These are just some of the delicious culinary highlights from this one Mercado–I could spend a leisurely afternoon/evening just sampling the wonderful variety of tapas. Although Madrid was more the modern city (vs. the charming towns of Sevilla and Cordoba), we greatly enjoyed the food!
Another gem in Southern Spain, Cordoba is a charming historical town–small enough to walk its entirety and feel the slower and more quiet pace of life, yet “big” enough with interesting historical sites and a plethora of (heh most important) delicious places to eat. This is precisely a year over due–but having just come back from our recent trip to London, England – San Sebastian, Spain – Syracuse/Ortygia, Ragusa and Taormina, Sicily, this has hastened my lazy butt to hurry up and update!
We stayed in Cordoba for 3 nights- and honestly most tour books would have you visit this place for just a day trip–which you technically probably could cover in 1 day (heck, I “technically” covered Rome in one day – seeing the major sites before later spending a few days there on a separate trip. Of course, I enjoyed the latter trip in Rome infinitely more)– but I always prefer to soak up a place for at least 2 nights if possible. That way, the first day you get oriented to the layout of the place, and then you have a full day to soak up any key sites and then a final decadent dinner. But with 3 nights you have the leisure to really enjoy things in a relaxed state of mind, digging in deeper beyond the surface facade of a place–and enjoy we did 🙂
We arrived via train from Sevilla– And may I just insert a word about trains in Spain that was a revelation for me- It was super smooth and easy to get around using the trains here (perhaps my past experience in Italy made me wary about reliability of train systems). We literally walked into the station not knowing the schedule of the next train, and after buying our tickets, there was a train leaving in 15 minutes, no blank down time waiting around. (Or we were just lucky 😉
From there we hopped into a taxi and on our way to the hotel, was able to view the general layout of the city. I notice that upon first arriving to a city and on the way (either by bus, train or taxi) to our stay, I always hungrily look out the windows- observing the streets, the buildings, the stores, the windows, the people walking, the tree and parks- analyzing and absorbing.
We arrived at Hotel Viento 10, a hotel that hands-down is probably the best that we have stayed. It is a boutique hotel that has been lovingly and extensively restored by the owner from an ancient building, with preserved frescoes dating back to the early AD interwoven throughout the hotel (we had a beautiful fresco in our bathroom!). The design is what we love, which is modern minimalist but, with rustic nature incorporated throughout–with white washed carved raw rock walls, and pillars (remnants of the previous ancient building which I believe was a convent).
The rooms were spacious and spotless (clean rooms are always my top priority when staying abroad–I admittedly am a little OCD about that, bringing sanitary wipes–yes even to 5 star hotels…heh you never know if they used the same cloth to wipe the toilet as the one used on the glass cups and sink area–a fact that was revealed on an undercover TV show which affirmed my paranoia…BUT I digress!). The bathroom was luxurious with the rain showerhead–like a spa escape.
Each morning the included breakfast was delicious–with homemade specialties such as this “fruit gazpacho” type of dish, basically a blend of melon, sweet and aromatic, and cucumber and a touch of mint–perfectly refreshing and light. We also had fresh squeezed orange juice, hearty coffee; Buttery flaky light croissants a true pillow of airy buttery-ness, rivaling those I had in Paris. We were served a long rectanguar dish with about 7 indentations containing homemade spreads; blueberry and marmalade jams, a garlicky savory tomato blend, and chopped jamon.
Some random history–Cordoba was an important Roman city and then later in the Middle Ages, an important Islamic cultural center– A wonderful example of the history and combination of the religions in this region.
Cordoba’s old town is situated adjacent to the Guadalquivir River with a beautiful Roman bridge spanning to the other side, built back in 1 B.C. We spent one afternoon lazily walking along the river and then across the scenic bridge, observing the cute geese and duckies and pigeons nesting in the mini islands of the river. We saw the old dilapated water mill that was used to ground flour.
A key sight to see in Cordoba was the beautiful La Mezquita or The Cathedral of Cordoba- a unique mosque that has a catholic church build within the mosque structure. It dates back to 600 A.D. and then in the 1600s was converted to a Catholic cathedral. Interestingly back in the 700s or so, the space was actually shared between the Muslims and the Catholics–a nice example of respecting different beliefs…and all getting along (but since then its remained Catholic and petitions to share again with Muslims for prayer have been rejected…:P)
La Mezquita’s structure is truly unique, unlike the strictly Catholic cathedrals I had typically come across until then in Europe. Walking through the characteristic moorish architectural arches and then smack in the middle is this airy cathedral-esque nave. The courtyard outside is filled with organized fragrant rows of lemon trees (hmph, how come they grow so well –we have one that died in our yard) and a high bell tower clock in the corner.
The distinct red/white repeating pattern of stone work –seen in our other travels in southern Spain
The Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs is another must-see structure in Cordoba, with this “super mario-esque” high stone walls, with the rectangular cut-outs on the top edge, again similar to that located in Sevilla. The architecture here is so beautiful – a combination of rectangular water fountains, and stone archways and trimmed hedges. Walking through such gardens of the Alcazar brings about a tranquil state of mind–a welcome respite to the blistering heat (luckily though, we were there in September and thus twas a perfect balmy high 70s, vs the 100 or so during summer months).
Wandering around the old town without a care is another pleasant activity in Cordoba, with this winding streets reminiscent of Sevilla (though we didn’t get lost as much this time). As you walk through the beautiful architecture, you see what they are famous for (mainly in the Spring) their hanging potted plants and their patios, filled with stone paved walkways, fountains and hanging potted plants along the walls.
Now…Eats of Cordoba…Can I get a moment of silence please hehe. This was another one of those gastronomic epiphanies that I had while on this glorious trip to Spain. Two things (and other ones but these two stood out and blew our minds):
Roast Suckling Pig (Lechón)
You have had creme brulee right? Well imagine that same amazing texture—the skin perfectly solid crisp, and then the meat underneath succulent, juicy and tender–the most concentrated meaty pork flavor yet delicate. Heaven…Pork creme brulee.
Roast Suckling Lamb (Lechazo asado)
Again, the skin roasted to a airy crisp and the meat juicy to the bone…Both such reverent displays of culinary respect of the meat…and elevating as I said these little baby piggy and and lambie to animal sainthood in the mouth.
Now, I love animals and am very grateful for their sacrifice..and in this case, the tender young ones. But man do they taste amazing–the chefs here definitely treat them with the utmost artistic skill and respect, resulting in such flavor that goes beyond honoring them into sainthood!
We had these two delectable dishes at La Regadera – a cute intimate little restaurant with light wood, white walls, silvery steel whimsical design (it means a watering can or one of those watering spouts for plants).
EATS: Food Honorable Mentions
Besides the mind-blowing suckling pig and lamb, we have the following delicious southern Spain delicacies that were again amazing…We went to Bodega Mezquita Cesperdes located near the (you guessed it!) Mezquita.
Rado de Toro – Slow braised ox tail with an unknown subtle spice reminiscent of Arabic, or even Mexican spices. Tender, melting off the bone–rich and meaty served with perfectly roasted/fried potatoes (crispy on the outside and soft in the middle–the potatoes surprisingly sweet and buttery). Rich dark brown broth perfect to soak up with bread.
Alcachofas de la Montillana – Artichokes braised in Montillana wine, and chopped bits of savory jamon. Delicious broth–soakable with bread (everything is it seems 🙂
Meatballs in an almond sauce– Hearty, and I never knew how ground almonds could provide such lovely body and richness to a sauce.
Salmorejo (thicker gazpacho, more creamier with chopped bits of hard boiled egg and jamon)–zesty garlicky flavors and refreshing! I think of this as the “winter version” of gazpacho 🙂
Mercado Victoria – This was not a dish, but rather a sort of Spanish equivalent to Eataly in New York, except of course with all the delights of Spanish gastronomy. Later I would experience the one in Madrid, which had much better food quality and selection. But this place was still great for drinks and tapas, and mainly a lovely place to hang out and people watch.
We had a fun night here (this is what happens if you have a lot of time on your hands hehe you EAT and DRINK): One afternoon, we started with a bottle of cava and ordered some veal hamburgers (interesting, their style is with no lettuce nor tomato but instead with a variety of sauces). Then feeling jolly, we had another bottle of vino blanco sitting outside in the modern rustic patio with bright primary colored chairs, red, lime green, steel and upcycled lampshades of clay pots hanging upside down.
Two bottles down, we then moved to the bar end of the mercado and ordered a mojito, and my hubbie a capuirhina (Brazilian drink). They were playing good music-basically top 40s American and then 80s, then 90s. And…After that, it got real hazy. We had more to drink of course and then met a lovely trio who were happened to be doctor residents. And spent the rest of the evening that I recall blabbing with one of the girls, her name being Pilar Jimenez and she gave us recommendations for Madrid, which she wrote on a napkin. Then I started to not feel good and so we left…and I didn’t wake up until the late afternoon heh. Ahhhh good times 🙂
Ahh Sevilla, this beautiful city opened up our eyes to the wonderful south, having only previously visited the north east city of Spain, Barcelona. We took an easy 1 hour flight from Barcelona to Sevilla (making the flight just in time after having a much an indulgent late night prior). Fred was in charge of alarm duty, and unfortunately turned the alarm OFF instead of hitting snooze.
As a result, we woke up over an hour later than what we were planning–scrambled to get ready and finish packing in 15 minutes, made the super jog/power stride walk with roller carry-ons, slowly dislocating the shoulder with each jostling bump, made it to the central bus stop (easy to get to and from the airport by the way! Just hop onto the designated A1 bus I believe, and it will drop you off straight at T1 (you’ll have to check to confirm but overall so very convenient).
Anyways I managed to develop blisters on the bottom pad of my foot—I have never thought you could get blisters there (usually its a small one on the heel or maybe at the edge of the foot, but a big solid one on the middle front!? Ah well, it was worth it because we managed to make our flight just in time 🙂
Upon arriving in the quaint little airport in Sevilla, we easily found the bus that would take us right into town. (Again the bus transportation in Spain was so convenient! Just walked out of the airport sliding doors and walked along the side walk following the clearly marked signs.)
While waiting in line, we started chatting with a very kind and warm older gentleman. As we rode in the bus he told us how he lived in a small remote town outside of Sevilla, and for several years, he would wake up extra early before work to watch from what it sounded like, a TV channel program that teaches English–and that, is how he learned to speak English! He was very eager to practice with us and we made a bargain of sorts, asking that he help us practice Spanish. So there we were on the bus, him speaking English to us and us, replying back in Spanish. When it came to our stop, he went out of is way to notify the bus driver to stop (we were sitting in the rear of the bus)–and after quickly teaching each other the phrase “it was nice to meet you!” (“encantado de conocerle“) we hopped off near the main bus station, located just outside of the main area.
Oh yes, about those winding, curving, maze-like cobblestoned streets, where my seemingly good sense of direction is made completely moot. I am turned around each time when we leave our AirBnB place off of the street Marmoles. I swear that it is the “bermuda triangle”–as each time without fail, either leaving the place or returning to, we must leave an extra 20-30 minutes for inevitably getting lost. But, alas the beauty of being on vacation is that you have no set schedule to keep and though bewildering, getting lost was actually rather fun 🙂
Quick description of our AirBnB (highly recommended!): A very tiny studio at the 4th floor, or attico, of a cute small building on the street of Marmoles. We have a wonderful patio and rooftop deck, that has views of the Giralda tower, of the Catedral, and then the Alcazar- basically a 360 view! We spent the majority of our time out and about wandering, so we did not get to enjoy our deck/patio much, but it was nice to return from the day or first thing in the morning, and take in the gorgeous views, church bells ringing…
We had such an eye-opening experience food-wise while in Sevilla. I feel we were introduced more to the gastronomically complex and creative type of tapas/food than what we had previously experienced in Barcelona, which was very fun to discover.
The first night, we went to CASA MORALES and then FREIDURIA LA ISLA, both recommended by our lovely local host. A hearty and warm traditional vibe, Casa Morales has been there for over 200 years, with dark wood counter tops and framing, transporting you back in time. We had wonderful chorizo picante–-slices of reddish sausage, that on the palette is soft and bright, spicy and richly meaty—not heavy and dense as I would have imagined the typical chorizo to be. Then the fried cod, fried bacalao, already seasoned salty and rich, and then with a light crispy layer of fried goodness outside, delicious and perfectly paired with our vino tinto de la casa.
We then walk across the little alley to a “fried everything” place, Freiduria La Isla, a bright white and blue little shop with a quick to-go window, as well as indoor seating. We order a racion de mixed seafood, with calamari, egg of hake, hake chunks—delicious and of course fried to a crisp, pairing perfectly with our vino blanco
I muse upon how our livers are going to need a HUGE detox when we return, since we have easily had at least 4-5 glasses of wine each night…yet it is not like we are drunk or wasted at all! It seems that by walking at least 9 miles a day and perhaps a mile at least after each tapas stop, and in between copas de vinas, that we seem to metabolize it just fine (I just hope our livers are as resilient…:) It is like the perfect and beautiful balance of combining fun exercise (taking in lovely sights) with purpose (to get to the next eatery), with intellectually and tongue-stimulating flavors with a happy wine buzz throughout. Ahh..if only every day could be like this!
Then the second day we wander around the town, and have a cute little brunch/lunch at LA CACHARERRIA—I have a much needed green juice, with a pan with a “lomo “ spread..a novelty to me –It is a basically a meat spread, which tastes like smokey meat deliciousness—and then generously drizzle the Spainard’s “banana” ish delicious addicting olive oil—so distinct and differente de los oilos de olivos de Estados Unidos…as you see I try to practice and remember my 4 years of Espanol…unsuccessfully.. hehe Anyways—and then they provide fresh macerated tomatoes which you scoop over it…and then sprinkle freshly dried oregano…just simple flavors and delicious.
The ambiance of this cute little cafe is charming, with stone walls that have insets upon which customers throughout the years have placed coins, making the walls sparkle when looked at from afar.
Dinner was a huge highlight–recommended by Alan, called Eslava. It was brightly lit and crowded with people standing outside at makeshift tables. The waitress was kind and as we put our name down, she promptly took our drink orders, myself a crisp vino blanco and Fred had cerveza. And then even gave us some delicious olives to munch on.
Highlights here include the egg yolk, perfectly rich and runny, over a slice of morcilla (blood sausage), the BEST clams I’ve ever had in my life: Razor clams (Navajas). I have never seen them before–they are in tube like shells, and not at all in the typical clam shape.
Then we went back using the street Spierdes (a main road with lots of shops, much nicer to walk along than the original way we took to get to the restaurant, which was along a main thoroughfair–crowded with cars and of course dust and smog.) The walk back on this street was perfect for people watching, and for soaking in the feel/vibe of Sevilla.
We sat across at a little place (not very remarkable except for their delicious gazpacho served in a wine glass) and viewed the super crowded Bodega Santa Cruz–super popular but sadly we didn’t get to try it out. Maybe next time in Sevilla…
A thing about Gazpacho –This was another revelation for me food-wise. I had no idea that gazpacho could taste so delicious! A refreshing savory tomato with cucumber and garlic, a punch from a dash of vinegar and then a drizzle of the famous rich olive oil….so refreshing and absolutely addicting. It was completely different from the bland weak stuff that I’d had here in the US.
The next day we started our day with delicious tapas at Bar Alfalfa (we started our days late by the way–having our first meal when everyone was having lunch;) But it worked out perfectly because by the time we were ready for dinner, it fit right in with the Spanish norm of dinnertime starting around 10pm.
Its located on a corner at the meeting of many a winding streets and so while trying to find our way (numerous times during our stay here), we passed by it many times. We decided to finally check it out since it was our last day in Sevilla, and we sure are glad that we did! We crowded our way in towards the main bar and were met with the friendly servers who provided menus and also referred to the chalkboard on the wall.
A note about the ambiance of tapas bars–I actually miss this, the walking into a space, straight to the bar, and ordering. There is something spontaneous-feeling about just well, standing while you eat. Its as if you are more involved in some way, compared to passively sitting and awaiting the food to arrive on a pre-planned/plotted out plate. The food seems more exciting an experience for some reason.
Okay so this last restaurant needs its own separate section: La Azotea.
This was another place recommended by our friend, where apparently the chef or owner used to live in our hometown San Diego (Pacific Beach) and surfed and worked as a cook at the restaurant Costa Brava. Then he returned to Sevilla and opened this wonderful restaurant. Here we experienced NUMEROUS eye-opening (tummmie-opening) flavors that we had not yet experienced before, which is always so exciting and fun and is the essence of why I love traveling so much.
We perfectly showed up right when it opened, and already a crowd was gathering. We were the very first ones in 🙂 And so we chose some stools at the bar, wanting to be able to witness the action.
Two Standout Highlights:
Erase what you think you know about “Spanish Iberico Ham”…mistakenly likened to Italian Proscuitto (blasphemous to do apparently when in Spain, as a friend of mine mistakenly discovered)- the only commonality is that they are both from pork. One taste of true Jamon Iberico, I felt like I hit the hugest of epiphanies in regards to my idea of cured meat. Sure, I’ve had “jamon iberico” at fancy restaurants (paid a grip for a plate of satiny ribboned slices) but in my memory, they really did not stand out much–just another salty cured meat…with some richness but nothing earth shattering. And indeed I could see how having only experienced this caliber of jamon iberico, how one could make a comparison to proscuitto (which is of course delicious in its own right–but the depth, earthy, rich, complexity is completely different).
We ordered a plate, and watched as the server meticulously sliced robust (thicker than what I’d had in the US) slices of deep red from the pork leg mounted on the stand. Each slice had a perfect sliver of fat–which I realized balanced perfectly with the ruby red meat section. I placed a slice of jamon iberico into my mouth and was instantly hit with the following analogy:
When comparing the exquisite flavor of what I was tasting vs. the previous “jamon iberico” that I have had (in quotations since I now see what a sham those were vs. the real thing) would be in wine terms, like comparing 2 buck chuck Charles Shaw wine with a 2008 Caymus Reserve (or something to that effect)—Bright simple, a bit unbalanced towards salty vs. rich velvety smokey complex. Indeed, that was the disparity of difference. The Jamon Iberico had this addicting sweetness from the aged fat, creamy-balancing the round smokey meaty rich flavor, resulting in just a shock of deliciousness: Amazing!
Sea Anenome (Anenoma de Mar)
I have never had sea anemone before or never encountered it on a menu. They prepared this richly seafoodie flavored animal with scrambled eggs, the fluffy light creamy texture of the eggs seemingly highlighting the rich flavor even more. Topped with crispy fried slivers of potato, which texture-wise was perfect to contrast the soft creamy texture of the anemone scramble.
This is a much belated food review from our lovely Oregon trip back in August. Looking back, one dish really stood out among the numerous delicious things we had:
The Steak Tartare at Paley’s Place in Portland, OR.
I have had a few steak tartares since then, and have had several prior to Paley’s version, but none, none whatsoever come close to their version.
At first glance, it is quite a simple dish. Steak tartare is raw beef–ground into small chunks ranging from the fine grind you see at the grocery store in cellophane wrapped trays, to larger toothy chunks. But it is a deceptively simple dish, similar to sushi. Where indeed it is about the quality of the ingredients that make the flavors shine, but also the thoughtful and delicate way in which it is put together.
Here the tartare the grind was cut perfectly to do the texture and quality of the meat justice: not so finely ground that it felt mushy in any way, reminding one of babyfood— nor was it too large so that you felt you were gnawing on it–but just right (a la Goldilocks) where there was enough texture to appreciate the buttery clear sweet and rich beef flavor and elicit the intrinsic meat eater instinct. I wish I knew where they obtained the meat–the quality was amazing. There were not any stray extra chewy pieces mixed in with buttery smooth pieces (as I typically find at other places)–just consistently pleasing texture throughout.
Another kicker to this dish was the use of a big golden sphere of deliciousness that is duck egg yolk. It added a more complex yolkie flavor than typical chicken egg, bathing each morsel of meat in richness.
Served simply with diced onions, capers and finely chopped parsley–all perfect counterpoints to the rich tartare.
Ahhh Barcelona (heh pronounced in my exaggerated lisp, “Barth-elona”)—Last month, I returned to Barcelona approximately 8 years after first going there with my two friends. Returning to a foreign place after so many years is an interesting feeling; a contrasting sense of familiarity (though in another country and experienced fleetingly so long ago) as well as a newness yet again (seeing things differently from the first visit, and realizing that it is you who has also changed affecting your perspective).
We arrived in the early morning, bleary eyed and killed some time at a local cafe before checking into our wonderful Airbnb apartment located in the Born area, just north of Mercado de Santa Caterina, with its curving rainbow dragonscale-like rooftop. We stayed here for 4 nights and I’ll share some of our highlights from food (this post) and the lovely sights (another post).
Overall Barcelona is such an easy city to walk all around (there is a metro as well if you’re feeling tired or are short on time)–but typically whenever Fred and I travel, we always walk everywhere since heh, we’re on vacation and what else are we going to do. We also enjoy the walking because you are able to slowly soak in the feeling, the culture, the vibe of each street, the neighborhood–the leisurely pace allows your brain take it all in, I think–leaving a more lasting impression.
Another note about re-visiting a place that you’ve been, I was surprised about how things can be different. I recall my very first impression when I went to Barcelona so many years ago–was that the tapas were delicious but very salty. And that was my limited assessment of the food. But in retrospect, maybe it was specifically what we ordered (a lot of salted cod–a specialty there but …enough orders of that, it was bound to leave a lasting impression of well, saltiness–as well as the delicious cabrales blue cheese)
I feel like this visit I experienced a more diverse, maybe modern take of Spanish cuisine, blended with traditional styles (and I do not know if this was a function of the food scene here itself changing, or what we happened to order…) It just shows how much of a variety there can be in experiences when traveling! Which heh justifies the need to always travel 😉
Also, during my first visit, I never actually experienced the “real tapas crawl” in which you kinda wander from place to place with vino at night, in the bustling narrow streets. On my first trip to Spain, we mainly went to sit down or 1 restaurant for dinner. I think the differences in experiences also had to do with the fact that Fred and I stayed up later (heh do as the “Romans” do) as in having dinner at the Spanish normal of 10 pm (instead of like 6pm)…and this was a direct result of haha not forcing ourselves to follow the time change, and waking up at noon every day hehe. ARITEY–onto the wonderful food highlights in Barcelona!
Now unfortunately some of these places I do not remember the exact dishes/ingredients, but suffice it to say they were delicious and unique creative flavors that were a joy to experience. I think next time I will seriously bring a little notebook and record the names and ingredients of the dishes.
Elsa Y Fred
Just based on the name including Fred, we had to go hahah j/k–Actually it was due to the great reviews as well as the close vicinity to where we were staying–this was our first dinner in Spain (I always love the first meal in a new country—this heightened sense of excitement and awareness). Delicious creative dishes
Wonderful service here, and definitely a more modern take on Spanish flavors. Highlights included a tomato soup and a scoop of an herbie cucumber gelato, a refreshing take on traditional gazpacho. Barely seared rare cerdo, or pork–such a clean and light porkie flavor the texture of sashimi (in the US everyone is scared to serve rare pork). Grilled perfectly tender pulpo, or octopus, not at all squishy from perhaps either under or over cooking, nor rubbery, from overcooking. Roasted rabbit–usually really dry or sadly scrawny–here richly flavored meat and juicy.
Started off the meal with a refreshing vino blanco (one of many vinos that night 🙂
Tomato “gazpacho” with a scoop of the cucumber herb gelato
Seared pork belly on top of a citrus herb green sauce–almost salsa like, cool refreshing contrast to the rich pork
Delicious finish–dark chocolates and creamy sweet marshmellow
Le Xampanyet is located in the lively Born barrio, with picturesque gothic buildings, and narrow walkways. We actually just happened upon this place–(thats the fun part about wandering this area, it is so lively at night–A fun food maze of sorts)–And this was Fred’s first taste of the classic tapas bar–standing room only, crowded around the counter filled with colorful cured meats, roasted peppers, seafood and cheeses. This place is known for their lovely sparkling cava, so refreshing with the warm weather–and so we started off with 2 glasses. For food highlights, they had this awesome tapas that combined delicious sweet savory sardines atop …(I cannot remember the exact ingredients but at least I have a photo of it below 😉 Basically what stood out about this lil tapa was the savory flavors (sweet/salty combo) that is so addicting.
Quimet & Quimet
I first heard of this place from the novel Cooking for Mr. Latte, written by a former NY Times food writer (highly recommended by the way 😉 in which she describes a visit to Barcelona and to this special tapas place, tucked in a side street of a neighborhood, away from the typical barrios one would visit in Barcelona. The second time I came across this place was at the airport during my trip with my girlfriends 8 years ago, right before we were to fly to Barcelona–in a food magazine. That was what sealed the deal–I decided then that we must try it! And it was an awesome warm experience, with delicious tapas made in a style that reminded me of omakase: beautiful creations–tapas piled high with delightful combinations of ingredients right before your eyes. During that first trip to Barcelona, we returned there several times–loving the warm friendly and joking staff and the intimate standing-only ambiance with walls filled with stacked rows of wines.
I had raved about it to Fred and on our final night in Barcelona, we forewent reservations at Ferran Adria’s brother’s restaurant, Pakta (Japanese and Peruvian fusion) for this, and we do not regret the wonderful experience we had. (I’m sure the food at the former would have been amazing but we were more in the mood for casual down to earth rustic ambiance. Plus..note to self for future travels to bring 1 nice outfit that does not include hah sandals (flip flops) and Fred’s sports wear…)
(Photo Above) – Taking a break, while on the meandering beach trail to Devil’s Churn, the sea pines nicely frame the view, with the dark brown and black lava rock in the distance at the foot of the densely forest-covered cliffs and mountains.
Clean and crisp air, lush emerald green trees, the freshest produce, seafoods and meats, delicate yet rich pinot noirs and unique craft beers—these are just some of the many reasons that always seem to draw us back to the Pacific Northwest.
We chose the tiny town of Yachats for our little getaway (pronounced Yah-Hats) since it was located reasonably close to Portland, and offered easy access to some of the best coastal hiking spots along this beautiful, rugged and dramatic coast. I will definitely need to return to further explore the beaches, specifically the ones with large creature-like boulders spread out, looking like large slumbering animals, as I’ve seen in photos.
Heading southwest from Portland, Yachats is approximately a 3 hour leisurely drive. Mainly the duration is due to the traffic lights since the roads are small and one to two-laned, but it is filled with lovely views of spanning golden fields, passing through wine country including the cute little town of Dundee and Newburg and organized rows of grape vines covering the rounded hillsides, to dense forests.
We drove south west on the 5, then the 99W, all the while keenly taking in the stores, shops, the cars, the people as we typically do whenever visiting a new place. I think you can tell a lot about a region by the lay out–the shop types etc, just by observing. This is what we enjoy doing when we travel–taking in nuggets of information, observation to build a knowledge a theory, an overall deeper understanding of a place, a people, a culture. Infinite dimensions to explore in this world.
We saw many cute little drive-through coffee huts–vibrantly signed or cleverly named. I assume these establishments are so popular because the majority of the year is rainy or stormy weather, and so people are less likely to want to park, then run in the rain to wait in line for a cup of good coffee (and good coffee in cold weather regions, northwest seems to be a staple). Definitely a small town vibe.
(Above) – One of the beautiful views on our drive west to the Oregon Coast from Portland.
(Above) – One of several bridges on our drive south along the Pacific Coast Highway, this one goes right by the town of Newport.
STAY – Overleaf Lodge and Spa
We arrived at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa, which I selected for its can’t-beat-it location, perched right above a beautiful beach, just steps from our hotel room. Most of the rooms in this hotel have uninterrupted views of the moody ocean below, plus the room price also comes with a delicious daily breakfast buffet (and I mean more than just store-bought pastries) with homemade blueberry scones, fluffy and buttery, and rich satisfying mushroom and Gruyere quiche and good strong coffee.
Every morning after the delicious breakfast, we would step out and stroll along the coastal trail, enjoying the refreshingly-brisk sea air on our faces and watch the waves crash on the craggy rocks, worn smooth and rounded by years of pounding surf.
That is something definitely different from our San Diego beaches–the beaches in the Oregon coast (and what we observed even in northern California) are so dramatic–loud pounding powerful waves, hitting the rocks so hard that they splash high into the air. Even the color this time of year was dramatic- a moody greenish brown- indicative of the swirling turmoil of the currents – so unlike the more peaceful-looking blue waters down south. Watching the ocean here, I understand what they mean when they say “raw nature.” I love this difference though, these contrasts you notice when traveling as compared to your home–it makes each environment that much more vivid.
(Above) – Mirror-surfaced tide pools in rounded lava rock formations with sculptural pieces of driftwood looking like the sun-bleached bones of a dinosaur artfully dispersed throughout the beach–just steps from our hotel room. The lava rock reaches out to meet the pounding ocean waves, crevices worn into their reach, mesmerizing to watch as each wave rushed in, overflowing the edges and lapping onto the rocks themselves, before sucking back into the ocean and rushing back for another onslaught.
EAT – Ona Restaurant
We were eager to try the fresh local food and Ona was the perfect place for our first dinner. I would highly recommend to sit outside on their patio, which as you can see, has a perfect wide spanning view of the Yachats river meeting the ocean. No waves here, but the lazy lapping water drifting over sand bars as the tides rise and fall.
The hills beyond are filled with dense forest and the sky is filled with all sorts of birds. It is funny how when younger, I would think “man who goes bird watching?” It sounded so boring! But as we sat on the patio observing the different behaviors and cries of hawks or eagles (I am not going to even pretend I know what species of bird) and crows (my personal favorite ..I’m actually serious hehe), I realized how interesting it actually was to watch…well, birds!
(Above) – The patio where we ate at the restaurant Ona, with a beautiful view of the Yachats River meeting the sea and the foresty hills beyond.
(Above) – Gorgeous vivid and bright wild flowers were plentiful at all the restaurants in Yachats–Some of my favorite colors!
(Above) – Creamy garlicky crab chowder–velvety rich and satisfying
(Above) – One of our favorite Pinot Noirs that we tried on the trip–very rich in the “heavily extracted” style of Pinot.
(Above) – Chunky crab cakes (or cake heh), moist and unlike many crab cakes, filled with large fresh pieces of sweet crab meat pairing perfectly with their tartar sauce, lemon and picked red onion.
(Above) – Oyster shooters–Initially I was hesitant about ordering these because I’ve had oyster shooters and in my mind they were shots of hard alcohol perhaps covering the flavor of not so fresh oysters and doused in cocktail sauce–Not so here! The oysters were amazingly creamy, perfect light briney/seafood flavor with the perfect amount of house-made cocktail sauce and horse radish.
(Above) – Fresh greens–everything up here, produce included just tastes so fresh! Sweet seasonal tomatoes, cracker-crisp cucumbers and mixed greens.
(Above) – You want Fish N’ Chips? GET THEM HERE! Made from fresh halibut (plentiful up here), these were huge juicy flaky chunks of fish with a light perfectly crisp batter and paired wonderfully with non-traditional dipping sauces: A smokey aioli one and a fresh herby ranch style. This was paired with “Asian Slaw” which added a refreshing flavor dimension to the overall dish.
(Above) – Ah the piece de resistance..or something to that effect 🙂 I ordered the Chinook Salmon (“King Salmon”) – wild and locally caught–a vivid orange, tender buttery meat, with chanterelle mushrooms picked from the nearby forest floor, and satisfying hearty brown rice, and all together with a steamed artichoke (oh delicious and buttery!).
HIKE – PERPETUA
Located a quick 5 minute drive south from Yachats, we drove to the Perpetua Visitor Center, a beautiful facility with yet another gorgeous ocean view. There are numerous trails that branch out from this place, and so I’d recommend parking the car there ($5 bucks–and supports the park) for a lovely full day of coastal / forest hiking.
We started off with the St. Perpetua Trail, a perfect one to start with, since it is a more vigorous one, climbing to one of the highest points along the coast in a series of switchbacks in a forest of spruce trees, blackberry bushes and these blueberry-tasting bushes (thanks to the info at the visitor center, I then allowed my husband to eat the blue berries we saw growing along the trail. They were delicious, and a perfect little boost, since we neglected to bring any snack bars).
Then we headed down to explore the coastal trails that allowed us to explore, climbing over the rocks, Cook’s Chasm, Thor’s Well and numerous other fascinating landmarks. My favorite was Thor’s Well because it took years and years of waves pounding, eating away the rock below until there was a jutting piece above, and years of the waves splashing upwards into the jutting piece or rock, to eventually form a hole, which from above looks like a well that swells full and splashes up with each crashing wave.
Being in nature, as cliche as it may sound, really is soothing to the soul. You’re disconnected from the typical everyday, and you’re forced to rely on your senses, senses that have been lulled asleep by your predictable everyday routine and environment.
(Above) – The beginning of the St. Perpetua Trail–lush green forest. The switch backs reminded us of hiking up Mount Srd in Croatia, however we enjoyed this trail’s cool shaded greenness vs. the stark rockiness of the other one.
(Above) – Remnants of a fort built in WWII era, located at the top of the St. Perpetua Trail.
(Above) – Stepping out from the trail, a breathtaking view of the seemingly endless forests stretching as far as you can see.
(Above) – The gorgeous Pacific below–you can see the dark lava rock –round finger-like extensions into the surf.
(Above) – One of the trails, named fittingly the Spruce Trail, ends at a stately 500 year old Spruce tree. It is such a crazy feeling staring up the tree’s massive trunk and realizing that it was around long before the United States was formed, back in 1500s!
(Above) – Thor’s Well, filling up with white water–and it swells quickly shooting spray in the air.
(Above) – Cook’s Chasm–a narrow and very long crevice, perfectly shaped to build the momentum and force of each incoming wave until it explodes up.
Ahh tapas–how I loff them. In preparation for our upcoming (well in a few months) trip to Espana, I thought I’d share a few dishes from 2 Spanish restaurants I visited in the past few months.
I must say though I think my favorite leans to Socarrat Chelsea in NYC–and that has more to do with, the rustic and intimate ambiance of the restaurant vs. purely the food itself. Julian Serrano, although delicious and a lovely ambiance, is a bit more formal and colder than the warm dark and intimate Socarrat.
Definitely looking forward to the “real thing” in a few months!
JULIAN SERRANO (ARIA Hotel, Las Vegas, NV)
Lobster Gazpacho (chilled spanish tomato soup | lobster meat | cherries) – Fresh, vibrant combination of sweet, tart, green flavors. Could not taste the lobster very well however.
Kale Salad (rainbow baby carrots | heirloom baby tomatoes | red beet gelée | red beet vinaigrette) – The ingredients sound lovely, and indeed the salad was very brightly flavored, but perhaps a bit too overly dressed and acidic. The red beets added a pleasant sweetness, but I think the rainbow carrots could have been slightly blanched (basically be a little softer so that it could have absorbed the dressing and counter-balanced the acidity.)
Octopus (potatoes | spanish paprika) – This dish was a highlight! The octopus was cooked perfectly –so tender and delicate (and from experience cooking it ourselves, we’ve tasted when cooked not so perfectly–chewy rubber). They shining ingredient though was actually the Spanish Paprika–richly smoky and earthy–which is a unique contrast to seafood which is typically prepared light and fresh.
Black Rice (fresh calamari | lobster meat | sofrito | squid ink) – Squid ink automatically imparts such a buttery seafoodie rich complexity –the opposite of sharp bright flavors, it is a soothing seductively of-the-sea flavor. Although, compared to Socarrat’s arroz negro…I must say the Socarrat one wins (though to be fair, Socarrat is a paella preparation whereas this was more of a tapas sized).
Spanish Iberico sliders (prime beef | iberian pork | caramelized onions) – Juicy beef patty on a buttery perfectly toasted bun, with a slice of iberico (providing a subtle salty richness) and sweetness from the caramelized onion.
Starting with of course a bottle of delicious vino…
Patatas Bravas(fried potatoes, aioli & guindilla (Spanish chile) tomato sauce) – You typically might think…”oh big deal-fried potatoes”–but no. These potatoes will elevate your respect for the humble brown root veggie and regard it with a new gleam in your eye. Of course fried potatoes are not created equal–often times they are over cooked resulting in a dense chewy and uninspired cardboard tasting thing. But here, my oh my, the cube/triangular diced potatoes have a crisp light skin then within, a buttery sweet fluffy innard—pair this with the rich garlic (as in I loff garlic and your dinner buddies better too) and spicy tomato sauce–another simple yet amazing blend of flavors.
Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic olive oil & guindilla pepper) -You know when you have a perfectly cooked and fresh shrimp when you bite into it, and it literally feels like it pops in your mouth–your teeth puncturing the outer layer revealing the juicy tender meat within–and the flavor of pure seafoodie freshness and overwhelming sweetness. Add a touch of spice from the guindilla and garlic=heaven.
Pan con Tomate (fresh tomato spread toast with garlic and olive oil) – Such a simple combination of ingredients but so deliciously tasty! The freshness from the tomato–sweet and slightly acidic, with the bright zesty pop from the vigorously rubbed garlic on the roasty-toasted bread, and of course the richness of good straight-up olive oil.
Iberico Charcuteria (Iberico cured ham) – Soft velvety ribbons of iberico that can be elegantly piled on the Pan con Tomate–or just by itself 🙂
Arroz Negro (shrimp, calamari, fish, scallops, squid ink topped with garlic aioli) – Each seafood morsel was cooked perfectly, not one of them overcooked (which could be hard if not timed right) and so fresh, with bright sweet green peas in a richly flavored squid ink rice (also perfectly cooked–some pieces at the bottom crisply roasted). I loved adding a dollop of the garlicky aioli to my portion(s) 🙂
Cochinillo Asado (roasted suckling pig, spinach and port sauce reduction) – Ahh dearest little piggie–how I appreciate you and thank you for giving your life. I cherish and honor your sacrifice and thus thoroughly enjoyed the flavors of this dish. Socarrat chefs did the piggie justice–roasting the meat to the perfect duality of crisp skin and meltingly tender meat underneath, cut through with the port sauce reduction. I had this lovely tapas meal with Vegans…and they partook in this dish…that is how good it was 🙂
Dessert (Freshly hot sugar coated spheres (sounds better than “balls”)– Light and airy and perfectly dippable in the accompanying rich dark chocolate
A Curious Foodie-Travelphile's Random Thoughts & Experiences