Friday, August 27, 2010

El Rey de La Gamba@Barcelona: for seafood chow-hounds

I can never get enough seafood. The moreish but smallish lunch at Bar Central only developed my appetite for more. On our way to the beach, we stumbled across (literally, because I tripped on a bump on the sidewalk) this seemingly never-ending place. El Rey de La Gamba is packed to the rafters at any given time of day or night and even has its own Facebook page (like, who cares!)

The sheer sizes of dishes got our imagination and saliva run wild. As this was Barcelona, there was no need to speak Spanish: they have menus in Japanese and Russian, let alone major European languages. Besides, our choice was made: just like that lady in When Harry Met Sally, we just pointed to the humongous seafood platter at the next table. Graellada de marisc, I already know that one in Catalan. When I was younger, I used to pick up bed whispers in foreign tongues first, now it is food names. Every season has its pleasures, indeed.

When it arrived, there were at least 1 and half kilos of grilled mussels. A generous amount of pink shrimp (the type called crevettes roses in French) was lying on top of that, crowned with a squid, four fish filets and two langoustines positioned as if they were fighting. Although it all was supposed to be just grilled, it did taste a bit oily. Not as in deep-fried food, but definitely greasier than at Bar Central (I guess I will always compare everything to that). The pan con tomate was just okay while patatas fritas rather disappointing.

Here I had my first white wine sangria, as red wine in the day time makes me too relaxed and drowsy. Besides, it was a nice choice to wash down slightly greasy Spanish, or should I say Catalan, seafood.

Pro's: OODLES of seafood. Outside seating. Reasonable prices.
Con's: Not the most sophisticated fare, not first grade ingredients.
In a nutshell: The place to pig out on solid B+ seafood in Barcelona.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Picnic en el Parque Joan Miró

I like fine dining but I defo am not a snob. If you want to travel a lot, you need to pinch sometimes, so that you can splurge later. Hence I don't mind buying (nice!) stuff in a supermarket and arranging myself a picnic.

I remember first time I went to El Corte Ingles (an upscale supermarket/department store) in Madrid, I barely spoke any Spanish. A shop assistant girl reproached me for that, to which I replied that since this was El Corte Ingles (The English Court), she should speak English to me!

This time around in Barcelona, (I like to think that) I managed to pass for a Spaniard - luckily, I did not have to say much. "¡Una mitad del kilo de figues, por favor!" We took our tapas picnic basket to Joan Miro Park and had a whale of time! This is what we stuffed our faces with:
  • salmorejo soup;
  • anchovies;
  • olives stuffed with pepper;
  • squid in its ink;
  • 4 types of cheese: Manchego Viejo, El Ventero and Gran Capitan curado and semi-curado;
  • 2 baguettes;
  • Estrella beer;
  • horchata;
  • figs.
Twenty Euro for the whole shebang plus we had enough left over for breakfast next morning. Quite a deal, innit?

Friday, August 20, 2010

La Boqueria: Barcelona's finest

Food markets get my head spinning. I relish seeing, smelling and touching the cornucopia of beautifully shaped, coloured, flavoured and textured organic matter ready to become the physical me. My favourites are Munich's Viktualenmarkt - for the sheer quality of its offerings and Amsterdam's Albert Cuypmarkt, for the diversity of culinary traditions it manages to combine. In London I prefer the haphazard, smelly and exuberant Brixton Market to the chi-chi yuppie heaven off Borough Market. 

Now to my dream-list I can definitely add La Boqueria, Barcelona's supplier of prime produce. It is just the right balance of cleanly and natural and although quite a bit overpriced, the quality and freshness are exemplary. The thoughtfully designed display of food is craftily underscored by incandescent lighting giving the atmosphere am additional layer of depth and warmth. And there is probably the most characterful butcher you will ever lay your eyes on too (scroll down)!

Besides, it  hosts Bar Central, which is not another watering hole but a superlative food restaurant.La Boqueria: Barcelona
La Boqueria: Barcelona
La Boqueria: Barcelona
La Boqueria: Barcelona
La Boqueria: Barcelona

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bar Central@La Boqueria: probably the best lunch in years

The best way to cook seafood is to barely cook it at all. Few people understand that and that is how we get grilled kipper. On the other hand, once you come across those in the know, it's a paradise.

As all good things in life, well cooked seafood comes unexpected. We were just roaming Barcelona's exuberant La Boqueria Market, waiting for our room to be done, when I saw a row of backs huddled tightly around a bar. They, in their turn, were surrounded by a row of necks craned impatiently in anticipation of access to the apparently much coveted seats. The thick circle of human bodies whack in the middle of lunch time did not bode us well but the wafting smell and tantalising sight of the seafood sizzling on a long grill convinced us it well was worth the wait.

The sequence of people popping in and out of the crowd around the bar at first resembled Brownian motion but there was a system to the madness after all: a man behind the bar gave us a sign in acknowledgement of our display of determination. Before too long we were invited to squeeze into two feet of just vacated space in front of the counter. Precariously perched on stools, we looked up to the trilingual chalkboard hung over the cooking area. Steaks and chicken breast were featured prominently but none to be seen either on the plates or on the grill - and for a good reason.

- Graellada de peix i marisc amb dos gots de vi, - I ventured in my very shaky Catalan. Well, I was just reading it from the menu, but from the barman's face I knew that I had just earned a huge brownie point.

- Blanc, señor?
- Si us plau!

Reading a Catalan phrasebook on the plane did help. It's really quite a peculiar cross of French and Spanish, scratch that, Castilian.

At 23 euro a plate, this seafood platter is by no means a cheap treat, but worth every cent. Seasoned only with sea salt and a sprinkle of garlic and parsley olive oil, it is the freshness of the fish, shrimp, razor clam, mussels and squid that makes you believe that there definitely must have been some divine involvement behind life creation on this planet, particularly in case of seafood. Chased with crunchy pan con tomate (grilled chunks of baguette flavoured with tomato juice) and lightly acidic local vi blanc (white wine), I can't think of a more scrumptious lunch.

Fiery-red octopus looked so appetising that we got ourselves a platter. Pulpo a la gallega (polbo á feira in Galician - I do have that penchant for regional languages since my student times when I was learning Japanese dialects) is boiled octopus sprinkled with pemento picante (paprika) and served on a bed of boiled potatoes.

Pro's: Informal, freshest produce cooked to perfection in front of you. Friendly, efficient service.
Con's: Cramped sitting, gotta queue, pricey!
In a nutshell: Utterly superlative seafood.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Japanese yuzu dressing recipe (柚子ドレッシング)

Yuzu is an East Asian citrus fruit whose fresh aroma can spruce up the most boring dish. One way to make use of its invigorating flavour is in a salad dressing. Unless your local Asian grocer stocks fresh fruit, feel free to substitute it with a more readily available yuzu vinegar. Lime is an okay substitute but the flavour just won't be the same.
  • 2 tbsps yuzu juice or yuzu vinegar
  • 2 tbsps soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin
  • optional: 4 tbsps vegetable oil - plain sunflower or, for an extra punch, sesame
Shake the ingredients vigorously in a jar until completely homogeneous. Pour over salad right before serving.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Champagne and caviar: Russian countryside picnic

or those of you who think Russians eat snow and icicles throughout the year, here's a reality check. This summer temperatures in the Western part of the country soared as high as to 42 degrees Celsius. Sweltering heat got Russians strip to the waist, guzzle industrial quantities of cold beer and eat chilled watermelons.

Among bizarre Russian summer delights is cruchon. The upper quarter of a chilled watermelon is cut off, the rest is hollowed out and filled with champagne, chopped fruit and berries. I don't believe the commonly held view that this atrocity originates in France but what can't be denied is that, coupled with summer heat, it knocks you out like Klichko's uppercut.

We had both a watermelon and a bottle of Vouvray (sparkling wine from the Loire Valley) with us for our picnic, but we did resist the temptation to make a cruchon. Instead, we combined the simple and the fine: black caviar on baguette was followed by organically grown boiled young potatoes with dill and a huge bowl of organic salad with Japanese yuzu dressing.

I have kept the Vouvray since 2005. It ages well, releasing flavours of quince and, according to my Mom, frankincense.

All that gorgeousness was consumed by the pond in the park of the former estate of Russian 19th century war hero general Baryatinski. It is situated in Southern Russia, in the Kursk Region, next to the Ukrainian border. These days it's a sanatorium of the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation and they very reluctantly accept outsiders, although eventually they do, for a fee.