Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gordon Ramsay's MAZE Restaurant, London

My first stop in London was Maze, Gordon Ramsay's Restaurant at Grosvenor Square, in the Center of London. I had wanted to try a place called Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, but when we called for a reservation, they told us there was a 6 month waiting list!!! Unbeliveable..with the recession on going, I wonder if the 6 month list is really true or just a marketing ploy...not even Fat Duck has a 6 month waiting list....anyway...on to Maze...

Gordon Ramsay has been getting a lot of slack and negative reviews lately, and many people I have spoken to in London detest him, but I was not going to let that influence me in eating in one of his Restaurants in London. It was a lunch meeting, so as we got there quite early, the place was not full, but a few minutes after, the place was completely packed.

We decided on he 6 course lunch menu and a chilled bottle of 2007 Domaine des Berthiers Pouilly Fume. It's really hard to pair wine with Degustation menus or meals with a lot of dishes, so I normally just order one bottle that I can have during the whole meal..

For starters, ‘Prawn cocktail’, tomato fondue, lettuce ice, cocktail sauce. His own version of Prawn cocktail, served in the traditional martini glass. The lettuce was a sort of Lettuce granite, which made the dish interesting. Contrast of frozen lettuce with the slightly watm Prawn.

Next, Braised shin of veal, pea and broad bean risotto, aged parmesan. This dish was quite simple. What I liked most, the rissotto which was superb.

Next, Confit shoulder of lamb, pea purée. The lamb was quite a generous serving and very very tender...nothing really special about the dish, except for the fact that it was very tender Lamb.

Next was a fish dish, ‘Warm Scottish breakfast’ London cured salmon, smoked haddock risotto, egg and bacon. This dish was excellent...perfectly seared(or grilled) Salmon, with a sort of horseradish, which gave the dish good contrast. The risotto was in a small bowl on the side, with a little quail egg and a strip of Bacon. I'm not sure if this is a typical Scottish breakfast, but if it is then they really know how to start their day.

Last dish: Roasted Barbary duck, parsley root, English cherries. Probably the best of all the dishes. Bred in large quantities in France, Barbary ducks are less fatty than many other breeds, with a thin skin and no layer of fat underneath. Excellent dish, with strips of crispy skin, to give this dish the needed crunch...

Lastly, we had dessert: Rice pudding, raspberry jam, pecan ice cream, maple syrup. This was ridiculously good and rich....a typical English dessert, rice pudding with Pecan Ice Cream...and to top it all, maple syrup. This was so rich, I had 2 bites and left the rest...

This was my first 'Gordon Ramsay' experience and I must say I enjoyed it. A lot of people do not like him but hey, you just have to eat his food, so who cares??...

My next post, a typical english bistro/restaurant called St. John....

Monday, July 20, 2009

Asador de Aranda, Barcelona

My next meal in Barcelona was one of my favorite places while I was living there: Asador de Aranda. It is located in the upper residential part of town (Tibidabo) and it is an old Monastery that was converted into a restaurant. What's so great about this place? They serve 21-day old lamb, cooked Asador style, in a brick oven. It is so tender, that it is cut with a plate, rather than a knife and if I am not mistaken, they have their own farm where the grow the Lamb. This is traditional castillan Gastronomy at it's best...

As soon as we got there, I told the waiter to give us 'lo tipico' or 'the usual', which is what everybody orders: Small plates of Chorizo, Morcilla, Jamon Iberico, Picadillo, Pimientos de Piquillo with Tuna and Green Salad.

The Morcilla de Arroz (rice sausage with pigs blood) is the best I've tried, crunchy on the outside and moist and tasty on the inside...the Jamon they served us was a Jamon Iberico. We enjoyed this with a Bottle of one of my favorite everyday Rioja wines: 2003 Marques de Murrieta, a classic Rioja that I have always enjoyed.

Then came the star of the table: Lechazo Asado en Horno de Leña (21 day old Roast Baby Lamb). We had two 1/4 orders. First it is brought to your table and once you have approved it (as if you would ever dissaprove of it when you see it), they take it away and proceed to 'cut' it with a plate then later on with a spoon(that's part of the 'show' of the restaurant)...

The Lamb is so tender and tasty, its like eating the lamb version of Kobe Beef...an accompanied by a good red wine like our Rioja, it was just superb. I would have wanted though a bit more full bodied red, like a RIbera del Duero, but I was not too happy with the selection of Riberas on the wine list.

Aside from the lamb, we had a separate order of Chuletillas a la Brasa (Grilled Chops of baby Lamb), which is served in your own personal mini grill. This has very little meat but is very, very tasty. I usually also order a mini grill of baby Lamb Kidneys, but decided to pass this time, due to Uric Acid concerns, if you know what I mean....

After a meal like this, I obviuosly had no more oom for anything else so we just had some Orujo and rosquillas (which is a liquor obtained from the distillation of the pomace-solid remains left after pressing of the grape) and a double espresso.

I enjoyed the meal very much and even if this restaurant is a chain (there are several all over Spain) and may be at some times very touristy, its still very good quality and value for money. I recommend this to anybody travelling to Barcelona.

Next on the blog, a lunch I had in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London......

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bar Inopia, Barcelona

Jetlag must have definitely hit me..since I've been awake since 5 Am...so I decided to post about my first tapas meal of the trip. I've been wanting to go to this Tapas Bar for a while now. What is so great about this place, nothing relly, just that it is owned by Albert Adria, brother of Ferran Adria and former Pastry Chef at El Bulli. Its a simple, no nonsense Tapas Bar. They are only open 7 to 12 PM...since most of the food they work with is fresh and they need a lot of time for preparation. To be honest I was expecting much more because of all the reviews/talk about this place...

For starters, we had a bottle of their house white, a dry white from Penedes, and a Tapa of assorted Olives. A total of 6-7 different kinds and varities. They then brought us a the first dish: Paletilla Iberica hervida a la Gallega (Iberian ham boiled "a la Gallega) - a twist on the traditional Pulpo a la Gallega...where in they boil Octopus and serve it on a wooden plate, with Olive Oil and lots of Paprika, only thsi time they use Iberian ham which was boiled.

Next, we had a Torrada Mallorquina - another classic dish with a Twist. They use a special bread made in the restaurant called Pan de Aire ("Air" Bread) with a spread of Sobrassada Mallorquina (a Chorizo spread typically from Mallorca), with tomatoes, Onions and peppers and Olive oil...delicious and for me the favorite dish of the night.

Then, more tas started flowing in to the small ledge that we were eating on: Patatas Bravas, Fried Shrimp and Berenjenas con Caña de Malaza (deep fried Eggplant with Molasses). At that point, the place was packed...they do have a sort of bouncer/security person on the door who does not let anybody inside until one table has been emptied, so in that sense, it was quite organized...but at that point this place looked more like a tourist spot than a real authentic Tapas bar..as I hardly noticed any locals..

The last 2 dishes we had: Seared Tuna and a Pincho Uruguayo (Chorizo Criollo). The Tunas was actually my favorite dish of the evening..slightly seared Tuna, with a sory of Olive Oil-Soy Sauce mix and grated Tomato on the side ( I guess is to substitute the Lack of Pan con Tomate)...the chorizo Criollo was also quite tasty but my preferred dish was the Tuna.

For dessert, Piña con Melaza de Caña (Pineapple with Molasses syrup and a pich of salt. Very refreshing dessert and good contrats between the Pineapple and the Molasses...

At the end of the day, the meal was.... ok, but for all the hype it's been receiving, I was not so impressed. It must be that the Adria family name has a lot of weight, specially with the tons of tourists who line up to eat here. Service though was spot on, very fast, efficient and friendly.

My next post will be on Asasdor de Aranda, a classic restaurant in Barcelona serving Cordero Lechal al Horno (21 day old lamb served the Castillan way....) and other great dishes...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Albariño Tasting at La Tienda

I've always like Albariños ever since...and when Noel told me that he was planning a local Albariño tasting, to rate them and see which one was the best of the locally available ones, I could not let this opportunity pass. Rules were simple: all of them had to be locally available. At firts it was supposed to be a blind tasting but we decided not to so as not to complicate things. Anyway..as Johnny said, we are all Men of Horror...ay ....este 'Honor' pala...

The 5 that we were going to taste and rate were:

2006 Pazo de Barrantes Alabariño - sold by Ralph's
2007 Burgáns Albariño - sold by Barcino
2007 Códax Albariño - sold by Barcino
2007 Laxas Albariño - sold by Terry Selection
2007 Terras Gauda Albariño - sold by Premium Wine Exchange

As we tasted and re-tasted the wines, we had an array of food specially prepared by Chef Xavi, ideal for this type of wine. For tapas, we had Suahe, Kokotxas de Bacalao al Pil Pil, Pulpo a la Gallega, Escalivada, Boquerones, Almeja and Pimientos Rellenos de Bacalao. All of these are our typical porders in la Tienda, so I will no longer elaborate on them, except for the Pimientos rellenos de Bacalao. Green Peppers filled with Bacalao and shrimp, covered with a thick sauce, probably made with pureed Pimientos.

By the time we were done with the Tapas and wines, Noel had tallied all the scores, which were as follows:

1st Place - 2007 Laxas Albariño with 28 points (4 votes for 1st place and 2 votes for 2nd place), Terry Selection.

2nd Place - 2007 Terras Gauda Albariño with 24 points (2 votes for 1st place, 3 votes for 2nd place, 1 vote for 4th place), Premium Wine Exchange

3rd Place - 2007 Burgáns Albariño with 17 points (1 vote for 2nd place, 3 votes for 3rd place and 2 votes for 4th place), Barcino.

4th Place - 2007 Códax Albariño with 15 points (3 votes for 3rd place and 3 votes for 4th place), Barcino.

5th Place - 2006 Pazo de Barrantes Alabariño with 6 points.

We had no doubts and it was almost unanimous that the preferred one was the Laxas and the least preferred, the Pazo de Barrantes. Will all that hard work done...we could now enjoy our reds and the main courses. We had a total of around 10 bottles to choose from...so that was another hard task...We decided to open Noel's Napa, a 2005 KAPCSANDY FAMIILY WINERY and Rene's 2001 YARRA YERING DRY RED WINE No. 1. Rene had brought this back from a recent trip to Australia, mentioning this was a Bordeaux style Australian. It was quite good, but as soon as we opened Jojo's 95 CHATEAU L'EVANGILE, all bets were off.

We then were served the main dishes: Besugo, Paella de Verduras and Chuleton. Food was great as usual, and the Chuleton was exceptionally good this time, including the fries. We decided to open Greg's 2002 SOLANES PRIORAT, which would be a great match for the Chuleton.

Many other red that we brought were spared and will probably have to wait for another good Spanish dinner to be opened. Many thanks to Noel for thinking about organizing this dinner. Thank you Jojo, Rene, Johnny and Greg for the fine wines and company. Nice meeting you Greg. It was unfortunate Johnny had to leave early but I'm sure he enjoyed as well.

Gracias Chef por la cena maravillosa y hasta pronto!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Birthday Celebration at Pepato

Dinner last Thursday was at Pepato to celebrate my sisters birthday. She had been craving for good steak, so I remembered how much I enjoyed the steak at Pepato the lat time I was there. We were a total of 5 people but only 3 drinking wine, so I only brought 2 bottles of wine.

For starters, we had Squash Flower Oyster-Mushroom-Apple Fritters, Roasted Bone Marrow with Truffle Paste, Mozarella and Tomato and Parma Ham with Chico Sherbet. These are all classic Pepato appetizers and all my favorites. The Bone Marrow is delicious, with the Truffle paste and a little lemon. You can only have one or 2 bites because it is really rich. The Parma ham is great although I would have liked it more if they added a few more slices of Parma Ham. With this we opened a bottle of Homenaje Rosado, a very light and refreshing rose wine that I really enjoy.

We then ordered our main course: Spaghetti Pepato and Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The Spaghetti, such a simple but tasty dish. Burning alcohol is poured on a huge wheel of Parmeggiano Reggiano. As the alcohol heats up and melts the cheese, Spaghetti is tossed in. The melted Cheese coats the pasta and is served immediately, with a little salt and Pepper. I'm not sure if this is a typical Italian dish but it is great...simplicity and good ingredients at it's best.

Then the main was served: Florentina Style Bistecca, the "Chuleton of Italy"...I asked mine to be served rare, and it was rare but it could have still been a bit less rare. I still enjoyed it, very tasty and again, simplicity is the key here. No sauces, just steak with Potato wedges and salt flakes. We had the steak with a bottle of 2007 Barbera d'Alba Santa Rosalia, form Mauro Sabaste. The wine was given to me by Giampiero, who works fro Mauro Sabaste. I know this is quite young but I wanted to try it and seemed like this was the perfect occasion. Made of 100% Barbera, it is a well balance, full bodied wine, perfect for Steak. I decanted it for one hour before serving. Thank you Giampiero!

We had some desserts and coffee, plus a small birthday cake compliments of Pepato. My whole family enjoyed the meal and more important, my sister enjoyed the steak, so I guess that's whats most important. Service was great and I will definitely come back here again...soon. Thanks Noel for arranging the reservations for me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Restaurante El Rus in Barcelona, reinvented

I've been on a dry spell lately and havent been posting a lot, but since I will be travelling soon back to Spain, I thought I'd post about one of my favorite Restaurants in Barcelona that I had hidden on my pending folder. El Rus is a small place located Near the Nou Camp, very near my house. Food there is typically called "Cocina de Autor" in Spain, which sort of means Spanish dishes with personal touches and adjustments from the Chefs. El Rus has many typical Spanish dishes with little Asian touches, like soy, sesame oil, etc...

The new Chef happens to be my cousin Vera Cacho so we decided to try it to see how it compared to the cooking of the former Chef, Jaime. I must say, I was really impressed with Vera's cooking. Some dishes are even better that when it was originally done by the Chef. She has also added some new dishes, which are all winners for me.

For starters, we had Tortilla de patatas en su cáscara con huevas and Gambas retorcidas plancha con fideuá al aroma de soja, genjibre y tosaka aka. The Tortilla is her on version of the classic Tortilla de Patatas, it its own egg shell and salmon roe on a bed of rock salt. The fideuá, a classic Catalan dish which is a noodle Paella, with shrimp, soy aroma, Ginger and Sesame Seeds.

After having the appetizers with a bottle of Martin Codax Albarino, the owner recommended we try a bottle of 2006 Quinta Sardonia, a wine from Castilla y Leon. After the success of Bodegas Mauro, from the same Region, many good wines have emerged form this region. Made from Tempranillo Grape, this young wine did not disappoint.

We then had other dishes, a sort of degustation: Mini timbal de salmón y tapioca de pandan relleno de creme fraiche de olivada y sirope de lima - Salmon with Pandan Jello, Olive creme Fraiche and lime...One of my favorites, went very well with our Martin Codax Albarino.

Next was the Bombones de pies de cerdo cubiertos de pistachio con salsa y gelatina de kiwi - Pigs feet bombons, covered in Pistachio and on a Kiwi Cracker. Simply delicious, crunchy and good combination. The sweetness/acidity of the kiwi gives this dish the contrast it needs.

Then we had Tempura de Codornices Picantitos deshuesados con Ensalada de Recula y aliño de Miso - Quail Tempura, slightly spicy with miso sauce. Typical Spanish ingredients (Quail) with a little oriental touch. I enjoyed this dish very much.

The last dish we had was the Dorada plancha con Meloso de Arroz Negro y aceite confitado de Ajo-Perejil. Dorada is a very typical fish from Spain and I'm not sure about how its called in English, but I think its Hake. Simply grilled fish with a creamy rissoto-ish Arroz Negro and a Garlic-Parsley oil...it also had a sweetish sauce which I think was some sort of Raspberry...this was my least favorite of all but still quite OK.

Over all we really enjoyed ourselves and were quite impressed by the cooking of the Chef, Vera. I will definitely return here again and again to enjoy all the other dishes and look forward to trying her new creations. Even my 85 year old Grand Mother who was with us during the dinner enjoyed the food, so that must mean something...

Gracias y hasta pronto...I'll be there soon....