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Archive for September, 2007

Jamonisimo (Barcelona, Spain) – Call Me a Ham Snob

Based on my ham-loving-friend’s recommendation, I stopped by Jamonisimo for lunch. He told me the “Salamanca was life-changing.” Spain has a reputation for the world’s best ham but “life changing?” Yes, that ham was magical. As usual with these sorts of things, I can never go back.

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Jamonisimo is a retail store specializing in Montanera (free-range) bellato (only acorn-fed, highest quality) Iberian ham. They have a tasting room in the back where you can try various selections of ham (textures or regions), a few cheese selections, and various other cuts (including, but not limited to, chorizio & lomo.)

This will always be my lunch, no matter where I am within the city or how long I happen to be visiting. Exquisite stuff. I neglected to get producer/farm information but the store is dedicated to procuring the best artisanal hams in Spain – I’m a believer. For those that haven’t had grand ham, a decent analogy is this is to average ham what toro is to tuna.

The hams are presented below from lesser to most intense flavor (and fat.) Each has its own subtle characteristics that need to be tried. These are 1/2 portions, 12.50 euros each. On my 2nd lunch, I just got a big plate (25 euros) of the Salamanca.

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Mugaritz (Errenteria, Spain) – A Beautiful Meal

My last Mugaritz meal proved to be one of invention, creativity, and uniqueness. Despite a month-long trip through the Gagnaire’s, El Bulli’s, and Can Roca‘s last year; Chef Andoni Aduriz served us some of the more memorable dishes of our trip. The meal wasn’t perfect but the ideas were captivating and fresh. Where El Bulli clinically ran through twenty-plus concepts, Mugaritz paused and pondered. There was a great cerebral touch to the evening.

This meal was better. The last meal was marred by a few conceptual and cooking mistakes, whereas this meal flowed perfectly from beginning to end. The summer bounty of the Basque county-side was in full display, most dishes flooding with greens or flowers. The infusions and broths, a divisive line with the restaurant’s critics, were exquisite. The avant-garde techniques used are a means to an end – tasting the last weeks of the summer. A great restaurant operating near its grand potential.

Roasted Piquillo Pepper wrapped in ham

It looked like a piece of toro nigiri – a work of art. The pepper had a strong roasted flavor that was upfront and bounced in the mouth for awhile. The ham, provenance unknown, was quite fatty with a hint of sweetness. Its flavor added a small dimension to the pepper but I suspect its slight miry texture was its raison d’etre. Very Good.

Mugaritz (Errenteria) - Roasted Piquillo Pepper wrapped in ham

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Spain – The Final Itinerary

The blog has been dormant for awhile but that will change shortly. Upon returning from Spain on Sep 22nd, you will find stories about the restaurants listed below. I’ve tried to get a decent cross-section of Spain’s best – molecular gastronomy, pristine ingredients, and perfected traditional specialties.

  • Jamonisimi – My ham-loving friend says their Salamanca is a life-changing event. See some recent beautiful pictures at Foodite.
  • Casa Lucio – Creative tapas in Barcelona.
  • Espaisucre – A dessert restaurant in Barcelona.
  • Etxebarri – This has the potential to be my favorite meal of all-time – a man, his grill, and perfect seafood. A few key blog posts have mythologized this place and I hope it meets my very high expectations.
  • Mugaritz (redux) – The first meal still ranks as the most unique meal I’ve ever had with a trio of desserts that outshine even Sam Mason.
  • Pinxto in San Sebastian – Gunbara for mushrooms, Txepetxa for anchovies, Astelena for slightly upscale tapas, Alona Berri for the perennial pinxtos winner (yes, there’s an annual contest), La Cepa for ham, and Pasteleria Oiartzun for baked goods.
  • Asador Bedua – There’s a mythical asador in Bodega el Capricho but that would add a day to the trip. Instead, as a compromise, I’ll try Asador Bedua in Zumaia.
  • Combarro – Pristine seafood in Madrid.
  • Kabuki – The only risk on this trip – Spanish/Japanese fusion. Normally, I would run far away but Spain does have the ingredients to make this work.
  • El Poblet – The Opinionated About review is thoroughly convincing; the Living Forest and Abstraction of the Sea dishes sound quite different. Blind Tasting merely re-affirms the greatness.
  • Casa Paco – The world’s greatest paella?
  • Rias de Galicia – old school seafood that some say will be the benchmark. Chez Pim recently ate there as did the New York Times.
  • El Quim de la Boqueria – it’s tapas in the middle of the bustling market but the langostines from my trip last year were nearly as good as those found in the French 3 star restaurants.

That set of reports should keep me busy for a few weeks.

In October, a trip to LA will yield the following reports:

  • Urasawa – the temple
  • Bin 8945 – I’m friends with the investors and my wine-loving friend is coming out so it will be a 20-course, 5-bottle extravagaza!
  • Providence – If it’s as good as the meal last time, I’m proclaiming it the 3rd best restaurant in the country (after Manresa and Urasawa.) It absolutely out-shined my last Le Bernardin meal at every level.

And I would really like to make it out to McGrady’s (Charleston) and Blue Stem (Kansas City) before the year ends. As for the Bay Area, there will be visits to Manresa, Marinus, Chez Panisse, Cyrus, Pilar, Farmhouse Inn, Quince (with pictures) and possibly Redd before the end of 2007.

- chuck

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Air Combat USA – No Food Up Here

The kernel of this blog revolves around experience – travel, food, and education. Since quitting my job, I’ve began crossing things off of the lifetime to-do list: Drive across country in my 700hp 911 Turbo – highly recommended. Watch a 9-hour staging of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia – amazing. Embark on a truffle expedition to French 2- and 3-star restaurants – do more research next time. Read the entire Thomas Pynchon canon (and thoroughly understand it) – still working on it. Force myself into the best shape of my life – did it but still dramatically improving. Driving, eating, reading, but what about the air?

AirCombat USA bills itself as a dog fighting school where anyone can jump in a plane and fight! The videos looked intense with promises of 4G’s+. After a half-hour instruction on dog-fighting basics, you get paired with an instructor, throw on a parachute, and jump into a plane. Fly out to a desolate patch of air, run through the maneuvers taught in the class, and then engage in a few dogfights. Sounds like fun.

Round 1

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