I had a chance to check them out recently. It's in one of the numerous strip malls on Midway. This used to be the location of Jin's Grill.
This place is a fairly good sized space; the menu is basically the same as well.
I went with what I'd normally order; the Korean Chicken and Katsu with Gravy. Back home, Katsu is with Katsu sauce and Chicken Cutlet is Katsu served with gravy. I'm pretty sure I would have gotten a blank look if I ordered a combo Korean Chicken - Chicken Cutlet.
The Korean Chicken flavor was a bit on the weak side and perhaps was not marinated long enough? The katsu and gravy was nice, notice no breading falling off? It was also moist and the gravy (plus a dash of Tabasco) added layers of texture and flavor. I had one spoon of the mac salad which tasted a bit off.....a bit sour, so I decided to 86 that.
The portion size looked smaller than the CV and LV locations, but was still more than enough food for me.
I'm glad HH is doing well. Unlike many of the local "Hawaiian Barbecue" places, this isn't just a money grab. I'll probably return once I recover from all that rice and fried food.
Homestyle Hawaiian 3445 Midway Dr San Diego, CA 92110 Hours: Tues - Sat 11am - 8pm
While most of our stays on longer trips are in apartments. I try to squeeze in a couple of hotels along the way. The Missus really enjoys doing Her own thing, so I tread carefully.
Of course staying in hotels has it's perks; the amenities; the concierge, front desk, house-keeping, business center....even a "rock tower".....
The Silken Gran Hotel in Bilbao had that rock tower. It also served breakfast on the rooftop terrace.
Being the anti-social folks we are, we got to breakfast early and while there was a very mild chill in the air and a slight breeze, we sat outside.
It was more than enough for breakfast.
Heading out for the day, we of course passed "Fred".......who was starting to bloom!
And headed off, walking through Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar to the Bus Station.
I believe this is a memorial to Doña Casilda de Iturrizar.
We'd missed enough day-trip possibilities during our time in Madrid and Barcelona. To be fair, we'd been having too much fun. I thought it would be great to visit the town of Guernica. There were many possibilities, so why Guernica? During this trip, I'd been developing an appreciation for the works of Picasso. I had a chance to read about what is probably his most powerful work; Guernica. By turn, I had a chance to read George Steer'saccount of the bombing of Guernica.
The bus ride to Guernica from Bilbao takes about 40 minutes. We got off at the end of town and followed the "TI" signs.....which strangely led to the other side of town. It then took a turn and went back in almost the same direction we had arrived from....I'm thinking we missed a turn somewhere. Anyway, we arrived at the Tourist Information Office and the really nice woman provided a map and all the main destinations.
There was really just one thing I wanted to see and it was located behind the Gernika Assembly House.
The "Tree of Guernica", the symbol of freedom for Basque people resides on the ground behind the Assembly House. It is also depicted in the beautiful stained glass ceiling of the Stained Glass Chamber.
From times going back to the 14th Century, the Basque and other leaders would swear to respect the Fueros of Navarre, the charters that ensured the rights of the Basque people as an independent kingdom in union with the Spanish Crown. And though the Fueros was superseded by the Spanish Constitution, the President of the Basque Region - the Lehendakari are still sworn in under the tree.
The current tree is the fifth; each is a descendant of the original tree, planted in the 14th century. This little one replaced the previous tree in March of 2015 and is 14 years old.
The most famous; the "Old Tree" is located in the Templet a few yards away. It is quite popular with folks......
We also visited the Basque Country Museum.
The museum is worth visiting. There's also a section on the Chefs who have lead the moderm Basque food revolution.
Of course we stopped at the copy of Picasso's Guernica down the street.
It wasn't market day (which is Monday) so the area was fairly empty......
Except for the "old-timers" hanging out an socializing outside.
We walked back to the bus stop and caught the next bus back to Bilbao. Instead of going all the way to Termibus Station we got off...well somewhere in downtown. Somehow, we found ourselves back at La Vina del Ensanche. Now this was a Saturday and the place was packed....well the bar area was packed. There was possibly room for you....if you were a jamon hanging from the ceiling.
The tables though, were empty. Most had reserved signs on them...except for two. We asked and got one of the tables.
The Missus buoyed by the festive atmosphere ordered a "cava", sparkling wine....but not a glass....a whole bottle!
I ordered the Josellini - basically Joselito Jamon (here's the website in English, scroll down to the part about "Happy Pigs" - you'll love it), Foie Gras, with a sweet glaze on toast. Man this was good!
Rich, porky, sweet, salty, yeasty, crusty, creamy, and all of that mixed into one. I could eat this all day.....
We also got the regular order of the Carrillera de Iberico (braised pork cheeks) . The sauce was great mopped up with bread.
All while watching the ebb and flow of the crowds. The packed bar would start to thin out.....
Then wham! The next group of 40 people would walk in. This place has been around since 1927, so I guess this has been going on for 88 years.
Meanwhile, a family of a mom and three daughters sat at the table next to us. The youngest looked to be about 5-6, the oldest perhaps 10. When the foie gras mousse arrived, the three young girls nonchalantly dug into it and spread it on bread....like they eat this stuff every day! I turned to the Missus and said, "my god......they treat that like butter!" Her response? She turned to our server, pointed to the foie and said, "I'll take one of those." Which is how we had our second serving of foie gras during this "light" lunch.
It was quite good....nice and mildly liver-y and oh so rich......and I've been calling this "Basque Butter" ever since.
The Missus was having such a great time; She even ordered dessert.....
La Vina Del Ensanche Diputacion 10 Bilbao, Spain
Just like before, we had a rather hard time finding our way back to the hotel....not sure why. But, when we did get back, it was time for a much needed nap!
Waking refreshed after a short nap, we relaxed for a bit, then got dressed and headed off to dinner. While we were told that the best way to get to our destination; located on the top floor of the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall was to catch the tram. The Missus decided (of course) that we should walk. And in all honesty, it was a nice walk.
And of course we just had to stop and take yet another photo of the topiary canine, I nicknamed "Fred".
And while finding our way around downtown Bilbao was kind of confusing to us, this walk was a breeze. We walked through Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar, a very nice green space.
I read that Bilbao was once a rather gritty industrial port city and this park was once the only green space in the city.
And while we were just passing through, we had a great time watching Bilbao's four-legged citizens cutting loose.
I wish I took a photo of an amazing border collie. The owner was sitting on a bench and would whistle and the dog would come running and eagerly vault over the bench! We saw the dog do this, with great joy I might add, several times!
The Conference Center is located across the street from the west end of the park. Built on the former site of the Euskalduna Shipyards, it looks quite nice. Off to the right side are some rather discreet elevators.
Getting off the elevators, we realized, having left with a nice time "buffer"(the really nice folks at the hotel told us it would take 30 minutes - but it took us about 15), we had arrived for our already ungodly early dinner reservations (830), a bit too soon. So we just took in the view.......
We walked in right at 830 pm....the place was totally empty! Yikes.... A very nice gentleman in chef's whites greeted us, "hello...welcome.....my name is Fernando." And he led us to our table while the Maître D' was elsewhere.
The restaurant looks quite formal, but the atmosphere is far from that. We were given a nice table with a view and the really nice gentleman started up a short conversation...whereupon I put two and two together. "Fernando" is Fernando Canales Etxanobe, the Chef/Owner of Michelin starred Etxanobe. He was quite amiable and talked about the culinary "gifts" of the Basque region.
We had ordered the Chef's tasting menu and soon enough the first amuse arrived...delivered by who else, the chef of course.
I really didn't do much research on Etxanobe. In fact, I made reservations at pretty much the last minute; a week before leaving on our trip. I had gotten the feeling that it would be a nice addition to the two other Michelin worthy meals on the trip having a more traditional Basque influence. So imagine my amazement when these tubes of "lipstick" arrived....Sardine Lipstick actually. Very tasty sardine mousse, just enough oil and fish flavor, and quite delicious....so delicious that I don't even remember the other amuse!
And then things really got going......
Ajo Blanco is a traditional cold almond and garlic soup....this version had the amazing flavor of truffles as well.
The flavor of the almonds came through clearly, the truffle flavor was balanced and not over-powering. The garlic flavor was restrained and that olive oil-pesto like drizzle was delicious.
We let the Sommolier pick our wine, a very pleasant and drinkable three grape blend.
Next up was what they called a "Txangurro of prawns and gel".
More of a very shrimp-y croquette than what I understand traditional Txangurro is supposed to be, if you like the true taste of shrimp/prawns/langoustine you'll like this. Even the condensed flavor of the aspic.
One of the strangest sounding items on the menu turned out to be perhaps the best - "Anchovy Lasagna with Tomato Soup".
The tomato soup was basically a very elegant salmorejo, and in spite of the Missus dislike of anchovies; these were very nice, great oil, not too fishy...nice texture. Topped with a nice slightly smokey and sweet red pepper sauce which added to the dish. And then there was that really al dente, just pillowy enough noodle in the bottom which the Missus really took to. Without a doubt, Her favorite dish.
The "Grilled Scallops with Ragout" was nice....the scallops quite sweet and perfectly prepared.
The sauces were curious as I didn't think they added to the dish. Perhaps the cauliflower was the most interesting. Still, just the scallops with nice sea salt alone tasted the best.
The Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta was a nice dish.
The scampi was very moist; the pasta nice and tender, good overall.
By this time, we were done with our bottle; I still wanted something to pair with the last couple of dishes. The sommelier told me the dishes would be a bit more flavor forward and suggested a half bottle of the Vina Ardanza 2004, a nice wine, with a nice acidity and dried cherry notes.
Though it did not pair well with the Hake in Mussel Juice.
While the gravy-like reduced shellfish juice was full of flavor; I thought the mild sweetness of the hake still came through. As expected; the fish was cooked to tender perfection.
When the Tuna with Sumac arrived, I wasn't particularly thrilled as it looked grey and "dead"......
I think they did a sous-vide job on this as it was so moist, literally melting in your mouth....the sumac really added a bit of punch to the dish. The spinach-mustard puree was fine; but this was all about the tuna.
The last non-dessert item was the Suckling Lamb with Sweetbreads.
For me; the most interesting thing was that thin and transparent potato galette, light, with the texture of fried pork skin. The lamb was very moist and tender and the demi glace quite tasty, but it really didn't have the "flavor of the pasture" we both enjoy.
I'm not much of a dessert guy; but I really enjoyed what we had here. The Caprice of Fennel, Strawberry, and Tomato added the right amounts of sweet, savory, and acid to balance things out for me.
If the thought of anise ice cream scares you; in this case it should not as the ice cream had those licorice tones (not my favorite flavor) but nicely balanced with the milkiness and sweet. The strawberry galette and the tomato crumbles really balanced things out.
By this time, the place was packed....every table and seat filled (there's actually a funny story about the folks on the table next to us which I'll reveal in a later post).
But then, Chef reappeared from the kitchen.
Apparently, if you ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu, the finale was prepared by the Chef tableside.
Orange Cream with Liquid Nitrogen...........I was in food geek heaven.
A dollop of orange flavored heavy cream placed in liquid nitrogen.......yielding flavors that took me back to "small kid time"......
Think of it as the best creamsicle bite you ever had...........
In the end, making comparisons with the other fine dining options we had meals at was like choosing your favorite child. While we thought the pacing and service at Disfrutar was better; the food here spoke to us in a different way. And while the highs weren't quite as high as what we had at a three Michelin Star Restaurant the next night; the lows weren't as low. This place really fits that gap.....not too crazy in terms of technology and familiar flavors. Plus, we really enjoyed the intangible....the chef. We asked for a copy of our menu to remember our meal. Our Server smiled and said he would get it for us. What we ended up with was a copy of the menu with a nice note from the Chef. A nice touch. When I got home I did a search on Fernando Canales and was quite surprised. He's a quite the television/celebrity chef in Spain with his own television show and such. So think about it this way; when was the last time you had Emeril or Mario Batali walk you to your table and talk about what they're serving......did they make your dessert table-side? What's up with these really cool Michelin Star Chefs? I got one flashing the peace sign and another seating us at our table....... In terms of price, it was about 220€
Etxanobe Avenida de Abandoibarra 4 Bilbao, Spain
We had a nice relaxing stroll back to the hotel taking the path along the Nervión River.
The "Nana's" were still dancing outside the Guggenheim.
The Arcos Rojos (Red Arches) really catches your eye at night. Bilbao seems to be filled with public art. If you'd like to read the story about this, here's a link
The Maman Spider looks really creepy at night. In a really cool way.
Bilbao was quite a fascinating city. If you'd like to read about how it evolved from industrial city to now (named the Bilbao Effect); here's a nice article.
For us, it was off to bed. We had a day trip planned for the next day.
mmm-yoso!!! is the name of this food blog. Kirk, Ed(from Yuma) and Cathy share in the writing of posts on this blog. Today, Cathy is writing, so the guys can have a bit of a rest while seeking out and enjoying more of their cravings.
The Mister and I had wandered into this (currently under re-construction) mall, with the initial plan of grabbing lunch at Ryan's Cafe and stopping for an elusive blueberry fritter for dessert, only vaguely recalling Kirk's post from more than two years ago. But since parking was compromised, we ended up a bit farther in the parking lot, and upon passing J&T, decided to eat here instead.Walk in, order and pay. Your food will be brought to you. Yes, that is the entire menu, both behind the cash register and on the back of the business card. There are a few variables, as you can see. Tables of various size and height are in the front area, along with a water dispenser, napkins and condiments on the counter and there are also a few tables in the back.Our 'first time' order. Simple, served simply...as street food is in Thailand. A salad (all the salads are the same base of vegetables) topped with chicken ($6). You have a choice of three dressings: spicy lime, peanut vinegar or lemon grass. You can specify a spice level, with 5 the top end (3 is as high as I would go as a first timer; it was enough). The other items are described below.The Chicken Satay appetizer ($3) is served without the skewers (yay)...grilled chicken thigh pieces (flavorful) and some cucumber along with a nice (and not too sweet) peanut dip. This could be a light meal.Combined with a chicken Tom Yum soup ($3), definitely a meal. The spicy sour TomYum, made with lime as well as lemongrass and chilies hit the spot on the chilly day we were here. It wasn't too crazy spicy though; I could taste the various ingredients.Above is a cross section of a lettuce wrap. The order of three wraps for $3 could be a meal for me, easily. Great fresh flavors with a good delicate spiciness contrasted with the cool/crispy iceberg used for wrapping is a perfect combination.Also sticking to the appetizer portion of the menu, fried tofu ($3) was another excellent item. The order is topped with crushed peanuts as well as fresh cilantro.Returning a couple of weeks later to meet up with cc, who wrote this post about that visit, she and TC and I shared the above abundant meal. I'll just describe the 'new to you' items. Since I read Kirk's post after the first visit, I knew we had to order the wings. Ignore the feathery parts; the wings were fried properly and were quite meaty. The came with a sweet/sour sauce for dipping, but were quite good without it.The tofu Pad Thai plate ($7), TC's usual choice, was quite good and there were leftovers. The Shrimp salad ($7) included 5 quite large freshly grilled shrimp, again with the variable of the dressing. The Mister and I returned for another visit and this time chose the calamari salad ($7)...again, same fresh greens, choice of dressing (I do seem to like the spicy lime the best, but all three are quite good) and this time topped with freshly grilled to tenderness calamari pieces. Another excellent salad.This time, we tried the Tom Kha soup, with shrimp ($4). I wanted to try the J&T version of this coconut milk based soup and was not disappointed. Three large shrimp were in the pint sized container. Quite wonderful, and something I will return and order.
Happy to have found this small casual restaurant, even though I should've known about it from reading this blog...
J&T Thai Street Food 5259 Linda Vista Road San Diego 92110 (619) 294-7500 Website Open Tues-Sat 11-midnight, Sun noon-9 and Monday 11-10
So, what were you doing in November of 2005? I tell you what I was doing....I was eating at Chopstix maybe 2-3 times a month. In those....quite sad days actually, there were really only four choices for non-sushi Japanese in the area; Ichiro, Tajima (under previous ownership), Chopstix, and Izakaya Sakura. Tajima, be it ever so humble was king of ramen (sad, huh?) and Sakura was the main choice for Japanese. In those days, it was easy to be satisfied with what I call the "American-Japanese Diner Cuisine" of places like Ichiro and Chopstix. In fact, with the state of food in San Diego at that time; it was quite easy to get into "just happy to have it" mode. Something I threw off by the beginning of 2006........
Other than a quick visit to Chopstix in 2009 I hadn't been back. Since I've done circling back posts on Ichiro and Tajima, I just thought it would be right to do the same with Chopstix.
The changes in décor at Chopstix has been fairly subtle; the queasy pink exchanged for a more neutral color, more comfortable banquet chairs, better televisions on the wall.
The menu remains the same....other than the addition of various crunchy rolls and such....not really my thing.
The Katsu Curry was one of the few dishes I used to order regularly here. Dark, thick, with vegetables literally melting from a long stewing, and also having a little kick of heat, I thought it was a nice dish here. So what's the 2015 version like?
After ordering the Tonkatsu Curry, I realized I used to order the Chicken Katsu Curry. Oh well.
First off, I used to grumble that the miso soup here was always too....now it's the opposite, weak.
The curry is now much lighter and while still having a decent spice, it lacks the beefy flavor I used to enjoy. To their credit; there's still actual, discernible meat in the curry, but other than the heat, it's kind of flat.
That tonkatsu was breaded and seasoned well, but was tough and dry.
Not the best meal I could have had.....but I needed to return for at least one more visit.
So I returned, having had no breakfast, I was starving and decided on getting something that I thought had always been decent at Chopstix, though it had been over a decade since I'd had it. I started with the Agedashi Tofu.
This was fried perfectly, light, crisp, the tofu molten. I just wish the tsuyu had some flavor. It was quite watered down. The ramen broth had more flavor.
Which of course means that I had the ramen.
There are two consistent things about the ramen at Chopstix. the first being the charshu which has a decent flavor, but is bone dry and not very pleasant. The second being how I've consistently, never had a consistent bowl of ramen here. Every bowl of ramen has been different. This time, the broth was way too salty, there was much more scum than I'm used to, and the noodles were over-cooked. I'm used too the over-cooked egg, but this time it was also cold...insult to injury I say. Definitely second tier ramen.
The customers I saw were pretty much the Ichiro crowd. Service was efficient and pleasant. Even though it's not my cup of tea; it's nice to see that they are doing well after all these years.
Kirk and Cathy finally get to take things easy as Ed (from Yuma) is blogging today about a meal in Vegas about a month ago.
Usually when I am posting about a vacation or even just a couple of days in San Diego, I go in chronological order. However, this time, I want to start with Tina and my last dinner in Vegas – the splurge meal at Twist – while I still can remember most (some?) of it.
When I made the reservations, I had no idea that the Mandarin Oriental hotel containing the restaurant is allegedly one of only six five-star American hotels, and the only one in Vegas. From the moment of our arrival, when a valet parked our car and another guided us to the elevator, we were astounded by the level of service.
The stylish dining area is located on the 23rd floor; the view as one enters the restaurant is nice:
The restaurant decor is clean, angular, modern, and stylish:
We were delighted to be seated at a small table next to a giant window. Looking one way:
Looking the other way:
Even the reflections of Las Vegas scenery on other windows added a nice touch:
At first, the table held a lamp, two water glasses and two discs of butter, like little yellow hockey pucks – one sweet and one salted:
We each were given three breads: crunchy raisin toast, a rustic fruit and multigrain miniloaf, and my favorite, an outstanding old world style hard roll:
We were asked if we preferred sparkling or still water, and our water glasses were filled repeatedly throughout the meal.
After discussions with our waiter, Tina and I decided to go with the full five course grand tasting menu ($155) with the Discovery Wine pairing ($95).
Speaking of our waiter, I need to emphasize again the quality of the service. Waitstaff was ubiquitous, but not disruptive or intrusive. While everything was "proper," everyone was friendly and helpful, particularly our main waiter, Sunday, who hails from southern Nigeria and is very knowledgeable about the cuisine:
To amuse our mouths before our first course arrived, we received some tasty and interesting tidbits, like this slice of black radish with creamy herbed goat cheese and a large walnut half:
On another plate, there were two crunchy crackerly layers separated by a creamy filling; but the most memorable item on that plate was the gelatined martini cube:
On another platter, a radish slice – looking like a mini tortilla – was folded over a shallot and sesame paste. Another radish slice was wrapped around truly excellent steak tartare lightly sprinkled with coarse salt, sortof a mini raw salami:
Accompanying these little tastes were two of the best green olives: rich, creamy, and mild. Beside them, a small silver serving bowl with coarse salt, Panko crumbs, two crunchy Parmesan mini biscuits, and four green wafers – none of which made much of an impression on me – though I inadvertently snapped a selfie, thanks to the base of the silver bowl:
The first real course, called printemps, both Tina and I agreed was tasty and impressive:
At the bottom of the bowl lay an intense asparagus coulis that underlay the rest of the ingredients – including asparagus spears – and brought them together. Contrasting with the asparagus were the chunks of smoked hamachi and Asian pear. Cubes of another smoked fish were hidden inside the spinach leaf pouch, and the very thin radish and cucumber slices around the edge added crunch to the whole dish. Perhaps most interesting was the scoop of broccoli ice cream topped with caviar and gold foil. While this sounds like a mélange of flavors, the dish as a whole exceeded the sum of its parts. Even the smoked fish somehow enhanced the springtime flavors of the other ingredients.
Before this course, Tina and I had been sharing a flute of champagne ($26), which we finished along with the amuse bouche. Just in time, then, the wine pairings began with a full flavored crisp northern Italian white wine with flavors like Sauvignon Blanc or Soave:
Note the distinctive Riedel stemware; each wine we were served came with a different type of glass. In general, we were pleased by the pairings, but I wish I’d photographed each bottle because I did not recognize the labels and my notes for the entire meal get pretty sketchy as the evening and the wine drinking progressed.
The next course, sliced fresh Maine lobster tail with baby carrots and enoki mushrooms, was excellent – the lobster tender, flavorful, moist, and succulent:
This was certainly the best lobster I have eaten west of the Appalachians; while the serving was not large, it was masterfully prepared, and it was also perfectly matched by the fragrant and richly flavored white wine from southern Italy:
Likewise, the turbot poached in Nantes butter (with avocado, leeks, baby clams, and butter foam) was fresh and well prepared. The mild whitefish matched perfectly with the more subtle flavors of the glass of Marsanne from Crozes Hermitage in the northern Rhône Valley:
The serving size, however, was not very large:
At this point, we were given a palate refresher – rhubarb foam on top of crushed pineapple. Not only was this cool and tasty, it gave us a chance to pause and reflect and finish our last white wine:
The next course was American wagyu beef, tender and flavorful, served medium rare on a bed of diced turnips and a brown violine sauce that I cannot remember:
The thing that looks like a breadstick next to the beef is actually crusted dauphine potato topped with herbs. Like an edible pun.
To accompany the wagyu, the chef chose Le Gravot, an organic and rare wine from the Loire Valley, made primarily from the indigenous pineau d’aunis grape:
The wine was certainly full-bodied and interesting, with a flavor profile that reminded me of a good Spanish garnacha, but it did not seem, to my pedestrian palate, to complement the beef as perfectly as the white wines had matched their dishes.
While not as spectacular as the view nor as interesting as the cuisine, the music playing softly in the background was various, pleasant, and intriguing. Early on, there was some Sinatra (that was expected, we were in Vegas), and then some Rolling Stones (was it "Tumbling Dice"?). And later I was pleased/amused to hear the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" about looking out over a mass of humanity during a beautiful sunset:
Now it's time for me to apologize for dessert. I have some pictures of the interesting and creative desserts, and some memory/notes about the various plates. However, Tina and I had been having a wonderful time, and because of medications I had been taking, I had not consumed much alcohol in months, so most of the pictures by this time are fuzzy and my notes and memory are hazy at best. I do remember, however, that the desserts were served with a glass of Malaga, a dessert wine from the South of Spain, I forgot to take a picture of the wine.
This dessert certainly looked interesting; wish I could remember more about it:
I believe this martini glass has green apple foam on top of vanilla ice cream on top of a sweet fruity (mango?) surprise at the bottom:
This three layered dessert balanced chocolate flavors with orange flavors and offered three distinctly different textures:
Tina and my favorite had chestnut ice cream on a cheesecake accompanied by a sweet crunchy almond wafer topped with cassis marmalade:
Overall, we had a wonderful experience. Virtually every dish was perfectly executed and the food was often interesting and creative, as were the wine pairings. The organization of the courses, the pacing of the meal, the friendly and professional service, and the stylish ambience elevated our splurge dinner to a level (and a price) beyond what we anticipated. As it was time to go, Tina took a final photo that blended neon Las Vegas with reflections of the interior of Twist. A good way to end this long post – thanks for reading:
More info and details about Twist can be found here:
Getting to our hotel in Bilbao, the Silken Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao was a snap. You land; grab a ride on the Bizkaibus (1.4 € per person) and get off at the first stop. Checking in at this Five-Star property is simple and befitting the rating. While there is a difference between European and American Five Star standards, you just could not beat the service here, or how friendly people were.
And then of course, there was the main reason I chose to splurge a little. The hotel sits right across the street from The Guggenheim Museum and what is my favorite topiary piece, Puppy by Jeff Koons. We just couldn't help but take a photo of it every time we walked by.
If the objective of art is to elicit an emotional response in oneself, this piece had it in spades for us. We still smile whenever we talk about, or see a photo of puppy......which I decided to nickname "Fred", a lovely 43 meter tall chia pet. Did you know that "Fred" once played part in a terror plot? You can read about it in this post on Atlas Obsucra.
The second thing we needed to do....after taking photos of Puppy, was to find something to eat. I had a few places on my shortlist and we headed off to grab a bite.
Perhaps it's the lay-out of Bilbao, or that streets emanated from plazas like petals on a flower, but for some reason we had a rather tough time finding places that weren't along the waterfront in Bilbao. Strange, Barcelona and Madrid were relatively easy....Bilbao not so much.
After literally going around in a circle, we decided to grab a cup of espresso and regroup. I knew the street we were looking for, Diputacion was very close by.
The folks in Bilbao and Basque Country in general are very helpful and friendly. And one of the locals pointed us down a street and gave us some landmarks to work with.
After a couple of turns we found the place we were looking for La Vina del Ensanche.
There's an outdoor seating area, basically restaurant service, the bar stacked with pintxos (tapas), for some reason we just never took to these. Rather, we usually went for a table and ordered pintxos calientes and items off the menu.
Our arrival was at an odd time; about 430 pm. We had dinner reservations for later that evening and just wanted something to tide us over.
It was fairly easy to make decisions.
A crianza for me; a tinto for the Missus.
And a couple of items from the chalkboard; starting with the "Huevo-Foie". Basically soft boiled egg and foie gras. This was decadent and delicious.
Perfect for bread dipping, wonderfully egginess, with the even more rich and savory flavors off a nice foie mousse. Could I have this for breakfast every morning?
Along with a small portion of Carrillera de Iberico; braised pork cheeks in a wonderful rich sauce.
This stuff is rich, so a little goes a long way. This was totally our kind of thing.....get used to seeing these dishes a lot in future posts.
La Vina Del Ensanche Diputacion 10 Bilbao, Spain
We somehow made our way back to the Guggenheim.....we used the phrase "donde esta el Guggenheim" several times along the way.
For us, the highlights of the Guggenheim (after "Fred" of course) were in turn the structure, an amazing building of flowing curves and lines, designed by who else? Frank Gehry.
The glass elevators are something else.
The "public art" like the famous "Maman Spider", Jeff Koon's Tulips,
And Niki de Saint Phalle's Dancing Nana's are quite wonderful. By the way, Niki de Saint Phalle moved to La Jolla in the 90's and passed away there in 2002. If you think this style looks familiar, you've probably seen her work around San Diego.
It seemed, at least to us, that the public art really over shadowed what was shown within the walls of the museum. Most of what we saw inside the Guggenheim really didn't resonate with us. Some of it was quite puzzling. We're probably just not cultured enough, I guess.
Displays, like the huge set of steel ellipses by Richard Serra named The Matter of Time, basically walking through the spiraled paths....I'm not sure what the message is?
Still, I'm glad we visited.......
We were really enjoying the vibe of the city to this point.....
The wonderfully colored, Gaudi inspired roof, the woman sitting, obviously waiting for someone, with the knife sharpener plying his trade off to the side; it all just seemed to fit into the mental portrait perfectly.
More market than food hall; catering to locals and tourists equally, we enjoyed Mercat Santa Caterina more than Mercat La Bouqueria.
Though I'm still not quite sure where the foie gras-avocado makizushi fits into this. Perhaps a statement about Spain's fearless, adventurous approach to food might be appropriate....or maybe not. It was one of the few foie gras items we took a pass on during this trip.
Heading off from Santa Caterina, we did a bit of window shopping along Carrer de la Palla, full of little antique shops.
We walked around a bit and I managed to take a photo of the Chinese Dragon holding a lantern, the dragon is of course, the symbol of Barcelona. This building is the work of Catalan Architect Josep Vilaseca and the dragon used to be the sign of the umbrella shop that was housed right below it.
For us, Las Ramblas is best in small doses. By the time we left the area, we had made a decision. I had a short list of places for dinner....but we decided to forgo the list and head back to Santa Caterina Market, pick up some jamon and other items and just eat in.
As we approached the market, the Missus had a great idea. Why don't we find a small table, relax, and have bottle of wine?
Which is just what we did. We found a table...somewhat unbalanced, near the doors of the café. No one wanted to sit here because it was very small. This was where customers sat when waiting for a "real" table. We sat and ordered a bottle. The young lady who had all the outside tables was amazing to watch. She even gave offered us one of the regular tables, but we refused. She worked hard and was totally in control. It was first come, first served, regardless of who you were. I love watching a pro at work and she was definitely quite skilled.
One person working all these tables.....there's no way you'd please everyone, but she did a great job.
This was also prime people watching territory as well.
After finishing up our bottle, we headed back into the market and did some shopping for dinner and also breakfast the next morning.
We then walked back to our apartment. We were now quite familiar with the downtown streets and even where the local bakery was.
We realized that there was much we missed on our visit; Montjuïc and the Joan Miró Museum and the interior of Sagrada Familia comes to mind. As always, we visit the places that are high on our list and place everything else on our "when we return list"......which might be more sooner than later with regards to Barcelona.
Dinner, as is the norm when we self cater when travelling was a simple affair.
Charcuterie and eggs are easy. Though like our previous experience; they seem to cut the jamon way too thick in Barcelona. Eggs are the key; three for dinner, then three for breakfast.
After dinner, the Missus decided we needed "some exercise". So we headed down Avinguda Diagonal. This time away from Central Barcelona. Things were even more relaxed and laid back here......
Near the end of the avenue resides a sort of recreational area, with volleyball nets and ping pong tables.....
And decided to turn around when we saw the Torre Agbar, the skyscraper also known as "El Supositori".
Heading back down the street we ended up at the Arc de Triomf, which by the way, was also designed by Josep Vilaseca.
We usually don't spend more than two nights at any location. The Missus is funny that way. She gets "tired" of places and wants to move on. However, I planned on three nights in Barcelona, and in retrospect, even this was too short. We could have easily spent a week, or more. On this morning we had tickets to the Picasso Museum and the Missus had determined that we'd be walking there.
At the end of the street is the Arc de Triomf, built as a main gate for the 1888 World Fair. It now marks the entrance of Ciutadella Park, which holds the Parliament Building and the Zoo.
We decided to stop and have some espresso before crossing the street and passing through the gate.
It's a nice green space, where locals and their dogs love to hang out.
We spent the time before our reservation itme walking the street of Barri Gòtic. It is by far our favorite neighborhood in Barcelona. When we return, this is where I think we'll stay.
We loved the Picasso Museum (sorry they don't allow photos). I really didn't appreciate Picasso until I saw his early works at the Prado Museum in Madrid. He was so talented at a young age; his father was an art instructor and professor at the School of Fine Arts, so Picasso was taught in the most traditional way. His early work really highlites his talent. The transformation from his early works thru his various periods, to cubism is amazing. I finally understood his famous quote: "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."
At age 16 Picasso attended the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. While there he visited the Prado Museum and among the works that made an impression on him was Velasquez's Le Meninas, which I was blessed to see myself. Which Picasso set out to interpret in only the way he can.
It also displayed some of the 40+ interpretations of the classic, an amazing amount of work. It just cemented my appreciation for Picasso. As far as I'm concerned, a must visit.
Picasso Museum Carrer Montcada 15-23 Barcelona, Spain
After visiting the museum, we meandered around Barri Gòtic, then into the Ribera neighborhood taking time to stop in at the Church of Santa Maria del Mar -the "Church of the Sea".
Completed in 1384, this is the only surviving church built in the Catalan Gothic style. The interior is pleasantly spacious and uncluttered.
Just a few blocks away is the waterfront and some of my favorite pieces of public art.
The Missus wanted to return to Barri Gòtic. She saw some shops that interested Her. So we headed back.
She found a shop that sold hand made sandals in the typical Spanish style.
By now we were getting hungry. We had enjoyed our previous visit to Bar del Pla and was just a block away, so why not? There was still a couple of items we wanted to try. Like before, having no reservations, we sat in the bar area.
The Missus had Her crianza and I had a beer. We placed our order.
That phone in front kept on ringing, folks walked through the door trying to get a table, or making reservations.
Meanwhile, I got to watch that flying pig swaying back and forth above the bar.
It was kind of relaxing in that "watching the aquarium" kind of way.
Of course we had to have the pan con tomate.....
Next up, the tasty and porky, Pork Cheeks.
Fork tender, porky, mildly sweet demi glace, this was nice.
This was followed by the House Foie Gras.
Ok, this is foie gras, seared, rich, they love their pine nuts.......a touch of sweetness, the wonderful flavor of pure fat. This was a triggering event for us. From this point on, we'd be having foie gras every single time we saw it on the menu. Every time......
The lamb "terrine" was interesting.
Like the pork trotters we had on our previous visit, this looked like a product of sous vide that had been seared. It was very tender and well seasoned, tasty though that flavor of the pasture we enjoy was quite muted here. Still, not a bad dish at all.
We enjoyed our visit to Bar del Pla and will definitely return when back in Barcelona.
Bar del Pla Carrer de Montcada 2 Barcelona, Spain
After our post meal espresso's it was time to head off. It was just past 1pm, there was much more to do......