Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mercado De San Miguel: Madrid, Spain

Date:  22 decembre 2010

Spain is known for its characteristic "mercardos" - markets.  These markets are the equivalent of a girl's candy store.  Only better.  If you know anything about Spain, then you know that they are first rate in jamon and manchego.  Amongst other things are veerrryyy fresh seafood.  My first experience at a mercado was in Barcelona a few years back - the famous La Boqueria on the Las Ramblas.  Heaven!  Second experience - Madrid's Mercado De San Miguel. Heaven x 2!!!

In Madrid's Mercao De San Miguel, one should laze the day away eating, drinking, resting, pontificating, then eating and drinking all over again!  Start on one side of the market, and eat your way through to the other side.  Look, stop, ponder.  Tantalize all of your senses, visual, smell, taste, and feel!  Oh! PERO NO TOCAR!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vinoteca Barbechera Tapas & Wine Bar: Madrid, SPAIN

Date:  mardi 21 decembre 2010
Location:  C/ Gravina 1

28004 Madrid, Spain

This wine bar shocked me with its down to earth, totally unpretentious environment and delivery of some of the most excellent tapas. I kind of remember sitting in high stool around glass tables that were resting on wine barrels, something like that.  Service is a little rough, but just remember that for the price and quality of tapas and wine tastings - honestly you will give a shit less about the service.  Trust me.
I am always in search of wine bars and amazing cocktails.  For my first night in Madrid, my local Spanish friend who knew very well that I am a self proclaimed oenephile, took me to Vinoteca Barbechera.  I was impressed with the way the thousands of bottles of wines were organized throughout the wine bar from floor to ceiling;  they definitely had some old beauties that I would love to get my hands on.  The place felt like a characteristic old wine shop.  It definitely smelled like one, with the moist, musty smell of wet wine corks in the air. 

The Spanish wines by the glass were plentiful to choose from, and were all very affordable.  The tapas were exquisite - everything looked unique, savory, delicious.  Too bad I had feasted all day long on tapas already at work.  I wasn't particularly hungry, yet knew that I had better taste something for the sake of having a tasting experience.  I am very glad that I did. 

We shared just three glasses of wine, and two small tapas plates.  The tapas plates to come are forever etched in my palate's tasting memory.   The first was a tuna belly served on top of grilled red bell pepper and toast.  Each bite was savory, fatty, oily, tantalizing my taste buds when I thought I could eat no more.  The second tapas dish was FOIE GRAS with a pear and fig reduction compote.  O_M_G_!!!!.  Let me tell you - the Spanish love their foie gras.  And they are veerrrryyy, very good at it.  I tasted the best foie of my life here at the vinoteca.  In this little, casual, totally non-pretentious wine bar that serves excellent tapas.  

Final price tag for two for the evening:  Total $35 Euros, for the both of us.  Heh.

Lunch Time with Mallorca Tapas: Madrid, Spain

Date:  mardi 21 decembre 2010
Location:  Madrid Office
Tapas provided by:  Our awesome Spaniard Manager and Mallorca Tapas

I had finally arrived in Madrid the night prior from Milan, after a cancelled connecting flight in Brussels.  Luckily I was able to hop onto the next flight (with only 13 open seats available!).  Only 3 days in Madrid (and already 1 day lost due to ice storms across Europe cancelling hundreds of flights), I was hard pressed to make the most of the 2 nights to explore food and drink as a first timer in Madrid.

My first day in the Madrid office, I was extended a warm Spanish welcome with some of the very best tapas in Madrid.  Not to mention, one of the best teams I have worked with around the world spanning US, Asia, India, Phillipines, London, Italy, and now Spain!  The tapas was so delicious, I literally could not stop eating.  It was like a bad nightmare episode from the Twilight Zone.  My colleague asked me if I was really still hungry, as he saw my hand continue to reach for the small plates throughout the entire afternoon.  No, I told him.  I'm not hungry anymore, but I cannot stop. 

They say that the Spanish people know how to live, that the Spanish have their charm.  In this beautiful city of Madrid, I can very quickly understand why and how.  I've travelled extensively, from the Middle East, around Europe, Asia, US, and back... so not a lot shocks or surprises me anymore.  However, Madrid definitely took me by surprise.  For me, I remember Madrid as a lively, bright, clean, and contemporary city to walk over cobble stone roads while having lunch. see fascinating art, enjoy some of the finest gastronomy and delicous wines in all the world, and to live a luxe existence filled with some of the warmest people.  For the locals - I just cannot comprehend that, for them, this is their way of life.  Soledad will definitely be back. 

Thanks Madrid, for showing me something shiney and new and leaving a memorable imprint in Soledad's adventures. 

My diary on Madrid begins to read from that week:  

Dec 21st 2010:
"After standing in queues since 9am milan time, transitting through brussels sitting on the tarmac for 4 hours then that flight got cancelled, so hustled off the plane, boarded another... finally landed in madrid 6 hours later... with luggage... still stuck in brussels. :))))) TOTAL TRANSIT TIME = 12 HOURS. definitely an adventure but not exactly the Soledad kind! Madrid is cool and i am sitting here in very contemporary brande new accenture office sipping on my free espresso from machine just like in Milan!!!"

Selection of cheeses, including of course, the famous sheep's milk, Manchego.

Assortment of tapas, ready for myself and the Spanish team to devour over siesta lunch break.

My favorite tapas dish that afternoon - grilled banana wrapped in what else... tasty FAT bacon!

Litte fruits to balance all the meat and carbohydrates... don't think these got too much attention though. 

Crab (I think, cannot remember so clear, ate too much).

Spanish style souffle.  Eggy and doughy.  Yum yum!

Close up of my favorite that day:  Grilled bacon wrapped banana.

Il Cavallante Wine Bar: Milan, Italy

Date:  dimanche 19 decembre 2010
Location:  Via Ludovico Muratori, 3
20135 Milan, Italy
Tel: 0254107325
Italian wine bar with floor to ceiling windows and wine bottles.  Noisy and boisterous inside, so not the place if you are looking for a cozy, quiet, intimate atmosphere to connect with a significant other.  Updated daily wine list with whatever they have popular in stock at the moment, which is nice if you don't want to do the due diligence of studying your Italian wines.  They also serve small plates of cheese and charcuterie.  And the cutest little breads in a little bag, for each patron. 

Well recommended place if you are wanting to wine taste and become familiar with Italian wines.  They let you taste before you decide on a glass.  We did Soledad wine tasting that night!  Then... I went home to my last night in Milan... got on the work computer til 2am... started packing my bags (which had spread themselves out over the course of my 1.5 week stay in Milan)... went out to eat my street Panini outside the hotel 330am... then 7am went to the airport en route Madrid.  Very cool way to end my Milanese winter work experience... Italian wine tasting! 

Still, I've a lot to learn regarding Italian wines. I will continue to explore... and another trip back to Italy is most definitely in store!

Osteria Guilio Pane e O'jo: Milan, Italy

Date:  11 decembre 2010
Location:  Via Ludovico Muratori, 10
20135 Milan, Italy
02 5456189

This day was meant to be.  All the stars aligned as 4 friends, who originally set to embark on two separate afternoon adventures, miraculously joined up by chance meeting in a flash of sliding doors.  Earlier that day, we had spent a rare and sunny (yet COLD!), most splendid and dreamy afternoon exploring winter Lake Como.  There, we enjoyed a slow lunch at Vecchio Varonna (in Varonna, Italy): 

Come evening, we had taken our siesta naps and were ready to eat again.  We reconvened at 10pm in the center of Milan.  Thankfully of the four of us, one was an Italian from Milan who led the search by car.  Ironically, he was also blonde.

I was a little worried, as we had not prepared reservations anywhere.  The first place we went to, the Il Cavallante Wine Bar, had a one hour wait.  Darn.  The boys were patient as they ducked into the nearby Osteria Guilio Pane to check on the wait there.  I was hungry and cold standing out in the winter snow of Milan with my girlfriend Marissa, yet still in positive holiday spirits.  I had a hunch the right thing would work out just fine...

Ten minutes later, we were invited into the warm and cozy Italian restaurant known for their Roman style pasta.  They created a make shift corner table for us - originally intended to seat 2, so we squished in and the two boys sat at the edge of the corner.  It was a comfortable and cozy feel.  :) Ohhhh how I shall never forget this place.  The best home made pasta prepared al dente with simple,  fresh ingredients.  It's a good thing I quit my diet as soon as I got on the plane from New York to Milan.  I could not stop eating the Spaghetti Margherita... plain pasta with fresh tomatoes and heavenly fresh grated parmesan cheese from the Mother Land.  And, perhaps the best panna cotta I've ever felt softly enveloping my tongue!  As you can see, there was none left... So simple, and yet magically fulfilling the soul.  I still dream of this place.  Hopefully, I can recreate something similar at home.  Or, just go to Milan all over again.  :)))))))

This place is very popular and well known for its delicious pasta and friendly atmosphere.  You feel like you're sitting in someone's dining room in Rome.  Come to think of it... this place reminds me a lot of Osteria Del Gallo in Rome. Yes!  Same rustic charm and hand made pastas same day, to your table.  However, don't risk what we did, showing up without reservations.  The stars were aligned that magical day just for us! 

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Vecchio Varonna: Varonna, Italy

Date:  11 decembre 2010
Location:  Contrada Scoscesa, 10
23828 Varenna (Lc) - Italy
Tel. e Fax: 0341 830793

Lovely and quaint restaurant - with quite possibly one of the most well thought out and executed meals I experienced in the Milan region this last trip.  Arriving at the restaurant by foot is the climax to the picturesque and reminscent stroll on the footsteps of Lake Como, as described by the restaurant: "On the shore of the lake, in the foot-path, at the harbour (at the end of the lake walk)."

Link to the picture of walking directions:

The style of Italian cooking boasts seasonal ingredients as well as local fish from the pristine, crystal clear Lake Como.  If you've never been, the waters in this lake are absolutely sparkling.  It is very well preserved as a national park.  Absolutely a must-visit destination;  the drive is scenic and well worth the 1.5 hour trek.  Luckily we had a close friend who was our tourguide this very cold and beautiful, memorable day!

I had the best risotto of my life here.  Risotto Mantecato cooked with butter and  lake-fish ragout et marjoram.  The 4 of us ordered 2 risotta plates (serves 2 each) and of course there was nothing left.  Soledad style cleaned the plates with the delicious hot bread that was served.  One of our appetizers was a memorable Aubergine (eggplant) mini-tower prepared with delicate tomate et mozzarella and a very tasty balsamic chicken reduction sauce (I am guessing here, it was incredibly savory).  There was also an extremely fresh and vibrant salad that was dressed beautifully with tomato, olive, fish, and very a savory EVOO based dressing drizzled around the side.  We shared everything, so we also shared 2 additional main courses.  Rabbit served on polenta and another lake-fish served fresh with a delightful mixture of seasonal vegetables (squash, carrots, potatoe). 

Not to forget, naturally we started with Prosecco (Valdobbiadene Colmei al bicchiere Bisol et La Contea Triacca) and awhite from La Contea, Lombardy region.  A lot of white wine today due to the white fish dishes. 

Nearing the end of our eating experience, for our digestif I had my first ever taste of Braulio, a traditional Italian digestif.  Interesting and I would try it again!  Dessert consisted of a rich slice of homemade chocolate cake served with base of lemon (olive oil?) sauce and a generous dollop of mascarpone!  We finally ended with the must-have customary post-meal Italian espresso.  Probably had we not been the last patrons that late afternoon, we would have stayed on for another hour. 

It was a perfect late afternoon lunch, with the best of friends who came from all around the world to meet together on this happenstance weekend! San Francisco, New York, Geneva, and Milan. Typical Soledad style - bringing together an electic international mix of interesting friends from diverse backgrounds, makes for a very rich eating experience replete with amazing food and deep conversations.

Luckily for us, it was not the end of our day;  for we then ventured  back into Milan for siesta-pre-fiesta (yes, Soledad always mixing cultures) then went back out to eat again!