Back to Basque Country

Please excuse the irregular blogging schedule. I have been patiently awaiting my Spanish visa in order to return to Basque country. Alas it has arrived and I can confidently say, “I’ll be back” in my best Schwarzenegger impression.

La Concha

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Flexibility Test

One of the most important things you learn as a BasqueStage or any stage coming to Restaurante Martín Berasategui is to be flexible. I always talk about how every day here is an aventura (adventure) and it is, a challenging one for that matter. No matter how prepared I come with my moleskine notebook of ideas, schedules and plans, I am always thrown a curveball. Or a sinker. Or a change-up. Or a knuckleball. Just like in baseball, BasqueStage requires you to sharpen your reaction time, then translate it to Spanish.

For instance, for each Sammic filming day, Athena and I have one grabación (recording) in the kitchen of Restaurante Martín Berasategui where we demonstrate Sammic machines and the other grabación in Hagrid’s hut, also known as la choza de David de Jorge (literally a hop and a skip away on the premises of MB) where we film a personal dish.

Recipe Planning

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Sammic Headquarters

Today we hopped in the car and took a drive up and down the winding hills and valleys to the Sammic headquarters in Azkoitia, a small town and coincidentally the same one where St. Ignatius of Loyola’s mother was born, for all you BC folks reading. The facilities were impressive to say the least, from the foundry to the server room–spotless!

Surprisingly, Sammic produces a lot of their equipment from raw materials to finished goods. We toured the foundry and watched workers pour hot, melted aluminum into molds:

Cuidado

After the aluminum was allowed to cool and set, the piece would be handcrafted to perfection. Notice the attention to detail:

Dough hooks

Besides episodes of “How It’s Made“, I’ve only seen production channels like these in China, except a lot more hazardous, inefficient and plenty more waste, perhaps attributed to poor management or difficulties associated with large-scale manufacturing. The workers at Sammic appeared to execute with speed and precision. They produce in lower volume batches, allowing for more fine-tuning as well as time for the research and development team to run sample tests. iQue bueno!

For such a young company (celebrating their 50th year anniversary this year), Sammic has come a long way in a short time. Check out these modern [large scale] potato peelers:

Para las Patatas

We will soon have the opportunity to use and test some of Sammic’s equipment in Chef Martín Berasatégui’s kitchen. How exciting! Having worked in tiny kitchens no bigger than the arm-span of space around me, I am new to operating large gadgets and machinery. Ah, the wonders of technology. This shall make for interesting button-pressing and lever-pulling. But in all seriousness, this is the inner-business-woman speaking, it will be an eye-opening experience to see how a 3-star michelin restaurant operates backstage, using various technologies such as Sammic equipment to improve its operations.

Chef Martín has been using Sammic equipment for many years. In fact, Martín’s relation with the company dates back to before he was even born. His uncle used to work for Sammic. Can you pick him out?

Tío

After our Sammic visit we headed to the hills for lunch at Anota Sidrería, a nearby cider house. The view was stunning:

The Hills Are Alive

I foresee many a sidrería visit in my near future where hopefully, I will be able to document quality pictures of the sidra barrels and the glass-filling technique. For now, here is a shot of Guillermo pouring us sidra:

Guillermo

One more day of ‘vacation’…then I’m in the kitchen. Practicing my best, obedient “Si, Chef!”

Bar Zeruko

I’ve been here only twice but already Bar Zeruko is one of my favorite pintxo bars. The chefs incorporate innovative techniques and flavors into their pintxos while maintaining some of their Basquenticity. So far I have consumed at least 10 different pintxos and not been disappointed. If this was the case in Boston, perhaps I’d take credit for consistently picking ‘the winners’, but only because I’ve lived in Boston all my life and am somewhat experienced at deciphering menu marketing jargon, aka reading between the lines or weeding through the bs. No, it’s not me. Zeruko just gets it right.

Kokotxa de Bacalao

Who would think to pair cod jowl with foie? The unlikely pair fare well together because the foie is neither greasy nor uber rich. The acidity of the gelatinized sherry-like sheet  balances the finish so your palate is left feeling clean, and ready for more pintxos.

La Hoguera de Bacalao

As Zeruko is known for its bacalao, we proceeded to order more. Last time (as in two nights ago), la hoguera seemed to be the crowd favorite. I didn’t order it then because I figured it was all show. In this case I love to be proved wrong. The smoke smell is more potent than it tastes. The actual flavor it imparts unto the tender bacalao is quite subtle and perfectly so. We ate as directed, ‘self-grilling’ the bacalao for one minute on each side then topping it on the herbalicious bread chip. Divine. However, I did find the oozy, fizzy shot of green (perhaps a combination of sparkling wine and some herb purée) to be superfluous.

Hamburguesa de Txipiron

Every txipiron pintxo I’ve had in SS so far, I’ve loved. SS is squid heaven. So fresh, so supple. Here the chefs made the txipiron into a tartare patty (hence, hamburgesa) and seared it on each side just enough to crust, not too much to cook it through. Here texture is everything. Sandwiched between the airy tinta cloud and a crunchy crouton base, the ‘hamburgesa’ is not your typical burger, but it succeeds. Don’t forget to dip in wasabi relish. Tasty, playful and Asianified.

Pintxos and Pizza

After we worked up an appetite scouring the town for kitchen utensils, Athena and I went for some pre-dinner pintxos at my favorite hot spot in Gros, Hidalgo 56. I thought last night’s dishes at Zeruko were good and I thought this place was good…but think I found my new favorite pintxo:

Begui-Aundi, relleno de ratatouille con crema de cebolleta y tinta

By far my favorite pintxo yet. iEpa! And again, I love the family-run business here. Friendly staff and wholesome food. I just can’t get enough. I’ll be coming back for more, for sure.

Afterwards, we went to Guillermo’s for some pizza. Spanish pizza? Sin possible. Pero, si!

Teamwork

Guillermo rolled out the flatbread and Amaia made the various toppings. They whipped up over 5 whole pizzas for a party of at least 11 or so? Impressive and delicious. Thank you both for a wonderful and delicious evening. Pizza and [vino] Ribera del Duero? I will certainly sleep well tonight!

Picnic on Monte Urgull

I finally made it to Don Serapio today. Marti suggested we pick up some goodies and take a hike up Monte Urgull for a picnic. It’s a quaint gourmet store full of imported goods as well as local, artisanal treats like hand-churned butter. Of course I grabbed some to try. We loaded up on some jamón, cecina de león, queso de idiazabal y pan for the picnic. I guess I don’t have to be in Paris to faire le picnic!

Don

The ciabatta pan was decent for Spanish bread. iQue sorpresa! Crunchy outside, hollow ‘knock’ and a hint of yeasty goodness.

Pan y queso

A lover of charcuterie, I jumped at the opportunity to try cecina de león (cured beef leg) per Marti’s recommendation. The texture was similar to jamón serano but not quite as dry. There was a subtle smokey flavor to it that lingered at the end–nice touch.

Cecina de León

Of course we splurged on a bit of jamón bellota because there’s no rival to this king of hams. So rich, so nutty, so smooth.

Bellota

Of course I saved one piece for my last bite because when you are without chocolate to end on a sweet note, bellota is a suitable substitute. Such great, thin slicing on the butcher’s part as well. Bravo!

Sunny Bellota

Though a bit chilly, the hike up the “mountain” warmed us and the sun did peek through the clouds a few times. It was a beautiful view and a perfect way to spend a friday afternoon, eating and conversing with two fellow food enthusiasts.

Sol

La Tamborrada de San Sebastián

Alas, I have arrived again in San Sebastián! I was just in time for the yearly 24-hour cacophanous festival, formally known as Tamborrada. There are various tales behind the origins of the celebration, dating as far back as the 18th century. It’s all history to me. Did somebody say festival?

Conductor

We sang, we danced, we drummed. Various large groups of ‘chefs’, ‘soldiers’ and ‘musicians’ marched through and entertained us. Bravo! Their weeks of practice paid off! Continue reading

Best [eats] of 2010

2010 was a glorious year in food and travel for me. I am very fortunate [and forever indebted to those who made it possible] to have experienced all the delicious journeys I did. Here’s a look back:

The tastiest, crispiest-skinned pork chop:

Restaurant Martín, Shanghai

The freshest ikura (with edamame soy beneath):

Urasawa, Beverly Hills, CA

Best intermezzo (passion fruit custard, XO rum granité, coconut foam):

Joël Robuchon, NYC

The best taste-bud-numbing spicy (lazi ji 辣子):

Chuan Ban川办餐厅, Beijing

Favorite ‘cold’ dish veggie-seafood medley (dashi jelly with sea bean, bell pepper, zuchini, tako, white fish):

Sugawara, Tokyo

Best shaved-ice, a.k.a. mountain of ice with various bean and gelatinous toppings:

Bellagio鹿港小镇, Shanghai

Best gelato (or in this case, lemon sorbet):

Grom, Paris

Best drinks (my favorites include: 1919, French 75, Old Cuban, Sazerac…just to name a few):

Drink, Boston

The ultimate naan bing (okay this was actually 2009 but I’m still remembering it!):

Tian Shan Mountain 天山, Xinjiang 新疆

The best banh-mi sandwich [aptly hidden inside a convenience store on Larkin Street]. Don’t forget the jalapeños!

Saigon Sandwich, San Francisco

El mejor jamón [bellota]. Que rico:

Bar La Cepa, San Sebastián

Crispiest sea-bass [with safffron emulsion]:

The French Laundry, Yountville

The coolest gougère [pillow]:

Meadowood, St. Helena

Best cheese course (chevre, roquette, pain et miel confiture):

Une Table au Sud, Marseille

Favorite dessert [an ode to Alex Stupak] (vanilla-mango ice cream, yuzu, spruce):

WD~50, NYC

Best ma soy (house soy sauce), anago and bonito [an ode to Yasuda-San] :

Sushi Yasuda, NYC

Best pasta (Fresh cut semolina spaghetti, crab, Santa Barbara sea urchin, basil):

Marea, NYC

Tastiest post-dessert treat (Olive oil ganache):

Spring, Paris

Best offal (Tête, langue et cervelle  de veau croustillante, pommes vapeur et sauce gribiche aka crispy head, tongue and brain of veal with boiled potatoes and gribiche sauce):

Café Constant, Paris

The juiciest, most tender pork bun (“Chairman Bao” with Berkshire pork, haus relish, Taiwanese red sugar, crushed peanut, cilantro):

BaoHaus, NYC

The tastiest non-standalone-uni dish (Santa Barbara uni with black soy bean yuba in shiitake broth):

Soto, NYC

The ultimate beef [flap meat] roasted over an open pit (Annual Portuguese American festival held in August):

Portuguese American Recreation, Woburn

The best chocolate tart (smooth, velvety, deep):

Les Cocottes, Paris


 

 

Stay tuned…

El Día de Santo Tomás

Lucky for me, I happened to be in town for one of the most festive holidays of the year, El Día de Santo Tomás, a [long] day dedicated to eating, drinking and rejoicing. We kicked off  with pintxos, pintxos y más pintxos. Here is a photo of my beverage of choice here, Txakolí [taken from last night when I celebrated the eve with Marti and yes, por su puesto, with more pintxos].

Txakolí

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The Land of Pintxos

Paraíso

Boy does it feel great to be back in San Sebastián, the Land of Pintxos. I may not ever grow accustomed to the siesta lifestyle here where shops open late, close midday then close [for good] early evening  [leaving a small window of time to actually eat or shop], however the pintxos make up for everything. I’d originally planned to go to Bar La Cepa and Txepetxa for some of my favorite bites (namely the jamón and the anchoas, respectively), but both were closed. Instead I opted for La Cepa’s neighbor, Bar Martinez, a pintxo bar I’d been referred to last time but never quite made it there. Well this time, I made it for lunch.

Anchoa Frita

This was the first bite of real food I’d eaten in 24 hours or so. Gawd, how dearly I have missed seafood. I spent the past month or so eating mostly a carnivorous diet in Paris. I got thirsty so of course I ordered the local cerveza to accompany my now-turned brunch:

Hongos Revueltos y Keler Cerveza

Because they’re so woody and delicious, I’m quickly getting over my annoyance with the term ‘hongos’ to simply mean ‘fungi.’ Yay for eggs in the morning! Well, mid-afternoon for me, but per my definition, it still constitutes ‘brunch’ because there were eggs and alcohol involved in my first ‘meal’ of the day.

Tonight I will be pintxo bar-hopping with a fellow American, Marti, who has kindly offered to show me around her stomping grounds. Now I just have to switch to Spanish mode and stop saying “Oui”, “Merci” and “Olala” to the Basqueans…Basquenese…Vascos.