November 1, 2015
Chef Tom’s BIG Adventure: The food was SO good!
Paris, Barcelona, San Sebastian and Istanbul.
I am back. Thank you to those who participated in Chef Tom’s BIG Adventure and voted. That was a blast. I have to say, though, that Spain, especially San Sebastian, was my favorite part of the trip. The food was off the hook!
Paper cones filled with Jamon Iberico (the best being Bellota). You just buy one and get to walk down the street eating one of THE best things on the planet. Comes from healthy mountainous-pasture-raised, black-hoofed Iberian pigs finished with a rich diet of three different kinds of premium acorns. This flavors the meat and marbles the ham into one rich, complex, deeply flavored street snack. Holy cannoli.
Walking down the street eating pork was just too good.
Pinxtos, of course. Peen-chos. The hundreds of bars pride themselves on having one or two pintxos for which they are famous. Remember the story from my food guide in San Sebastian? You can tell a good pintxos bar by looking on the floor. Locals toss their napkins on the floor (tourists usually don’t). The more used napkins you see, the better the pintxos.
Tapas. I barely scratched the surface of Barcelona tapas, let alone San Sebastian, home of stomach-stretching Pintxos Tours. Outstanding repeats I enjoyed were Patatas Bravas, roasted (sometimes fried) crispy potatoes, drizzled in two sauces, a spicy and smoky tomato sauce and a creamy, rich garlic aioli.
There were croquettas of every kind. The MOST delicious IMO (we called them mouthgasms for a reason) were the crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, excruciatingly umami Croquettas de Cepes made with fresh porcinis and white truffle oil.
One dish I completely loved, for it’s simplicity and it’s inspiring choice of ingredients was unpretentiously called Tomato Salad. It had ripe wedges of heirloom tomato, razor-thin slices of crunchy-sharp red onion, briny green olives, luscious Marcona almonds and delicate shavings of Manchego.
I was lucky to celebrate my birthday while in Paris. As I was only there for about five days, I wanted to focus on one neighborhood and do more of a deep dive. I chose The Bastille. There I found two lovely bistros. One in particular gave me what I consider the much-coveted experience of finding an romantic, intimate little bistro on a small street off the beaten path; a place the locals love. Le Chardenoux fit the bill. Sitting in one of the two tiny salons, surrounded by rich woods and floral-etched glass, being served the best foie gras I’ve ever had, and listening to the rain against the window. It was heaven.
Istanbul was beautiful, exotic, ancient and terrible. The sites were extraordinary, the history mind-boggling (the Aya Sofia was built in the 6th Century and there is an ancient aqueduct running through the city that dates back to the 4th century), and the food was earthy and deeply flavored and fresh (much of what I ate was cooked right in front of me). Istanbul is also a very aggressive culture. You not only have to be sure of foot (the streets, stairs and pathways are often in disrepair) but strong in resolve (you will be pushed and pulled by locals trying to sell anything and everything and they’re not always polite about it).