after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Archive for the ‘in Europe’ Category

London Photostorm Round 3

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t says:  Aaaannnnndddddd … we’re back!  Time to bring us up to date:

I need to apologize.  What follows will be several pictures that 99.9% of you won't care about.  But I can't help myself.  I really can't.  What I saw was more beautiful than anything I saw in any museum the entire trip.  First, you need to read the backstory.

I need to apologize. What follows will be several pictures that 99.9% of you won’t care about. But I can’t help myself. I really can’t. What I saw was more beautiful than anything I saw in any museum the entire trip. First, you need to read the backstory.  So we visited that store, Hedonism wines.  It is the wine store I would have (if I had millions of dollars) – it was set up beautifully, smartly, with the right amount of reverence for these legends of wine.  Now, don’t get me wrong – “my” wine store wouldn’t just have expensive wines (it would have “interesting” ones!), but if you have opulence upon opulence like this one, like complete verticals of Petrus, you might as well show it off …


You don’t like Petrus?  How about Latour?


Or maybe you crave cult Cali Cab?  How bout some Screaming Eagle?  No big deal …


Ohhhhhh … you’re having a “party” – then don’t bother with individual bottles – go for the double-magnum …


Oh, I’m sorry – you said “party” – I meant to say go with the Methusaleh … of frickin’ PETRUS … in 2005 …


Tired of cab?  How about an entire room of Sine Qua None?  But what room of this “whimsical” wine would be complete without a bit of creepy-ass whimsy – stay tuned for the close-up:


weird, right?

le chabanais

For dinner that night, we then walked to Le Chabanais.  For background, we went with some of our friends to Le Chateaubriand in Paris.  Le Chabanais is Le Chateaubriand’s follow-up restaurant in London.  And we, being totally cool/hip went the the first week it was open.  For real.  They initially were supposed to open in May, but then had to delay due to some sort of technical issues.  Then, literally as we were in Liberty shops, g got the email that they were opening up the that very day (it was a Thursday).  I called them up and immediately booked for Saturday.  Boom.  That happened.  And so we were granted access to an “exciting” new London restaurant!  And given how much we liked Le Chateaubriand, we had high expectations.  So how did it go?  Well, it started slowly with the above butter-and-raddishes with our bread.  Not a bad start, but nothing as “wacky” as that slurped ceviche we had before …


g then had a course that took her head clean off.  This take on crudo made her take pause and comment, “wwooww”.  She was sold.  Was it the broth?  Was it the celery (g loves a man who knows how to make celery …)?  No idea – but boy am I glad I found her first …


My first dish was an interesting take on tomatoes two ways with ground Iberico pork.  It tasted like meatballs in tomato sauce, which, while very good, didn’t quite take my head off – I wished it had more of that identifiable Iberico-porky flavor.


g’s main, which included lobster, beans, a porky broth, and what appeared to be cranberies was quite delicious, but verged a little on the sweeter side.  She liked it, but I think her mind was stuck on her first course …


… and then my second take on Iberico pork really brought some thunder.  With intentionally “burnt” broccoli (i.e. just the way I like my broccoli) and other leaves covering the treasure trove of perfectly seared meat underneath, I was shocked at just how a simple preparation could taste so good.


We finished off with a “warm chocolate mousse” and a lavendar creme brulee.  My chocolate mousse hit the spot perfectly – it wasn’t crazy, but just exactly what was needed.  Meanwhile, g + lavender = heaven.  Done deal.

Overall, we liked Le Chabannais.  The food was good, but in my opinion, it lacked some of the boundary-pushing “greatness” of Le Chateaubriand.  g made the case that they would probably shape up in the upcoming months to begin introducing some of the experimentalism that made the original so much fun.  The service was also still “figuring it out”, which is appropriate for Day 3 of opening.  But I will say – the “wine guy”, who basically became our server because we talked to him so much, was EXCELLENT.  Don’t get me wrong, our “actual” server (i.e. the one we had who took our order and our bill) was great, too, but that wine guy was the one who played us like a fiddle.  If anyone at at Le Chabanais is reading this, the one who we loved was the skinny , dark haired guy with thick black glasses, from Southern France with a French accent.  Give that man a raise.  He was accomodating and friendly and complimentary in a way that was the perfect combination of youth and professionalism.


This clipped photo had a pic of “Sunday Dinner” at Truscott Arms reminded us of the most incredible family-style feast of meat we’ve had in a long time.  Vegetables, pottatoes, yorkshire pudding, lamb + beef, jus … it was amazing.  It made us regret our previous meals at The Elgin, which, while “fine” just didn’t compare.


On another occasion we brunched at a cute nearby cafe: “Ozone Roasters”.  I ventured the lamb belly + kimchi burger … except that it didn’t have any kimchi on it.  So the burger was kinda boring.  But as I didn’t have the heart to tell anyone that mine lacked kimchi, it’s my own damn fault.


We nabbed some gelato at this super-awesome place at Borough Market.  What made it aweome?  Well, they charge each cup or cone with a squirt of chocolate sauce.  The texture of the gelato was also amazing – it’s what Capo Giro used to be.  And then the flavor – oh geez – the pistachio and creme brulee I got was amazing.  In short, pistachio creme brulee with a shot of chocolate should be a real thing.


What trip to London would be complete without a full English tea?  Not ours, of course.  We did it up right at the Tea Room in Harrod’s.  While not having quite the “fancy” of the other fancy restaurant in Harrod’s that also does tea, this got the job done with cute sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, dynamite huge-ass desserts.  We. were. stuffed.


Oh, this is the “Bannoffee” Cheese Cake.  Complete with gold leaf and a gold-looking exterior … cuz you know … when you think “t”, you think “bawler gangsta’ “.


Why is there a pictur eof a fancy cake?  It was pretty.  No, I have no other secret wedding coming up.  And surely a 2nd wedding for g and me wouldn’t have so “boring” a cake … but maybe if I knew someone who needed to have a frou-frou wedding, this would be a perfect cake.


What else did Harrods have?  Well, aside from pretty much “everything”, they had a pretty impressive wine cellar as well.  While they were boasting “There is only one sale” on the advertisements, they definitely walked the walk with having some nice bottles at nearly 50% off (2010 Angelus, 2010 Cos) … but they were marked up by ~75% to begin with, so maybe in the end not that much of a sale.  But of course – when you happen to come across a special-for-Harrods set of ’61, ’82 and ’89 Haut Brion, all you can do is let that single tear stream down your face and that moth fly out of your empty wallet.


These probably won the award for the most expensive single bottles I saw on the trip.


Our final meal was at St. John Bread and Wine.  It started off with a question: what happens if you take pig skin, cut it into strips, and then fry it?  You get something that tastes even awesomer than chicken skin!  It had the same unmistakeable melt-in-your-mouth qualities of pig fat, but the structural integrity of a fry.  Great with barbecue sauce!


The lamb was excellent …


… but it was outdone by this tiny-ass quail.  Seriously – although small and timid, this thing packed a lot of punch.  We couldn’t figure out if it was the aggressive seasoning, some sort of weird brining or what, but this quail tasted more quaily than any quail I had had before!  Sure, there were other items, like potted pig, the salad, a wood pigeon, etc.  But it was this quail that really crushed it at dinner.  Of note, we did consider a steak-and-potatoes dish, but as two of our tablemates came down with gastroenteritis when eating a similar meal on their last day before coming home from Paris, we decided not to tempt fate with a repeat.


Dessert was remarkable for the most decadent scoop of chocolate ice cream ever!  Seriously!  They served their other ice cream as three-scoops but recommended that diners only go for one scoop of this one, as it was “just too rich to do any more than 1 scoop”.  I had it and agreed.  I almost wondered if they found some way to sneak in even more fat than normal ice cream!  Did they use heavy whipping cream or something?


drb went for the lemon sorbet and a shot of vodka.  He opted to pose for this picture with a shot of his tatooed bicep.  Basically, in a single picture, he has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s a man’s man.


Oh sticky pudding.  How could we go to London and not have some?  You were clearly the best dessert on the table, and shame on us for not having ordered one for the each of us.

In summary, our time in London was pretty gosh-darn awesome.  We encountered lots of great food, did a lot of shopping, and had a blast with our friends.  If it just wasn’t so expensive of a city, we might head back sooner rather than later!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

2 July 2015 at 11:36pm

London Photostorm Round 2

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t says:  Another day in London, another day of seeking out fabulous food and things to do.

Ever had a

Ever had a “Cruffin”? Well, if you go to Foxcroft & Ginger in Soho, you might. This pastry had the most wonderful flaky-sugary exterior, but a muffin-y interior – it really was weird to see how it there weren’t any distinct layers separating the two. Oh, and the center was filled with chocolate ganache. A wonderful accompaniment to the cortado (made by a “real” Spaniard!).  (And I don’t know who “F” is, but he’s muscling in on my “G” on that espresso cup …)

For lunch, we took it

For lunch, we took it “light” by going with salads at Ham Yard.  The restaurant was at the base of a very nice hotel, and although we found the service a little “flighty” the greens delivered the goods.  Of course, I refused to leave it at only “light”, and had an accompanying dish with wood pigeon and sweetbreads … cuz, you know … i could.

By dinner, we had journeyed over to Maida Vale.  After a full-contact day of shopping and running, we settled down with this pea-goat cheese-mint combo on flatbread ...

By dinner, we had journeyed over to Maida Vale. After a full-contact day of shopping and running, we settled down with this pea-goat cheese-mint combo on flatbread …


… and this take on a babaganoush (roasted eggplant and tomato) and a “tagine” of squash, lemon, apricot at the Elgin. It was a very “chill” place to have a weekday meal. Would definitely go back if in the area.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 June 2015 at 6:03pm

London Photostorm Round 1.5

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t says:  After waking up from my nap and looking back at my previous post, I couldn’t help but laugh – it was probably the most unpolished piece of writing on here in a long time – and I recall thinking to myself at the time: “this will be the best post ever”.  Sleep deprivation will do that to you.

As I sit in bed, drinking a cup of hotel tea (btw, “Dean Street Townhouse” in London is frickin’ amazing – it’s not much to look at, but the amenities are spot on), I reflect on the rest of yesterday.  What did I do after that post went up?  Well, I took a nap … woke up … and ate more ramen:


I went to Bone Daddies, which is also around the corner from the last place, Tonkotsu.  This place had a line queue that wrapped around the outside of the store.  Now, I know that I hate lines, but something told me that this line was going to go fast.  And I was right – with a party of one, they seated me within 10 minutes.  Of course, they seated me next to another Asian couple along a bar-like area against a wall, and they pretty much treated us a s a party of 3 – they took our order at the same time, served us at the same time, gave us our bill at the same time …  But it was fine – because I did befriend them and asked them to take the above picture and email it to me as my trusty iPhone had died right on cue (my iPhone, Alfred, appears to crump at 20% battery nowadays).  As an aside, thanks to that couple – they were awesome – we talked about London and ramen and shopping – a fabulous time!  Back to the ramen: I would have to say that the noodles were not as good as Tonkotsu – they weren’t as firm, they didn’t have as much of a “taste”/alkalinity.  But the broth here was similarly excellent – a savory/spicy kimchi (not as good as other Kimchi I’ve had, but respectable), with tempura shrimp and mussels – it was an eye-opener.  (I’m totally stealing the kimchi + seafood idea for future get-togethers)  Bone Daddies also gets points for a superior soft-boiled egg.  Overall, the dish was DELICIOUS – I inhaled it so fast that I was “sweating like grandpa” – anyone who’s seen our grandpa eat spicy Korean food knows what I’m talking about.  In all, a great bowl of “Korean ramen”.  And even though I am going to ding Bone Daddies for their subpar noodles, I am going to give them props for their mochi (their matcha mochi was unremarkable, but their chocolate mochi was divine! like eating chocolate frosting in mochi wrapper), and for …


… the RIDICULOUS plastic bibs I saw other people wearing.  Seriously, London?  For as fashionable as I thought this area would be, it was hilarious to see people donning these plastic bibs so as not to stain their threads.  I’m pretty sure no one would wear them in the States … except the hipsters … who would wear them to be ironic … and to protect their vintage T-shirts from slurp splash.

g and I were finally reunited after dinner!  Yay!  Happy anniversary to us!

And we finished off the day with some gelato and pastries from Ottolenghi.  They were fabulous too.  I forgot to take photos so you’ll just have to take my word for it …

So now I wonder what today will bring …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 June 2015 at 1:55am

London Photostorm Round 1

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t says:  I’ve been in London for about 3 hours.  Surely someone wouldn’t actually have enough info to warrant a full post in just three hours of being in a foreign country? Wrong.  I do.

First things first: Mother nature decided to play a dastardly trick on me.  She decided to wrath-of-gawd-rain at the exact same time I was trying to finishing up work and getting back to home to retrieve my things to go to the airport.  I was drenched.  I changed at home, packed my water-logged shoes (those were the ones I wanted to wear for the trip), pulled out my B-string shoes (a pair of flip-flops) and fired up my cab-calling app on my iPhone … which NO cab responded to!  W!T!F!  So I pulled up Uber, that threatened me with a 4.9x surge pricing modifier … Those suns of motherless goats …  I reluctantly took UberX up on the offer, as there was no way to actually predict what the cost was going to be, but Lady Luck gave Mother Nature the middle finger, as the price was STILL cheaper than the regular cab I was planning to use to go to the airport!  Yay!

So now I’m at good-‘ol-PHL.  I saunter in with only 1 hour to my flight boarding time (1hr 45 minutes to takeoff) for an international flight.  Mere mortals might have been worried – I’m sure if g was there, she woulda given me all kinds of silent treatment.  But not me – I had not a care in the world, because I had a secret weapon: TSA PreCheck … otherwise known as the TSA No-Wait-Keep-Your-Shoes-On-Don’t-Take-Stuff-Out-Of-Your-Bags-And-Laught-At-Everyone-Else-In-Line-With-Their-Sad-Faces.  I roll up into terminal A security and wonder, “gee … where is the pre-check line?”.  I ask the guard: “oh, sorry – we’re not doing pre-check in terminal A, and A-west PreCheck closed an hour ago – you’d have to go to terminal B”.  I could hear the normies in the security line cracking a smile: “oh, this priveleged boogerhead is gonna’ git’ ‘is now – he’s gonna’ wait in line with us”. I then gave them the figurative middle finger by turning around, going out of terminal A and walking around the outside of the airport to terminal B; I was going to TSA PreCheck if it killed me …  And so, after a nice 15-minute walked, I sashayed through Terminal B’s pre-check and galavanted my way back to Terminal A from the inside, making sure I walked by extra-slowly in front of that 60-minute long nightmare of a line waiting to go through the scanners.  Ahhhhhhh – life was good.  No one could stop me.

So then I finally get on the plane (once again, someone was angry at me and assigned me Zone 6 to board, which means that only people who bought their tickets within the last hour before takeoff were boarding after me), get in my seat, and stair at empty row upon empty row in front of me.  Aww-sookie-sookie – I was about to pole-vault up a row and take over a entire 5-seats to myself.  It was going to be the most luxurious flight ever.  And it was – complete with semi-edible airplane food, and watching semi-terrible movie Wolverine for free.  As I opened up a few extra blankets for myself and spread across my 5-seat kingdom, I was awakened by the cabin lights going on, some guy lying on the aisle at the foot of my kingdom, and a flight attendant voicing aloud, “is there a doctor on the plane?”.  SUNUVAMOTHERLESSGOAT.  While I don’t know what protects patient/passenger privacy regarding health matters on planes (?HIPAA?), I’ll just say that the events that followed took up the remaining 3 hours of my flight, with frequent vital sign checks, mental status checks, etc.  Fortunately, I did get to meet other cool doctors on the plane, so that was fun.  Unfortunately, I then had to interact with the London paramedics team on the ground, and that was not-so-fun (for reasons I won’t voice online).

So there I was.  A sleep-deprived t.  Halitotic (if that’s a word).  Zombie-ing my way through border security and customs.  Fortunately, g gave me step-by-step directions on how to get through LHR and to our hotel.  Hooray for awesome wives.

I dropped my stuff, showered off the airplane filth, and checked out every restaurant within a 2 block radius of our hotel.  I ended up at the ramen joint called Tonkotsu.  The host was a bit unfriendly, but the food totally ripped my face off.  Like my face, right now, having just eaten there, is lying beside me in bed, staring at me, mouthing, “how could you do that to me?”.  I’m sorry face – it was an accident – check it out.


After much internal debate, I went with the “Soho ramen”, figuring it’d be a “lighter” ramen that I could easily ingest and then pass out from …


But what came out simply blew me away. What you see above is a salty, smoked-fishy, scalliony mixture that hits all these interesting, light savory notes, with an wonderfully alkaline and al dente noodle. But while the ramen was delicious, it was the combo with a glass of 2013 Picpoul de Pinet (which, on the wine list specifically mentioned that it would pair well with the Soho Ramen), that was like a shotgun blast to the palate. Imagine a fishy, smokey, salty (like sea salty, not like iodized metallic salty) flavor, and then imagine adding on top of that a short burst of apple/pineapple/citrus/peach fruit for like a half-second, followed by a bracing palate-cleansing acidity that just makes your mouth water and ready up for a second wave of salty ramen. It was genius. It was so great that that is why I am writing this entire post after approximately 3.5 hours sleep over the course of 48 hours. (and NOW you know why this reads like stream of consciousness).

So now, it’s time for a nap.  Who knows what the remainder of Day 1 in London will bring!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 June 2015 at 9:01am

Spain 2014: Geteria and San Sebastian

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t says:  After our final 10am tasting in Rioja (Marques de Teran in Ollauri), we booked it on over to San Sebastian … with another spur-of-the-moment wine tasting along the way in Geteria …

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We visited El Kano winery, which was up up up up up a mountain …

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… and were rewarded with an excellent view of Geteria, below.  El Kano’s txakoli wine was a very minerally, high acid, low CO2, easy-drinking white wine that we bought quite a few bottles of.  The winemaker was a little gruff on the phone, but a joy in person.  Wish we had this kind of $10 wine in the US!

Our lodging in SSB was … let’s say … “interesting”.  Given all the issues with the room we had at Hotel Punta Monpas, I can’t say we’d stay again.  It was “clean enough”, but I dare not say “clean”.  The staff was “nice enough”, but I dare not say “competent”.  Parking was “available”, but I dare not say “convenient”.  But in the end, the price we paid was far less than other places in SSB, the bed was comfy, the AC was superb (it got rather hot while we were there), and you can’t argue with the beachfront location:

Which way to the beach?

Which way to the beach?  Straight ahead, of course!

I’ll leave you to the tripadvisor pages for more pictures of the hotel (and if you look closely enough, I’m sure you’ll find our review when I post it).

More importantly, there was a TON of fabulous food in SSB.  We did not have the bank account to afford Mugaritz, Arzak, etc.  Instead, we had to pick-and-choose wisely.  And pick-and-choose wisely we did!

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Our first dinner was at Rekondo. This place is reknowned for its wine selection, which is a gigantic tome with [supposedly] >100k bottles. The “obvious” selections are absent (e.g. any Rioja from 1982), but if you search hard enough, you can find a steal like this: a 1991 Remelluri Rioja Reserva for 25 Euro!  And, of course, the dude at the table behind us was drinking a several-hundred-Euro bottle of Vega-Sicilia … you know … because they could … (and we were green with envy) …

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… the list is also good for finding other wines that are just really hard to come by in the US, like this surprisingly super-awesome white from Remirez de Ganuza.

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The food at Rekondo was no slouch, either. I told everyone the food was going to be just “solid”, but to be honest, I found the food to be exquisitely well-prepared! Take this roasted vegetable dish with a soft-boiled egg. Simple as hell, but so scrumptious!

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And why not eat an aged Rioja with a steak? It was perfectly grilled – I have absolutely no criticism whatsoever.


But now you may meat the new best molten cake that have ever had the privilege of passing these lips. A title formerly held by Morton’s Godiva cakes, this one was a little more rustic, offering just a little crispier exterior, but the inside was perfectly oozy and balanced so well with raspberry ?gelato? and that hiding strawberry. I could have eaten three more (and then felt really disgustingly full afterwards).


But of course, if you go to SSB, and you’re not going to one of the several-Michelin-starred restaurants, you’re eating pintxos! One of the first place we went was Bar Casa Senra, located just two blocks from Zurriola beach!  The cold ones (above) and hot ones (not shown) were absolutely fabulous.  The perfect finger food to ingest on beach day – nothing too heavy (although there was a mushroom-foie-cream-sauce concoction that was divine), but hefty enough to make you full.


… but then there’s the classic “pintxo crawl” in “Old Town”.  Now, I had read that pintxos were supposed to be a pre-dinner activity, taking place somewhere between 6:30p and 8:30p.  But as it turns out, everyone-and-their-mother is out eating pintxos all night long.  a was so kind as to establish for us an official Pintxo Crawl 2014 map, combining online reviews with opinions extracted from real locals.  I’d say there was approximately 75% agreement between the two.  I should also mention the rules to the crawl: you should not take more than two pintxos per bar, you should eat while standing, and you should drink one drink per spot.  Now, being lightweights, g and I broke that last rule immediately.  And the first two rules lead to some pretty sub-par photos (even for this blog!).  Furthermore, there was so much food that it’d be boring to show you all of it.  So here’s the first highlight, taken from the first pintxo bar we went to that had pretty much the best shrimp ever.  One day, a will remind me what the place was called.

Now, the crawl had a ton of deliciosity (super-awesome pork cheeks, jamon everywhere, foie a-flying), but our favorite pintxo place was Bar Zeruko. It's touristy as hell (Americans everywhere!).

Now, the crawl had a ton of deliciosity (super-awesome pork cheeks, jamon everywhere, foie a-flying), but our favorite pintxo place was Bar Zeruko. It’s touristy as hell (Americans everywhere!), so you might have to throw some elbows to get in.  But then you will be rewarded with a counter filled with the most exotic looking pintxos in town.  In short, tthere were so many delicious-looking things that we had to go back for more … the next day for lunch!


The fun of Bar Zeruko for me is that I had no idea what I was eating!  Between not having everything labeled (very few were labeled … meaning SSB would be a nightmare for anyone with any kind of food restriction), and not speaking Spanish, I was essentially judging books by their covers!  And it. was. awesome.  The above represent about 1/7 of all the dishes we ravaged on that fateful lunch.  I can’t tell you what any of them were beyond what you could identify on your own by looking with your own eyes.  Also what I loved about Bar Zeruko was that after you choose your pintxos, you give the dish to the lady behind the counter, and then she composes them for you, as some need additional sauce, some need heating, and one (“the bonfire”) needs some kind of plating that incorporates a heating/smoking element and plastic tube of herb gelee.  It was kind of like having a choose-your-own tasting menu at a fancy restaurant … except each dish costs ~3 E, and it’s like 17 times more fun than sitting down for 3 hours.


In the end, it was unanimous (between g and me – who cares what anyone else thinks?) that Bar Zeruko’s best bite was this one. Caramelized banana, wrapped in ham, and served with fig and some random sauces. It was insane.  g and I ate four of them.  Yes, we had lots of other dishes that were so so so good, but this one had that “X-factor” – it took some pretty common ingredients and put them together for a result that was at least two orders of magnitude greater than its components.

We celebrated my birthday meal at Ni Neu, which was within walking distance of our hotel.  Costing no more than a restaurant week meal, I had the best lamb of the trip (arranged in this intriguing tower) ...

We celebrated my birthday meal at Ni Neu, which was within walking distance of our hotel. Costing no more than a restaurant week meal, I had the best lamb of the trip (arranged in this intriguing tower) …

... followed by a heavently French Toast dessert that knocked my socks off.

… followed by a heavently French Toast dessert that knocked my socks off.

Sick and tired of looking at food?  I guess we’ll have to go back to wine:

oldest wine shop in SSB!  Vinos Ezeiza

While in SSB, we also visited Vinos Ezeiza, the oldest wine shop in town!  The old guy was so cute, not speaking a word of English.  It’s ok, g’s crafty use of select words (“mas viejo”) helped me secure a few bottles to be transported home.  We’ll see how it works!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

29 June 2014 at 6:58pm

Spain 2014: Bilbao and Rioja

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t says:

So … now that we’re a few day into our trip, it’s time to summarize some highlights.  We have taken SO many photos on our phones and it’d just be too annoying to load them all here.  Anyone who follows g on Instagram will have access to her thoughtfully curated/composed selection (which differs greatly from my not-as-thoughtful selection here).  Seek them out if you want more!

As mentioned in our last post, our trip started in Bilbao, and stayed at Barcelo Bilbao Nervion.  We don’t have any photos of the place that don’t reveal our true identities, but we were satisfied about it’s cleanliness, which really is our main criteria for an awesome hotel.  It was icing on the cake to have a disco-cow, however:

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When we first arrived to our hotel, a wedding reception was going on (and thus there was no parking – BOO!). Part of the reception was to use this disco-cow as a centerpiece for their cocktail hour. How hilarious is this! It reminded me of the golden calf false-god from the bible … without the smiting …

There were a few cool attractions in Bilbao, including the Zubizuri bridge and the Guggenheim.


the zubizuri bridge

Once again, we have a lot of photos with us in them, so I can only show you these:


spider!  this one’s for you, lc.



The Guggenheim’s offerings were fantastic in that it’s a very small museum, with only a handful “real” exhibitions: one about Yoko Ono, one about Braque (g appreciated it more than me), and a gigantic one called La Materia Del Timepo …

another ripped photo – but try to imagine what it’d be like to walk through these ginormous sheets of rusted metal!

… and another one installation entitled “The Visitors”, which was fantastic!  I would try to describe it, but have been told by g several times that my explanation is misleading and therefore it’s better off that I just not say anything … so I won’t … except that it was probably one of the most enjoyable exhibits I’ve ever had at a museum.

Food was present in various forms in Bilbao.  It’s a shame, however, that we were there on a Sunday, where there were very limited options for lunch/dinner.  For example, for lunch, we found a weird pseudo-Japanese place:

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Udon … around for the past 10 years!

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Is it fusion to have a “maki” made from “noodles” (cut in cross-section)?  I’m not sure.  Look carefully above and you’ll see chicken, lettunce, and a smidge of mayonnaise … essentially tasting like a chicken salad sandwich … with soba noodles …

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and they had ramen! it wasn’t bad! better than any i’ve had in Philly yet … i mean, it still has a ways to go (you don’t go to Spain expecting awesome ramen), but I appreciated their effort (btw, it was totally weird to have an Asian server speaking Spanish).


Dinner was quite an adventure on the second day in Bilbao.  Having met up with our friends, we had set out to go to a restaurant called Aizian … only to find them closed.  It turns out that Sunday in Bilbao is a very tough time to eat out!  Fortunately, we found one restaurant that was open and had satisfying dishes of oxtail (above), pork cheek, and shrimp.  None of us can recall what the restaurant was called.  Oh well!

From Bilbao, we went off to Rioja.  We stayed in the cute little town of Ollauri (oh-jao-ree) at a place called the Black Grape – we found it on AirBNB.  the place was pretty darn awesome – go ahead and find it on the web to find good photos.  For us, this one was the main factor:

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the “mini-bar” … is a vaulted ceiling wine cellar under the property.  The owners stocked it with wine and provide you with a list.  You can consume whatever you’d like and just pay them the appropriate amount at checkout.

There were numerous wineries we visited:


Check out the picturesque vineyards and humble villages.


The first was a tasting at Lopez de Heredia (i.e. Tondonia), to find a pretty extensive tour (the on-site coopering is amazing!), chock full of history and tradition. The wines are mighty good as well, but most can be found in the US (that’s not a “bad” thing, but we were on the prowl for the unattainable). What is clear, however, is that Tondonia is SO old …

roday wine room

… which was a stark contrast versus the ultra-modern Bodegas Roda.  Unlike LdH, this place was clearly built for modern winemaking, with every aspect of vinification carefully controlled.  The wines were nice, but ultimately, not something I’d shell out tons of money for.  It was striking that the most interesting wine was their Ribero Del Duoro – a wine made from grapes not even sourced from Rioja!

Perhaps our best winery was Remelluri.  This place was phenomenal, and we lack the photos to do it justice.  The tour (led by the winemaker’s sister – it’s a family-run operation there!), offered a great history lesson of the property, limited focus on vinification (after all, if you’ve had one winery tour, you’ve had them all), and astounding wines. It also looks like it’d be a fabulous place to have an event (not that I’m sure they’d even that – but if you wanted a fairy-tale rustic vineyard wedding, this place is the place – complete with tiny rustic chapel and sweeping views of vineyards and mountains in the distance!).

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Remelluri’s tasting was also the most complete of the trip, offering a bit of cheese and “the world’s best olives”, as proclaimed by one our European travel mate with ~25 years of olive eating experience under her belt.  The one drawback about the place, however, is that while they do offer an opportunity to taste vintage wines, including wine from the nearly-legendary vintage of 1982, you are NOT allowed to buy them to take home.  I wish I would have known that because I would have definitely purchased a bottle for us to taste right then and there – but instead, I let the tasting go by, and when we moved to check out, I was informed that we couldn’t have it “to go”.  Alas – a missed opportunity for sure!

The food situation in Rioja was a unique one for us.  We did a LOT of home-cooking at The Black Grape, making a few trips to town for a carniseria and other local supermarkets and keeping the overall expense of our trip way-down.  Over three nights, we spend ~250 Euro … for 8 people … including the majority of our wine …

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one such night featured paella …

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Another night was “meat night”, with several t-bones of veal and beef … cut by this chick with a ginormous knife …

One night was our anniversary, so it warranted a “fancy meal”.  We ventured out to Ezcaray to eat at Potal del Echaurren Tradicionale.


Because we are Americans, we had to eat an an insanely early time.  Their first reservation was at 9:15pm.  Of course, we showed up at that time and there was not a single other patron anywhere.  We ended up going for a 7 course tasting menu of very homey-humble dishes, yet expertly executed and pristinely presented, this is your place. The wine list was also exceptionally reasonable!

the restaurant featured no less than 3 fish dishes, of which the above was one.  which fish it was, I have no idea - it was a fish with a multi-syllabic name beginning with the letter "m".  it was delicious - rivaling the best of what we've ever had at Little Fish

the restaurant featured no less than 3 fish dishes, of which the above was one. which fish it was, I have no idea – it was a fish with a multi-syllabic name beginning with the letter “m”. it was delicious – rivaling the best of what we’ve ever had at Little Fish

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what “tradicionale” meal would be complete without albondigas? this was a heavenly smooth meatball over a puree that walked the line between potato and cauliflower.

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dessert was incredible, with some sort of caramel-custardy tart, a few slices of cheese, a bit of honey ice cream, and a slice of dried apple.

We also got info from “the locals” that there was a very traditional lunch-place that did an amazing lamb.  We set out to find it and were rewarded with a fabulously “normal” meal that we would not have been able to do without the help of our lovely Spanish-speaking travelmates.  It was called El Trujal del Abuelo in Cihuri.

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octopus, olive oil, paprika … bam – second best ocotpus i’ve ever had.

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what’s better than artichoke? artichoke with jamon, of course.

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we had to order the aspargus by the stalk, which was a little weird. But let’s say that this asparagus was as tender as scallops and easily spread on bread, yielding a wonderfully garlicky, buttery, asparagusy concoction that made me eat like 15 pieces of bread. so good.

the lamb (or what was left of it as you can see) was also quite good.  perhaps it wasn't as out-of-this-world as we were hoping (this is no super-tender fine-dining lamb, this is grilled home-style gnaw-on-the-bone lamb), but we were satisfied.

the lamb (or what was left of it as you can see) was also quite good. perhaps it wasn’t as out-of-this-world as we were hoping (this is no super-tender fine-dining lamb, this is grilled home-style gnaw-on-the-bone lamb), but we were satisfied.

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pineapple with olive oil and a dot of fig reduction. v killed this dish.


Now I know that we focused a lot on food and wine, but in truth, what else should one do on vacation in Rioja?  Food.  Wine.  Friends.  That’s it!  Ok, well that’s almost it.  We did stop by a wool shop in Ezcaray that manufactures some of the finest wool blankets/scarves/other products in the world, with lots of their products seen in some pretty high-end stores.  Like shopping for wine, we picked them up for a song and look forward to showing them off in the States.  Keep in mind that the shopping experience wasn’t glamorous, though (see above), so if you go, be prepared to hunt and peck.


Written by afterdinnersneeze

25 June 2014 at 7:40pm

Spain 2014

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t says:  I have been chanting “Spain 2014” since 2012 (i.e. ever since planning our last France trip).  And … all that hypnotic brain-washing has paid off, as now there will be Spanish vacations of 8 people running in parallel (a, v, drb and his girlfriend, a’s parents, g and me).  Having focused on north-eastern Spain (Bilbao, San Sebastian, Rioja), there will be much food and wine (with minimal dance and chit-chat … just the way I like it … sorry … inside joke).  Of course, there will also be many pictures …. starting NOW:


Our first stop: Bilbao. Why Bilbao? Well – they do have the largest airport closest to our other destinations (Rioja, San Seabastian), and they have the Guggenheim! So why not!


Oh – did I mention Bilbao also has delicious food? Our first night, we ate at Bascook, a restaurant that’s getting some attention for its blend of traditional basque cuisine with some “international flavors” and a smidge of fussy gastronomy. Whatever the concoction, let’s just say that this “tomato soup with pig” amuse bouche was amazing. Tomato, cucumber, and likely some red onion and fried pig … a stunning way to start the meal.


People always say “wine’s so cheap in Europe”. That’s not true – it can be expensive, too! It just so happens that everyone drinks the cheap stuff. For example, take this 13 Euro bottle of Rueda Sauvignon Blanc. Cheap? Yes. Complex? No. Tasty with food – ABSOLUTELY! We’d buy it buy the case, as it’s only 4 Euro a bottle if purchased at a store in Spain (that’s right! restaurants mark up wine in Europe, too!). Oh, and check out that bread – would you believe that it was REALLY spicy? No? Fine – don’t believe me – but when the waiter put it down, he said, in English, “and this bread is spicy – if you don’t like it, that’s ok, we will take it away”. Well, we liked it! We liked it a lot! Each time it was so surprising to bite into bread but then have this insidious onset of mouth heat. Good stuff, indeed!


Bascook had some not-fussy stuff, like grilled razor clams … (that were delicious …)


… and slightly fussy stuff, like this amazing pile of hummus, spinach, and pumpkin seeds …


… and much fussier stuff, like this “pumpkin mix” dish.  But just wait a sec – as fussy as it was, it was.  There were steamed and fried gyoza that really gave you that classic Japanese/Asian gyoza flavor (but were filled with pumpkin!!) as well as a soup and puree that were wonderfully flavorful with just a little bit of spicy kick.


And we finished on what was essentially a classic breakfasty egg-and-potato dish that screamed out “homey Spain cooking”. A nice way to remind us of the normal food out there, waiting for us tomorrow …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

21 June 2014 at 6:10pm

Posted in in Europe, Restaurant Reviews

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