Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Clockwise from top left: Ti Jos; The crepe walnut and honey; A piece of art from the Pompidou; The Arc at night.
RESTAURANT: Ti Jos
LOCATION: Rue Delambre, 14e, Paris, France
DATE: September 9, 2005
FOOD: Split a Galette Champignons, Jambon, Fromage; Crepes Miel, Noux (Honey and Walnut)
DRINK: Tap Water
PRICE: 9.00 Euros
Ah, but what would Paris be without its food? Perhaps romantic, perhaps historic, but certainly less satisfying in a very immediate way. It’s the cuisine that puts us in France and the food that puts France in us. Without the patisseries and cafes, the baguettes and chocolate, Paris would be less than what it is and for this, we’d all suffer from the loss.
But, fortunately, the French culinary tradition is alive and well. And while nouveaux American cuisine has bogarted much from its European ally and cross-pollinated it with other world flavors like Mendel and his flowers, the taste of authenticity and un-tampered with classic French cuisine still can defrost even the worst of transatlantic tensions. What food better exemplifies French cooking than the crepe? Ti Jos, a creperie and cider restaurant, excels at making traditions relevant. The crepes are created by a woman advanced in age but also in culinary skill, and who by all appearances, could very well pass for Whistler’s mother. The clientele are locals, a well-needed respite from the discordant American voices heard ubiquitously all over the city.
But the crepes, the crepes are the thing themselves. Street vendors may sell more common, inexpensive versions, but to sample the real deal, Ti Jos is the place. The menu is divided into galletes and crepes, the gallettes consisting of a buckwheat base and filled with savory items like beef, cheeses, and ham, whereas the crepes are all sweetness, all the time.
We began by splitting a ham, cheese, and mushroom galette, and while the ham was nowhere to be seen (Whistler’s mom has a lot on her mind), the galette was still densely rich and brilliantly smooth. The mild coat of gruyere cheese enhanced the smoky aspects of the sautéed, though still firm mushrooms. Nothing was overcooked and all blended together seamlessly in a galette, that though grain based was nonetheless effortlessly light.
For dessert, there was no splitting. My honey and walnut crepe was a commendable dessert, though it would have worked nicely for a petit dejeuner as well. The walnuts came whole, topping the honey glaze of the crepe. The honey was effectively sweet without being birthday cake saccharine. However, the crepe itself, slightly chewy, thoroughly moist and in all ways outstanding, proved why Ti Jos was a local favorite. Everything about the meal was successful (save the forgotten ham) and the next time Bush and Chirac clash over the former’s refusal to recognize global warming or the lack of WMD, perhaps a plate of Ti Jos’ crepes, Whistler’s mother included, will serve to reach the cowboy in a place reason can not.
Clockwise from top left: The Bakery; The wonders therein; Nice's train station; A fountain near the waterfront
BAKERY: Artisan Boulanger Patisserie
LOCATION: Corner of Rue Dalpozzo and Rue de la Buffa, Nice, France
DATE: September 4, 2005
PASTRIES: Croissant filled with vanilla crème; Pain au Chocolate
PRICE: 2.05 Euros
An overnight train from Bordeaux to Nice leaves every night at 9:39 pm. It arrives in Nice the next morning at 7:55, an hour too early to check into most hostels. What to do in the void while your room is readied? You’re in France and it’s breakfast – is the answer really all that difficult to guess?
Pastries line the store windows and interior display cases of this artisan bakery, just minutes from Nice’s Rue de Anglais and scenic waterfront. And while croissants might not be the best food for sculpting an ideal beach bod, they sure a tasty way to chunk up.
The vanilla crème filled croissant, dusted in a layer of powdered sugar, was the essence of France. The pastry possessed of a feathery flakiness and that distinct, thoroughly buttery moistness inside. The crème filling was amazingly light, the breakfast equivalent of a Dan Brown novel. The pain au chocolate, shaped like a raisin croissant but with the substitution of life’s ultimate hedonistic splurge, French chocolate, was another deft exhibition of this bakery’s prowess. The pastry was as creamy as egg yolk, but with the density of marzipan. After a near sleepless night spent fitfully turning alongside babbling children and a surprisingly docile dog, there was no better way to start the day than by playing Nice at one of the city’s best bakeries.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Clockwise from top left: Bordeaux's San Michelle Cathedral; Canale, the local rum based specialty of Bordeaux - an amazing dessert; The Japanese Garden in Monaco; Changing of the guard in front of Monaco's Palace.
A Taste of France (and Monaco)
CITIES AND DATES: Bordeaux – September 1-3, 2005;
Nice – September 4-6, 2005;
Lyon – September 7-8, 2005;
Paris – September 9-13, 2005;
Avignon – November 9-10, 2005;
BREADS: Clawed Toasted Sesame; Sunflower and Corn Baguette;
PASTRIES: Drop (Vanilla Liquer Crème, Chocolate Chips, Almonds); Pistachio and Sour Cherry Cornbread
DESSERTS: Canale – rum pudding dessert, specialty of Bordeaux;
FRUITS: Red Plum Apples
HOSTELS: Bordeaux – Hotel Studio
Nice – Hostel Meyerbeer Beach
Lyon – Hotel Stars in Bron: Awful – like a cruise ship run aground, this sea themed hotel was dirty, cramped and most importantly, nearly an hour by tram Lyon’s center.
Paris – Hotel des Olympiades in Montmarte: The dingy, Bohemian hotels of Parisian yesteryear still exist. Rooms are shabby, with worn carpet and tattered, mismatched bedspreads. There is a single toilet and shower on each floor. The hotel fits the Moulin Rouge past of Montmarte, the take it as it comes, communal, no frills style evokes lonely writers laboring over their passion in the solitude of sweaty rooms.
GROCERY STORES AND MARKETS: Bordeaux – Auchan: Huge, amazingly cheap and inspirational. A testament of France’s ubiquitous love of food.
Lyon – Des Halles: the city’s largest indoor market was as haute cuisine as a market can get. Unfortunately, this also meant the prices were quite haute as well.
CATHEDRALS: Bordeaux – Basilique San Michelle and San Andre: San Michelle is a study in Catholic anachronism. While the church design and its most valued relics date from as early as the 15th century, the stained glass windows are fascinatingly modern. After the bombings of WWII destroyed the original windows, local artists created a new series of stained glass for the Basilica in the 1950s. Their design mixes cubist elements, reminiscent of Picasso, while still portraying classical and Biblical scenes. The amalgam of stylistics serves to capture not only the history of God, but the cathedral’s own story as well.
RANDOM: Bordeaux has great benches along the Rue Clemenceau in case you arrive so late that your hostel is already closed and end up having to sleep on a park bench. Good times.
Nice – Drinking champagne along the boardwalk late at night.
SITES: Paris – Musee d’ Orsay: The Louvre may have the Mona Lisa, but the Orsay has everything else. I fyou can resists the temptation to re-enact the scene in Godard’s “The Outsiders” when the threesome run though the Louvre in under ten minutes, the Orsay will provide smaller crowds and more stunning art. The museum itself is art, illuminated throughout on its perch on the Seine’s left bank. Time is a central focus of the Orsay’s design, with clocks modeled on art nouveau styles and train station inspirations overlaid on the museum’s windows. But the collection is the true astonishment, pieces by Van Gogh, Manet, Pisarro, Seurrat, Rousseau, and an extensive display of Monet’s life work. The Orsay is five floors of the premier French and Western European sculpture, paintings, and furniture from the last 200 years. It may not have the Louvre’s reputation, but perhaps that’s for the best. Plus, there’s discounted admission if you’re 18-25;
The Pompidou: Amazing – Based around large, ideological themes and not chronology, the collection was our favorite in Paris. Free guided tours in English on Saturdays at 3 pm; Art Market near the Rue des Martyrs in Montmarte; Notre Dame (of course, need I mention the Eiffel Tower); Tuilleries.
DAY TRIP: From Nice: Monaco – The epitome of wealth, privilege and luxury, Monaco’s rococo buildings practically rise right out of the sea. The views are mesmerizing, the streets remarkably clean, and the concentration of tourists, overwhelming. But the trip is worth it for the sight of the Palace’s white-suited guards to the surreal cliff and beach vistas. The Japanese Garden is a welcome and needed reprieve amidst the cities dense crowds. Though tiny, it’s a beautiful and serene greenspace.
BARS: Nice – Chez Wayne: Overpriced and like a “Girls Gone Wild Video” gone even wrong. The drinks cost too much, the seating is shabby, and the photos of girls revealing their chests seem less exotic than pathetic.
ODDS AND ENDS: Great public transport systems in both Bordeaux and Lyon, mainly utilizing the tram, but in Lyon, there is also an underground metro.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Clockwise from top left: La Barraca; The Seafood Paella; One of El Greco's many masterpieces; The pigeons love the statue more than the toursits;
RESTAURANT: La Barraca
LOCATION: Las Arenas, near the beach, Valencia, Spain
DATE: August 29, 2005
FOOD: Seafood Paella
PRICE: 9.20 Euros
Olive oil, rice, and one huge skillet and you’ve got yourself a meal. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, that expand in your stomach like a blowfish, combine whatever ingredients you have lying around the kitchen, meal with machismo enough for Hemingway, rice experience. Served in an iron skillet only slightly smaller than the country of Luxembourg, paella is meant to be a communal feast, an entrée for an entire table to share.
La Barraca, located on a strip of Valencia’s beach front with as many Paella restaurants as the Conquistadores had infectious diseases, is more casual than many of its rivals, plastic outdoor furniture in place of the table clothes and hardwood chairs next door. But the paella is just as authentic as at the neighboring restaurants. After 30 minutes of anxious anticipation, the paella is brought tableside. The seafood variety had excellent mussels and decadently tender calamari. However, the prawns were stringy and the shrimp, flavorless. The saffron colored rice had been beautifully penetrated by the olive oil bath and possessed a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth quality. The rice attached to the sides of the pan developed a crispy char which had the succulent consistency of roasted garlic. While La Barraca’s paella might not thrust Valencia into the realm of elite world food cities, it certainty does its city proud.
Clockwise from top left: The buckets on Bar Pilar's floor; Mussels in tomato broth; The cheapest wine Spain had to over - a liter box for 45 cents!; Afternoon in Valencia.
RESTAURANT: Bar Pilar
LOCATION: Calle Moro Zeit 13, Valencia, Spain
DATE: August 30, 2005
FOOD: Split the following: Mussels with Tomato Broth; Patatas Bravas; Black Pudding and Lomo Boccadilo; Ham Omelette Boccadillo
BEVERAGE: Glass of Marista Vino
PRICE: 8.25 Euros
The night before joining in Europe’s largest food fight seemed the appropriate time to try a restaurant where throwing food wasn’t only acceptable, it was downright encouraged. Bar Pilar’s reputation as an inexpensive but dependable tapas place frequented by locals came from the reliable Lonely Planet, Europe on a Shoestring, guidebook. Bar Pilar fit the description perfectly. Waited on by a kindly, middle aged man, who was most likely the owner, our meal was as low key as Bar Pilar’s simple, black and white tile décor. Danny and I decided to split an order of patatas bravas, two boccadillos (Spanish sandwiches) and the mussels for which Bar Pilar is known.
While throwing hundreds of tomatoes the next day at Tomatina 2005 was childishly addictive, the fact that the mussel shells we threw into buckets on Bar Pilar’s floor couldn’t be thrown back with harmful velocity gave the meal an advantage over its festive food competition. The mussels had a pleasant chew and the tomato broth served alongside gave a nice, salty gloss to the dish. While the patatas bravas couldn’t match those of Tia Pol, the dual layering of saucing, with heavy mayonnaise on top and pepper broth beneath, caused the crispy fried taters to have a surprising degree of complexity. However, both sandwiches were forgettable at best, unappetizing at worse, the omelette too oily, the black pudding like onion and mystery meat gruel and placed in bread that was noticeable for its American grocery store deficiencies, especially when compared to the other great breads we’d had in Spain. Thus, while Bar Pilar may have given our arms a warm up for Tomatina, it should have been the sandwiches and not the mussel shells that were tossed by the wayside.
Friday, November 18, 2005
Clockwise from top left: Al-Andalus; The extraordinary chicken schwarma is wrapped up tight in the burrito like pita; A ceiling relief at the Alhambra; The famed courtyard and fountain at the Alhambra.
LOCATION: Calle de Elvira, Granada, Spain
DATE: August 25, 2005
FOOD: Chicken Schwarma
PRICE: 3.50 Euros
Street food in America usually consists of little better than hot dogs boiled in a murky, deformed liquid with a distant relation to water. Or there’s also over-sized, cardboard tasting pretzels. While the hot dogs would gain a certain cache if every vendor dressed in the same pirate outfit Ignatius Reilly wears in A Confederacy of Dunces, the character’s penchant for stuffing cats into the bun warmers would probably cause hot dogs to be even further from accepted health standards than they already are. In Europe, no costuming is necessary. Instead of hot dogs, there’s doner kebab and schwarma, much tastier alternatives to the States’ processed wieners.
In Granada, located in the Plaza Cuchillos directly across the hill that leads to the Alhambra, Al-Andalus takes schwarma street food to a new level of flavor. While the shredded, fatty strips of spit cooked chicken are familiarly pleasant to any gyro fan, it was the combination of the stuffed pita’s other elements which made Al-Andalus great. Inside the grilled pita (composed almost like a burrito), crunchy carrots and lettuce were a delicious compliment to the greasy meat. But it was the thick, ricotta cheese like yogurt saucing, wildly spiced and complex, which elevated the pita to monumental heights. And at just 3.50 Euros, it would be hard to imagine any reason, even old Ignatius himself, live and in person, to ever crave a hot dog again.
Clockwise from top left: Horno San Onofre; Pretzel and Chocolate Creme Cone; One of Madrid's countless plazas; "Coco".
JUST DESSERTS: Horno San Onofre
LOCATION: North of Plaza de Sol, Madrid, Spain
DATE: August 22, 2005
DESSERTS: “Coco” with mixed fruit and nuts; Tuna Empanada; Bite-size Spinach Quiche; Nut Glazed Pastry Pretzel; Chocolate Coated Cone Filled with Chocolate Cream; Bite-size Hazelnut Cream Pastry
PRICE: 7.00 Euros
What’s for dinner? The eternal question.
Don’t eat that, you’ll spoil your appetite. The eternal warning.
But if the first had an answer that nullified the need for even uttering the second – well wouldn’t that be a situation Liebniz might have described as the best of all possible worlds?
So dessert for dinner was the solution. Fatigued after taking in many of Madrid’s essential sites – from El Retiro to La Plaza Mayor – hunger weighed as heavy as a Valezquez painting over Danny and me both. It being seven, most of Madrid’s restaurants had another hour or more until dinner time, closed for one of the seemingly endless Spanish siestas. Instead of waiting, we opted to skip the savory and head right for the sweats.
Horno San Onofre had the upscale atmosphere of a West Village grocery, but without all the other foods mixed in. Though my intention had been to focus only on desserts, the temptation of Horno’s mini-quiches and meat stuffed pies proved too overwhelming. The quiche was simply riveting: cheese, cream, egg and spinach combining for a mouthful of buttery bliss. The tuna stuffed pie was like a pastry sandwich, and packed the robust flavors of tuna and onion with the delicacy of a flaky pastry casing.
But, these were the warm up acts. The featured performers came onto stage with the assured air of mastery and put on a show full of pyrotechnics. The “Coco” was like a mixed nut and fruit peanut brittle without the hardening and overly sugary glaze. The trail mix topping rested upon a soft and buttery crust, not unlike that of a pie. The sugar and nut glazed pastry pretzel was as light as William Gaddis’ prose is heavy and each puffy bite proved the combination of German engineering (the shape) and French style (the croissant like pastry) should occur elsewhere than Alsace-Lorraine. The bite-sized chocolate coated cone with chocolate crème filling illustrated why sometimes ice cream is simply unnecessary. And as for the hazelnut cream pastry, there’s little else this nut could be used for more advantageously.
In all, Danny and I had succeeded in not only spoiling our appetites but also in removing the need for dinner altogether. With France up ahead, another night of just desserts beckoned, though Horno would be a remembrance not soon to pass from memory.
Clockwise from top left: El Museo de Jamon in Madrid; Tortilla with Jamon y Manchego; All parts of the pigs. Man do Spaniards take their pork seriously; A display of pig parts in Barcelona's central market.
RESTAURANT: Museo de Jamon
DATE: August 21, 2005
LOCATION: Calle de Goya, Madrid, Spain
FOOD: Tortilla with House Ham and Cheese on Integral Roll; Pastry Espanade
PRICE: 5.00 Euros
The contemporary art world has changed the museum from a place only to show art into a work of art in itself. As countless literary theorists have pointed out, the aesthetic line separating what hangs on the walls and the very walls on which they hang has largely been obliterated. The avant-garde’s legacy has been less to show us how art is everywhere around us, but rather the very subjectivity of what we consider art in the first place.
Well who knows how Duchamp or even Picasso would have responded to the numerous Madrid locations of El Museo de Jamon. For at this museum, the art is edible and it comes prepared by the strong, yet loving hands of burly Spanish butchers. The museum could be seen as a testament to Spain’s love of all things pork. Whole cured hams hang from the ceiling, seeming to number in the hundreds, like the finest vintages in a wine cellar. The choices of pork at the Museum is astonishing, but the house speciality, more like a pancetta than jamon is why the museum deserves its lofty name.
The pork is the color of dark cherries. The meat possess the perfect level of saltiness and while adequately tender, forces the diner to chew with concentration in greedy indulgence. Sewed into the puff embrace of a Spanish tortilla, lined by Manchego sheep’s cheese, there can be few things more authentically Spanish or more divinely pleasurable. If all contemporary art was as enjoyable, the world’s museums would seem far less austere. But any place with the gall to name itself the museum of any meat, let alone ham – well you know it’s got to be good.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
From top left: Potatoes Aeoli, Hot Bomb, Stuffed Squid, Bruschetta, Cod Fritters.
RESTAURANT: Edelmann's Cafe
DATE: August 20, 2005
LOCATION: Barcelona, Spain
FOOD: Potatoes with aeoli, Hot Bomb, Stuffed Squid, Bruschetta, Fried Cuttlefish, Tortilla with Spinach, Mushrooms sauteed with ham; liquor based dessert tarte
PRICE: 17 Euros
Exhausted and hungry after a day of touring Barcelona's array of memorable sites, we sought a taste of tapas to cap off the evening. Cal Pep was closed for the month of August, a disappointing turn of events that it would take until November, when our trip was over, for us to rectify. Near the Plaza d'Catalunya, we found Edelmann Cafe, where a deceptively unaffordable and subpar meal ensued. While the cod fritters were crunchy and only slightly oily, the potatoes with aeoli sauce were a disastrous blend of boiled root vegetable and underseasoned globular mayonnaise. The spinach tortilla (Spanish omelette) proved unassuming if not downright bland and the mushrooms sauteed with ham were a dish even the most novice chef could prepare better.
The lone redeeming tapas were the complex potato and meet "Hot Bombs", covered in paprika laden dressing and the Andalucian style cuttlefish, wich tasted as authentically Spanish as their title suggested. However, even a generous does of liquor as saucing couldn't save the dessert tarte from its dry, flavorless self. With a pricetag that reached seventeen Euros a person for six incredibly mediocre tapas, Edelmann's was a bad introduction to eating out in Spain.
Clockwise from top left: Barcelona from Parc Guell; The Palace of Communication in Madrid; The Royal Palace in Barcelona; A Wall Tile in The Alhambra, Granada.
A TASTE OF SPAIN
CITIES AND DATES: Barcelona – August 15-20, 2005 and November 10-12, 2005;
Madrid – August 20-24, 2005;
Granada – August 24-28, 2005;
Valencia – August 28-31, 2005
BREAD: Integrale; French Style White Baguette; High Fiber Bread in Granada (perhaps too much of a good thing)
RESTAURANTS: (reviews forthcoming) Barcelona: Café Edelman;
Madrid: Horno San Onofre (Pastry Shop);
Granada: Al Andalusa; Bar Pilar;
Valencia: La Barrasca
MARKETS: Barcelona: El Mercat de Boqueria;
Granada: Mercat St. Augustin
PORK: Chorizo, Lomo
WINE: .45 Euro cent box of
CHEESE: Sheep’s Milk Cheeses, especially Manchego
FRUIT: Meloncoton (peaches) at the peak of flavor
HOTELS: Barcelona: Hesperia Sant Juis;
Madrid: NH Parque de Avenidas;
Granada: Hostal Alcazaba;
Valencia: NH Hotel
RANDOM FUN: Granada: Kashbar – A fantastic tea house with nightly belly dancing exhibitions; Caves in Sacremento (Granada) – Above the city, gypsies inhabit caves in the hills overlooking the city; Bunol: Tomatina – You may never want to see a tomato again after the festival but the craziness is a once in a lifetime even to behold.
ESSENTIAL SITES: Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia, Montjuic, Parc Guell, Las Ramblas;
Madrid: El Prado, El Retiro, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Sol;
ODDS AND ENDS: Reservation fees for trains add up in the summer, even if you have the Eurail pass; EVERYTHING is closed in August, from restaurants like Cal Pep, to many stores and even some museums; The Prado is free on Sundays.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Doner Kebab: The lone bright spot of the meal.
LOCATION: 523 Maple Avenue West, Vienna, VA
DATE: August 13, 2005
FOOD: Split the mezze plate including Hummus, White Bean Salad, Borek (Fried Cheese), Feta Cheese, Olives, Yogurt covered Eggplant; ENTREE: Doner Kebab (Thinly sliced lamb with dill, covering a grilled pita and yogurt toped with tomato sauce); DESSERT: Dessert Sampler including Baked Pear, Baklava, Milk and Honey Sponge Cake.
BEVERAGE: Pasha Martini, Argentinian Red Wine
PRICE: Courtesy of my mom
As Europe turns inward and the EU’s xenophobia convulses like an epileptic seizure, the probability that Turkey will gain admittance to the unified Western nations becomes increasingly remote. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Ataturk, Turkey has embraced a precarious Western secularization, unique amongst its neighbors. While the EU’s desire to include Turkey wanes, the tremendous and intricate culture of Turkey is overlooked for economic reasons.
One furtive aspect of this culture is the cuisine. Reminiscent of Greek, Lebanese, and other Mediterranean nations, Turkish food centers around roasted and skewered meats, pureed vegetable dips, robust cheeses and honey laden desserts. Nizam’s, a Vienna establishment honored with a place amongst Washingtonian’s Top 100 restaurants for 21 consecutive years, attempts to drape Turkish cuisine in all the elegance and regality of the Europe which keeps the country at arms length. While it takes kebabs above the street cart form, Nizam’s, can’t quite succeed in being the refined European it seeks to be.
The house specialty is the doner kebab. Similiar to the Greek gyro but with a greater diversity of spices, ground lamb is roasted on a spit and then sliced paper thing. In Germany, doner kebab elevates street food to a rarefied level. In Vienna, Virginia, the meat comes on the pita instead of in it, but the taste is just as marvelous. The dish is richly layered – the lamb pieces rest atop pita bread softened by meat drippings and are lathered in a fragrant dill yogurt. The meat is then gently brushed with a forceful tomato sauce. This tiered trio comes off at great effect, producing a creamy and acidic contrast for the succulence of the meat.
But it was in the appetizers and desserts that Nizam’s was closer to stumbling than to Suleiman imperial dominance. A boring mixed mezze plate with the sole highlight of yogurt covered eggplant, left a lot to be desired. The hummus was bland, the feta under salted, the borek forgettable and the white bean mix regrettably cold. The mixed dessert plate was similarly misconstrued, with a commendable baklava backstabbed by a tasteless baked pear and a gelatinous milk and honey custard cake. Combined with service that was more distant than the Dead Sea, Nizam’s excellent doner kebab could not compensate for an otherwise uninspired meal. Fortunately, the nation of Turkey has a lot more to offer Europe than Nizam’s can offer diners. The only question left to ask: Why does Washingtonian view the restaurant so positively?