Friday, March 25, 2011

Meal of the Century - Botin (Madrid)

Day 8
Two words: some would think sadistic, others would salivate (I was part of the latter).

                  Suckling Pig

It was our last night in Spain and the final stop was at a place famous for this specialty...would the skin be as crispy as I imagined? As crispy as my soul would be burning in Hell for eating baby piggys? I hoped so.

Botin was in the Guinness Book of World’s Records as the earliest restaurant in the world (founded in 1725) and got clocked as one of my all-time, favorite meals. Within moments, we were face to face with whole pigs splayed on cast-iron platforms through an open, kitchen door.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but they looked like they were smiling. Maybe it was because I was wrought with the same delusional desires seen in cartoons, where friends stranded together on an desert island start picturing each other as hot dogs.

But then again, when the chefs saw Mom clicking pictures they invited her into the kitchen, so maybe the pigs were smiling, surrounded by a warmth more appealing than the heat of the wood-burning ovens.

Or it could be that they were served with loving care from the familial, yet expert waiters, dressed in white jackets and practicing traditional, tableside service. The roasted pig sealed in its centuries-old secrets and salty juices with a seared skin worth the trip to Hell.

And, amazingly enough, the vegetables were on par with the pork. Their unconventional choice of artichokes, peapods and carrots sautéed in pig fat and then tossed with more pork (Iberian ham) was fresh and seasonal with the same caloric intake as a double cheeseburger...the best role a vegetable's played since Jack Nickolson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

It is the quiet pigs that eat the mealIrish Proverb

My ability to talk exceeds my ability to eat, so when everyone's ready for dessert, I'm still enjoying the entree. I’d rather just keep my plate, but most places won’t serve the next course until everyone is done (understandably so, but not ideal for Chatty Cathy).

Our observant waiter seemed to read my thoughts (especially after I pretended to stab him with my fork when he tried to take my plate) and allowed me to stick with my savory while others began their sweet. Contentment was palpable around the table and I could barely keep my eyes open after being lulled by Botin's storybook ending (Three Little Pigs? No one seemed able to blow this house down). And since pigs were known for their fond farewells, I couldn't think of a better way to say good-bye to Spain.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Cookie Chew - San Diego

Big League Chew
I’m always scouting out new bars in North Park and I couldn’t have gotten luckier than finding a fresh joint on St. Paddy’s Day. But when I’m talking bars, I’m talking candy bars, and something sweet was going down at the North Park Farmer’s Market.

The Cookie Chew snuggled full bars of Butterfingers, Twix, Reese’s Cups, etc. between homemade, half sugar/ half chocolate cookies ($2 each). I couldn’t think of a better present for my Almond Joy-loving Dad and even threw in a couple cookies stuffed with macadamia-salted-caramel-clusters (Turtles) for my step-mom, so she wouldn’t get jealous.

Of course, I had to reward myself for being such a considerate daughter and decided to sample what I call the “Snookie” (Snickers stuffed cookie), and though Snickers might satisfy, the Snookie blows you (away).

I couldn’t forget my husband in the deal and went for a couple of truffies = cookie covered truffles. Dark chocolate, cayenne & cinnamon delivered heat and sweet in one neatly packaged bite (my favorite).

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day the best way I knew how (without getting arrested), I grabbed the last dark chocolate and Bailey’s Irish Cream – the luck of the Italian, I guess.

It didn’t stand out, but I still admired their dare-to-dream flavor combinations, including samplings of dark chocolate/ginger truffies, along with a test batch of peanut butter/ Sriracha. Neither were very potent, but I was on board with their train of thought (plus, they were still tweaking the recipe).

It was one of those ah-ha moments where you questioned why no one had thought of this before. It was simple genius, but then again, so was owner, Liz Chou, who played on her name while playing with her food, turning clients into Cookie Monsters by the batch (with help from her fiance, Brad). And unlike the delicacy of green beer, The Cookie Chew appeared at NP Farmer’s Market every Thurs.

For more info about The Cookie Chew – check it out:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gladiators, Matadors and Moores

Day 7
Seeing Red: Matadors were the rock stars of Spain, but their Ted Nugent levels of testosterone and taunting turned me off.

The bullmeat was given to needy townsfolk after the bludgeoning, but I was still glad to see it was off-season by the time we got there.

Moore is More: Tile, tile everywhere and not one kitchen sink…but Alcazar had plenty of other water works, including interior pools, fountains and a self-contained aqueduct.

This never-ending Moorish Palace, ahead of its time and covered head to toe in tile, scattered its walkways with ceramic breadcrumbs so that we could find our way back after traversing the massive property (we actually lost Mom at one point).

Ruined it: I’ve gotta crow…like Russell. Transforming into a gladiator and kid all at once, I rushed onto the arena's dirt floor where battles were waged for entertainment – the original UFC.

It was a 30 minute bus-ride to the Roman Ruins and if you’ve ever visited The Coliseum and wanted to get in on the ground floor, this was your chance. We walked above animal pits and within the walls where the gladiators would wait…or hide.

Cypress trees and remnants of this mini-Roman society (house foundations, etc.) cloaked these Spanish outskirts in seasoned, Italian dressing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Inquests, Sunsets and Bar Willy - Sevilla

Day 6 (cont'd)

Bridge over troubled water - Triana was known for their fine tile, but had a more infamous reputation branded in the books. These were the (literal) stomping grounds where much of the Spanish Inquisition took place and its museum, though free of charge, definately took a about ruthlessness.

We needed a drink to wash this blood-soaked page of history from our brains and there was no better place to clear our heads than the second-floor, open-air terrace overlooking the river at sunset. The streets still ran red here...only now with sangria.

Bar Willy - Wag more, bark less
With a name like Bar Willy, I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, I figured it was one of those awful America-themed bars like Carlos n' Charlie's, but instead I fell in love with this simple tavern serving beer in juice glasses, seating about 10 and bearing a cast of characters more endearing than the crew from Cheers.

Not that it started out that way. Clearly outsiders and blocked by language, we were taken in with suspicious stares. Genuine effort and congeniality softened them a bit and the barmaid pushed a plate of olives towards us.

But our true “Brady-ing” into the bunch happened when one customer arrived with two Borzois (lanky, Russian greyhound at the pound in Lady and the Tramp) and it only took a moment before Bubba was out of his chair scratching behind both dogs’ ears, conversing in hand gestures with the owner. We were in.

 Just like Lady at the pound, they realized it wasn’t our fault we came from a more gluttonous, entitled land. And as a lady, being humble and polite goes a long way…a bowl of potato chips was pushed over by the barmaid as a reward for good behavior. I had found my new home.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beauty and the (Ugly American) Beast - Sevilla

Day 6  

I love the smell of swap meet in the morning. Blankets and tables clogged the streets with new junk and lost gems, but we struck (pastry) gold at the bakery where we stopped for breakfast.

Not being a big fan of sweets, especially in the morning, I clutched my mini dough-purse of goat cheese and jamon like it was a new Channel bag. Sweet teeth were also satisfied here with chocolate-filled flakiness.

Ghetto speak - History hung like strange fruit as we treaded through the Jewish Ghetto, but past turmoil had been churned into manicured gardens and a peaceful serenity that echoed on the cobbled steps within its tall-walled maze of avenues.

Shops and simple eateries had sprouted up, while romantic rudiments remained in the silent, tiled splendor of the Agencia Andaluza para el Desarrollo del flamenco, celebrating flamenco dancing and a nook known for necking, the Kissing Corner.


Turret syndrome - More popular than its belligerent barber, Sevilla’s Cathedral was the city’s central landmark, towering above all and busting at the seams with Scrooge McDuck mounds of  treasure.

Swimming in Citizen Kane ostentation – stained glass windows, elaborate tombs (including Columbus’), paintings, statues, goblets, jewels (did they really need solid gold keys with diamonds?), gilded ceilings and alters - everything was bedazzled and contemporary concepts like irrigation ditches (in the still active, orange orchard) made it seem impossible that this was all created centuries ago. But it was about to get primitive.

So Inclined - 34 floors to the top. We were half-dead by the time we reached the Quasi-Motto-sized bells and I assumed that the poor guys who had to lug these concrete slabs bigger than Andre the Giant's body, with nothing but tools resembling giant, ice-block prongs, probably had a few hunchbacks of their own. But their blood and sweat brought tears...what a view, the entire city in one panoramic eyeful. 

Hungry like the wolf- Like a werewolf, my ugly American was coming out and I felt the need to feed, so we stopped at P. Flahrety’s, an Irish Pub behind the Cathedral, for a burger. Burgers were blah (of course – American fare abroad is never a good idea), but were easily forgotten when washed down with draft beer calibrated with nitrogen – the winning element.