Tuesday 31 May 2011

Pintxos, San Sebastian

Gluttony. I can't think of any other work to adequately describe the reasonable and civilised pintxos crawl that started early in the afternoon and ended as an all-out binge finishing late into the evening.

I had arrived in San Sebasitan early in the morning after taking the overnight train from Paris. San Sebastian is known as the culinary capital of Spain, and considered by many to be the premiere food-city in the world. San Sebastian is in Basque country with is known for its new Spanish cuisine and innovative chefs. It has the highest concentrate of Michelin stars in the world (in relation to population) and as result, the standard of food in the entire town rises to meet the high bar set by these elite chefs.

When not dining at Michelin star restaurants, another culinary drawcard are the pintxos which are the traditional bar food in the Basque country. Similar to tapas in the sense that they are served in bars with drinks, but different as they are served individually and are commonly much larger than tapas.

I started touring the old quarter of San Sebastian with Dania, another Aussie girl staying in the same room with me at the Pension.

We commenced our journey at Hori Da and ordered a selection to Pintxos to share together with a few glasses of Txakoli (the traditional drink with pintxos, a sparkling dry white wine, poured from a height to create a fizz like cider).

Pictured on the plate above is (clockwise from top):
  • Tuna and anchovy on baguette
  • Jamon, goats cheese and balsamic reduction on baguette
  • Braised beef and carrot on baguette
  • Bacon, goats cheese, onion confit and sundried tomato on baguette
  • Chicken vol-au-vent

The interior of the bar

We then headed to Bar Martinez for round two, consisting of cheese croquettes, smoked salmon canapes and the below item that we believe was fish egg sack based on the taste, texture and our inability to grasp Spanish and/or Basque.

Although the taste was fine (like cooked tuna), the texture was grainy and off-putting and the physically appearance did not help

We didn't get the name of our next stop but it had jamon hanging from the rafters and we stopped for a couple of glasses of sangria (the best I have ever tasted).

The interior of the [name unknown] 3rd stop on our tour

The next stop was at Bar Txalupa Jatetxea for a variety of pintxos including goats cheese with tomato confit, jalapenos, more smoked salmon and angulas (baby eels with seafood salad) (pictured below)

The interior of the bar

We then returned to our pension to freshen up before heading out again. Back at the pension we met another roommate, Darias, and the three of us heading out for more eating. The first place we stopped at, I managed to show some self control and didn't eat anymore stating that "I'm full. I'm not going to eat for the sake of eating. Maybe if I see something spectacular, I'll try it but otherwise I'll pass".

It was, however, when we arrived at our final destination for the evening, Astelena, that the level of quality of the pintxos improved (from an already high standard) exponentially and the gluttony began.

As with most bars, the food is laid out on the bar and patrons choose what they wish. Some bars may also have a small menu that you can also order from. However, at Astelena, the additional hot foods listed on the menu were far more extensive than the already wide selection on the bar.

We selected three or four dishes to share but that list quickly blew out as we saw what other patrons were eating and felt the need to try everything and of course, combined our order with a bottle of txakoli.

We ordered:
  • Grilled octopus (we meant to order squid but it got lost in translation)
  • A petit steak (served rare and very tender)
  • Grilled chorizo (pictured below)
  • Cheese Buñuelos
  • Foie Gras ravioli (pictured below)
  • Grilled baby quail

Grilled chorizo

The foie gras ravioli was the surefire winner for me. It was creamy, smooth, melt in the mouth and more calories than I dare to consider.

The bottle of Txakoli

The interior of Astelena

After Astelena, I headed back to the Pension vowing to skip breakfast knowing the 12 course feast that was awaiting me the next day at Asador Etxebarri.

Friday 27 May 2011

Lafayette Gourmet, Paris

London has Harrods, but Paris has Lafayette Gourmet and it is far superior (sorry London)!!!

Lafayette Gourmet is located in Galeries Lafayette, the premier department store in Paris geared to both tourists and locals alike. The shoe department alone was enough to keep a girl occupied for hours but after a quick tour, I headed to the Lafayette Gourmet.

The market stocks the greatest selection of fresh produce from around the world, together with ready-to-eat meals and pantry items. The usual weakspot for a market in Eurpoe is the lack of asian ingredients but Lafayette Gourmet had all the requirements needed.

I started to take photos of each of the sections but was advised by a security guard that photos were not permitted so I can only show you a handful of photos from the patisserie sections.

Take-away cakes

This is about 1/3 of the macaroon section

Single-serve cakes

One of my favourites - the Croquembouche

Touring around all this food was starting to make me hungy so I looked for a place to sit and have a bite to eat. There are many small establishments in the food hall with their menus highlighting the produce for sale in that area. I settled on the Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto (near the charcuterie section) and pulled up a seat at the bar.

The waiter talked me into the beef carpaccio which was served with fresh bread and a small side salad.

The carpaccio (side dishes not pictured)

Whilst sitting at the bar and talking to the other patrons, I allowed the waiter to talk me into ordering one of his special cocktails - a mix of champagne, limoncello, martini and framboise, which was very refreshing

I ended up sitting at the counter for over 90 minutes, enjoying my food and talking with the other patrons. During that time, without charge or request, the waiter brought over to me a plate of jamon, another cocktail and a cheese plate!!! He was threatening to bring over more food when I begged him to stop or I wouldn't have room for dinner.

The cheese plate (with provolone, parmesan and gorgonzola)

The waiter, Mauricio and I

I would hope that the department stores in Australia take note of the wide selection stocked at Lafayette Gourmet and try to replicate the formula (and stock) back home. The closest we seem to have is the David Jones Food Halls but they really do pale in comparison.

The Grand Boullion, Paris

After discussing my love of food with my cousins, they thought it would be a good idea to dine at a Parisian bistro for dinner one night (as a change from the french-style home cooked dinners that my cousin Alexis kindly prepares each night).

We headed to the Latin Quarter and dined at Grand Bouillon a bistro that opened in 1906 as a food hall for the university workers and is now heritgate listed (or as the French say: "classified monument"). The style of the restaurant is Art Nouveau: intricately carved wood and ceramics with mirrors and glass paintings.

The exterior of the restaurant

The interior of the upper level

For entree I ordered
Gratinée du Boullion à l’oignon (french onion soup). The broth was packed with flavour and the onions were melt-in-the-mouth tender. It was a clichéd french dish that was on my list to try. Was it good? Yes. Did everybody else's soups seem better? Yes.

French onion soup

For my main course, I again ordered off the entree menu and had
Os à moelle gratiné à la moutarde, pain grille et fleur de sel (bone marrow with grilled bread and salt) which was divine. I have always enjoyed the taste of marrow but am still a little put-off when I think of what it is I am eating so I just close my eyes and enjoy!!

The bone marrow with grilled bread

I also managed to take some photos of some of the dishes the rest of the group ordered. I seemed to be an oddity by taking photos of the food so I tried to be discrete.

Risotto de Saint Jacques et gambas au coulis de homard (Risotto with scallops and prawns, in a lobster sauce)

Confit de canard, pureé de légume oublié (confit duck with mashed forgotten vegetables) - in this instance, "mashed forgotten vegetables" means "mashed potato"

For dessert I ordered the gaufre fourr
ée à la crème brûlée (waffle with creme brulee). Although very sweet (I only ate half), this was delicious. Two of my favourite desserts were combined on the one plate. The burnt sugar on top was perfectly crisp (and not bitter) with the smooth custard underneath supported by a crispy waffle - c'est magnifique!

My waffle

The dessert of the day was a savarin chantilly (pictured below) which three members of the group ordered. By all accounts, it was well received.

Savarin chantilly

All in all, it was a wonderful evening in Paris and the food certainly lived up to the high reputation that Paris' bistros have obtained.