Calçotada!

28 03 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016

I wake up with the sure knowledge that THIS will be a great day.  Janel has planned for us to go to a Calçotada.  Ever since I saw my friend, Tony Bourdain, eating the fat, char-grilled overgrown green onions I knew it was something I wanted to try.  Calçots are in the same family as onions. They are grown using a special technique: during their growth process, they are covered with earth so that the white part of the plant (the one that you end up eating) is very large. After harvesting, calçots are charred over an open flame and steamed in newspaper to make them tender.  They are only in season during the winter and every time I have visited Janel, the season has just passed.  Not this time, baby!

Note:  If you have not seen Tony’s “No Reservations” show on Spain you can check it out HERE.  The Calçotada section starts at around 3:13 in the video and is well worth a watch to get the idea.

It is very convenient that Isam has a car, because the place we are going to is out in the countryside (again).  We zip along in order to meet our 1:00pm lunch rez.  When we turn off the main road we find ourselves in the middle of an olive grove and heading directly into the foot of the mountain Montserrat along a gravel road.  Yes.  This will be good.

. Restaurant Vinya Nova looks way cool. It is a huge place with seating both inside and out.  We were hoping for a nice sunny day to sit out, but it is a bit chilly and we are not sure we can do it.  We choose to suck it up and soon we are rewarded with warm sun and red wine.

Soon a porro of red wine is placed on our table.  We indulge.

These photos make it look pretty easy.  Actually, there was a moment when Isam tried to show off his skills at drinking from the vessel and poured red wine all over his face! After that little fiasco we started using glasses.

The Menu Calçotada is ordered (of course) and we sit back to wait for the action.First comes the Pan Amb Tomàquet (otherwise known as what I have been referring to as “Pan Con Tomate.”)   However, we are deep into Catalunya  – Barcelona is its capital – where the language is Catalan – not Castilian.  This topic is far too confusing for me to go into especially since I don’t know much about it.  If you are interested you can research more HERE.  If you visit Barcelona, you may be surprised to find a language that is not Spanish!

Anyway…  as I mentioned, first comes the Pan Amb Tomàquet.  According to Isam, this is the true form of what we have been served in most restaurants.  It is a “do it yourself” version.

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He demonstrates:

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First you break open a garlic clove and scrape it along the crusty bread.  This must be done first while the bread is still crispy.

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Next you cut a tomato and rub it all over.  This starts to make the bread a little mushy.

 

Then you drizzle on the (good) olive oil. Follow with a sprinkle of salt.

 

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At this point our bibs are busted out and put on.  This is going to be serious business.

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The highly anticipated  calçots arrive.  We are each given our own newspaper-wrapped package of the chargrilled treats. There is an art to eating them which Isam deftly demonstrates:

Janel and I quickly follow suit:

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We “strip, dip (into the lovely Romesco sauce) and slurp” our way through the piles until our hands are black from the charcoal.  Wow.  Just wow.  This is everything I dreamed it would be and more.  We chatter on about how everyone in our family would go crazy for this.  How can Janel import calçots the next time she visits the states?

But wait.  There’s more.  Just as we finish and attempt to clean our hands of the soot, our server plunks down a casserole dish of garbanzos, white beans, hunks of lamb and thin lamb chops.

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They are not kidding around here.  We dive in and make a valiant attempt at the meat When we can’t go any further we note how it would be a shame to leave the rest.  Asking for a “doggy bag” is just not done in Spain.  However, we notice the next table has a plastic container with their leftovers in it.  I decide to speak up (as the American who doesn’t know any better) and ask for a “tupper.”  The server obliges.  Ahhh – tomorrow’s breakfast is ready.

A small basket of mandarinas and pears along with some crispy almond cookies and nuts round out our feast.  A couple of cortados (coffee with a shot of milk) later we are super satisfied and ready to head back

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The ride home is not too long and once again Janel entertains by reading a short story.  Today’s pick is “The Last Question” by Issac Asimov.  If you haven’t read it, I suggest you try it HERE.  We are thoroughly engrossed and are in the city before the story is finished. It will have to be tabled until this evening.

We have no big plans for tonight and want to just spend a quiet evening together. After a bit of a rest and a little organizing of my things to get ready to fly tomorrow, we reconvene at Janel’s apartment.  The weather outside at 8:00pm is simply lovely.  It is still light outside and we take a nice stroll around the neighboorhood before ending up back at Janel’s place where we share a last bit of cava and make good use of Janel’s new wine glass markers (tiny birds).

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The evening is low-key. We take a good look at the Christmas book I made for family. I  also am given the opportunity to listen to some of Isam’s music and am very impressed.  I just know that he and John could collaborate on something great.

The evening ends with Janel playing her lovely ukelele.

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Happy Easter in the Spanish Countryside

27 03 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

Easter Sunday in Spain feels special.  It is a time that everyone gathers with family and friends much like at home.  Today we are going to take a little drive into the countryside to a place suggested by Isam. The restaurant specialized is lamb and pig (how bad can that be?) I am looking forward to not only the restaurant, but also to getting out of the city.

We drive west of Barcelona for about 2 hours.  The countryside is beautiful – there is a lot of green, many small villages tucked away and even a wonderful glimpse of the snow-capped Pyrenees.

Just when we are seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the small town of Lleida appears and we find ourselves at Restaurante Malena for our 2:00 lunch reservation.

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Just by looking at the setting, I know we are in for a treat.  As a side note – I later read this in the Michelin Guide: “A real find! Combining traditional and contemporary decor, this restaurant occupies an old dairy. It has two dining rooms and a private section. There is also an open-view kitchen where the chef works with local ingredients to create up-to-date, à la carte choices and two set menus, one of which is a tasting option. A Michelen star: cuisine of great finesse. Worth the step! ”  Well, duh.

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Naturally, we will take the Menu de la Pizarra.  We each choose one of the Segundos to share:

  • the lamb (cordero lechal cocinado a la canela….) “young lamb cooked with cinammon and peppers; finished on the grill”
  • the pig (cordero cocinado con piel…) “pork cooked with citrus peel/vanilla; finished in the wood oven with local Lleida pears”
  • Potatoes/Onions with Sausage (patatas y cebollas …)”Potatoes and onions cooked over ash and smashed along with Butifarra Negra – black sausage

When I open the wine list my eye immediately goes to the Cava section where I zero in on the Recaredo.  Recaredo is the cava cave that we visited the last time we were in Spain and I fell in LOVE.  You can read about it HERE. Yes. We order a bottle of Recaredo Brut de Brut and I am extremely happy.

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Let’s get serious.  One of the coolest things we experienced was right at the beginning.  the chef comes out of the open kitchen and puts a cute little cloth package on each of our plates.  He explains that it is “kidney bread” (because it is a little round-ish shape) and is fresh from the wood-fired oven.  Then he proceeds to open a very special bottle of olive oil and pours a bit into each of our small blue glasses.  He instructs us how to warm the olive oil with our hands on the glass and one on top before releasing the top and inhaling the perfume.  Then you taste a bit just like you were tasting fine wine.  A box containing a special salt is opened. The chef then demonstrates how to hold the warm bread encased in its cloth wrapping and to smash it/break it with our hands into the cloth.  Then open up the gift, dip in the oil, add a bit of salt and enjoy.  Heaven.

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my prize (notice the blue glass with olive oil and the salt box on the bottom)

Yes.  Man could live on bread alone (well, maybe if olive oil was included). I immediately remarked that my dad needs to perfect this bread.  He already is into bread-making and I think this would slide perfectly into his arsenal.  Dad?

This meal was one great thing after another.  I can’t even begin to describe each dish so I will let the pictures do the talking.  The comment that must be made is that the lamb and the pig were the “lamb-iest lamb and pig-iest pig” I have ever tasted. (and that is a good thing!)

 

The meal was truly incredible.  Such a great choice for our Easter lunch. The setting, the food and the company could not have been any better (except maybe if Rich were here).

The drive back to Barcelona was long.  The traffic became snarled with families returning from spending Easter in the country.  We kept up a running conversation and settled in on the topic of literature that you had to read in high school and/or college.  That lead to Janel entertaining us by reading aloud the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.  If you have not read it, I recommend you do so now.  You can find it HERE. As for me, I am going to sleep soon and will think about how we will spend my last full day in Barcelona tomorrow.

 

 





Begin in Switzerland, End in Japan

26 03 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Short travel day today.  All we have to do is catch the bus to the train station (and we are pretty much experts on public trans by now) and then hop aboard our EasyJet flight to Barcelona.

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Waiting for the bus in Basel

After we check in for our flight and run the security gauntlet we keep our eyes pealed for a lounge that will accept our Priority Pass membership (courtesy of Amex – great perk!).  We easily navigate to the Euro Airport Sky Lounge. (This lounge is so great that it merits a link.) Wow.  This place is beautiful.  It is wide open and three stories tall.  I find out later that it has won Global Lounge of the Year twice and European Lounge of the Year 4 times!  I believe it.

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This bridge inside the lounge will transport you away from the riff-raff!  

There is only one other couple here this morning so we basically have the vast area to ourselves.  We hate that. The breakfast buffet is a plentiful bounty of fresh meats, cheeses, breads, yogurt, fruit and champagne. Such a pleasant way to ease out of our “vacation.”

The short – 2 hour – flight to Barcelona is uneventful.  We are especially lucky today that we don’t have to take a bus/taxi/metro back into the city.  Isam is there to greet us and drive us home.  Super nice!

I have rented a new apartment (thanks to Airbnb) for this last portion of my trip.  When we arrive back at Janel’s place I make the 4 minute walk around the block to meet my new host and get my keys.

The new space is lovely – very large and bright.  It has three bedrooms (the main one has a corner balcony with electric shades which is fantastic), nice living area, spotless kitchen and bath and 2 more small balconies.  My host, Isidre, is very kind and shows me around.  He demonstrates how to use the washer (which I desperately need) and then takes me out and up a flight of stairs to a huge sunny open terrace with communal clotheslines.  Perfect.

While waiting for Janel and Isam to return from parking his car (it is kind of like New York City where you absolutely cannot get a close parking space), I throw in a load of laundry and get some strange satisfaction in hanging it up to dry.  (Mom, I remember when you used to hang our clothes out on the line…) I then hang out on one of my balconies to watch for Janel/Isam to arrive.

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Here they come.

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Hunger has set in.  Fortunately, Janel knows just the place.  The weather has turned gorgeous since we left and we make the walk to lunch while enjoying the sunshine. We end up at La Muscle.  Have you figured out what their specialty is?  Mussels!

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Unbeknownst to Janel, I have actually been here before.  Rich and I had lunch here the last time we were in Barcelona (Janel was working).  We loved it then and I am happy to return. The menu is pretty much all mussels, steamed and served in a bucket.  You choose from over 20 different sauces/preparations.  We choose the Puttanesca and the Parmesan-sauced ones along with the ubiquitous Pan con Tomate (tomato-smeared bread), salada with bacalao (cod) plus anchovies and Pimientos de Padron.

What a feast! We slurp and sip our way through both buckets of mussels. Sometimes you get a shell with an enormouse mussel waiting for you.  Occasionally, the shell is empty.  When we get to the bottom of the buckets there are the prized mussels that have “gotten away.” Janel and I are finished. Isam does clean up duty – he is no mussel rookie.  He proceeds to make us jealous of the fact that as he has opened each Parmesan-sauced mussel, he has let the sauce drip down covering his pan con tomate which he plans to relish at the end:

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Parmesan sauce – soaked bread.  A masterpiece!

There is nothing left to do after a lunch like that except (you guessed it) take a nap.  Yes, of course we have a dinner reservation.  How can that be you ask?  We just had a huge lunch.  How will we possibly be hungry by dinnertime?  Well, dear readers, when you are in Spain, sometimes your dinner reservation isn’t until 10:00pm.  Plenty of time.  We walk back and crash for a while.  I catch up on blogging/laundry/packing/unpacking etc..

After we are refreshed and ready to begin the evening, Janel suggests we have pre-dinner cava on a rooftop. We taxi to Barceló Raval Hotel where there is  stunning rooftop lounge – Bar 360.

The spot is beautiful at night.  You can walk completely around the top and see all of Barcelona lit up.  There are little etchings on the plastic guard along the way that point out the landmarks. We enjoy a glass of cava, but it is kind of chilly and windy here so we finished them in the downstairs lounge.

Where do you go for dinner after having eaten your way around the Alsace?  Janel had already thought this through very thoroughly and secured a reservation at one of her favorite restaurants: Carlota Akaneya.  The restaurant is a Japanese sumiyaki (sumi = charcoal, yaki = grilled) joint. Sounds like a perfect change of pace.

This place is awesome!  All of the tables have a centered charcoal “pit” built in and a stretchy exhaust pipe that is lowered when the fire starts to smoke.  I can tell we are in for a treat.  The menu is quite extensive with a large selection of meats, veg, and seafood along with many choices of Wagyu beef.  As usual, we decide NOT to decide and order the set menu.  A bottle of Cava is presented along with a small bottle of Saki. Sit back and let it come to us.

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Waiting for grilled delights.

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Notice the exhaust “pipe” up top.  It will eventually be lowered.

The servers are wonderful and little treasures are constantly placed on the table for us to put on the fire and tend.  So much fun!

We finish with green tea ice cream and a beautiful mochi:

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Wow.  What a fantastic experience. Many thanks for Janel for choosing this place.  It was a great turn about to all of the heavy French food.  I definitely want to bring Rich here when we return in June.  It is a true “comber’s delight.”

By the time we finish dinner it is approaching 1am.  We have had a full day (aren’t they all?) and I am beat.  We arrive at my new apartment where I climb into bed and think about how lucky we are.





A Tiny Taste of Switzerland

25 03 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016

Waking up at Hotel Des Berge and realizing that we have what will most likely be an excellent breakfast is a leisurely affair.  We manage to present ourselves to the lobby around 9:30 where we are whisked to the beautiful lounge for coffee and computer duties (printing our boarding passes for tomorrow).

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When we re ready for our repast, we are told that we may breakfast in the dining area at the back with a view of the garden or we may take a table in the other small dining area overlooking the River Ill.  Which would you choose?

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The lovely server dressed in what can only be described as the sweetest “French Maid” outfit runs back and forth to our table to bring us coffee and other delights.  We are presented with a tray of fine meats and cheeses, 4 types of jam, individual fruit “salads,” a huge basket with several types of fresh breads and two petite creme brulees (becasue “why not?”)

Our lovely spread is truly savored and enjoyed.  We have intentionally not planned a timeframe for this day.  It is a decadent pleasure to spend this time lingering over breakfast.  Since we don’t have to check out until noon, we even have time to lounge back in our room and maybe sneek in a “pre-nap.” At noon on the dot we reluctantly check out of this heavenly place.  It is absolutely a perfect setting and the family that runs it has perfected the art of making you feel both at home and totally pampered.  Want to return.

Since we are flying back to Barcelona tomorrow from Basel, Switzerland, we need to make our way there to spend the night.  After a very easy navigation (thanks, MN – Master Navigator – Janel) to Colmar, we arrive at the Colmar train station only to find the next train to Basel will be 50 minutes late.  We roll with it, park ourselves in the waiting area and read.

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The trip to Switzerland is brief and after only a few stops and 45 minutes of riding we have arrived in another country.  Cool.  Neither of us has been to Switzerland and are eager to see what it is all about.

One thing they do very well is public transportation – at least in Basel.  Just stepping out of the train station you are met with a flurry of busses and trams.  I have already researched that we need the #30 bus to get close to our hotel.  After obtaining a few Swiss Francs, we attempt to board (thinking we can purchase a ticket from the driver).  Nope.  You have to purchase your ticket from the machine.  No worries.  Another bus will come in 10 minutes.

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Basel Train Station

Four stops later and we are directly in front of Hotel Spalentor. The hotel is no big deal to look at, but the girl at reception was exceedling nice and helpful.  She upgraded our room from the cheapest (which I booked because everything is super $$$ in Switzerland) to a “superior” room.  Great.  She also reminded us that many restaurants are closed due to it being Good Friday and then made a recommendation and a reservation for us at a place that serves local dishes.  It won’t be possible to get fondue tonight – too bad.

 

Our room is indeed very nice with a comfy bed and a huge chair.  It all looks very clean, ordered and “Swiss.”  We are on the top floor and have a wonderful view of the old city gate: the Spalentor. We head out to take a closer look:

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The old part of Basel is charming, but kind of deserted.  We don’t know if it is always that way or just because it is Good Friday – and it is cold.  It is difficult to find any restaurants that are open so we are very happy to have a reservation waiting. We take a little waltz around:

At one point Janel points to a sign and starts to laugh..

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I guess you can use the facilities if you are a woman, man, disabled or a wizard? 

A little detour is taken towards the river (it is either the Rhone or the Rhine – does it make a difference?)  Ok – it is the Rhine.

Enough of this walking around – we are cold and hungry.  A beer is sounding pretty good and there is a little area where there are a few Bier joints open.

Oh man – it is definitely more $$$ in Switzerland.  Our check for 4 small beers was 20 CHF!

Good thing we will be eating “low-brow” tonight. Restaurant Harmonie is right aroung the corner.  We are dining a bit early (7:00) because we are starving.  Upon arrival at our table the place is mostly empty, but every single table has a “reserved” sign on it.  Good thing we reserved.

We chose to have one of the seasonal meals along with a huge field green salad.  We ended up with several meats including Veal Tonnato, Thin sliced Rare Roast Beef, Liverwurst Pate and Salmon.  Everything was great and we chowed down!

After dinner a 3-minute walk takes us back to our hotel the both of us fall into bed at the unusual hour of 9:00.  It has been a long travel day and our trip is definitely winding down.  We will return to Barcelona in the morning.  I start to look forward to several more cool surprises that Janel has planned for the end of my trip.

 

 





Degusting at Auberge de L’Ill

24 03 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Janel post.

Guten Morgen Freiburg! The nearby open-air market’s the very reason we chose to divert our course through the city, but I suggest a quick coffee from the hotel breakfast spread before combing the market for wurst. We nibble and sip.    The vendor carts completely change the personality of the Cathedral plaza; it’s buzzing and fresh this morning. We ogle rainbow tulips, piles of mushrooms, mottled olivewood tools, and the handful of stalls offering ready-to-eat goodies.  The choice is obvious: it must be wurst. Bizarrely, there are five or six quest stalls that appear near-identical right down to the curry-ketchup pumps, all lined up next to each other. MP lets her gut guide her, and we end up with a prized spicy sausage with toasty onions for our efforts. Om and nom.

Somehow, we also manage to pick up ANOTHER mustard for my burgeoning collection. Senf!

We round out the morning with a slab of Appfelkuchen, a traditional crumbly cake with soft chunks of apple throughout.

In Freiburg, we’ve done wurst (twice!), sauerkraut, beer, brezel, and Appfelkuchen. Looks like it’s high time to head back to France. We hightail it to the car and get the heck outta dodge.

I navigate MP to the fastest pipeline out of Freiburg, but then scoot her off to teeny streets as soon as it looks like we’re clear of any possible snarls (who knows, they might find another WWII relic. My trust has been shattered).
We poke about through the German countryside, through March, Bötzingen, Vogtsburg… We pass through a wine community that doesn’t register on Google Maps, replete with solar panels coating every rooftop. It’s here MP gets a wild hair and takes a right turn into apparent nothingness. I roll with it, and we quickly end up here:  Acceptable.

Soon after, we cross into France, and I steer us from village to village ’til we reach the relatively large Sélestat. Coffee calls.  We peer into the Cathedral first. It’s definitely a church.  It takes a few misfires, but we finally locate a café with indoor seating that has the right vibe. We inquire about the possibility of quiche, but they’re out, so we end up with another slice of that winemaker’s meat pie and ohhhh man, no complaints.  On the way back to the car, we’re suddenly confronted by the sight of an enormous nest. And – what’s that white thing in there? – OH GOD A STORK JANEL GET THE CAMERA. By the time I do, our feathered friend has ducked back within her little home. Hey, at least we finally SAW one, right? Be present! Live in the moment! MP is chagrined.

We’ve got time for just about one more adventure before check-in time (read: naptime), and I see a place on the map called Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg that looks like it’s on the other side of a very cool stretch of road. Allons-y!  We don’t make it far out of Sélestat before OH MY GOD JANEL GET THE CAMERA happens all over again. I hit the shutter button like it’s going out of style as our second stork flaps its way across the road. How very serendipitous. Er… well, as much as you can get when you pull over next to Cegoland anyway.

It’s very pleasing to plot That Thing Up There On The Hill as your destination. The serpentine road through both forest and überquaint villages leading to Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg is just what we were hoping for today.


The Château is a castle from forever ago restored to perfect condition in the early twentieth century. The views are spectacular, but it’s slightly unnerving to walk through the weapons room given I’m deep into A Song Of Ice And Fire.
 “Mlaaaaah.”

Once we’ve seen what we can see, we take the cool way down the mountain and towards today’s true goal: Illhaeusern.

The principal notable feature of the itty-bitty French village is exactly why we’re here: the Auberge de L’Ill restaurant and its accompanying Hotel des Berges. We’ve purposefully run the culinary gamut this trip – I can’t tell you how much we loved the sausages and sauerkraut at the bar last night – and now we’re swinging all the way back to the other end of the spectrum with a three-Michelin-starred dinner this evening. I’ve previously dipped my toe into the triple-stars at DiverXO and El Celler de Can Roca, but it’ll be MP’s first time at a place so decorated.    The grounds of the restaurant and hotel are just on the bank of L’Ill River, complete with weeping willows and resident stork. We take a quick sneak-peek at the tables through the windows, where a lucky few stragglers are finishing up their lunch.


It must be naptime. How better to prepare for a very fine evening than a spot of beauty sleep?  Around 19:30, we gussy and emerge. A drop of pre-degustation champagne is clearly the right choice.  At 20:00, we make the two-minute trek across the grounds and into Auberge de L’Ill. They offer us what appears to be the best seat in the house, smack dab in the center of the array of windows framing the river. Devious little picky things emerge (a puff of Roquefort, a sliver of smoked eel, you know – typical hors-d’oeuvres), and – after announcing our intentions to degust – we continue with champagne.  The scant wine list arrives just before our cod, cauliflower mousseline, and wasabi foam amuse. The server kindly suggests I enjoy it while it’s warm. Good call; otherwise, a person could easily end up waylaid between Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

When the affable sommelier swings back by, we tell him we’re looking for local, dry, and mineral (like the Rieslings we’ve been enjoying). He suggests a pair of half bottles – a Riesling and a Pinot Noir – perfect.
 The degustation menu begins in earnest with sake, however, selected to accompany terrine of goose foie, sake and avocado cream, and a sesame cracker with pineapple. One bite and we come to a sombering realization: we have never actually had foie before this moment. The velvet texture and depth of animal flavor are otherworldly, and the pairing with the sake shooter is magical. 

We continue with:

– wild sea bass atop an emulsion of cilantro with rice noodle fried wonton

– lobster with fresh morels and asparagus spears, which is simply spring come to life on your tongue

– supreme of pigeon with truffled lentils  The cheese plate is not merely a plate at all, but an entire wagon du fromage. There have got to be at least 50 distinct varieties of cheese in here, and the server – impossibly – asks us what we’d like. We tell her a selection, a range, anything, just don’t make us choose. MP and I end up with seven distinct cheeses each, the large majority gooey.

The favorite is one on my plate that explodes with walnut throughout the palate. 

We’ve made it through the savory and the cheese, and now face traversing the land of sweets. There’s a pre-dessert (don’t you do that at your house?) with a macaron, a madeliene, a creamy thing, om and nom. It’s followed by a small bowl of creamy rhubarb, which I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of trying previously – mmmmboy.

The final formal dessert is a melange of fruits in various textures and temperatures, including banana-calamansi sorbet. It’s playful and perfectly balanced between the citric and the sweet. We are stuffed, yet we persevere. 

Out of nowhere, a deep dark chocolate cake appears, with Bonne Anniversaire scribbled in silver just to the side. Ohhh, this belongs to Janet!! We toast to her very happy Rebirthday and blow out the candle.

An offer of coffee comes as a relief – we go with decaf espressos – but then it turns out they’re in the company of a vast array of endless chocolates. Truffles and nougats and cream centers, oh my.
We linger a small while, basking in the glory of such an experience and the luck that brought us here. But not for long. Our beds, they call to us – and they’re so close by, we could practically do a somersault into the sheets.





Bad Krozingen

23 03 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I interrupt your regularly scheduled blog to give this AZ kitchen update.  The gaping hole has been filled in and smoothed over:

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Rich has immortalized us in the cement:

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Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Today is a travel day for us.  It has been wonderful to spend more than one night at the same place, but we must move on.  Breakfast is all set up for us with new sets of table linens and dishware.  Margaret admits to having a weakness for table settings and tells us of the factory where she purchases her beautiful linens.  We may stop on our way to Freiburg today.

We say our goodbyes to Margaret and Philippe and I invite them to our home in Arizona.  This has been a wonderful B&B experience and they are very gracious hosts.

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Janel is armed with her trusty iPhone and trusted navigation skills and I am armed with the steering wheel.  We take off on the same winding mountain road we were on yesterday with a premier destination of Beauville (where the fabrics are).  Easy-Peasy to get there.

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Way up here!

We easily find the linen fabrication shop in Beauville and make a stop.  Wow!  We are overwhelmed with all the gorgeous colors and fabrics.  I keep thinking of how my mom would absolutely love this (my dad, too).  We take a good look around.  No English is spoken here, but we muddle along. Purchases are made.

After this lovely stop we continue to motor on small sideroads towards our second destination – Staufen, France.  Staufen is a very picturesque little village on the edge of the Black Forest.  We are going there because Margaret told us it is very lovely and might not be around much longer.  “As you walk through the old town you’ll notice cracks on many of the buildings and these red stickers. Staufen must not break!”

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It seems that when the Town Hall was renovated it included the installation of a heat pump. They drilled into the ground behind the Town Hall for the  heat exchanges. Unfortunately the drilling punctured a layer of mineral in the ground that began to soak up water and it swelled like particle board does when it gets wet. As the ground swells it’s pushing the buildings up. They are now drilling behind the Town Hall again hoping to fill in the puncture and stop the problem.

It is a beautiful little town.


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It’s a shame that a town that’s survived since the middle ages including being bombed during WWII is slowly being destroyed by modern technology.

We are starving and make a quick once over to see what is available.  We duck into the KornHaus restaurant and enjoy a typical lunch.

Our next and final destination for today is Freiburg, Germany.  Once again Janel expertly navigates us along the beautiful countryside. We cross the Rhine and are in Germany.  The names of the small towns are giving us a giggle – Ihringen, Merdinghen and then the kicker – Bad Krohzingen! (actual name)

At one point she tells me to make a turn onto what we called a “teeny-tiny” road.

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Things are going along swimmingly until we come to the end where there is a huge among of construction going on only to find our only choice is to drive on the sidewalk!

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This is the sidewalk where we had been driving…

We knew things would not be good in Bad Krozingen (actual name).  We scooted out of there as fast as we could. Let’s get to Freiburg. We only have about 20 km to go and finally hit the outskirts of Freiburg.  It already appears to be quite a large city.  We are staying in the very center of the old city and start heading that way. We have already figured we won’t be able to drive directly into the old section, but will cross that bridge when we have to.

Wait.  What’s this?  Traffic begins to slow waaaaay down in front of us.  We are crawling.  We are not moving.  Janel and I both figure there is some sort of accident up ahead.  Can Frieburg really have a “rush hour?”  No way – and it is only around 3:00pm anyway. After about 30 minutes of crawling or not moving we finally start to approach what appears to be the start of the mess.  Oh.  Great.  The street ahead (which we need) is totally blocked off.  I mean really blocked off.  We have no choice but to follow the flow.

At this point I am still thinking that there probably was either an accident or they are having some sort of Easter procession in the middle of town.  Traffic is completely tied in knots.  Janel is continually trying to re-route us, but every artery into “town” is blocked off.  We end up going way out of our way to circumvent the center and then try to fight and claw our way back in. I am already thinking of giving up and driving back into France for the night.

After almost 2 hours of stop/go (mostly stop) traffic Janel expertly navigates us closer into the center (I don’t know how she does it).  When she feel like we are sufficiently close to our hotel she tells me that we should probably just try to find the first place to park that we can.  We see a parking garage and I whip in.  When I go to take the ticket I can read enough German to note that the price for 24 hours is a whopping 25 euro!  At this point, I don’t care if it is 250 euro.  Just get us out of this car.

Our bags are gathered and we take the elevator to ground level.  It is obvious that we have arrived in the center of the old city.  We walk about 20 steps and there is our hotel! Thank you, Janel!!!

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Hotel Schwarzwaelderhopf!

Our hotel is kind of dinky and “crap-tastic” compared to where we have been staying.  But it is clean enough, directly in the center, and we are HERE.  We are happy. Oh, and the desk clerk told me that our parking will only be 12.50 euro since we are staying at the hotel.  Happier.

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After being in the car for so long we need to get out and flex our legs a bit. But first we ask our desk clerk if he knew what was all the traffic tie-up in Frieburg.  Oh yes.  It seems that they discovered a British WWII bomb when doing excavating for a new building.  Today at 3:00 they evacuated the area in order to diffuse it!!! The wild thing is that he said this happens several times a year! Well, ok then.

This from the Freiburg newspaper (translated by Google) ”

Breezing in Stühlinger District: The dud from World War II was defused successfully 
afternoon . has the evacuation of the area for an hour still a massive impact on the 
traffic situation in Freiburg"

See more info HERE.

We take a little tour of Freiburg.

Along the streets are little canals or Bächle. The Bächle once served as a water supply and were used to help fight fires.  You have to be careful and always look down when stepping off the sidewalks!

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We heard music around a corner and immediately recognized the instruments as being the hammered dulcimers that we had heard several days ago back in Strasbourg, France.  We turned the corner to follow the sound and were stunned to see the SAME GENTLEMEN that we had heard in Strasbourg!  Things are really seeming weird in this town…

We try our best to get the flavor of this place, but just aren’t finding it.  Maybe we have been spoiled with the little towns of the Alsace.  We know that there is supposed to be a really cool market in the square tomorrow morning so we are holding out hope.  In the meantime, Janel finds us a casual place for a nibbling type of dinner.

The Hausbrauerei Feierling exactly what we need tonight.  It is casual, bustling and serves beer and sausages. Perfect.  We grab a perch, place our order and sit back to enjoy a big pretzel, beers, sausages and sauerkraut all for under 20 euro.

Between Janel’s “finger on the pulse” quick finding of cool places and my knack for longer term planning we usually make out ok – maybe even a bit better than just “ok.” It is pretty cold out tonight so we make a brisk walk back to the hotel. We are crossing our fingers that we can make it out of Freiburg without too much of a fuss tomorrow.

 

 

 

 





Walking through the Forest and Eating the Clouds

22 03 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hmmm.  I am slowly awakened by the scent of fresh bread wafting through the heating vent.  Must be breakfast time.

We venture downstairs at La Haute Grange to see the breakfast room beautifully set up with fine china and Alsatian linens.  Margaret has set out a lovely spread of local meats, cheeses, breads, jams and yogurt.  The tables are arranged so that guests may choose to chat with one another or not.  The backdrop is a roaring fireplace.

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Perfect start to the day!

We are going to take Philipe’s advice and take a hike in the Vosges forest today with a stop in the middle for a farm lunch at Ferme St. Alexis. According to Philipe, we can park in the village of Riquewhir, hike about 1.5 hours (uphill all the way) and if we just follow the yellow circles on some of the trees we can’t miss it.  Then we can have lunch, turn around and have the downhill hike coming back to the village.  What could possibly go wrong?

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Hiking Map – what could go wrong?

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Janel/Philip discussing our route

Philip and Margaret have insisted that we spend time in Riquewhir – a picturesque medieval village that they call the “Disneyland of the Alsace.”  We zoom off from our B&B and decide to drive the “cool way” to Riquewhir.  Turns out to be an awesome drive straight up into the mountains with switchbacks and narrow passes.  We love it.

Upon arrival in Riquewhir we soon see what all the fuss is about.  This town is like a fairytale.

After we have our fill of the village we grab a bottle of water and set out to find the path to St. Alexis.  It is supposedly somewhere by the car park and we eventually spy a yellow circle that leads us to the path going up, up, up.  The scenery is great – deep forest with not another person in site.  We silently climb.

There are several times when we think we might be lost – a fork in the path with no indication or conflicting signs or when the yellow dots became green(?)  I am figuring that the path we are on (whether the correct one or not) will certainly lead somewhere… Janel has great intuition for these things and somehow we would soon find a sign validating that we were going the correct way.  The final climb was very steep and due to the altitude it became hard to breathe.

After about an hour and a half we see a farmhouse in front of us.  We made it!

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The auberge is really cute inside and I am surprised to see a couple other parties eating lunch.  Janel and I have agreed to  and have a “light” lunch (although I think there is no such thing in this region).  We order the soup and a Tourte vigneronne – meat pie with flaky pastry and thinly sliced or minced meat commonly served to the vineyard workers. Oh and two beers.

Everything was delicious with the meat pie tasting especially good along with its “crudite” (slightly vinegar-ed shredded carrots, cabbages and who knows what other veggies). Only now we have to walk back.  At least we know the way this time and it will be downhill.

 

Just as we were approaching Riquewhir and all I was thinking was please let me get off my feet, we come upon a sign:

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(notice the yellow dot)

“Viewpoint?”  “I don’t care about no stinking viewpoint.”  Janel practically sprints the steep uphill climb to the Point de Vue and I reluctantly follow.

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It is a spectacular view spreading out over the countryside with all the little villages dotting the landscape (the photo does not do it justice).

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Turns out I DO care about the Point de Vue after all.

The original plan was to visit one of the many, many winemakers and have a little tasting.  We asked our hosts which one would be the best for Crémant d’Alsace.  She recommended that we make a stop at the Dopf  winery just outside Riquewhir.

Crémant d’Alsace is the Alsatian version of champagne (Spain has cava, Italy has prosecco…)  It is produced the same way that champagne is, but has a shorter shelf life.  Crémant d’Alsace is usually made from grapes of chardonnay, pinot blanc or riesling.  The Crémant d’Alsace rosé is made from Pinot Noir and is more rare.  We have tasted it previously and are in love. The Dopff family has been producing wine since 1594 and are considered the “pioneers of Crémant.

Several bottles are opened for us including a couple of Crémant ( rosé included).  We branch out into tasting a couple of wonderful Rieslings and a Pinot Gris.  Since I will be driving I have to pour most of mine into the “spit bucket.”  What a shame…

I wonder how much wine I can take back? Purchases are made.

ab6d2c4e-9619-41ce-9e89-88753448ac51IMG_6812By now it is naptime.  The morning/afternoon has been more than full.  We need to re-charge.  Our little car zips back to Freland – I am getting used to driving around here and am certainly more comfortable than when I started.

 

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Prepping for nap (Janet would call this “pre-nap”)

Dinner tonight is reserved at a special restaurant in Kaysersberg – La Vieille Forge.  It is our hosts’ favorite and they are sure we will love it, too. We do.

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The place is beautiful inside with just a smattering of tables and a few patrons.  We are greeted very warmly and shown to a lovely corner table (one might say it is the “catbird seat.”)

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There are a la carte selections and several levels of tasting menus.  We decide to reign it in a bit and choose the 3-course set menu (at 31 euros it is a steal).  Since there are two selections for each course we choose to have one of each (did you doubt it for a minute?) Our server understands completely.  A perfect glass of rose cremant compliments the amuse and first course.

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Every single course was awesome.  Janel will say her snails took her over the moon. I think the Porcelet Roti au Miel (pig roast with honey) was heaven.

However, when we got to dessert I think time actually stopped.

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I know this does not look like much.  But, believe me, it is a big deal.   Our dessert was the Kaysersberg specialty – Brie au Kirsch.  We are not generally wild about desserts, but this one was unbelievable.  It was like eating a creamy cloud. When I tried to look up a recipe all I found was:

  • Le brie au kirsch, non ce n’est pas un fromage arrosé d’eau de vie mais une délicieuse pâtisserie au secret de fabrication bien gardé et dont la forme ressemble étrangement à la spécialité fromagère.

Basically that says that it is NOT made of brie (but is formed into a brie-like shape), made with Kirsch brandy and the recipe is a well guarded secret. I think they make it with cocaine.

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Another great day in the Alsace came to an end.  We motored back to La Haute Grange, sipped on cups of decaf in the lounge and climbed the stairs to our Cannelle suite where we drifted off dreaming of brie au kirsch.

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Janel is excited to have the decaf coffee!








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