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Category Archives: Spain

Best Tapas in New York

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I’m visiting my family in New York this week, which of course means that I’m indulging in lots of good food and wine. My first meal upon arrival was grilled lobster and potato gratin, something that I look forward to every summer when I make the trip back East. And no trip would be complete without a BBQ on my parents deck; burgers, hot dogs, caprese pasta, potato salad, watermelon, key lime pie… the works. But my favorite meal thus far on this trip took place in Manhattan – Chelsea, to be exact.

Map of Spanish wine regions

An antique map of Spanish wine regions, including in the Tia Pol wine menu

For a year my brother has been raving about a tapas place in Chelsea called Tía Pol. He found it by doing a search for “best tapas in New York”. My brother studied abroad in Barcelona and has spent much time in Basque country, so he has very high expectations when it comes to tapas – and Tía Pol certainly delivers!

We went for a late lunch in the middle of the week and stayed for about two hours. At my brother’s suggestion, we started off with some Rose Cava from Covides. Dark ruby in color, and perfectly dry, it went down very smoothly (and quickly!). The Cava also paired excellently with some chicken liver mousse that we ordered, with the crisp bubbles cutting through the savory fat. My brother and I agreed that the chicken liver was the best we had ever tasted; perfectly smooth and slightly sweet with a hint of smoke. We would have ordered more if it wasn’t so rich, and we were trying to save room for the rest of our meal to come!

Chicken Liver Mousse crostini

Crema de Higado de Pollo – Chicken Liver Mousse with Pedro Ximenez

Since my brother knows far more about Spanish wine than I do (though, I’m working on it!), I encouraged him to continue making all the selections for our meal. For our next wine he ordered a couple glasses of Penedés, a dry, crisp white with floral aromas and citrus flavors, with a hint of effervescence on the front of the palate. I was happy to learn that it’s actually available at my local wine shop, K&L! The wine went very well with our other two cold dishes: boquerones en vinagre and ensaladita de pulpo. The boquerones are one of my brother’s favorite dishes, and I love anchovies so that was a no brainer. The olives in the dish were so flavorful and matched perfectly with the salty fish. I love octopus salads, and fortunately for me, my brother is also an adventurous eater. We both really enjoyed the pairing of the octopus with white beans, which is something that I see often in that kind of salad. The two foods go well together because they coexist without overwhelming, both in flavor and in texture.

Boquerones

Boquerones en vinagre – marinated white anchovies with Caspe olives

Octopus Salad

Ensaladita de pulpo – octopus salad with white beans and romesco

My brother suggested ordering a bottle of red to pair with out next round of tapas, as a way to prolong the meal and because, why not? He selected the Joan d’Anguera Planella 2011 from the Montsant region in Tarragona, just south of Barcelona. It’s similar in style to the famed Priorat region, but less expensive and harder to find, making it attractive for restaurant wine lists. This wine is a red blend of 45% Carinyena (Carignan), 45% Syrah, and 10% Garnatxa (Grenache). On the nose were flavors of ripe, dense cherry, while the palate was rich and plush with a fruity and spicy finish. This is a great food wine for flavorful dishes because it’s big with a lot of licorice and dark fruit, but is soft enough to stand up to more delicate flavors, such as cheese.

Planella

I suggested we order trucha a la navarra, Navarran-style trout with Serrano ham. My brother agreed because it was something new on the menu that he hadn’t tried yet. At first bite, I tasted the fish without any of the other components and found it to be a little dry. But my second bite was comprised of all the layers – fish, ham, arugula – and was much better! It’s important with a dish like this to taste all the elements in one bite because each one supports the other.

Trout

Trucha a la Navarra – trout with Serrano ham, arugula and pickled onions

Before we even arrived at Tía Pol, my brother demanded that we order the txipirones en su tinta (squid in ink with rice) – to which I agreed, though I’m not sure if I had a choice. When our waiter set it down on the table, my brother immediately mixed the squid and ink with the rice and asked for some bread. My first bite was delicious, and it only got better. The flavors were smokey and salty, and cooked perfectly so as not to be too chewy. I couldn’t get enough, but used most of the bread to scoop out the excess ink. This dish is certainly a MUST for anyone dining at Tía Pol!

sqid

Txipirones en su tinta – squid in ink with rice

I had mentioned to the manager, Keith, how much I loved Serrano ham. To our surprise, he brought us a plate of paquetitos de jamon – on the house! It was three Serrano ham triangles stuffed with artichokes and manchego cheese, served hot. YUM! I’m so glad we got to try these little bites of salty goodness.

serrano

Paquetitos de jamon – Serrano triangles with artichoke and manchego cheese

At Keith’s suggestion, we finished off our meal with a cheese plate and a taste of single vineyard Dry Sherry: Palo Cortado Viejo C.P.

SherryPalo Cortado is a rare variety of sherry that is initially aged under flor to become a fino or amontillado, but inexplicably loses its veil of flor and begins aging oxidatively as an oloroso. The result is a wine with some of the richness of oloroso and some of the crispness of amontillado. Only about 1-2% of the grapes pressed for sherry naturally develop into palo cortado.” -Wikipedia

As you can see, Keith really hooked it up for us! The wine had a very sweet nose of maple syrup but was surprisingly tart. It went great with the cheese, but was versatile enough to even have been paired with the boquerones. Sherry is making a big comeback, so keep your eye out for it in Spanish restaurants, and ask the sommelier which is best to taste for an overall impression. Or be sure to ask for Keith when you go to Tía Pol!

Sherry

This meal was perfect from beginning to end, in quality and diversity. The staff was so friendly and helpful, and my brother and I very much enjoyed talking to Keith about Spanish wines and the wine industry in general. I suggest going here with a small group and taking your time, starting with cold plates and moving into the hot dishes. Be sure to take advantage of their extensive wine list, and I absolutely recommend starting with some Cava!

Antologia Vinoteca

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Last night I discovered a wine bar perfectly centered between my work and Annie P.’s house, which makes it our new happy hour destination! The proprietor of Antologia Vinoteca, Carlos Alejo, had previously bar-tended in other San Francisco staples, but was eager to open his own wine bar focusing on the wine and food of Latin America and Spain. I was surprised to learn that Antologia Vinoteca is the only Latin American wine bar in the Bay Area, but I am very excited to have found it!

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I walked in at 5pm and sat at the bar as I waited for Annie P. to meet me. The bartender told me that they would be closing to the public from 6-7pm for the weekly SF Rotary meeting that is held there. No problem – an hour was enough time to get a great feel for the place and try some excellent wines.

Carlos had seven different $5.00 glasses of wine on the list for happy hour last night, including a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Malbec and several different bottles of Shiraz. Annie P. ordered a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, which I tasted and very much enjoyed. She enjoyed it so much that she ordered a second glass before our 6pm departure time! I appreciate the variety that Carlos offers his customers for both the happy hour wines, and the pages of options for wine flights.

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I decided to order a custom Spanish flight of wines, including La Cana Albarino from Rias Baixas, Garnacha de Fuego from Calatayud, and Beronia Reserva Tempranillo from Rioja. The Albarino was deliciously rich with citrus and smooth acidity, and I was familiar with the Garnacha de Fuego because my father buys it by the case regularly. But the Tempranillo was most definitely my favorite wine in the flight. With aromas of cranberry and red currants, the palate opens up with a hint of cinnamon and finishes with a smooth balance of red fruit and spice. Carlos confessed that he keeps a bottle of this wine by his bed, for those times in the middle of the night when you just need a taste. Regardless of how serious he was being, I can see why he loves this wine so much. I would go back to Antologia every day just for a glass of this Tempranillo.

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As we were leaving, we caught a glimpse of some tasty looking sandwiches and flatbreads that they were preparing for the Rotary group. Carlos mentioned that they are also open for lunch during the week, and have several other options for dinner. They will also soon be hosting live music at night! I have a feeling this place is going to gain tremendous popularity over the next few months, and I can’t wait to bring back more friends!

San Sebastian: A Food Lover’s Paradise

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At the persistent urging of my brother, I worked in a visit to San Sebastiàn during my trip to Spain (post-Italy). I had heard all good things about this city, especially pertaining to the food; in particular the pintxos. The Basque region is known for it’s pintxos, a particular kind of tapa that is a piece of seafood or meat on a slice of bread, similar to Catalan Montaditos. San Sebastian locals like to go from bar to bar, snacking on a pintxos with a beer or glass of wine, then moving onto the next bar to do the same. This way, you get to try everything! We should really adopt this method of dining in the US.

Pintxos from Atari

Pintxos from Atari

I was fortunate enough to be staying with some very friendly locals in San Sebastiàn, and on my first night they gave me the true pintxos experience (motorbike ride to Old Town included!). We met up with some of their friends, and another American couple celebrating their 30th anniversary, and let the locals do the picking. All the best pintxos places are in Old Town, along 31 de Agosto Kalea. Our first stop was Taberna Gandarías, where we shared a plate of fried calamari and grilled octopus with spices and lemon – and of course glasses of wine! Next we moved on down to Atari Gastroteka, another famous pintxos places. We sat on the steps of the Cathedral and ordered plates of tuna, anchovies and olives with bread, as well as some delicious risotto with beans and mushrooms. Everything was delicious, and the company was even better! It was such a pleasure hanging out with locals, and experiencing the dining the way that they do it.

The Cathedral in Old Town

The Cathedral in Old Town

Octopus with spices and lemon from

Octopus with spices and lemon from Taberna Gandarias

On my second night I stopped by Bar Zabaleta in Gros before grabbing Gin & Tonics at Dickens with my new American friends (there are better and cheaper places to get a G&T in San Seb, but this place has won some awards in the past so they think they can charge 20 euros for a drink). Bar Zabaleta is known for making the “best spanish tortilla in the world” so I had to try it for myself. I ordered a slice of tortilla with a glass of Verdejo, and it was so damn good that I ordered a second slice. It was gooey, flavorful, and the perfect combination of potatoes and eggs. And only a euro per slice! Not to be missed if you’re wandering through the Gros district.

Spanish Tortilla from Bar Z

Spanish Tortilla from Bar Zabaleta

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Calamari and peppers from La Mejillonera

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Mussels and beer from La Mejillonera

On my last day in San Sebastiàn, I finally stumbled upon the mussels bar that everyone told me to go to, La Mejillonera. I went at about 2pm, right before all the bars close for siesta. This is a great time to go because the crowds are fewer and the food is still fresh. I ordered a plate of mussels cooked in oli and butter, served with bread (of course), and another plate of fried calamari with peppers. And of course, a small beer. It was possibly the best, most simple meal I had while I was in Spain. I HIGHLY recommend seeking this place out if you’re a fan of seafood. In fact, the seafood in San Sebastiàn is very high quality as it is a sea town. Not to mention, beautiful beaches!

Concha Beach, or the one in the middle

Concha Beach, or the one in the middle

The far end of La Concha, near the funicular

The far end of La Concha, near the funicular

Here are some other places that my friend recommended, though I did not make it to all of them:

Some other things to do:

  • Lay on the beach from 4pm-7pm like the locals do, topless if you wish.
  • Ride the funicular on the far west end of the city to the top of the mountain for great views and photos.
  • Visit the little market in Old Town. They hold it every morning and you can see fresh seafood and meat.
  • For night life, there are bars along Calle Fermin Calbeton open until 4-5, then people head to the clubs on the beach until morning!
  • Order a Gin & Tonic from Atari, or any other bar in Old Town. San Sebastian (and Spain in general) is known for this cocktail, and it is fantastic!
San Sebastian by dusk

San Sebastian by dusk

View from the top of the mountain, via the funicular

View from the top of the mountain, via the funicular

San Sebastian is a magical city and not to be missed by anyone visiting Northern Spain. In fact, you should make it a destination. The people, the food, and the culture are so unique. It’s a small town so it’s easy to get around by foot or bus or bike. It reminded me of San Francisco in some ways, but much smaller. It’s my new favorite city by the sea, and I can’t wait to go back.

Tapas & Wine of Barcelona

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On my second night in Barcelona, I signed up for a tapas and wine tour hosted by Spanish Trails – a company that came highly recommended to me by my brother. I was very excited for this tour, as I was hoping for an opportunity to taste the tapas and wine that the locals love. And that is exactly what I got!

There were two lovely American couples on the tour, guided by Vivan at Spanish Trails. Vivian is a sommelier and very well-connected to the food and wine scene in Barcelona, so she was the perfect guide.

Our first stop was at Ciutat Comtal in the L’Eixample district, where we had Montaditos and El Perro Verde Verdejo wine from the Rueda region. Montaditos are Catalan tapas that are cheese, seafood or meat on top of a slice of toasted bread. We had shrimp Montaditos and four cheese Montaditos. I loved the shrimp ones, which were toped with a foam-like aioli that is a specialty of Barcelona. And the wine was refreshing with notes of citrus and some grassiness – the perfect pairing to our start of the evening.

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Next we hit up Centric Canalla, which was my favorite stop of the night. Vivian ordered a Nekeas Rose of Grenache from Navarra, and an Els Pics red blend of Grenache and Samso from Priorat. Both were fantastic wines, but everyone loved the red! As for food, Vivian selected eggplant with honey and mint, patatas bravas, oysters, roasted Padrón peppers, Boquerones and Russian salad (a Spanish recipe). Everything was delicious and so authentic; the only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the Russian salad. We were all waiting to receive a spicy pepper from the plate, but alas we were out of luck.

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We had two surprise visits before our last stop: Bar Marsella (a place that was once famous for Absinthe) and a small bakery where we picked up some traditional Catalan desserts. At Bar Marsella Vivian ordered us each a small glass of Vermouth, which is not the type of vermouth we mix with gin in the States! It was bitter, but slightly sweet and when mixed with some club soda it was actually pretty nice.

On to our final destination of the night… Bastaix. This restaurant is located in El Born, just near Plaça del Rei. We were lead to the cellar where Vivan ordered a selection of Catalan sheep, goat and cow cheeses, as well as a chocolat coulant. We also sipped on some Cava and a bottle of Gotim Bru Red (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot) from Costers del Segre. The cheese was fantastic, and I loved the cava – but the red wine went very well with the chocolate. This was a great spot for end of the night drinks and dessert, but I would love to try this place for dinner sometime as well!

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If you’re in Barcelona, alone or with a significant other or friend, I highly recommend booking a trip with Spanish Trails. In addition to their tapas and wine tour, they also do day trips outside of the city to various wine regions and cultural expeditions. And if you’re doing a wine tour, request Vivian!

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