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Archive for December, 2008

image722aThe last few posts have focused on wines from Spain. It’s not a complete coincidence. It seems as though Spain might be a special destination later this year. It’s not the kind of trip you get to take every year, so I have been trying to do my research.

As part of that research, I sent an email to the folks at Think Food Group who handle all of the PR for José Andrés, asking for some recommendations in Barcelona and  Sen Sebastian. Laura, the Director of Communications and Special Assistant to José Andrés was kind enough to email me back within a few hours with a detailed list of recommendations. I wasn’t sure I would get a response and didn’t expect more than a few tips if I did. So her advice was very welcome and extremely generous. I have had a couple of interactions with them this year and both times have been beyond impressed with how helpful they are.

On a side note, made in spain was my favorite new culinary series from last year — and I think choosing to go back to Spain is due in part to the show and the enthusiasm José Andrés brings to the table. I would also have to tip my hat to the Spain episode of No Reservations, which probably sealed the deal.

I would queue up made in spain in Netflix if you have not had the chance to watch it. I also love the companion cookbook. I’m a fan — and a fan of José Andrés. I love his boyish enthusiasm and the way his affection for food, people and his homeland seem to be his greatest wealth — and a wealth he is more than willing to share. Obviously, the same can be said for some of his staff as well.

For anyone planning a trip to Spain or thinking about it, I am including the tips from Laura.

Today the itinerary was modified to include Paris as well. It looks like Barcelona for 2 nights, San Sebastian for 3 nights and 3 nights in Paris. Currently it looks like the Market Hotel in Barcelona, Hotel Niza in San Sebastian and Hotel de Buci in Paris. Any suggestions on food, wine, hotel, destinations or anything else would be most appreciated!

I expect this is also the last post of 2008. Best wishes to all of you for memorable 2009 — I hope this vintage is your best yet!

******

BARCELONA

To eat…

Abac

C/Rec 79-89 Tel 011 34 93 319 66 00

Very good.

Ca L’isidre

C Flors 12, Tel 011 34 93 441 11 39

To many, this spot is the consummate Barcelona restaurant. It is simply like heaven. The owner, Isidro, has attained legendary status in Barcelona.

Ca’l Pep

Plaça de les Olles 8 Tel 011 34 93 310 79 61

Great tapas bar with some of the best seafood in town.

Comerç 24

C/Comerç 24 Tel 011 34 93 319 21 02

A former classmate of Jose, Carlos Abellan, is the chef here. Before dinner, be sure to stop at a tapas bar across the way called Santa Maria, C/Comerç 17 (93 315 12 27), and then later hit Espai Sucre for dessert. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Dos Palillos

C/Elisabets, 9, Tel 011 34 933 040 513, http://www.dospalillos.com

Albert Raurich, former chef de cuisine at El Bulli. Spanish tapas with Asian twist. In Hotel Camper. Closed Sunday and Monday.

El Suquet De L’almirall

Passeig Joan De Borbo, 65 Tel 011 34 93 221 62 33

Quim Marques is a good friend of Jose. Best paella in town. Closed Monday.

Espai Sucre

C/Princesa 53 Tel 011 34 93 268 16 30

Jordi Butron’s restaurant is mainly dedicated to all things sweet, including a wide assortment of dessert wine. Closed Monday.

Inopia

C/Tamarit 104, Tel 011 34 93 424 52 31:

Albert Adria’s tapas bar in the Sant Antoni neighborhood. To call it a tapas bar doesn’t really do it justice. Albert is perhaps best known as the pastry chef of El Bulli and Ferran’s little brother. Rather than the elaborate fantasies of El Bulli, here Albert is doing something more homey, rendering his version of traditional tapas. Inopia serves everything from croquetas to ensaladilla rusa to mojama to patatas bravas all done very well. There is a bar, a few hightop table and a counter open to the street. Closed Monday.

Hispania

Carretera Real, 54, Arenys de Mar

Traditional, traditional. 40 minutes outside of Barcelona but worth it.

Kakao Sampaka

Breakfast here with their incredible chocolate.

Pinocho

Boqueria market

A tiny, tiny bar but the owner is one of the most well known restaurant persons in Barcelona. Go only for lunch or breakfast very early. They don’t have menu but ask about the specials.

Quimet & Quimet

Poeta Cabanyes, 25 Tel 011 34 93 442 31 42

Small with a great selection of beer and wine.

Sant Pau

Half an hour outside of Barcelona, you’ll find this gem that features the best female chef working in Europe today. 2 Michelin stars.

Tapaç 24

C/Diputacio, 269, Tel 011 34 93 488 09 77

Carles Abellan’s new tapas restaurant

To sleep…

Hotel OMM

Rosellon 265

Barcelona 08008 Spain

Hotel Camper

C/Elisabets 11

08001 Barcelona, Spain

+34 933 426 280

A bike in every room if you want to take a spin around the city

Don’t miss…

* La Boqueria: This is Barcelona’s main market, probably the best market in Europe. Don’t miss Petras, where all the seasonal mushrooms will be available. Head there early in the morning. Eat what you see. It is an amazing place.

* Parque Guell: check out the famous mosaics at this park

* Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s masterpiece

* Tibidabo: worth making the journey up the hill to enjoy a great view of the city at night from the bar at the top.

* Barceloneta: the city’s beach

* Barri Gotic: gothic quarter of the city

BASQUE COUNTRY

To eat…

Zuberoa

B. Iturriotz, Oiartzun, http://www.zuberoa.com, (+011 34) 943491228

Mugaritz

Aldura Aldea 20, Renteria, http://www.mugaritz.com/ (+011 34) 943522455

Closed Sunday evenings, Mondays all day and Tuesday afternoons.

Andoni Luis Aduriz’s place, about 20 mins from San Sebastian

Etxebarri

Plaza San Juan 1, Axpe-Marzana, Atxondo, http://www.asadoretxebarri.com/ (+011 34) 946583042

Open for Lunch Tuesday-Sunday, Dinner only Saturday

Chef/owner Victor Arguinzoniz leads this rural restaurant outside of Bilbao

Elkano

Herreria 2, Getaria, 943140614

Arzak

Avda. Alcalde Elosegui, San Sebastián, http://www.arzak.info, (+011 34) 943278465

Closes Sunday and Monday

Juan Mari and Elena Arzak’s place

Berasategui

Loidi Kalea 4, Lasarte, http://www.martinberasategui.com, (+011 34) 943366471

Closed Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday all day

Martin Berasategui’s restaurant just outside of San Sebastian

Guggenheim

Abandoibarra Etorbidea 2, Bilbao, 944239333

Akelarre

Paseo Padre Orcolaga 56, San Sebastián, http://www.akelarre.net, (011 34) 943219268

Closed Sunday night and Monday

Pedro Subijana’s avant garde restaurant in San Sebastian

To sleep…

Hotel Maria Cristina

Calle Oquendo 1

20004 San Sebastian

34 943 437600

http://www.westin.com

hmc@westin.com

Hotel Londres y Inglaterra

Zubieta 2

20007 San Sebastian

http://www.hlondres.com

reservas@hlondres.com

Hotel Monte Igueldo

Paseo del Faro 134

20008 San Sebastian

34 943 210211

http://www.monteigueldo.com

reservas@monteigueldo.com

Don’t miss:

* The beach: Playa de la Concha is a perfect horseshoe shaped bay

* Pintxos: wander from bar to bar try their specialty, good places to check out are Alona Beri, Bar Bergara, Txpetxa, Cuchara de San Telmo

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img_0868This wine is a blend of 63% Garnacha, 32% Carinena, and the balance Syrah and Merlot aged in stainless steel. Baronia del Montsant is in the village of Cornudella de Montsant (Tarragona) in the Priorat region of Spain. Tarragona is located in the south of Catalonia by the Mediterranean Sea.

I actually didn’t drink very much wine during the holidays, but this was the highlight from the last week. Purple/ruby in color. Beautiful nose, bright, lots of fruit (raspberry and black cherry), loaded with pepper and a hint of bubble gum. Cherry, plum and pepper on the palate with some asphalt notes and classic Priorat minerality. Medium body, lean but still with lots of meat. Very approachable and weighing in at about 13.5% alcohol.  Solid acidity and a pure finish.

Jay Miller rated this wine 92 points, calling the 2006 Flor d’Englora a candidate for best red wine value in his Spanish tastings for the 2006 vintage. In my opinion, the 92 points is a bit gratuitous, but I thought it was a very enjoyable bottle and a great value at $11-$14 a bottle. It struck me as a Spanish version of the Montirius Vacqueyras Garrigues 2005. I would give a nod to the Montirius, but the Flor D’englor is $6-$9 dollars less a bottle and a wine I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend at the price point.

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Update – June 24, 2010
Some very sharp minds and distinguished palates were involved Summer 2010 US-Russia summit. On day 1, Obama decided to take Dmitry to Ray’s Hellburger. Pesident Medvedez tweeted “Haven’t had a burger in a while. Lunch with Obama at Ray’s Hell Burger.” According to reports, the Obama ate a cheeseburger with cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato and pickles. Dmitry had a cheeseburger with cheddar, onion, jalapenos and mushrooms. Mr Obama drank iced tea, Mr Medvedev opted for a Coke, and the pair split an order of French fries. See photo gallery of President Medvedev’s Breakfast with President Barack Obama at Ray’s Hell Burger.

Update – December 28, 2008
raysmenu1We stopped at Ray’s Hell Burger on our way out of town last week — and the experience was worthy of an update to my previous post. There are a number of new burger toppings that we had not seen on our previous visit, including bone marrow ($3), seared foie gras ($10), and black forest ham ($1.50). They also had some new burgers on their menu. I’ve posted the updated menus, just reading the menu gives you a sense of just how special this place is…..

They are still not serving fries, but are offering coleslaw ($1.25), macaroni & cheese ($1.50) and cheesy potato puffs ($2.50 for an order of 8). We tried the coleslaw, and potato puffs (which were like balls of silky smooth mashed potatoes, mixed with a little bit of cheese and deep fried). I would give the coleslaw a B+ and the puffs an A-. I was expecting something close to a tater tot given the appearance. It was not quite what I expected, but I have craved them a couple of times in the last week since our visit.

The burger was perhaps even better than my last visit — and a great deal at under $10 for most of the burgers. I had the Soul Burger Number 1 — I didn’t pack my appetite for the Burger of Seville or the Dogcatcher, but I will be making a return trip in the near future to try another item from the menu. This place still gets my vote for best burger in DC — and one of the best burgers I have ever had.

Original Post – July 14, 2008
Photos courtesy of Littlebakerbunny at ipso-fatto.com.

Ray’s Hell Burger (the unofficial name for Ray’s Butcher Burgers) recently opened on July 1, 2008 in the same little strip mall as Ray’s the Steaks — both are owned by proprietor Michael Landrum.

Given my soft spot for Ray’s the Steaks, I was very excited to try Hell Burger and went in with some rather lofty expectations, though I was disappointed to hear that their menu did not include fries.

We decided to split 2 burgers. Burger #1: The New Jack — a blackened burger with cajun spices, pepper jack cheese, grilled red onions, sautéed peppers, roasted garlic and jalapenos. Burger #2: The B.I.G. POPPA — an au poivre burger with peppercorn crust, aged Danish bleu cheese, cognac and sherry sautéed mushrooms and grilled red onions.

I would give the New Jack a nod over the POPPA, but both were outstanding — and all of the burgers sound great. Their burgers are 10 ounces and are made from what Landrum describes as “a custom blend of hand-trimmed steak and roast cuts enriched with steak trimming.”

There is also great attention paid to the preparation. Cooks are required to complete a three month apprenticeship at Ray’s the Steaks before joining the line at Hell Burger. The quality of the meat and the skilled preparation add up to what just might be the best burger I have ever had. Plus it is a great value. A burger starts at at $6.95 which is very reasonable given prices at other local high end burger joints.

But Hell Burger is not perfect. For one, there is room for improvement with the bun. The burger does fall apart a bit and the bun tends to add to the problem, rather than help to hold things together. Cutting the burger in half instead of attacking the whole thing is probably the best approach.

Cheese lovers will be impressed with the selection of cheeses available (add $1 to $5). Everything from your typical standards to a Greyére, Double Cream Brie, Chimay a la Biére, Queen Anne Stilton, Cave Aged Amish Cheddar, Époisse de Bourgogne and more…..plus there are a variety of other toppings as well as bacon and guacamole (add $1.50).

Burgers are served with corn and watermelon — and it is worth noting that attention was clearly paid to the quality. Both were delicious, but the corn was outstanding. I never missed the french fries and actually think this burger is better without fries.

There is a wide assortment of Route 11 potato chips. Old Dominion root beer is offered on tap and there are a number of other drink selections which include Moxie, Boylan’s and Cheerwine. Shakes made with Moorenko ice cream are also available and offered by the scoop for dessert.

Hell Burger is already busy, and I expect this place will continue to grow a very loyal clientele, so best to visit in the near future.

A final word of advice to keep in mind. At Ray’s the Steaks they tend to cook their meat a bit rare. I like my steak medium rare, but have learned to order it medium at Ray’s. At Hell’s Burger the same approach follows, so you can expect the recommended temperature to be quite pink.

Strongly recommended. Will return. This gets my vote for best burger in the DC area and would probably make most lists of the top 25 best burgers in the United States. It joins the ranks of Palena, Central and Woodmont for best burger in the DC area. What’s your favorite burger?

May 5 Update
Obama and Biden Go to Hell Burger

Looks like President Obama tried to order french fries. Not even the President can get french fries at Hell Burger. Get the whole scope at Huffington Post.

Ray’s Butcher Burger
1713 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22209

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img_0816Granbazán has developed its own unique and new fermentation process, though the wine is made in a traditional style (not the over-extracted, extremely bright style). Cold maceration is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Granbazán wines. Maceration takes place between 41 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The fermentation tanks are situated above the recipients of the must, meaning that the extracted must is done with the help of gravity. Alcoholic fermentation takes place at low temperatures in stainless steel tanks over 1.5 months. The finished wine then remains in stainless steel tanks for about 8 months to let it mature and soften.

While I am not sure what that all means exactly, it is clear that Granbazán has taken a process and made it their own art, and the results have made quite an impression. Morrell Wine called it the best Albariño they ever tasted  (ok, so they are in the business of selling wine). Wine & Spirits named this best Spanish wine of the vintage. Eric Asimov called it a stand out in a tasting of Albariño.

It seems as though you can only get this this from New York. I was able to locate it at Astor Wines & Spirits. As I have stated before, they do have a great selection, and there isn’t another store that shows more care and attention to shipping than Astor. They could ship eggs if they decided to get in the business.

I was anxious to open a bottle when I received my shipment, but was patient for a few days before I indulged. Once opened, it did not disappoint. Medium golden straw in color, almost seems a little oily and viscous in the glass. Floral aromatics with key lime, honeysuckle and apricot. On the palate, refreshing with a bit of zip. Green apple, pear, stone fruits with some citrus and a hint of pineapple. Nice mineral notes and acidity. Rich and a bit thick, nice weight — but elegant. Impressive depth, focus, persistence and purity.

The acidity makes it a good pairing for fish and shellfish, raw protein (ceviche, carpaccio, oysters) — and a great wine with cheese as it is not only acidic but also fairly neutral.

This is probably the best Albariño I have had, and might very well be the best white wine I have ever had from Spain. Actually, it would have been quite difficult for me to pinpoint the country of origin on this wine had I tasted it blind. Due in large part to the traditional style, not being the easy to spot modern style Albariño (extracted, bright, green with in your face tartness and acidity). Though Albariño may not be the most complex wine, this is almost scholarly. Not just an extremely good Albariño, or Spanish white — but an excellent white and a memorable wine. Perhaps not a value wine at $25 a bottle, it is a lot of wine for the money. Recommended.

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img_09181Mas des Bressades is considered by many as one of the top estates in Costières de Nîmes, located 35 miles southwest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, on the western side of the Rhône. Cyril Marès has been the winemaker since 1996. He previously worked for Chalone in California and Bruno Prats in Chile. His wife, Natalie Blanc, owns the adjacent estate, Mas Carlot.

For the last 11 vintages, I have bought their Roussanne/Viognier. This wine would be on my short list of white wines by the glass if I owned a restaurant and was looking to develop a wine list that offered quality and value. They make two red cuvées. The Cuvée Excellence is a Syrah-dominated blend, and Cuvée Tradition, is an unoaked southern blend of Syrah and Grenache. Not to mention their Rosé, which is excellent.

This wine is a blend of  55% Viognier and 45% Roussanne which is aged completely in barrel; 80% new oak and 20% 1 year old. The wine only stays in barrel for 5 months in order to introduce some complexity and structure, but isn’t over-oaked in my opionion. Soft aromatics with some tropical fruit. Pear, apple, apricot and some exotic fruits with a touch of citrus and underlying minerality on the palate. Good richness with nice weight and some creaminess, but perhaps just a tad light on the  acidity. The 2007 doesn’t disappoint — a very good wine and a very good value. Recommended.

Their wines are imported by Robert Kacher. He founded Robert Kacher Selections more than 20 years ago. Robert Parker named him “one of the 20 most influential wine personalities of the past 20 years” and in 2004 Bobby became Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, one of only a handful of U.S. importers to ever receive the honor. Some have been a bit critical of Kacher for his very hands on approach with the winemakers he represents. But he is more often praised for the quality and value of the wines he represents.

I bought this wine at MacArthur Beverages in Washington, DC. It was on sale for $13.99 a bottle. As I have stated before, I love their selection, but I have never been asked if I need any help or been given the proper wine buyer treatment. In my opinion, a critical part of what makes a great wine buying experience is the interaction with the merchant — and their ability to find that perfect match between your palate and a lonely bottle of wine, sitting on the shelf just waiting for you and only you. The sharing of their secret finds, whether it be a great value or a hard to find treasure. It’s all part of the ritual that creates a relationship between you, the merchant and the store. Even if you know what you are looking for, chances are the store is filled with wines that are strangers to you. Someone needs to make the appropriate introductions and make customer and wine both feel special. The right combination of store, wine and merchant can make the store a magical place — but too often one of those elements is overlooked. So I continue to frequent the store based on the selection, but usually leave disappointed with less bottles than if I had been properly tended to — so maybe that isn’t such a bad thing afterall. On a side note, Robert Kacher will be making an appearance at MacArthur on Saturday, December 13th, 2008 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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img_0787I uncovered this wine while I was moving. I actually didn’t think  much about it and opened it without many expectations. That began to change as soon as I poured it into a glass. The wine was a beautiful, deep golden straw in color. The nose was also impressive, filled with floral elements with white fruit, some citrus and almond.  On the palate — apricot, pineapple and citrus with generous amounts of viscosity, minerality and acidity. Well balanced with a pure, clean and crisp finish.  I think I paid about $13-14 a bottle when I bought this — an excellent value and probably one of the ten best whites I have had this year in the under $15 a bottle category.

I did read some good notes on the 2003, though the 2005 didn’t seem to be as well received. The 2003 is not very easy to find, but per my bottle it is still showing very well and I would not hesitate buying more if I were given the opportunity. I have had some mixed experiences with wines from Villa Carafa. I seem to recall preferring their whites. Recently, I had a bottle of their Zine Aglianco and was not very impressed — but the 03 Falanghina was very good.  Recommended.

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Godolphin 2004

img_07901Parker rated this wine 96-98+ points. In his tasting notes, he remarked:

This nearly perfect wine, made from 70% Shiraz (105- to 115-year-old vines) and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon (60- to 90-year-old vines), was cropped at a minuscule .5 to 1 ton of fruit per acre, and spent 15 months in French oak prior to bottling. Its gorgeously sweet, pure nose of crushed rocks, blueberries, cassis, and minerals soars from the glass. Floral-like black and blue fruits, an inky/purple color, and nearly endless depth and persistence on the palate are the stuff of legends. With extraordinary equilibrium, precision, and purity, it represents the apogee of Ben Glaetzer’s winemaking talents.

Part of me would admit that this is a decent bottle of wine, recognizing there are people who would enjoy it. But it doesn’t suit my tastes and actually quite regret that I didn’t buy 2-3 bottles of something else instead. I would say, that if you are still chasing Aussie Shiraz, you can certainly find something just as enjoyable in the $15-25 range. It shows some restraint by big Aussie standards, but also thought it was a bit hollow in the mid palate (nearly endless depth?).

If I were not being as cautious with my words and decided to be more honest and frank with my notes, the might read as follows:

Fortified and reduced blueberry and raspberry wine, a dollop of cough syrup and port with a few drops of iodine.  Add oak, well toasted bread with some sugar and a sprinkle of graphite.

Some would say that is overly critical, but I certainly don’t think it lived up to Parker’s billing and it certainly isn’t nearly perfect for my tastes. A week later, this bottle sits on my counter more than half full. Pass.

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