Thursday, 4 May 2017

Seafood in Patagonia

When I first started thinking about food in Argentina, I was a little concerned that we would be stuck with beef for the three weeks we were there as that seemed to be everyone's "must-eat" recommendation - and they were probably right, one has got to try it. So it was with relief that we saw a selection of river fish on the menu when we were in Puerto Iguazu even though we are always a little leery when trying fish in a new restaurant. We took a risk and were glad we did.

We tried Suribi (a type of catfish) and Pacu (a large freshwater fish), both river fishes.  Grilled at La Rueda, both were delicious, probably because they were fresh - we must be close to the river!  Then as we headed into Patagonia, we tried trout in Bariloche and a most delicious Hake fish at lunch in Puella, in the midst of our Andean Lakes Crossing. It was like a ray of sunshine in our drizzly crossing. The Hake is related to the cod with firm but tender white meat. I like it better than cod but then it could be the way it was cooked.

Pacu and suribi at La Rueda

The Hake in the Puella Hotel restaurant

When we got to Puerto Varas in Chile, we were pleasantly surprised by the Conger eel. It is not an actual eel, apparently, and certainly did not taste like one. It had a nice white fish consistency and texture. There were always salmon on the menu but with so much salmon at home, we did not want to waste our tasting opportunities on salmon - afterall how different could it taste from one end of the Americas to the other? I did try a small piece off our guides' plate just to confirm my guess. We had the rollizo (rockfish) instead and it was tasty, very well-prepared served on a warm quinoa salad.

Conger eel in the Mirador del Lago, Puerto Varas, Chile
Rollizo in La Jardinera, Puerto Varas, Chile

The high points of our trip to Ushuaia, other than the penguins, were our encounters with Southern King Crab and Merluzza Negra. We were lucky to have met with fellow travellers who were equally keen on food and had actually researched where to eat king crab before they left home. They were thrilled when it was the same restaurant our guide took us to - El Viejo Marino. We got to choose our own crab, big enough to share between two, very tasty and very reasonably priced. We could have gone back for a second meal the following day. But I was glad I did my homework this time - we have to try the Merluzza Negra in Ushuaia! And was I ever glad we did!

Southern King crab

We made sure we picked a restaurant that had merluzza negra (Patagonian toothfish or Chilean Seabass) on the menu - Maria Lola Resto. It must have been the sweetest fish I had ever tasted in my life, no exaggeration. I'm not a great lover of fish but this one really beat everything I have ever tried - even the tender lamb I also ordered paled beside it and I am a great lover of lamb. The fresh frozen Chilean sea bass we could get in Toronto is tasty, but not like this. The chef cooked it to perfection and of course, we were eating the fish closest to its source - Ushuaia being at "the end of the world"...

Merluzza negra - served with shrimp, squid and crab legs, but who needs those!  
In all, Patagonia surprised me with its abundance of delicious food and expert chefs - totally not what I had expected in these small towns in the wilderness! Good job!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Argentinian Carne

You can't go wrong with beef in Argentina - whether you go to the best restaurants or eat at the roadside.  The beef is tasty and tender. There is no reason to eat a hamburger in Argentina because the real meat is so tender there is no need to grind it or chop it up.  In the two weeks we spent in the country, whether we paid 160 pesos ($10US) for a lunch beef sandwich by the roadside or 700 pesos ($45US) for the most tender cut in a high end restaurant, we know we would get tender beef. It is the safest choice when in doubt. Chicken could be tasteless or even tough, pork could be chewy (we had to send one order back to the kitchen at a German beer place in Bariloche) - but not the beef. It's quite amazing!  It is also interesting that while "carne" translates as "meat", when the Argentine referred to "carne", they invariably were talking about beef.

Bife de lomo or tenderloin is generally the priciest and most tender cut although I've been told different restaurants translate it differently. We tried it our first night in Iguazu Falls in Aqua, where it was actually called filet mignon on the menu; in Buenos Aires at a parilla (grill), they called it bife de lomo - both were tasty and tender; huge too, big enough for two of us.  We have also tried the rib steak - it too was very tender with higher fat content. 

There were parillas and asados - parilla is where the meat was grilled and asado is like a barbeque where the whole side was cooked over an open fire. I tried cordero (lamb), where they give you different cuts on the same order - it was tender and flavorful. The short ribs asado was not as tender but still flavorful.  There were various cuts and organ parts of the beef in the asado but dinner is usually so late, one can only eat so much. After gorging ourselves on meat for a few meals, we switched to seafood, which I will talk about in the next post.

Aqua called it "filet mignon" possibly because it's considered a fine dining restaurant but it looked the same as the Bife de lomo below from the Buenos Aires Grill in Recoleta.  May be too big, really for filet mignon, but certainly tenderloin.

And this is rib eye steak - with an egg on top! (homestyle cooking at Esquina Varela Restaurant, El Calafate)

Short rib asado - I think I was too keen on my lamb asado, forgot to take a picture of it!

All asado restaurants have this for show either outside or inside the restaurant.  This one was in La Tablita, El Calafate. Locals came here too and the place was packed on a week night at 10pm

And of course we had a most delicious beef sandwich (also big enough to share) at this roadside place "El Titanic de Homero" in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires
Next post: Seafood!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Hearts of palm and chimichurri

Hearts of palm was the first thing that caught my eye on the menu when we ate at Aqua in Puerto Iguazu (the Argentinian side of Iguassu Falls). It was the most delicious I've tasted because I've only had canned hearts of palm in Canada.  We had it again the following night at another restaurant, La Rueda, and it was just as good. I ordered it a third time at our last dinner in Buenos Aires, and it was not as good.  The reason - hearts of palm is produced in Brazil, not Argentina.  The ones in Iguassu Falls were good because of its proximity to Brazil.  Once we're in Buenos Aires, we were farther away from the source and the result was obvious.  Should have done my homework!

Fellow travellers reported to me that when they were in Rio, they had an entire plate of hearts of palm for the price of what we paid for the appetizer in Buenos Aires.  An obvious example of why we should eat local food!

Aqua: Note the tiny pieces of hearts of palm tucked in between the bread - precious! This is part of an antipasti of local specialties offered on the menu: hearts of palm, local fish tart, avocado, fried manioc (yuca) and corn pie - all in tiny pieces for "fine dining", which Aqua can be recommended for.

La Rueda: hearts of palm as the centrepiece of a Tropical salad with mango and papaya.

We were introduced to three Argentinian sauce dips by our guide in Buenos Aires; Chimichurri, which comes in two versions - hot and spicy (the red one at the bottom), or the green one with parsley and garlic dip very similar to pesto; and a Salsa criolla with pepper.   The red chimichurri was a bit hot but it could vary depending on how much hot sauce and chili is in it.  Ingredients include parsley, garlic, vinegar, pepper, oregano, onion, olive oil in addition to the hot sauce and chili.  The green chimichurri is minus the hot sauce and chili.  Salsa criolla has tomatoes as its main ingredient, onion, garlic, bell pepper, black pepper, scallions, olive oil and vinegar.  These can be put on bread, on steak and anything else you eat!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Tarsin I Jane Seattle

We finally made it to Tarsan I Jane, billed as "Modern Valencian cuisine influenced by the Pacific Northwest", for their Sunday specialty paella. This is only served on Sunday lunch, requiring prepayment when making the reservations. Their menu:

As I don't drink coffee, I ordered tea instead,

The beet gazpacho, with citrus and yogurt foam, totally smooth, topped with smoked sea salt:

Next is seafood ceviche, with yellow tail tuna, a mussel, small potato chips (!,and you can see the chips on both sides of the front leaf), with avocado sauce, topped with some leaves (she told me what the leaves were, but I forgot; the menu says bay leaf, but I don't think so).

Then it sausage with egg and arugula. The sausage is fresh (as opposed to cured) chorizo, on a bed of chickpeas and quinoa, and an andoni egg. She explained that Andoni is the name of the chef who invented this egg technique, where the egg is cooked such as the white and yolk are the same consistency (sounds like sous vide).

Here is the chef, Mr Tarsin - real name is Perfecte Rocher - in front of the paella. The left and right pans are for 2 people, the center one is for 4.

I ordered an additional specialty item, the carabinero. which is according to there description:
"A large, deep-sea scarlet prawn. More distinct and robust in flavor than other shrimps or langoustine. They are also coveted for their large size. None of this prawn should go to waste as their heads are a delicacy"

I was told the way to eat it was to pull the head off, and suck the inside out. As soon as DH heard it, it became all mine. 😀 It was very messy, I had to wash my hands afterwards.

Here's the main attraction. The way to eat it is to use a spoon to scrape the bottom, holding on to the napkin covered handle while doing that, and eating off the pan itself. According to the write up in the Seattle times, the paella you get in Spain are usually sourced from the same kitchen(s), frozen and distributed to the different restaurants, hence they all taste similar, but theirs is made from scratch. Here is the write-up from the restaurant:
The combination of ingredients and cooking method determine the authenticity of the paella. Never will you see paella with shrimp, chorizo, piquillo peppers, and peas in Valencia, for those are not authentic paella ingredients. Authentic paella is a very thin layer of rice with very few "toppings" because the most important part is the rice itself. .. The favorite part is the umami crunch of the socarrat, the black crust that sticks to the bottom of the pan, also known as Valencian caviar. 

We couldn't finish all the paella, and had to doggie bag the remainder.
For desert we had 2 (actually 3 since it was my Bday) - a chocolate based one, a citrus based one, and the last one has a touch of truffle oil in the rosemary vanilla sauce, which again made it all mine as DH cannot stand truffle.

Finally 2 chocolate truffles with house made gummy bears, served on a rock.

It was certainly a new concept and experience for us; the food was obviously made with love and care. Although I can't say fantastic - a large part of it was when we got to the paella I was kind of full - it was certainly good, albeit a little pricey. The left-over paella that I had for dinner tasted better than the fresh one - which meant that either it had time for the flavor to mellow, or that I was really too full to enjoy it at lunch. I do still have my eye on their dinner tasting menu,which we may attempt in the future.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Fabulous Basque cuisine in Barcelona

We have never tried Basque food before even though we were briefly in Basque country visiting Bilbao.  We were surprised to stumble upon a Basque restaurant our first night in Barcelona.  This was the Irati Taverna Basca in a small street just a few minutes' walk from the Ramblas.  

It was a place known for its tapas but it had been a long day and we really wanted to sit down for dinner even though it was really too early for the locals - the place was empty, even too early for tapas! We overruled our own practice of avoiding empty restaurants and sat down. We ordered the grilled duck magret with bittersweet summer fruit and the surprising crispy suckling pig with pisto.

To our pleasant surprise, both dishes were superbly done, in fact, the suckling pig tasted better than any we have ever tasted anywhere and we have tasted plenty of these. The suckling pig meat was super tender and the skin super thin and crispy. The duck was very tasty although slightly too rare for me; the accompanying bittersweet summer fruit was delicious as well and "bittersweet" was the perfect description for it. 

The suckling pig was a rare find and totally unexpected - which made it even more memorable. I wished we had gone back a second night but our schedule the rest of our stay did not allow for it.  Next time...

Amuse bouche - Txistorra - Basque pork sausages

Roast pork suckling pig - melt in your mouth delicious!

Duck Magret with bittersweet summer fruit

Tapas section starting up as we were leaving

Monday, 19 December 2016

Different ambiances for different menus - Lieve Belgisch Restaurant

We stumbled upon an interesting food experience when we were in Amsterdam.  We were curious when we saw the opulent table settings on several tables outside this restaurant - Lieve Belgisch Restaurant on Herengracht, a short block from our BnB.  Gold cutlery and crystal goblets for streetside eating?  We stopped by and was further intrigued when the young Maitre D' tried to explain the menu to us.

It seems that depending on how much you pay, you get a different menu and different kind of food - and corresponding ambiance!  The gold cutlery was for the "Mrs. Bubbles" menu and then there was another one called Belgian Baroque where everyone shared the food from plates put in the centre.  

One of the menus, "Mum's Kitchen" appealed to us as we were looking for some homecooking.  We were seated right below a poster with someone's "Mom" on it, complete with red checkered table cloth and kitchen casual cutlery.

Farmer's pork paté with mustard preserved fruit
Cheese waffle with beer dip - the dip was perfect for the cheese which was tactfully hidden inside the waffle without overwhelming
Braised pork neck with piccalilli sauce

Beer chicken with smoked Roseval potatoes and green beans
Honey and lavender parfait
Cherry Tiramisu

The appetizers and mains were both very good, the desserts being the weakest.  But it was a very entertaining evening for us.  We were fascinated by the ambiance-switching going on inside the restaurant right beside us.  It seems that tables that were preset had the cutlery and glasses placed on plexiglass so that when guests wandered in requesting a certain menu, the whole setting could be lifted up with the plexi-glass and moved around depending on the seating.  Moving glass on top of glass was no mean manoeuver and there were times when we held our breaths through some narrow misses by the staff.  But it was all very interesting! 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Disfrutar - Michelin Star in Barcelona

Disfrutar is not just a Michelin starred restaurant in Barcelona - its three chefs and owners, Mateu Casana, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch were trained at el Bulli, the legendary Michelin 3-star in Catalonia and since its opening in December, 2014, the restaurant has won acclaim with its avant-garde cuisine, getting its first Michelin Star on its first anniversary.

Unlike our dinner at LaStage, Amsterdam, we had planned this meal at Disfrutar as part of our Barcelona experience.  I came across an online writeup on their fabulous menu and so had booked our meal three months ahead when bookings were open - lunch was the only thing available at the time.  As it was located in the Eixample, we planned our day around the meal, scheduling visits to Gaudi casas before and after lunch.  It worked out really well as they are all within walking distance of the restaurant.

We were warmly welcomed when we arrived and was taken on a tour of the design award winning restaurant.  In the kitchen, smack in the middle of the restaurant, on both sides of the corridor leading to the dining room, we were introduced to the two chefs Eduoard and Oriol.  They were in the middle of showing the team what they wanted but graciously dropped everything to have their pictures taken with us.  The kitchen was packed with team members at every station.  It was quite impressive.

The two tasting menus, Classic and Festival, were the only things offered so we went with the Classic, the one with the least raw items which one of us was averse to.  We started off being seated in the front of the restaurant but was later moved to the main dining room when a table became available.  While it was nice and quiet in the front, we felt more part of the excitement in the main Mediterranean style dining room, where everyone was talking loudly and enjoying themselves (that's what "disfrutar" means - and we got to see the hardworking crew in action in the kitchen.


Each of the dishes were exquisitely prepared and presented - innovative with a distinct flavour and taste.  We were also given precise instructions on how to approach each to achieve the best tasting sensation.  It was a very enjoyable tasting experience - a feast for the senses.

Refreshing frozen cocktail - melt in the mouth with lingering taste of coffee and rum

"Beet that comes out of the land" (actually beetroot meringue with a light crunch on a bed of black sesame)
Frozen lychee, tapioca soaked in gin on rose petals.  We were told to put the rose petal up against our lips and suck the contents into our mouth - a sensual experience!
Salted candy walnuts with salted rice paper on the outside - amazing taste!  Mango, tonka beans soaked in whisky!

Here is an intriguing dish "Multipescadito frito" with fresh trout roe.  The "Multipescadito frito" are fried small fish placed on the wrap with sweet fresh roe - great combination and contrast in textures, the crunch around the soft roe.  We assembled our own combo. Extraordinary!

"Disfruta de la aceituna" - the "green grape" made with olive cream and butter in the crust, the "black olive" made with cocoa and olive - crushed in the mouth with orange juice inside, sucked from inside flowers.  Bread dip in oil.

Orange juice hidden inside flowers
Cold cheese biscuit finish with warm apple cider

Deep-fried egg yolk served with mushroom jelly inside egg shell - egg yolk is sensational while the mushroom jelly is the perfect balance for the palette to take away the stickiness from the yolk

Mushroom dumplings in translucent wrap 
Ceviche deconstruction - carrot and ahi pepper, white monk fish
If you don't eat raw fish, you get ramen...;-)
Macaroni carbonara - actually made with macaroni gelatin (a delightful texture!) with carbonara cheese and Parmesan on top.  The one above is the no-cheese version but you can see the macaroni better.

Tomato "polvoron" and arbequina oil caviar translated into tomato biscuit with caviar.  The interesting "liquid salad" is made with lettuce cucumber with a bubble inside made with olive oil - so much thought and work went into this!
Langoustine "al ajillo" - "al ajillo" being the little shrimps that added "legs" to the Langoustine - I would consider this the climax of the meal!  The green foam is parsley and black garlic - instilling subtle flavour on the very tasty langoustine.  My favourite dish!
Red mullet rock fish with paper thin slices of pork belly on top (delectable combination reminding me of a Chinese steamed fish with salted pork on top).  This was served with soy sauce eggplant gnocchi (made with gelatin) and yogurt sauce.
Moroccan style pigeon in a ras el hannout sauce -  a potent mix of cumin, ginger, allspice, pepper, cinnamon, coriander and cayenne
Mango sorbet sandwich - the "bread" is actually meringue!

Mano and cardamon sorbet on a cheesecake cornet

The peppers are actually chocolate with oil and salt
The grand finale - cotton of cocoa with mint flavour - you pick your own cotton and eat it off the tree!

We stayed at Disfrutar for 3 hours that afternoon and enjoyed every minute.  Bravo!