Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The best of Madrid and Rioja. Reflections on Spain.

The olives at Mercado San Miquel were the best I've ever tasted.  

I’ve been looking over my pictures of Spain and after a few weeks reflection I have some final thoughts.
The Mercado San Miquel is a great place to eat in Madrid.  Casual and fun with lots of reasonably priced options, this market has come a long way since we visited 5 years ago.  Both visits were in late afternoon early evening. What was a sleepy vegetable and specialty food market is now a hip and happening food event.    The olives in Spain are the best I’ve ever tasted.  The amazing selection of stuffed olives in the Mercado de San Miquel was unforgettable, but plain green olives are the most common bar snack and they are simply fantastic. 

Madrid’s art scene is great and casual, good quality food and drink is easy to find.  For the North American visitor the early evening tapas offer great value for low investment and a nice alternative to the normal late night dining. I recommend a visit to Casa Gonzalez for both the food and the chance to try some wine before you buy.  
Casa Gonzalez earned a return visit.  Try the stuffed peppers.

I don’t think you can beat the Westin Palace location in Madrid, with the 3 best museums on one side and the Santa Anna district on the other.  I’d be happy to spend a couple of nights there on any visit to Spain.

Poppies and mountains in Rioja
Our wine touring in Rioja was better than I’d imagined.  The combination of historic villages, pilgrims walking the Santiago de Compostella, ditches full of bright red poppies, architecturally stunning wineries and endless vineyards was mind blowing.   Some wineries are among the largest producers in the world and the passion for architecture is quite exciting.  The Marques de Riscal features a Frank Gerry designed wine tribute and   R Lopez de Heredia has a shiny tasting room by Zaha Hadid. I’d recommend booking tours at both of these.
We were able to drop in for tasting at Muga and Roda wineries in Haro.  Roda was one of my favourites.  The wine was excellent and one that earned a spot in my suitcase.  Roda was easy to visit and though they had just 2 wine to taste, they also had 2 olive oils to try.  Another spot in the suitcase gone. Now that I’m home I wish I’d bought them both. 

I probably wouldn’t rent a villa again in the Rioja.  The markets aren’t inspiring the way they are in France and casual dining is inexpensive and good.  I would prefer a comfortable hotel that includes breakfast.  Next time I’ll  stay in Logrono.  I could eat on the Calle Laurel several days without getting bored.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Museum of Wine at Vivanco in Briones, Spain worth the visit if you love everything wine.

Another winery well worth a visit is Vivanco.  

Beautiful tanks at Vivanco
 We booked a tour and although it was in Spanish and the English head sets were more trouble than help, the tour was still worth it to get into the underground cellars. 

Barrels as far as the eye can see at Vivanco

Vivanco is a massive producer and the cellar is a thing of beauty. 

Some corkscrews of questionable taste.
The real attraction here though is the Museum of Wine.  The Vivanco family have been accumulating historical wine artefacts for over 40 years and the collection is fascinating, with lots to appreciate for the wine lover.  Allow several hours, take your time and enjoy a break on the patio for glass of wine and a snack.  It’s a great experience.
My bottle is at home waiting for someone special to visit.

Also in Briones is Miquel Merino, a small producer, this father and son winery only produces 90 barrels per year.  Merino senior is making wine in a traditional style and his son is experimenting with new methods.  Book a tour and enjoy a sit down parallel tasting of the 2 styles. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

3 Michelin Stars and 8th Best Restaurant in the World Arzak is a greatexperience

Our visit to Arzak restaurant in San Sebasti├ín was everything we could hope for.   From the moment you pull up to the door someone is anticipating your every need.  The menu could give you sticker shock and there's no doubt it is expensive.  The tasting menu could be more than a lot of people would want to eat and must be taken by everyone at the table.  They offered excellent advice on appropriate serving sizes and everything could be ordered in half portions and they encouraged it, which made everything seem a bit more affordable.  Lunch and dinner menus are exactly the same.

Chef Juan Mari Arzak is happy and approachable.  He has a lot to be proud of.  

Scorpion fish mousse with kataifi.  1st amuse bouche was a big hit with us.

Amuse bouche #2.  Gilda with carrot and ssam-jang.  A nice touch of spice.

Amuse bouche #3.  Marinated anchovy with fish mousse and strawberry.  Absolutely delicious.

Amuse bouche #4 Proscuitto wrapped melon with bitter raspberry drink.

Hard to imagine.

Amuse bouche #5 was a chorizo in tonic water, presented on a crushed can of tonic.

Grilled lobster with tomato water, crisps of spinach and turmeric.  

Spider crab in a rock.  You had to break through the crust to eat the crab mousse inside.

Seasonal vegetables.  Asparagus, peas, radishes and mushrooms.

Fillet of seabass marinated in gin and juniper with potato crisps.

Monkfish with crispy lobster roe.

The whole meal was amazingly presented but this red mullet with oak leaves was served on a sea through plate with a tablet showing the ocean underneath.

The finish to the meal was a selection of sweets prepared as nuts, bolts, keys, flowers.  Endless goodness.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Haro is a great place to taste the wines of Rioja.

Unlike Napa Valley or the Okanagan in BC, Spain is more difficult to do wine tastings in.  Mostly you need to book a tasting time, but in Haro there are several tasting bars that you can just walk into.  Our favourite was our first stop in town at Roda Winery.  You can take your glass of wine down into the cellars and they have olive oil tastings as well.
I highly recommend a visit to Roda, they are welcoming and the wine is delicious withour being ridiculously expensive. 
We also stopped at Muga Winery where they offer flights of wine.  My favourite was the Muga Torre but at 50EUR, it is still sadly at the winery.

A little further east in Samaniego our next stop was Baigorri, interesting for both the wines, the tasting experience and the architecture

 Seven stories with a beautiful glass reception room at the top overlooking the vineyards and a magnificent tasting room at the bottom.
The tasting menu offers very good value for 35EUR there was 6 courses served with wines.
My first and favourite was the Crunchy salmon with trout caviar, aoili and dill oil.

The crunch was corn nuts.  Sounds awful but the whole dish was amazing served with a Rose made from Tempranillo and Granacha was a perfect pairing.

This mushroom and puffed pastry with Idiazabal cheese cream with smoked paprika was delicious with the barrel fermented white wine.

I love beans and this stew with spicy peppers was perfect with a young red tempranillo.

I can't give say I loved the blood pudding with chutney but the presentation was very nice.

My table mates swore the following Iberic pork jowl slow cooked in Baigorri Carbonic Maceration was delicious and I tasted it.  I think it was good but I just can't go over to the dark side at this time in life.

The pepper garnish was delicious and the Baigorri Crianza was a tasty wine.

Creamy creme caramel with blueberry sauce, ice cream and yoghurt was another hit.  I loved the yoghurt but am not an ice cream fan.  This one tasted like pure cream.  
I'd recommend a visit to Baigorri.