Category Archives: Travel

A Little Bit Country and a Little Bit Rock-n-Roll

If you are looking for a city enjoying a renaissance, where there is music everywhere and the bar and dining scene rising, look no further than Nashville, Tennessee.

Over 100 people are moving to Nashville every day, average age of 29 years old, according to the locals I met in many bars while sipping Tennessee whiskey.

And you can feel the youthful, millennial energy in the air. Pedi-taverns parading up and down Broadway, honky tonks like Tootsies, Robert’s and Layla, Acme feed and seed, and legions of bachelorette parties snaking in like a party train into every bar with a musical pulse.

You can experience and sense the pride in the cocktail parlors like Old Glory, a converted laundry factory, or Patterson House, and old standby.

Coffee culture is a good indicator of how far the food culture is coming along. I was rewarded with trips to Crema and Barista Parlor. The coffee was correct and set me up for the rest of the day. Frothy Monkey, ever popular, was forgettable.

The surprise of the trip was a result of a tip from a friendly Uber driver. Way up on a hill in Brick Church Pike stands the Loft Seafood. Located in a building that looks straight outta Compton. But have no fear and order up the seafood deluxe platter. Large snow crab legs and lobster tails swimming in a pool of house mixed herb butter. Mid way through, the counterman asked if we needed even more butter. This is a roll down your sleeves and talk to no one whilst making a real mess of yourself, just finger licking, unless you wanna karaoke along down memory lane with all the great R & B that’s being played. Easily the most satisfying meal on the trip.

At Bar 308 in Five Points, a heavy slate of  Nineties R & B was also on hand, swaying to memories and good house cocktails made me almost abandon my idea of bar hoping that night. But then we would have missed so many good bars in the Five Points. Dukes, a local spot, complete with great shot and a beer specials and a deli in the back, where you can drink and eat, and drink and eat to your heart’s content. The deli sandwiches are for real. Try the Italian. There was a local DJ spinning country tunes, and I was hard-pressed to leave once again. There is a sign that states no dancing, and another that reads if you leave your credit card etc… What kind of a dope leaves his credit card at a bar? Needless to say I called the next morning, and the lady bartender replied, of course your card is here, and yes, come on by and grab another shot to pick it up. The sign should read “When you leave your credit card…”It’s as if the sign sends a subliminal message to leave your card overnight, some kinda Southern Tennessee jedi mind trick. The 5 spot is good for local bands, and the Crying Wolf works for all things full moony, We tried the chili cheese tater tots and couldn’t hold it down. The drinks were also good and let me just say there is nothing like surveying the crowd with the specter of a wolf demolishing its prey stuffed in taxidermic glory.

There were a few miscues along the culinary journey. One was choosing Biscuit Love over Arnold’s. Must have been a brain fart from the night before at Duke’s. After long lines, needless to say there just ain’t enough love in Biscuit love, plus the eggs and sausage were standard issue. A good bloody mary for consolation, but the whole time I couldn’t help but feeling I had been duped, and wishing I were at Arnold’s instead.

We paid a nice visit at Jack White’s Third Man record shop, a must see, and a good follow up at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where Smokey and the Bandit’s car stole the show for me. There was a tribute to Alabama, which to my surprise I learned are not famous for the song Sweet Home Alabama, but that just demonstrates the degree to my country music ignorance. Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan abound, guitars and performance paraphernalia aplenty.

We dined at Henrietta Reds in German town, a lovely seafood driven resto by an ex NYC chef. The wine list was definitely on the come up and oysters and food was very good. I really enjoyed……Had a nice convo with lady locals seated besides us. They were enjoying a nice red from the Canaries (Fronton de Oro) that I know and sell as well. Wine scene is on the come up in Nashville.

We saved the best for last at Rolf and Daughters. This restaurant was on par with many places we have dined in Savannah, Charleston and NOLA, southern sensibility, good food and fine libations. I was blown away by a pasta made from the mother they use to make sourdough bread. It was a revelation.

On Sunday we had a choice between Biscuit House and Marche. We opted for the French pastry shop. The croissant was fine and the brunch standard. Again I was kinda wishing I would have been slopping it up at a greasy spoon like the Biscuit House, but delicate stomachs at this point prevailed. A second trip to Barista Parlor in 5 Points, this time a garage with motorcycles and a mustang in front, same vaulted ceilings and enormous space. Even better milieu, same quality coffee and relaxing breeze. Tribe Called Quest on LP. What a great coffee spot.

Before our evening flight, we filled up at Martine’s BBQ.

For BBQ, surprising to me that Nashville is not Memphis in this instance. I had some passable fare at Martine, and didn’t really enjoy the menu at Edley’s so took a pass.

The BBQ seemed mass produced, devoid of necessary juiciness and smoky care.

Maybe the sad BBQ situation is because of the idolization of hot chicken, basically fried chicken with spicy edge to it. The line at Prince’s seemed formidable. We settled for Hattie’s D’s, named after former owner of Tootsie’s, which was very, very addicting. I will have to return to sample some of the upstarts like Pepperfire and Bolton’s.

All in all, I  noticed a change in my speech patterns and drawl by the time I was boarding  the plane. Maybe it was the cowboy boots I purchased on Broadway. Note to self. Cowboy boots have metal in it, and even with my newly minted TSA Pre-Check Certification, the officer made me take off my boots. “What’s the point if I gotta take off my boots?” I barked, in a return to an entitled NYC accent. He gave me that sharp look I am accustomed to, and in that instant I snapped back into character, complaining about it all and returning to my comfortable, normal NYC persona.

Good bye sweet southern charm and delights.

Happy Anniversary Pata Negra, the little Jamon bar that could…

On February 8th 2017, Pata Negra turns nine Years old.

Due to the ever changing Real Estate Market of New York City, specifically the East Village, I have been reflecting over the last near decade of restaurant landscape volatility.

If I were to throw a dart in the air, I would guess that over 100 businesses have come and gone since 2008, the year I opened Pata Negra. I assure you this is an under estimation. There are still over 50 closed storefronts with “for rent” signs and I am only referring to a ten block radius around 12th street and 1st avenue.

The question is why?

Here are some thoughts.

The obvious culprit is the escalating cost of rent. As ten year leases come to term, and the cost of operating a business has increased, small businesses cannot afford to renew, and are forced to close, even successful ones. One could argue that if a business must close, it is not successful. I disagree, but more on that later.

Real estate taxes is the silent but deadly revenue killer. Our former Mayor Bloomberg instituted two 25% annual increases to generate revenue for the city. The normal increase is roughly 2%. Most commercial leases require tenants to pay a portion if not all of these taxes. For example, I went from paying $12,000.00 per year in 2008, to $36,000.00 for 2016-2017. When you have a bad month in sales and the margin of profit is $3,000.00, and that just gets forked over to the city, do the math.

 Who has the ability to pay these exorbitant taxes? You guessed it, corporate big business chains. That is Duane Reade, Rite-Aid, Walgreen’s, Banks, ATMs, Subway, Starbucks etc. There is a reason why on every block all you see are national chains or large restaurant groups who can withstand risk.

In the early 1980’s and 90’s, the East village was considered a dangerous area, ripe with homeless, drug addiction and grit, cohabiting with lifetime residents born and raised there. Artists, musicians and families made up the fabric of the East Village.

Many Residents clamored for a clean up of the streets and for viable businesses to come. This change in landscape brought an increase in property value, and actually forced many residents out. NYU is going the Columbia University route, buying up buildings and charging exorbitant rents to parents willing to pay $2,500.00 for a studio for their children while attending NYU. Management companies are snapping up buildings as well, inflating market value. As these prices continue to rise, long time residents are forced to leave, real estate property value continues to rise, and real estate taxes accordingly. The trickle down hits the small business owner.

This is significant because building a loyal returning customer base starts from within the neighborhood. When the neighborhood changes because residents leave, it is like starting all over. My customers from 2008-2014 are long gone, and even the new loyal ones who have moved in are already gone or are planning their exit.

This is the era of the millennial, and I am not going to proffer a position of neutrality. There are many facets of the millennial psyche I don’t understand, and it starts with the social media attention span. The NYC dining climate has become a combination of YELP, Eater, Grubstreet, Thrillist, Gothamist, Zagat (and NYTimes of course) recommendations. And whichever intel is shiniest and most current (as in 5 seconds ago), is where millenials eat out.  What the millennial diner is looking for is elusive to me. Keeping up with twitter, instagram, facebook, Foursquare, and Snapchat is all consuming and proven to be futile.

 In this town there is very little loyalty. It is all about what is hot and what is next hot. Too much competition and too many choices. I do believe millennials are all about value, but that is difficult to offer when operating costs are at an apogee in Manhattan. Just ask world class chefs like Wiley Dufresne, Bill Telepan and Anita Lo (to name 3 recent), chefs who have real pedigree, and continual press. Not every restaurant can be a David Chang Clone, nor should they be.

Operating a small business is like making a pie. Everyone gets to eat a slice before you do, and if you know how to operate you can keep a slice or two for yourself. If not, you don’t eat, regardless of how much effort you put into making the pie. Heck, you might even owe a couple of slices from the pie you haven’t even begun to make yet.

Survival is the new success. I came from teaching special education in the south Bronx and East Harlem to middle schoolers for 13 years to ten plus years in the restaurant industry. I have seen several businesses come and go in that span. This year I have been busy making pie, but having no slices.

I signed my lease in July of 2007. Due to permits and licenses the earliest I was allowed to open was February 2008, and so I have just a few months left on my current lease. The building has been bought and sold twice since my tenure, both times by investors from some faraway state managed by companies who have hundreds of properties in their stable to run. A rent increase is untenable. I would have to open up a casino in the basement to keep pace.

I measure my time at Pata Negra by all the relationships I have made in my travels, and the 90% of those customers who have walked through that door, some of whom have even become great friends. I even thank the 10% who I was at odds with, because they just didn’t get my business or get me or perhaps I was having a bad day and they got an earful of me. Yes I am even grateful for them. I learned something about people and myself. I thank every one of my staff who worked hard and gave of themselves, without whom Pata Negra would be without its full charm and character. My mission, to bring a little bit of Spanish culture to New York City via some jamon, cheese, and wine, was an outlandish idea back in 2008, when I was still smuggling in jamon in my suitcase. It was crazy and not profitable to open at the height of the recession. It was foolish to open a non-market driven business, not catered to the NYU clientele, like Smac or Motorino, and now the millenial populist Duck’s Eatery. My hats off to their continued success. I would have probably been better off selling fried chicken, or oysters or both (good idea). But I am satisfied with what I created. Customer by customer, each person was exposed to jamon, wine, sherry, and a taste of Spain. Not croquetas and patatas bravas and paella, rather Barcelona style recipes with personal, informative service and appreciation. I am grateful for my time here and proud of the little jamon bar that could.

 It would be nice to stick around until July, but given the current climate (January was the worst month of business since 2008), I will see how it goes month by month. 2016 was a topsy turvy year for me. So many personal challenges turned into triumphs and celebration, but Pata Negra lost steam. Blame it on the uncertainty of the times or blame me for not keeping up with times. Certainly the reasons I mentioned had something to do with it too.

 To commemorate the ninth year I have instituted rollback prices to 2008. I will be at the helm most of the time, with my familiar apron on. Come on down to raise a glass with me in celebration of a wonderful life, a little jamon, vino, a farewell hug and a smile.

Chef Mateo

 Off the top of my head here is a partial list of spots I used to frequent (primarily restos) which have closed in the East Village since 2008.  Just add to the list.

Rose’s Pizza                             10th Street Pierogi

Yaffa                                             Neptune

South Brooklyn Pizza       Northern Spy

Roberta’s Pasticceria        Leon

Terroir                                        Pearl & Ash

Alder                                          Lanza’s

Box Kite                                    Ninth Ward

12th St. Osteria                     Tinto Fino

Cafecito                                     Nonna’s Pizza

Winebar                                    Mercadito

Back Forty                               Dieci

Porchetta                                 Redhead

Blackhound                             Evelyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temps de Flors

Mayflowers.

Pata Negra is entering into its ninth year, and traveling to Spain to research the food and wine trends is one of the best parts of the job. I visit the wineries and producers, and in turn am able to relay to the Pata Negra public the products, the people and their distinctive stories.

This trip would prove different then all others because I finally decided to bring my fiancée, Michelle, who despite all her European and worldly travels had never set foot on Spanish soil. Now was as good a time as any.

May is a wise choice for travel to Spain, way before the legions of tourists arrive in June, way before it becomes insufferable in July, and capitalizing on the fact that most great chefs close in August for holiday.

It is a good idea to pick a major city and branch out, rather than try to drive or train throughout the whole country, so I decided to concentrate on the northeast, just below the Basque country, with Barcelona as a base. A few days in Barca, then a drive up to Costa Brava, a long stay in Cadaques, a fishing village supreme, followed by two days in Girona for the Temps de Flors (flower festival), finally returning to Barca for two days before returning home.

All three cities were ripe with great restaurants to visit, and ample opportunity for me to drink cava and priorat, and taste the lesser known wines of the Costa Brava from DO’s such as Conca de Barbera, Terra Alta, and Emporda.

The first few days in Barcelona proved fruitful and set the tone for the rest of the trip. Due to the timing of our arrival Sunday, we missed lunch and had no reservations for on the beach paella, so we walked the streets of El Born stopping at local tapas bars (el Tapeo) finishing up at Sagardi for Basque sidra and pintxos, near our hotel, Banys Oriental. Once fueled, we walked over to La Vinya del Senyor en El Born for some wine. We drank Lapola from Ribeira Sacra, Remelluri Reserva 2009 and a Bertha Brut Nature Cava. We hooked up with some New Zealanders and shared a great Ribeiro from Emilio Rojo. We were so done for the night, jet lagged and high on wine and life, so we turned in early.

The next morning my dear friend Ana, the export manager at Gramona Winery, picked us up and drove us to San Sadurni for a private visit to the bodega. We were able to walk the grounds during a breezy, sunny morning and tour the facility to learn the history of the winery and a primer on how excellent cava is fashioned. Seeing the terroir firsthand, and the diverse biodynamic culture being cultivated there was a great first experience for Michelle into the wine making world.

We had a nice lunch at Cal Blay Vinticinc, eating Catalan classics such as pa amb tomaquet and anchoas, all which paired perfectly with the leisurely tasting of La Cuvee, Imperial, and III Lustros. The wines are so great for any occasion and are the epitome of versatility. We were very touched by a surprise visit from Xavier, the owner, making an honored appearance.

After a much needed siesta, we met up for tapas at Canete, a classic tapas bar where you sit in front of the kitchen and dine on seafood delights drinking the night away. There were more anchoas de Santona, two types of gambas, ajillo and salteada, and xipirons with mongetes. We drank San Leon manzanilla sherry and a godello from Valdesil. We almost ordered a red for the secreto iberico and the sardinas, but decided to follow up this great meal at a wine bar called Bar Brutal en El Born. Before we knew it, we were several bottles in for the night, a barometer of the number of bottles consumed for the remainder of the trip.

The following day, an obligatory trip to Boqueria with counter lunch at El Ramblara, for our first berberechos, tallarines, ostras y navajas. The pimientos de padron were so good. We washed that all down with a verdejo.

That evening we had a dinner date with another dear friend, Monica and her husband Eduardo from Think Global wines, another exporter extraordinaire with a big heart and great portfolio. There was some mix up at the originally planned restaurant, and after some apologizing by the owner, some wine and rerouting, we ended up at Capete for a lovely repast. We drank godello and mencia and had a grand ole time with our first intro into peas de Maresme and arros iberic. We night capped at Gimlet, a Barca cocktail bar mainstay in El Born.

Cal Pep for lunch the next day, a bar I usually visit when in Barca. Chef Cal was not there, but the tortilla jugosa style and pimientos de pardon are still going strong. Another round of tallarines and berberetxos accompanied by the nice 2015 vintage of Muga Rosado.

We spent the afternoon marveling at La Sagrada Familia which is near completion, unlike Crazy Horse back at the States. Depending on the time of day, the stained glass windows shine a multicolored spectacle of their own.

On a tip from Ana, we got lost trying to locate Tast-Ller, a private loft restaurant speakeasy where Chef Mikal is delivering an interesting, well priced market driven small plates menu. Chef Mikal and staff make you feel right at home, within a modern setting, lovely touches and serious cooking.

Thursday rolls around, and we rent a VW golf for the short drive to Cadaques, a fishing village extraordinaire on the Costa Brava. We built in lunch time in Llafranc for a scenic view at Casamar, elegant dining on the balcony with sea vistas, our first foray into Spain’s very fine dining. The food was more Michelin styled, but very good with well composed plates and layers such as in the tartar de gambas, nyoquis de patata, and arros amn cocotxa. There was a huge temptation to consume more wine at lunch, but I knew a treacherous drive awaited us, and discretion took over.

I was rewarded for my restraint because it is indeed not a normal drive to get into Cadaques. Once we passed Figueres and Roses, the steep, narrow lane mountain curves made their presence known. Extreme concentration and caution was warranted. Exhiliration, check.

We rented a duplex from Air B n B, which was located just far enough from the buzz of the port, but approachable in a matter of minutes, complete with balcony and port view as well as fireplace. The fireplace was more useful on this trip given the inclement weather, the only thing that did not cooperate with our beach plans.

Cadaques is the loveliest of port towns, old and sinewy, terra cotta topped, breathtaking and mysterious, reminding us of Capri or Cassis, Catalan style. Pescatore satisfying meals at family run Can Rafa and Talla, with weather cooperating enough for waterside photo ops, and ample opportunity to work off some of the meals with a walk to Port Lligat, an obligatory visit to Dali’s home, and a final day Celtic adventure to Cap de Creus, the lighthouse out of a movie seemingly at the end of the earth, eating in the old tavern and enduring the fury of Tramontana (the wind).

A day trip to Figueres for the Dali museum, complete with jewels, a wonderland and feast for the eyes. We stumbled upon a three day old restaurant named Bocam which operated with the savvy of a three year joint, serving up fresh seafood and iberic arros.

The best part of Cadaques was a splendid meal at Compartir, helmed by El Bulli vets cooking home style Catalan dishes with technique and flair, an extensive wine list and well designed setting, reason enough for the treacherous trek to this fishing oasis. The menu was playful and worldly, starting with oysters and sardines and razor clams, a tuna rolled into a cannelloni, and surprising us with a shabu shabu of salmon, an amazing egg dish, arros iberic and the dessert of the trip, a coulant avellane. We could have dined here every night easily.

Bt the time we got back to Girona, flowers were a blooming for the Temps de Flors. Girona, a city just one hour north of Barcelona with a Gothic quarter, hosts an annual flower show called Temps de flors. The city is spruced with tantalizing aromatic installations strategically placed in churches, museums, on street corners, and anywhere cool. The fact that El Celler Can Roca, one of Spain’s best restaurants, if not the world, makes Girona its home as well provided extra motivation to visit.

Artists spend many hours creating the picturesque and memorable designs, some thematically and playfully driven, while others a veritable feast for the nose and eyes. It can be overwhelming at first, especially managing the flower struck crowds of old folks with cameras, but the best strategy is just to walk slowly and take it in at your pace.

Looking at so many vibrant combinations of colors and textures fuels the appetite. It is like eating art.

We had a fine paella at Alqueria, and a quixotic seafood dinner at Arros y Peix. While the food was very good at both establishments, the décor was too corporate, and the lighting was off. Something about both decors detracted from the quality of the eating experiences.

Not to fear, because we had El Celler de Can Roca on schedule, so we trained by just drinking coffee and eating pastries for much of the day, in preparation of a long multi-course extravaganza.

We arrived for an early reservation, by Spanish standards, at 8:30, and entered through the modern grassy courtyard into an even more modern restaurant. I will admit that this is my second trip to Can Roca. I will confess that on my first visit a few years back, the end of the meal is blurry in my memory. My fault, as I had too good a time at lunch at a seaside resto in San Feixols named Villa Mars, where chef and proprietor Carlos went all out during our visit, contributing to a hampered state of consciousness for dinner, and ensuing stupor by dessert and a tour of the wine cellar.

This time around I was ready, snacking only on small pastries and great coffee, courtesy of a new coffee shop a stone’s throw from La Fabrica, Christian and Amber Meier’s flagship. Espresso Mafia is white walled and gold embossed.

Modern and inviting, the white façade leads you to a coffee haven with serious intent and warm embrace. The tandem behind the machine, from Toronto and France, transplanted and happy to be in Girona are trying to effect a small shift in the stolid coffee culture existing in Spain for a very long time. Quality espresso at the right price, not just the average joe for 1.50 euros you can find anywhere. Add a delicious piece of decadent chocolate cake with cream and a bona fide addiction is born.

Aside from the very serene setting that is Can Roca, with architectural industrial glass and metal softened by grassy canopies and stark trees anchoring the center of the room, the wine list is what captivates attention. A cellar that includes so many great options, especially from Catalunya, priced in the most reasonable way, effectively inviting you to order as much as you can drink, multiple course food pairing not withstanding.

After the complimentary and settling Brut Reserva cava from Albet y Noya, made exclusively for Can Roca, Sherry first, a fine aged fino named La Panesa, from Hidalgo, complex and nutty.

A bottle of blanc de noir from Lentiscus, bready and broad with dark fruit, great for the first course connecting through to the first few courses. We followed up with a Rioja classic, Vina Tondonia Reserva blanco 1998, and some serious mencia from Raul Perez El Pecado 2007, a cult fave from Ribeira Sacra.

The degustacion (tasting menu) starts off with playful adaptations of Can Roca hits. The world menu served in a paper globe offering tastes from Japan, Thailand, China, Peru and Korea. An olive tree placed at the table where spherical olives can be plucked of the branches. Then comes a pop up bar complete with illustrations highlighting the best bar food from the suburbs of Girona: breaded squid, kidneys in sherry, escabeche mussels, salt cod with spinach, and a Campari bonbon.

Then a foray into mushrooms, with consommé and gentle egg yolks and oysters. Such unctuous combinations of velvety textures and salinity.

Which sets up a parade of seafood dishes, from red mullet with kombu, to sea anemone in prickly pear foam, langoustines, red confit skate, blackspot sea bream and the best, prawns from Palomar with head and its juices, in a seaweed veloute and phytoplankton. Simply magnificent.

There were land courses too, Iberic suckling pig, lamb with eggplant, veal oyster blade and marrow, and pigeon fermented in rice, but they all bow down to the fabulous spring peas from Maresme, adorned in liquorices and lemon.

By the time the Cuban cigar box of various confections is placed at the table, we were both ready to cry out “no mas”, but made room for Turkish perfume and Orange Colourology.

El Celler de Can Roca is a dedicated temple to the best cuisine of Spain and can be quite magical, if you allow yourself to be seduced by the magic of the experience and the quality of thirty years of experience from the Roca family.

The next morning we headed back to Barcelona and did some sightseeing.. Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Casa Batllo in Eixample are marvels of futuristic architecture even by today’s standards, and a view atop Montjuic of the city is a great way to kiss good-bye.

That night we dined at Abac on Avda. Tibidabo. The hotel restaurant is a temple to wine and chemistry in cooking. The hushed dining room is very atonal, but buoyed by the views of the exquisite garden. Many dishes were cooked tableside in elaborate flasks and double containers. The process can be quite mesmerizing. The results, very subtly flavored and inventive food, infused with great care. Abaca had the most expensive wine mark ups on the trip, discouraging but catering to their specific clientele. We drank a Zuccardi Torrontes, a fresh, crisp Argentine white and a local white that drank like an orange wine, Els Bassots 2011 from the Conca de Barbera. The red was a real treat, an old vintage Cotes de Catalanes Fernand Vaquer (1988) which was stunning.

There was another tussle over peas and prawns again. Foie gras wrapped in greens steamed in one of those fabulous science kits. But the showstopper was the chocolate magic show. Only pictures can do it true justice.

Our last day in Barca, we had lunch at Disfrutar, the sister restaurant to Compartir in Cadaques. We had high expectations because Compartir was so memorable.

Disfrutar is located in a hospital neighborhood and one would not expect it to be where it is. But once we walked in we were greeted warmly by the staff and chefs. The open kitchen was a thing of beauty. The bathrooms an oceanic wonderland.

The dining room, a transport to a beachy locale complete with clouds and blue dreams of sandy repose. The tone is very convivial, a stark contract to the past two nights suggesting that we kick back and enjoy the show.

And enjoy we did. Barbadillo Solear sherry and Raventos I Blanc Rosat Cava set the right mood that we were in for a great time. We chose the short menu (dinner later, and more on that debacle later) which still consisted of 24 courses.

I really would like to go into great detail about every course, but I will have to return soon to do it justice.

Gastroeconomy.com has a detailed menu description of Festival (for more depth and photos)

The chefs, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casanas, headed El Bulli kitchens for years. Disfrutar is not El Bulli, but techniques and style are at play here, and we were so happy for it. By the end of the meal we were singing to one another. I believe it was a Bee Gees song, faintly heard over the gleeful din of this outstanding restaurant. Disfrutar capture the magical, elusive feeling that I got at Bulli. It cannot really match El Bulli for its locale, but excels in making you feel happy in its own right, no small feat for sometime jaded NYC customers who have dined at some of the best restaurants in the world. I left feeling both happy and sad. Happy leaving Spain with the knowledge that Disfrutar exists and I can return and sad that I can’t be in Barca on the regular to bring members of my crew to lunch at least once a month.

Beaming from the meal, we had one last resto on our docket, Tickets. I actually didn’t know what to expect, and almost didn’t care because Disfrutar imparted a lasting glow on us. I was warned by some industry folk about how commercialized Tickets was. They were underselling it. Tickets belongs in Las Vegas. Check that Atlantic City.

Tickets is just an Americanized, over stimulated version of what a tapas bar should be. It is unfortunate, because the cooking is quite good. Wines can only make the list after striking some deal with the restaurant. It seems many deals are made there for marketing purposes.

The problem arises when an industry person like myself comes in expecting a good meal, and the service goes to pot. Our server was not to blame, I suppose, when he really couldn’t help us to order wisely. His mission is to extract the most out of his customers, in terms of money. Courses came out with huge lapses in time, despite a not so full restaurant and an enormous staff. There were errors occurring at other tables too, accompanied by audible and visible in-fighting among the staff.

When our server informed us that there was an error in placing a tableside order of squab, he offered nothing to offset the error. He suggested that we order more food to wait for the mistake to be corrected.

Several minutes later a squab did turn up, but it was delivered to another couple at the bar who arrived half an hour after we did. I asked why we didn’t receive the final dish since an error was made. He replied that the order went through different channels. I tried to explain to him why his answer and rationale wasn’t an acceptable one. He just stood there. I asked to speak to a manager. No one out of that enormous staff came out. After several minutes he asked if we still wanted the dish. After twenty-five minutes had lapsed, we said yes. When it came out, we had long finished our sole bottle of cava. No more wine was even offered. Truth be told the squab was quite good. Our server then asked of he wanted dessert. It is one thing to rest on reputation, quite another to abandon basic hospitality principles. Enough was enough, so I asked for the bill, and again to speak to someone, anyone who could make decisions. No one came out.

In the end the cava was taken of the bill, and we left the server 20% gratuity. I think I had a bocadillo not too long after we returned from Dry Martini for a night cap. I am still perplexed as to the level of service at Tickets. I will say or write no more about it. Perhaps it was just an off night.   I doubt it. And at the end of the day, we had Canete, Capete, Cal Pepe, Boqueria, Casamar, Talla, Can Rafa, Tast-LLer, Can Roca, Abac, and Disfrutar which left lasting, indelible impressions.

We left Barcelona early Saturday morning and arrived to New York by midday. We trekked to our usual post flight spot, Sripraphai for Thai food in Woodside, and satisfied our craving for spicy Asian cuisine, especially after a long adventure on the food and wine trail to my favorite culinary mecca, Spain.

As my dear friend often tells me, there is no greater time than now for access to drinking the wines of the world. Every time I return to Spain, I explore another wine region that captivates my attention and adds to my palate. Even though there will never be another El Bulli, there are so many great chefs and restaurateurs doing great work and inspiring each other to showcase the best of Spain. And we wine and food travelers are the richer for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you bite the bear….

Back from Chi-town, I felt pleased about how I planned my meals and stuck to them.   I was really looking forward to doing the work. Mack scheduled four workouts for the calendar week, and with the diet modifications we were slowly implementing I was able to break the sound barrier (300 lbs) by July 4th.

I started to settle into a rhythm between working out, a modified diet, and living a normal life.

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The $1,000. Steak

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New York is renowned as a premier destination for a classic steakhouse. Whenever foreign winemakers come to visit the Big Apple on wine business, I usually field requests for the best beef restaurants. While it is true that the home cook now has access to a variety of top pedigree beef, ranging from naturally grass fed to dry aged, the options at restaurants are much more problematic. Aside from the exorbitant costs, especially comparing what you can get for the home kitchen versus what you are actually paying for at a steakhouse, there are other pitfalls to consider as well.

Wine lists are generally unimaginative and rocket juice oriented. If there are gems on the list, they are too far and few between, creating a dilemma of agony over the correct wine pairings and strategy. Stylistically there is little imagination or variation, often a who’s who of cult cabernets or expensive super Tuscans, Burgundy or Bordeaux wines that are nowhere near ready to drink.

Continue reading The $1,000. Steak