Thursday, April 28, 2011

Interesting Meals

We have had several interesting meals in the last few days. Obviously, we are home, in Cincinnati, and have been here since April 11, our 57th Wedding Anniversary. I have spent most of my time, on the Blog, reporting on our travels but now it's time to get back to covering what we're doing in the "hood".
Working on the most recent to the longer ago here is where we have been "Eating Out".

Last night was a new and most interesting experience. We were guest at an event held at "the Art of Entertaining" 2019 Madison Rd. Cincinnati, OH 45208 (513)871-5170. This venue in the space previously occupied by Chateau Pomijie. Under current ownership it is both a wine store and a party venue, catering to groups and smaller private affairs, family dinners, birthdays etc.
There are several dining areas and a kitchen with enough space to seat up to twenty. In the whole place I would guess that they can easily handle groups up to 50 or 60, seated.
The owner plus several chefs, and helpers, provide the staffing, as well as the food preparation and service. Our chef, Jason( large ego, like a lot of chefs and others) believes in full flavoring, to which I heartily subscribe. Last nights menu was as follows:
Sweet Potato "Latkies" served warm and crisp with a dab of Creme fraiche and a pecan half. It was easy to discern the Cinnamon, Clove and Fennel. Along with this came a platter of small Polenta "pucks" covered with wine marinated mushrooms, excellent wine taste carried the combination, generously sliced and applied.
A steaming bowl of Curried Cauliflower Soap, hot and thick was ladled into individual mugs to which was then added parsley aoli came as the next course.
The two main entrees were seared and semi-crisp, chicken slices, both white and dark meat with home made tomato Salsa and Mojo Sauce and a medium sliced sirloin strip topped with sauteed, caramelized onions and served with a horseradish cream sauce.
To make sure we all left too full they cut overly generous slices, of their neighbors, "Bonbonerie" opera cream cake.
A wonderful evening of food and wine.

The night before, with two other couples, it was "Cumin Eclectic Cuisine" 3520 Erie Ave. Cincinnati 45208 513-871-8714. We lucked in to opening night for the new Spring menu, too many new item for us to try in one night. Coming from an extended cocktail hour, at home, we only sample a very few.
I started with a Spring Bean Salad, Haricot Vert mixed with curly crisp greens, shreds of Parmesan and sugar coated pecans all dressed with a light, slightly peppery, vinaigrette.
Next came one of my favorites, sweetbreads, crisp with coated large pistachio kernels, all, decorated lightly with a sweet citrus sauce.
Marilyn chose fried Artichoke hearts, first, and followed with a starter size Chicken pot pie, plenty for one.
I ordered for the table two orders of Nan and for dessert, we six, split another new item, Grapefruit Short Cake, house made English style Biscuits, lightly coated with Strawberry puree on which was placed Grapefruit sections which had been salted with sugar and run under a broiler, till they were golden. All this was topped with generous portions of home made whipped cream, Divine.

I think I'll stop now and watch part of the NFL Draft, the Bengal's are on the clock, not that it makes any difference till the Management changes, and return to this over the weekend.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Barcelona 3

Our last full day in Barcelona we struck out on our own. That is our usual procedure after we have had time to get acclimated.
After another good breakfast, at the Hotel, we walked 5 short blocks to "Palau Musica Catalana" ( the Palace of Music). This is a must see on nearly every ones list.
We had been warned that the English speaking tour( only one per day) was sold out but we wanted to get the closest tour, timing) available. The 10:30 Catalan tour was open and so we booked space, along with some other non-Spanish speaking people. As a German friend, we had met the day before, said, the architecture and decorations are in no language. The building, is impressive and we'll worth a hour of little understandable communication. The preview film is in several languages and our guide did give one or two instructions in English. I was not only impressed with the hall, the most rococo place I have ever seen( bright, colorful and a terrific example of the time and art that flourished a century of more ago), but also with the acoustics and sight lines. A women's chorus was practicing while we were there. The building, especially the interior has to be seen.
From there it was on to "Mercat Santa Caterina", a new, much brighter and less crowded food market, with striking architecture, wider aisles but a sparkling array of food.
I talked Marilyn into spending a couple of hours at the "Museum for the City" and I am very glad we did. After a video, tracing the history f Barcelona, from pre-historic times we walked down a ramp and were immediately transported back to "Barsco", the original Roman walled city built on that site, of present day Barcelona, in 200 to 400 AD. It was one of the most complete archaeological excavations I have ever seen. The viewing is all on a metal and glass walkway suspended above and covers, in my estimation, about 3 full acres, maybe more. I was blown away. All the excavation is under a present day Plaza and city streets

Lunch beckoned and I though a smart move would be to walk back to "L'Academia" and ask for another suggestion. Low and behold the metal curtain was down, as they do not serve lunch on Saturday. Marilyn had stoped by a shop, in the neighborhood and thought we should ask the proprietor. Interesting experience as he spoke little or no English and we no Catalan. English, French and Spanish had him drawing a map and 15 minutes later we were seated At "Parellada" Argenteria, 37 Tel 93 310 50 94, a definitely up scale room with a mixed clientele, soccer fans to business people. Conversation, halting, with the adjoining tables made us realize the difference with Spanish lunch( 3 or 4 large courses) and our usual repast. We split a very large salad and a grilled sole with nut crust. Both very nice.
Since it was the last night, with our shipmates from California, and since they enjoy, slightly "upscale" I booked a table for 8:30 that evening.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting ourselves in shape for our return flight. Marilyn bought a book and got her glasses fixed, temporarily, and then is was sorting and pre-packing time.
"Parellada" must have a tourist following as the hallway was full at 8:30 but they handled us well. We chose several dishes we had seen at lunch. We, the table, tried the local fried potato strips with two dipping sauces. I a Paella Pan, this time filled with very thin chopped noodles, slightly crispy and garnished with scampi, while Marilyn ended her Barcelona dining with a beautify roasted half duck.
The table shared wine and two desserts, as had become our custom, and we left full, happy and promising to return to Barcelona.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Barcelona 2

On Friday we planed and executed a full day of sightseeing. After a full breakfast buffet at the hotel, it's included in the room price, we walked the short block to"Que" up for the "Bus Turistic".
We had gotten our all day tickets at the hotel (2 Euro savings) and so only had to wait till a bus came with some room( no standing) so that we could begin our adventure. Each major bus stop has red vested ticket sellers and info person who speak 5 languages. We were on the bus by 10 AM and on our way. We transferred from the Red Route to the Blue as that touched most of the famous Gaudi spots.

Arriving at the first major attraction, "Sagrada Familia', Gaudi's iconic church ( not completely finished) we were told that the wait was over 3 hours. I mentioned in the last Blog there were about half a million tourists. We decide to "stay on the bus"and try our luck at "Park Guadi" several stops later.
Off we went, and exited at that stop, which turned out to be six steep blocks from the actual Park. The climb was especially hard on Marilyn and she, wisely, decided, to sit near the entrance and visit with two ladies from Israel while I climbed higher and saw a bit of his architectural work.
A wise decision put us in a cab till we could hook back up with the Red line and continue our travels. The bus climbed "Montjuic"( Jewish mountain) named to commemorate the site of one of the first Jewish cemeteries. The ride was impressive through beautiful green areas and past churches, monuments, museums and the site of the Olympic games and all their sports venues.

We excited, next at the Miro Museum where we spent several hours viewing a video, which included scenes of his work at the "Terrace Plaza Hotel"( Cincinnati) in the Gourmet room, his first mural commision in the United States. Lunch was typical museum fair, Tuna Salad on white and a lemonade. The works in the museum made me a Miro enthusiast, but that's for an art report. The view, over the valley and Barcelona, from the roof terrace was impressive. Back on the bus, two more stops and back to the Hotel at 5.

Mark Gibson's( mentioned in the previous posting) ex wife picked us up at 5:30 and after a half hour get acquainted session we were off again. This time we strolled thru more nearby streets(small) the most interesting of which was one with over a dozen Chocolate shops serving anything from chocolate slabs and candies to hot liquid and, of course, cake and pastries. She explained the chocolate sculptures, in several shops, from Pirate ships to Cathedrals, are given as Easter presents. Cost's, of those we saw, seemed to be in the hundreds or thousands, either Euros or Dollars, take your pick.
The women, with me in tow, ended at "Zara's", the Spanish equivalent of H&M. Luckily nothing fit Marilyn.
A cab ride to her neighborhood, with an attractive Gaudi house( green, white and yellow tiles), along the way, and an introduction to Mark's attractive 13 year old daughter and a short visit in their bright and cheerful apartment.

By now we are semi- Spanish and so we walked to a neighborhood restaurant, "La Bodega", Plaza Molina, 2 Tel 93 237 8434 arriving a little after 9 PM.
The restaurant was wonderful with my biggest shock, the servers are all Filipino's and all speak English. The staff are more interested in the "LA Lakers" and Kobe Bryan than the Barcelona soccer team.
Second biggest surprise, all the specials and dessert are presented, as prepared by the kitchen, to ones table at the appropriate time for personal viewing and decision.

We shared a large order of Fried Artichokes( babies) and a small plate of beautifully cured Smoked Sliced Salmon.
With the help of our hostess I asked for a received an excellent Seafood Paella, created by the kitchen for the visiting American. It was terrific, I have never had a better, although I don't get a chance to order this often and am by no means an expert. Besides, shrimp, clams, octopus and mussels there were small strips of 2 or 3 other fish. The rice, seasoning and consistency and light crust was perfect.
I tasted part of Marilyn's beautiful mixed salad and a bite of her main course.
A half bottle of white wine, I shared with Georgiana, our guide and hostess, and 2 dessert, a pastry similar to "doughnut holes" and an outstanding Apple Tart with Ice Cream over filled us.

Midnight hailed a cab back to the hotel for a much needed rest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Barcelona 1

We have been home almost 10 days and the glow has not gone away. Here is a report ( broken in sections) of our 3 plus days in Barcelona (a city of almost 2 million residents and about a half a million visitors, daily, in high season).

Got to our hotel, "Hotel Colon" about 9 AM. The hotel is wonderfully situated across a plaza from the main Cathedral. Also less than a block from a main artery which carries many forms of transportation, including the "Bus Turistic", hop on-hop off service to over 40 main sightseeing attractions in the city. Unloaded our bags and took off on foot for a neighborhood stroll. The main old Government square, Jewish Quarter, alleys and small streets full of shops and eating places, "La Rambla" ( Barcelona's main walking street) and one of the world's great food markets, "La Boqueria". The market has literally everything from soup to nuts. Hundreds of stalls, fresh seafood, of all kinds on ice, too excess, vegetables and along with this a good number of pick-pockets. Be careful in any large city in crowded places.
Back to the hotel at 1 PM to meet another couple from the cruise and lunch at "Cafe de L'Academia". This, plus other spots, had been recommended by our friend Mark Gibson who gets to Barcelona 3 or 4 times a year to visit his daughter. We had the hotel make a reservation for 1:30, early lunch by Spanish standards, and when we arrived at 1:25 the metal shutter was still down, but others were waiting. The curtain rose at 1:35 and the four of us were seated in the small main dining area. Service from the staff, who are not fluent in English, but who have a working knowledge, was friendly, helpful and prompt. Most Spaniards arrive for lunch between 2 and 3. The restaurant is on a small street at the "Plaza Sant Just"( name of the church) and the phone number is 93 319 82 53.
Our first meal consisted of a shared bowl of fresh Green Beans, Peas, Bacon and tomato's all simmered in a stock until taste blended and they were just the right consistency. My following first course was a beautiful small stacked salad of crisp greens, Parmesan slices and pear pieces all doused with light Spanish olive oil cut with just a few drops of vinegar. The olive oil was the best that I can remember.
I followed with a small plate of Spanish sausage, poached egg and sliced asparagus. A beautiful and tasty combination. The four of us shared a bottle of white wine and two desserts, lemon tart and apple bars. Not a bad introduction to the Barcelona restaurant scene.
On the way out I asked for a recommendation of an equally good place for dinner and was given a card of restaurant "AGUT" which when I returned to the hotel was a number one priority for that evenings reservation. I often ask a good restaurant where else they recommend, when I am in a new locale.
A stroll back, people watching from a bench on the Plaza and a long siesta filled the afternoon and early evening, until a third couple, from the ship joined the 4 of us for the walk to "AGUT".

We were slightly better in our timing for dinner, arriving at 8:45, they opened at 8:30 to find one other table already occupied. Natives seem to begin their evening meals between 9 and 11. There large meal is often "lunch".
The restaurant was slightly larger than "L'Academia" but again not over run with American tourists, although the next table contained a very attractive young couple from Finland.
My meal was outstanding, simple and wonderful. Again the table shared a bottle of wine, although several people ordered individual drinks. I started with a full plate of baby frogs legs with a Beurre Blanc sauce and several fresh ground herbs dusted on the seafood. For my main course I selected Oxtails in a Red Wine sauce, OUTSTANDING. It maybe one of the most wonderful dishes I have ever had. The Oxtails had been caramelized and braised with a few small carrots and onions in this stupendous Red Wine sauce. It came in a wide medium deep bowl and if Marilyn had not pulled me away I would still be eating wonderful warm rolls dipped in the sauce, obviously no meat or trimmings remained. If you should happen to be in Barcelona try Restaurant AGAT, Gignas, 16-08002Barcelona Tel. 93 315 17 09. Whatever they serve will be worth the visit. A walk home, a little conversation on the Plaza and bed as in the morning we would be off again, and so will this narrative.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Here we go

This posting has a double meaning. It's getting started, after almost a full month without writing anything and it's the first of several which will describe, at least some of the eating, of our recently concluded 3 week vacation. We boarded the Regent Seven Seas "Mariner", in Ft. Lauderdale FL, on Wednesday March 23 and set sail that evening on a 15 day Atlantic Crossing to Barcelona Spain. We knew no one on board, but that condition was only temporary. The temperature at boarding was 76F and we elected to have our first diner on the "fan tail" the open deck of the less than formal dining area. Of course, we expected in March that the weather, in crossing the Atlantic, would be cool and possibly rainy. What a wrong guess, we were blessed with 19 days of almost perfect weather. To finish the nautical description we where also bless with what can only be described as the smoothest Ocean Crossing within memory of passengers and crew. The food, on the ship was uniformly well prepared, interesting and beautifully presented. With a day or two advanced advice the kitchen tried to offer and special item which a passenger desired. Two nights we took advantage of this. There are 4 venues, two large dining rooms and two specialty restaurants, one a steak house, where I ate Lobster and Dover Sole, the other French, Sea Bass. Another excellent feature was that portions were the correct size to enjoy as many courses as one wanted. I would classify them as slightly larger than a "tasting portion". Our two special request, for dinners, were bone in Brazed Beef Short ribs and Veal Osso Buco. The ribs were sliced "off the bone" but the bone, from the cooking, was present. The Osso Buco came as imagined with plenty of good sauce for dipping. After the first night we only dined alone, by choice as we meet many interesting, pleasent couples and either ate with one or two of them each evening, after drinks in one of ther lounges. Our itinerary took us first to Bermuda and then after 5 days at sea to the island of Madeira. Madeira was especially beautiful with high sea cliffs, mountains and lush vegetation. The local wine and honey cake, both of which we sampled, on our all day tour, were memorable. Next we spent a day in Casablanca ( Rick was no where to be seen) and Rebat. Not sure where the King was but his Palace and red fessed guards were present. In Rebat our buffet lunch was a memorable selection of Moroccan food from Vegetable Cos-Cos, Tangine ( chicken, olives, onions, carrots and spices all stewed in an inviting sauce), roasted peppers and local tubers, fish pieces marinated and fried, cooked and raw fruit and wonderful apricot and even better pineapple up-side-down cake. A terrific meal. In Malaga we boarded buses for the trip to Granada and a three hour tour of the Alhambra, bring your walking shoes. At 2 PM, were now in Spain, we assembled for lunch at the "Alhambra Palace Hotel", adjacent to the grounds. There were 80 to 100 of us, from the tour, and we had a special dining room and set menu. The round tables were set with 10 places, both red and white wine and rolls and butter. Serves brought a lovely large plated salad of greens, beets, tomato's, shredded carrots, artichoke hearts, hard boiled egg, all topped with grilled fish, either Tuna or whole Sardine ( the jury is still out). From the table setting we guessed that this would be followed by dessert. Wrong, when this plate was cleared in came the main course, a tenderloin, medium rare, sliced potato's, broiled tomato and green beans. I ate a slice or two of Marilyn's steak and awaited the ice cream Sundae which ended an overloaded Spanish lunch. Cartagena was our next port of call and Marilyn and I took separate tours. Mine the Bullas Wine Route was the only disappointment, as far as tours were concerned. Our guide knew nothing of the territory and even less about wine. We visited one winery (Bodega) and a museum, long ride with little return. Last stop before Barcelona was the island of Mallorcia. We choose wisely and spent a wonderful day in Valldemosa, an old resort village, for the rich early island inhabitants about 12 miles up in the mountains. Current home owner, Michael Douglas and Tom Cruise. Fredrick Chopin lived there with George Sands. At noon there was a short piano concert of a couple of Chopin etudes. We walked around, had a Gelotto, peach for me, and took the bus back to the ship and on to Barcelona. Next report in a day or two.