Saturday, November 27, 2010

Searching for the perfect Tapas; part 6

Madrid Spain
November 11, 2010

This is my last full day in Spain. Ashley is staying two more days to present her speech at the conference she is attending. We decide to go back into Madrid to do a little more sightseeing.
Our first stop is the Prado Museum, one of the largest museums in the world. It is a short walk from the train station and we get there about mid-morning. The museum is stunning, but we do a Rick Steves "get all the basics in two hours" tour. Ashley reads about the paintings as we sprint from room to room. Afterwards, we are hungry and head down to the Museum cafeteria, recommended by Rick Steves. There are lots of selections, but I immediately spot what I have been wanting for the whole trip-a Spanish Tortilla. I get that with a small salad and cup of espresso. The Tortilla is delicious, as good as those Elena taught me to make. The espresso is self service out of a commercial Nespresso machine and is as good as any I have had in Spain. I had looked at the machines the day before in a Nespresso boutique. Now I plan to go back to see if they are avaliable in the US.
After lunch we head toward our other objective, the Royal Palace. This is also the second or third largest palace in Europe and is well worth the hike across Madrid. This takes up the balance of the afternoon with me reading the guided tour this time to Ashley. Coming out of the palace we head toward the center of Madrid for more shopping and eating. We come to a large famous square, the Plaza Mayor. Even though it is brisk out, there are tables in the square so we stop for a bite. I order a beer and Ashley orders some hummus. The hummus is excellent. Of course we have lots of hummus here in Kansas City. There is a local guy who makes hummus that comes in a small container for about $5.00 that has too much olive oil. Or you can buy about twice that much at Costco for about the same price and it has no flavor. The hummus there was perfect with just the right blend of lemon, tahini, garlic, olive oil and garbanzos. This was a perfect tapas.
Next we decide to look for a restaurant recommended by Ashley in her Lonely Planet application on her cell phone. On our way we look down an alley and spot a chocolateria that she had been to before and had fond memories of. By now it is dark, but we head down the alley and park on a table under a heater and order hot chocolate and churros. This is also delicious with the churros fresh from the fryer and the chocolate hot, rich, not too sweet and thick. This is another excellent tapas.
We move on, still in search of the restaurant. Not finding what we want exactly we head back toward the center of Madrid. I spot what I think is a gourmet marketplace called Mercado de San Miguel that I think may have some gift items I still need to buy. We go in and find ourselves in the middle of a tapas food court with dozens of individual vendors each selling something different. This is a modern open aired indoor marketplace with high ceilings and lots of glass. We stop at the olive booth first and get a selection of different stuffed olives with either Calamari, cheese or clams. We move over to the sherry bar next to the booth and order two sherries to go with the olives. The bartender is friendly and can speak a little English. She puts out another small dish filled with olives for us to snack on with the sherry. I take a short walk through the market looking for the next dish and settle on the cheese booth. I am about to pick out several when the shopkeeper asks what I like in cheeses and guides me to try several that I might not have picked. His selections are all delicious. I get back to the bar and order another sherry and she puts out another dish of olives. I love these olives! Next Ashley jumps up and heads to get something else. She comes back with
ceviche and another fish tapas. The ceviche is fantastic.
All of a sudden I realize that I have found the perfect tapas!! It isn't so much how the dish is presented, it isn't exactly how the dish tastes, it isn't what bar you are eating them at, it isn't how the bartender or waiter treats you, but a combination of all of those factors. I looked around to see hundreds of happy people eating, drinking, talking and sharing their tapas. Hours had gone by in an instant. Now I can leave Spain happy and satisfied!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Searching for the perfect Tapas; part 5

Seville & Madrid Spain

Ashley and I awake early and head to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast. It is amazing how much more food there is at 7:30 as opposed to 10:30. We check out of our hotel and take the bus to the Seville train station. We get on the bullet train about 9:30 and start off for Madrid. Ashley needs to take some time to work on her speech for the conference she will attend and hunches over her computer to finish it. I get up and head for the diner car to get a cup of coffee. There are several people in the car eating various pastries and having drinks or coffee. I order a cafe con leche. As I sip my cup I reflect on how good the coffee has been in Spain. Their standard cup of coffee is an espresso. The con leche is espresso with milk. If you want a cafe American, it seems to be a double shot of espresso to fill a larger cup. After I have a couple of those, I am ready to GO!
We arrive in Madrid, stow our bags, and head for the Museo Reina Sofía, one of the museums close to the Atocha train station. This has a large collection of modern Spanish artists and is one of the two museums we want to see in Madrid. We are hungry and I am thinking, "Anything but tapas." Rick Steves mentions in his guide book how good the food is at the museums, so we decide to eat at the Sofía. The dining area is clean, modern and stylish. We sit at the bar and order from the menu. The obvious choice is the special with a small salad, entree and drink for about 9 euros. The bartender recommends the steak, which I have, while Ashley gets the salmon. Both are delicious and I think that maybe I have just had my best meal in Spain.
After lunch and a couple of hours in the museum, we walk the streets for a while and then walk back to the train station. We take a short local train ride to our hotel in Leganés, about 30 minutes outside of Madrid. After checking in, we decide to go look for something to eat. Most of the bars don't look very inviting-too much smoke and too crowded. We settle on one close to the hotel but they don't have tapas. Instead they have raciones, which is basically a double or triple order of tapas. We get two orders-one of which was mini red peppers stuffed with a white fish. The other was cheese croquetas. Both were OK, but the sauce seemed like a tomato sauce out of a can. On my way home I think that I may never find the perfect tapas in Spain.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Searching for the perfect Tapas; part 4

Seville, Spain
November 9, 2010

I awake the next morning at 10:30 again. Jet lag seems to have taken more out of me than I thought. Ashley and I had considered taking a day bus trip to see some of the hill towns around Seville but getting started this late in the day nixes that idea. Instead, we decide to take a short bus trip to visit the Roman ruins at Italica about 6 miles northwest of Seville. The ruins are magnificent with a fairly large amphitheater and beautiful mosaic tile floors in the foundations of the Roman homes. By the time we have finished touring the ruins, we are hungry, but decide to return to Seville for a late lunch.
We choose a fish restaurant-Marisqueria Arenal Sevilla-that operates in the middle of the Arenal Market. Almost all of the stalls in the market are closed, but the restaurant is still open and we split a good meal with a salad and the fried fish platter. The salad has a slab of tuna on it and the fish platter has small sardines, a small red fish, calamari and pieces of white fish.
After our late lunch we decide to walk toward the cathedral and window shop. I decide I have to have a pair of boots of Spanish leather (thank you, Bob Dylan), but after going in about a hundred shoe stores, I come to accept that Spanish boots don't come in my European size 46. As we are walking through the shopping district, we find a bakery with lots of great looking pastries and some glaceed fruits that are beautiful. However, it starts me thinking about the trend of over-handling foods to make them look decorative. I can think of many times that I have looked at beautiful presentations but discover that the food looks better than it tastes! I pass on going in and ordering anything. Several hours and many stores later we decide to find some more Tapas. We find a clean bar-coffee shop which has tapas, more decorative pastries, and is busy. They offer menus in English as well as Spanish, but our first choice is not memorable. We call the waiter over to suggest something else and he brings over the manager who recommends the mini-lasagna and some fried rice balls with squid ink and calamari. Both are beautifully presented and very tasty. I feel that we have had the best Tapas in all of the places we have tried in Seville. We head back to the hotel to prepare for the train ride back to Madrid the next morning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Searching for the perfect Tapas; part 3

Seville Spain
November 8, 2010

Ashley and I sleep in after our first day in Seville, waking about 10:30. I haven't slept this late since college! We go down to get breakfast in the hotel. The coffee is delicious and there is a full spread of pastries, cereals, sliced meats and cheeses, eggs (salty) and fresh and canned fruits. Afterwords we decide to walk to a tobacco shop to get a bus pass. We continue on after we get the pass, walking through the city on our way to the Cathedral and Alcazar, our two tourist stops of the day. The cathedral is magnificent, showcasing all of the gold and silver looted from the Aztecs and Incas, and the Alcazar is even more stunning. Afterwords we are hungry and seek out a tapas bar recommended by Rick Steves' guidebook near the bullring. We find that it is no longer there, so we reverse course and come upon an inviting coffee bar with pastries and food. We stop for a pick-me up. Once again, we are trying to eat when everything is shut down, but Ashley is able to get a Merangue while I get my customary beer. The Merangue is delicious. I had seen something similar in France, but never tried one. We move on trying to decide what to do before our Flamenco show. We again consult the guidebook for more Tapas and find Cerverceria Giralda recommended , a place I had noticed the day before, not far from the show. We go in and sit down to order. The place reminds me of a bar in San Francisco and we get an order of fried baby Calamari and then some Paella. The Calamari is delicious and the Paella is good-maybe just OK. Both are quite filling though and we head to the show. After the show on our way to find the bus we pass a bar that has hams hanging and curing from the ceiling of the bar with small cups to catch the fat so it doesn't drip on the customers. I think to myself: "I'm not in Kansas anymore."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Searching for the perfect Tapa-Part 2

Seville Spain
November 7
8:00 PM

Later on Sunday we head to the center of town near the Cathedral by taking the bus. Everyone is out and the Plaza is bustling. We walk past several bars on our way to buy tickets for a Flamenco show. All are serving Tapas. Some are crowded; some are empty. I don't see anything that interests me until after we have bought the tickets. We find a small bar with many Tapas listed on the sign outside and lots of people at the tables. We sit down and look at the menu. I want to get something vegetarian or fish for Ashley and she picks fried artichokes. I spot another dish of potatoes with a green sauce of parsley, garlic and olive oil. I'm thinking this will be the same dish that Elena, an Argentine who worked for me for years, used to make.
When the two dishes arrive, the artichokes are good, but the potatoes are boiled, not roasted and are loaded with salt. In fact, the more dishes I eat in Spain, I sense they have a thing going on with salt. So we are batting 50% after our second meal.

Searching for the perfect Tapas
Part 1
Seville, Spain
November 7, 2010
2:00 PM

I’m walking with my daughter Ashley down a narrow street in Seville around 2:00 in the afternoon. We have just arrived in Spain for a week long trip. Having flown overnight into Madrid and then catching the AVI bullet train down to Seville, I am ready to get out and explore and exercise my legs even though I feel pretty jet-lagged. Our hotel San Gil is beautiful and taking the guidebook with me, I am confident I will find a good place for a quick bite to eat.
Seville is the largest European city I have been in. The streets around our hotel are narrow—only about the width of a car with two narrow sidewalks on either side. The buildings arise on each side in a solid 3-story wall, which remind me of the canyons Luke Skywalker flew down on the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie. Within a block I start to feel lost, not able to see more than a block ahead or behind me because of the turns in the road. There are people walking on the street, but no shops are open because it is siesta time. We go a couple of blocks and turn a corner and there is an intersection ahead with a wide part in the sidewalk that has a few tables outside. We walk up to a bar that is behind the tables and peer in. Even though there are people at the tables, they mostly seem to be drinking. I don’t really see a menu and the bartender is ignoring us, so we decide to move on. Another couple of blocks we find another intersection with another bar and more tables. This time the bartender seems friendly and I order a beer for me and a glass of wine for Ashley. I ask if they have Tapas and they reply that no, they only have Bocadillos. This is a French baguette sliced in half with meat and cheese. Because we are getting hungry, I order one with Chorizo and cheese. I go out to the table to wait and after several minutes decide to go back in to check on the order and get another beer. I am wondering if they have forgotten about us, but the sandwich is about ready and I take it outside. Now, I am feeling guilty because I know Ashley is vegetarian, but she peels off the meat and eats the bread and cheese. The sandwich is OK, not nearly as good as the baguette sandwiches in France which are loaded with vegetables, and come with all sorts of meat or non-meat choices. So at the end of my first Spanish meal, I feel slightly let down. We move on.