When you work 15 hours a day, 5 days a week in a 3-star Michelin restaurant, life is often a blur.
Ever since the oyster incident at L’Express in Paris, I’ve been wary of French oysters, but if Arcachon is renowned for their briny bivalves and the Huang Family Circus is willing to drive northwards a few hours in search of these juicy aphrodisiacs on a beautiful spring day, I am not one to shoot down a second shot at les huîtres francaises.
My family friends are visiting and to spend a weekend away from the restaurant, in the [French] Pays Basque with [legitimate] baguettes from the local boulangerie and [legitimate] croissants made with know-how, is heavenly. Like the Partridge Family, the eight of us packed into a boxy van (in Chinese we say ‘bread car’ for its shape) in search of le picnic. We ambushed a tiny, local boulangerie, picking up des sandwiches, des pains au chocolat et plus. We may have also given the boulanger une crise cardiaque, assuming he has never 1) seen so many Asians in his life 2) had to fill an order of 8 sandwiches (avec jambon de bayonne, chorizo, fromage, saucisson, all of which he sliced to order), 8 pain au chocolat, 1 pain de campagne, 6 cannelés et 4 croissants. Apparently I was having too much fun watching and forgot to take fotos, but here is our picnic on the side of the road.
I’m sad RobinFood filming is on hiatus for the next month, but this left us all the more reason to celebrate. And celebrate we did. Martín hosted us in his sociedad gastronómica, Zubi-Gain, in Parte Vieja of San Sebastián with the camera crew, RobinFood office team, neighbors (yes, we invited our neighbor Migueltxo, also the supplier of our hen-to-table-eggs), MB kitchen crew and more amigos. . A festive frenzy it was:
I rarely order shrimp unless I know I’m going to get the good stuff like a perfectly battered and fried, non-greasy shrimp tempura or super fresh amaebi (raw sweet shrimp) when it’s in season. Shrimp usually takes a back seat to the other sea creatures I prefer but everyone keeps raving about the shrimp in San Sebastián. There are some pintxo bars specializing in shrimp but I always figure, why waste calories and cholesterol on something I don’t love? (I’d rather save my c&c’s for unctuous uni). One day I was pintxo hopping with a friend on Calle Fermín Calbeton, one of my favorite streets in Parte Vieja and we entered Bar Goiz-Argi. Normally I wander into places having done some homework but we entered and the name sounded familiar but I couldn’t recall what I had read about this place because when you fill your head with so much of the same Basque font and un monton de pintxo places, you sometimes forget which is what which is good, where? The owner swore by the shrimp. I hesitated. He insisted. Oído.
brocheta de gambas
Surprisingly succulent! Tender, grilled shrimp with sweet and slightly spicy (for the European palate) onion, carrot and peppers with a special vinaigrette. Super bien. Go get it.
Even in culinary meccas such as NYC, Paris, and San Sebastian here, you can come across bad food. I’m referring to the left-out-to-dry-then-reheated-to-oblivion tortilla, the infamous burnt coffee found throughout Europe, the two-day old what they call baguette but what I call a poor attempt at bread baking/bread reheating and the frozen fried calamari (in a town known for its fresh tentáculos!) I’ve had the misfortune of experiencing every now and then when I am uncareful. True story. I thought it might be useful to map out the reliable establishments I’ve come across in the past five months here. I’ve even recommended what to order and where to get it, [so stray at your own discretion].
I had many a strange habit growing up, one of the ‘bad’ ones being my refusal to embrace my Asianhood and use chopsticks. Coming from a culture and family that had white rice at the table every night, I thought I was being clever using a spoon and not just any spoon. This was THE spoon: perfectly round and perfectly sized for my mouth. It was MY spoon. I figured with a spoon I could fit more in one bite, I could scoop up soupy rice and I could do this all more quickly and efficiently than with chopsticks. You’ll be happy to know I’m a grown-up, proud chopstick user now. But the Montessori kid thrives within and I continue to collect [spoons].
And speaking of spoons, I finally made it to La Cuchara de San Telmo:
Costilla de Iberico, Vinagre de Modena
Last week we catered the Sammic 50th Anniversary dinner for 30 people. We coordinated with Martín on a Basque menu, which unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of because I was busy cooking on the line…but I did manage to get a photo of the bubbly brindis (toast) at the end of the night:
This time our early monday morning visit to the Sammic factory in Azkoitia involved a pitstop to check out the locale for the Sammic 50th Anniversary dinner tuesday. To our delight, we were greeted with not only a Sammic-embellished kitchen in which to cook the following evening, but also with ponies!
I still remember the first time I met David de Jorge [or as I like to call him, my Hagrid] of RobinFood. Andoni took us to ‘visit the restaurant’ the night before our official first day. Except instead of walking into Restaurante Martín Berasategui, we snuck around back to la choza [aka Hagrid’s hut]. Of course, it was a rainy evening in January, the perfect setting for an inconspicuous nighttime visit under the large paraguas of Sir Anthony.
David de Jorge