whole animal on a plate.

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Reliable and recommendable. The chain’s website is here.

They have quite a few restaurants around the country, three in Madrid, three in Barcelona, and three in Aranda de Duero (a small town just north of Madrid) where they started.

 

 

The earlier posts in this series are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry, and part 4 is about wagashi.

Japanese snacks is an entire world of new experiences – fun or luxurious packaging, interesting ingredients, traditional or modern tastes – sweet, salty, spicy, fishy, in myriad combinations, or all at once.

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Our bag of crackers came from a supermarket nearby.  This slice of squid caught our eyes.

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Some pieces looked like fossils of ancient crustaceans recovered from an archaeological dig.

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Marbled with seaweed, they are tasty.

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We must be mad – taking portraits of rice crackers.

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well, after a long day of trekking around Tokyo …

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In addition to these supermarket products, we tried some fancy shrimp crackers that come in a gift box, ten individually wrapped and cost almost $20.  (we ate them quickly and are not shown here)

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While eating salty crackers, you might want something to drink. Not a problem around here. The street corner at the end of our street has ten vending machines !

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The machines sell mostly soft drinks, but also cigarettes.

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Pepsi, no Coke. Buying drinks this way is really inexpensive, most are about 120 to 140 yen.

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Marlboro and Lark.

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One machine sells alcohol, Asahi, and Kirin beer, sake and even whisky.

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The vending machines also sell warm/hot drinks – tea and coffee but also this warm sweet corn soup. It was quite tasty and felt nourishing – IT’s fav. There are more than 60 different kinds of drinks available from these machines.

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This is my favorite, Green DaKaRa – a watery juice mix or multi-flavored water. I(Chris) cannot describe it. One can work it out by deciphering the icons … ok, it has various citrus fruits, tomatoes, grapes, aloe, honey, white substances, black beans, diamonds and a gold bar ?!

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One of Sue’s fav is the peach water below.

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On the way to the airport, we bought all these drinks with the lose change in our pocket … before security check, without thinking … meaning we had to finish them while waiting in line !

The earlier three-part series of posts are all about authentic Japanese foods that we have been eating some exported versions outside Japan (Part 1 is about noodles, part 2 about izakaya, and part 3 is about grilled foods as well as tonkatsu and curry).

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This post is about sweets – the traditional wagashi 和菓子.

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The specialist shop – Wagashi Mame まめ – is situated just around of the corner of our apartment in Minato-Aoyama 南青山 和菓子の「まめ」. Their webite is here.

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Although we pass it every day, it appeared to be closed most of the time.  Perhaps it only opens briefly and closes when everything is sold. On several occasions, when it was opened, there was a short queue outside.

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There are several different kinds of mochis and daifukus on offer. This one looks like a giant virus.

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They all came with nice packaging.

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苺大福 strawberry daifuku

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Nice and soft.

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Boxed ready to go.

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The olive color leaf is shiso.

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Perfect to go with tea.