Monthly Archives: July 2009

Barcelona Restaurants

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the restaurants we ate at while visiting Barcelona for some time. As usual though, time has gotten away from me, and now it’s been over a month since we left Barcelona. Good thing we took a business card at each of the places we went to!

Actually, part of the reason that it’s taken me some time to muster up the motivation to write about Barcelona restaurants is that our food experiences there were not as impressive as I had hoped. Trevor and I both love seafood, tapas, paella…everything that you’d expect to eat in a seaside Spanish city. We did our research and tried to find the places with a good reputation for this or that Spanish staple, but time after time we were disappointed. Luckily, the atmosphere at many of the restaurants partially made up for what was lacking in quality of the food (but to someone who loves good food, atmosphere can never fully compensate for bad food).

La Tertulia: Bar-Restaurant; Rambla Poblenou 34, 08005 Barcelona
Our very first dinner in Barcelona threw us right into the Spanish nightlife culture. Our plane landed at 9:30pm, and by the time we got to the hotel it was 11:15pm…and we hadn’t eaten dinner. Well this is not a problem in Barcelona (especially on a Saturday night, but really any day of the week). We ventured out to find a bite to eat (figuring we would have to walk a long way to find an open restaurant) turned the corner from our hotel and found at least 5 restaurants with large terraces outside and plenty of people still eating dinner. In fact, when we sat down at 11:30pm, there were several families who seemed to be just beginning their meal. It was quite a culture shock, even for me. In France, it’s not uncommon to start dinner at 9pm, especially in the summertime, but 11:30 is pushing it. We had some beer and tapas for dinner, wanting to jump right into typical Spanish food. The dishes were by no means gourmet, but they weren’t bad and everything was very reasonably priced (1.90 € for a beer! Not too shabby). We also weren’t expecting amazing food here, since it was basically a bar with a terrace, and we were pretty hungry so this could have affected our opinion.
Overall: ★★★✩✩

Da Geppetto; Rambla Poblenou 27, 08005 Barcelona
This is where we went for breakfast every morning (and I use the term morning loosely), instead of paying 15 € each for breakfast at our hotel. The coffee was great, croissants were just okay (but when you’ve just spent a week in Paris, you have to give them a break), and the service was very personable despite the language barrier. The real kicker here was the orange juice- freshly pressed when you ordered it, and delicious!
Overall: ★★★★✩

Agua; Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta 30, 08003 Barcelona
We read good reviews about this place in our guidebook and decided to give it a try. The atmosphere and decor was well done- modern and inviting at the same time. We were barely able to get in without a reservation, and had to settle with indoor seating. The terrace is right on the beach, so it’s no surprise this is popular. Our server was very sweet and attentive.

We tried 2 tapas to start: fried artichokes and fried calamari. These were okay, but not great. A bit underseasoned, and the sauces they were served with were nothing to write home about. Next I had gazpacho and Trevor tried a meat dish. Now, to be fair to Agua, we probably shouldn’t have ordered 2 fried tapas to start, especially knowing that I have a weak stomach for fried foods. We didn’t finish either of the tapas, but I was already feeling full and a little ill before my gazpacho came. I think the gazpacho was good, but I honestly don’t remember much about it (probably due to the queasiness). One positive here was that, quite appropriately, the water they served came in a beautiful blue bottle that I snuck home in my purse (don’t worry, it wasn’t a water pitcher that the restaurant had to buy…it was just a glass water bottle, like san pellegrino only prettier).
Overall: ★★★✩✩

Blue bottle from Agua, back home

Llantia Restaurant, C/ Brosolí 5, 08003 Barcelona
This little restaurant is located in the Born neighborhood of Barcelona. It’s a little hole in the wall, and could definitely be missed if you’re not looking for it. The atmosphere was very warm and romantic, with several different rooms and alcoves throughout the restaurant. The tables were all set up for 2-4 people, so I doubt they get many big groups to break up the romantic vibe. The service was very good, too. Again, though, the food was just okay. The tuna fillet I ordered was completely over salted and overcooked (think rubbery). The desserts weren’t memorable (which I guess is better than memorable rubbery tuna). I wish I could recommend the food here, because it was such a cute place, but sadly, it just didn’t cut it in my book.
Overall: ★★★
✩✩ (for atmosphere, and not making me feel sick)

Lonja de Tapas, Pla del Palau 7, 08003 Barcelona


Finally a place we were enthusiastic about! After several disappointing attempts at good tapas, we decided to give them one final go. This place was in a plaza, with a nice-sized, inviting terrace. We split several tapas for lunch, and really enjoyed all of them. We topped it all off with a beer, and then espresso to finish the meal. Lovely! You might notice, this is the first place we took pictures of, because the food was actually worth photographing.
Overall: ★★★★✩


Pitarra Restaurant, C/ Avinyó 56, 08002 Barcelona
This was was such a disappointment. If you search “Pitarra Restaurant” on google, you’ll find lots of positive reviews about the place, in Spanish, Catalan and English, which is always promising.
The whole reason we went here was because I hadn’t yet tried a Spanish paella, and I read several online reviews claiming Pitarra’s paella to be the best. I was in Spain and determined to find a good paella! When we arrived, I opened the menu and went straight to the paella. I was surprised to see that it was a “starter,” but figured it must be a small paella. I trusted that the restaurant would be true to the concept of a starter, and ordered veal cutlets as my entree. When the paella came, I was shocked to see that it was HUGE. Much bigger than I would have expected even an entree to be. I dug in, hoping that my all of my paella wishes would come true. The rice was well flavored, and not overcooked, as is so easy to do when making paella. But the quality of the seafood was so poor that it ruined the paella for me. The shrimp were so shrunken that their bodies & tails were huge on them, the scallops and calamari were chewy, the muscles were overcooked. I made a small dent in the paella rice, but knew that I had an entree coming, so I didn’t go crazy.

Having seen the portion of paella, I guess I should have expected what was coming for the veal dish, but I didn’t. Imagine 5-6 big veal cutlets- enough to feed a family of 4 in my book. I mean, these were bigger than American-sized portions. Plus, the dish wasn’t very good. I ended up eating one of the veal cutlets, and stacking up the other ones into 2 piles, hoping it wouldn’t look like I ate more than I did. Our favorite part of the meal was the wine, and the nice server we had a long conversation with in broken Spanish at the end of our meal. I was really rooting for this place, but it didn’t live up to its reviews for me.

Overall: ★★✩✩✩

Tarantino; Baixada, Sant Miquel 4, 08002 Barcelona

On our last day, we spent the morning walking around the gothic area of Barcelona. We weren’t particularly hungry for lunch (1pm is early for lunch in Spain), but needed to eat something before heading to the airport. As soon as Trevor saw Tarantino, his heart was set. Being a big Quentin Tarantino fan, how could he resist menu items like “Mr. Pink,” “Sin City,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Vincent Vega.” I protested for a bit because the restaurant was dead empty. The decor was creative, with lots of posters from Quentin Tarantino’s films everywhere, but I hate to eat in an empty restaurant. That’s never a good sign. In the end, we compromised and ordered a “Vincent Vega” pizza to go, and ate it in a nearby plaza. The pizza was good, and I bet this place is really fun when it’s more filled up. It probably picks up around 2-3pm…in true Barcelona fashion.
Overall: ★★★★✩



New domain!

I’m delighted to announce that fraises et tartines now has its very own domain!

http://www.fraisesettartines.com/

The old fraises-tartines.blogspot.com will still work, but you might as well update your bookmarks. I’m very excited, and look forward to lots of foodiness to come! (Hey, if Colbert can make up the word, “truthiness,” I think I can do “foodiness”!)

Rustic artisan bread made easy


And now for something completely different (i.e. un-paleo)- bread! I think when most people consider a no-grain diet/no-sugar, the thing that they think they could not live without is bread. And I agree that bread would be difficult to give up, especially as a French-American woman. However, at the risk of sounding snooty about French bread, it would be much easier for me to give it up while living in the US than while living in France. Here in California, I just cannot find bread that’s on par with the bread you can get at any boulangerie in France. I guess I’m just spoiled in the bread department. I’m told that things have vastly improved since my mom moved here almost 30 years ago, and I’m sure they have. Now you can actually find baguette, rustic loaves, and even pretty good imitation “Pain Poilane” at Trader Joe’s (called, “Pain Pascale”). For the most part though, the good bread can only be found at more expensive stores or bakeries. For example: the day after I returned from Paris, I decided to stop at the Santana Row bakery, Cocola, to pick up a baguette to have with all of the yummy cheeses I brought with me. The baguette that would have cost me 0.90 € cost $3.00. Even with a poor currency rate, this was over double the price of the French baguette. PLUS, it wasn’t good. Anyway, enough with the bready rant.

I have always been the type of person who tries to recreate things at home that would generally be left to the professionals (think, macarons). Bread is no exception. I’ve made many whole wheat sandwich loaves, but never thought it would be possible to make an artisan-type loaf without some serious research and time investment. Well the New York Times proved me wrong on this one. An article in November of 2006 featured a No-Knead bread recipe, adapted from a recipe used by Jim Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery. I actually saw this article when it first came out, thought about trying it, and figured that this “no knead” phenomenon was probably too good to be true. So I never tried it out. I came upon it again in a William-Sonoma catalog and finally decided to take the plunge.

How can a loaf of bread be “No knead,” you ask? Well here is the short answer: Gluten development is one of the necessary components in making bread. There are 2 ways of developing gluten. The first is by kneading the heck out of the dough, and the second is by waiting a really long time for the gluten to develop on its own. Most bread recipes use a combination of the two, and this one simply chooses the second option.

Since the dough for this recipe must rest for 12-18 hours during the first rise, I suggest making it the night before. Basically, all this recipe requires is a little more planning than a kneaded loaf. I won’t repost the recipe here, since I really haven’t changed anything from the New York Times article. The only thing I would suggest, if you plan on serving the bread with a savory dish, is to add some chopped up fresh rosemary (or other fresh herbs) when you’re first mixing the dough. It gives the bread a nice flavor. Once you get a few successful loaves under your belt, try substituting some of the all-purpose flour with other types of flour such as whole wheat or rye.

Overall, I really must give a tip of the hat to Jim Lahey for sharing this amazing and incredibly simple recipe. My very first loaf came out perfect (a triumph I cannot claim for my other bread-making endeavors). He makes delicious bread accessible to anyone with a dutch oven and a little time, and for that, I say “Thank you!”


New and Improved!

Well, I finally figured out how to make my pictures larger in blogger. For anyone interested in how to do this, there’s a nice tutorial here. I was getting so frustrated with how small my pictures looked that I considered scrapping blogger and starting over. Luckily, that wont be necessary now. I did make some changes, though, and would welcome any feedback or ideas on how to improve it further!

Since I spent most of today working on setting up various web things (like a new family website that will be up and running in a few weeks…hopefully), there’s no food post today. However, here’s a nice large photo of our strawberry plant. I can’t wait to taste some home-grown summer strawberries!

Paleo Meal


Before I jump into the foodie aspect of this dinner, let me preface with a little bit of background information. I learned about the Paleo Diet earlier this year from a friend and neighbor, Richard, who has experienced impressive weight loss and fitness success by revamping the way he thinks about food and eating. Richard writes a blog about his paleo lifestyle at http://freetheanimal.com/, which includes a nice balance of information from recently published research & position papers and personal experience in the form of recipes, progress photos, and emails from friends and family who’ve also experienced positive results.

For a complete overview of what paleo eating entails you really should check out Richard’s blog (nice overviews here & here), but I will do my best to give you a quick rundown. The basic premise is that, in the grand scheme of evolution, the amount of time that we’ve been agricultural people is about 2 seconds (approximation mine). This means that for the majority of human history, our ancestors have been hunters and gatherers. Things like grains, vegetable oils and processed sugars haven’t been available to us, and therefore we are not as well adapted to eating them. A paleo meal (also called “primitive”) usually consists of meat, vegetables, and some fruit (mostly fruits that would typically be gathered, like berries).

I know this sounds a lot like Atkins, but the focus is on eating real, unprocessed food, without counting carbs (or counting anything, for that matter). I find this all very interesting, especially given Richard’s results, and those of our good friends Kevin & Joseph after going paleo.

Recently, Richard has given me several flattering plugs on Free the Animal. Apparently, I’ve inspired him to focus more on food presentation and photography on his “food porn” posts (and his hard work is paying off, because the food looks great!). We decided to get together for dinner after our trip to France, and I knew that I wanted to cook Richard and his wife Bea a paleo dinner so that I’d be able to feature Free the Animal here.

Deciding on a menu took all week and a bit of research. I changed my mind several times, including the day before our dinner, when the beef I’d planned on making didn’t look as enticing as a beautiful fillet of halibut. But that’s how I decide what’s for dinner- pick what looks good at the farmer’s market/grocery store that day- so I’m used to last minute changes. Here’s what I ended up deciding on:

Chilled Tomato Soup with Basil-Infused Oil
~
Broiled Halibut Fillet with Parsley Lemon Butter
served with Pipérade
~
Paleo Raspberry Tart with Raw Whipped Cream

I was pleased with the results, and guessing from the reaction I received from Richard, Bea & Trevor, so were they. Below I’ll break down each component of the menu and provide recipes for your viewing (and perhaps testing/tasting pleasure).

Parsley Lemon Butter


Ingredients:
2 pints heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp creme fraiche
2 tsp cheese salt (optional)
1 cup parsley (washed & packed)
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon

Directions:

  • For the cultured butter: Pour the cream into a clean, earthenware bowl. Add the creme fraiche and gently mix with a clean whisk. Allow the cream to sit overnight in a warm room (about 75 degrees). The next morning, the cream should have thickened slightly. Pour it into the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn the mixer on low and allow the cream to mix until the solids (butter) separate from the liquids (buttermilk). (I didn’t take any pictures of this part, but I’ll make more butter soon and post pictures). Pour the buttermilk into a jar and save it for another use. Add ice water into the bowl with the butter and turn the mixer back on low. Pour out the water (don’t save this time, just dump it out), and continue to “wash the butter” until the water runs clear. Once the water is clear, use the back of a wooden spoon to mix the butter by hand, trying to press out as much water as possible. Pour excess water out of the bowl. If you want to salt the butter, add the cheese salt now and mix it in. Congratulations! You’ve made butter!
  • Keep about half of the butter you’ve prepared for a different use. Put the other half in the bowl of a food processor (if you want to skip the whole “make your own butter step,” soften 1 cup of butter and use it as your base for parsley lemon butter).
  • Add the parsley and lemon zest to the butter. Turn the food processor on. While it’s running, add lemon juice in 1/2 tbsp increments. I recommend stopping the food processor a few times as you’re adding lemon juice to taste the butter. You may like more or less acid.
  • Transfer the parsley lemon butter to small ramekins, cover with wax paper and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. About an hour before you serve the butter, take it out of the fridge to soften.
Chilled Tomato Soup with Basil-Infused Oil

Part 1: Basil Oil


Ingredients:
2 cups basil (washed & packed)
1 cup olive oil

Directions:

  • In a small pot, bring a few cups of water to boil. Toss basil into the boiling water for 15-30 seconds to blanch.
  • Remove basil and pat dry with a paper towel. Coarsely chop basil.
  • Place basil and olive oil in a food processor.
  • Run food processor until basil is chopped and mixed with olive oil (this doesn’t take long, maybe 10-20 seconds).
  • Transfer oil to a small pot and heat over low heat for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from stove and allow to cool for about an hour.
  • Place a piece of cheesecloth over a strainer. Strain basil leaves from oil and transfer resulting basil-infused oil to a jar or condiment bottle for storage.
  • Store oil in refrigerator until ready for needed.

Part 2: Chilled Tomato Soup (recipe from Alice Waters: Vegetables…one of my very favorite cookbooks!)


Ingredients:
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp salt
1 small cucumber (peeled, seeded and finely chopped)
2 stalks celery (finely chopped)
3 shallots (finely chopped)
White wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)

Directions:

  • Cut the tomatoes into quarters and toss with salt. Allow to sit and soften for about 30 minutes. While the tomatoes are softening, cover the shallots in vinegar and set aside.
  • Once soft, mash the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove tomato skins (I used the largest setting of my food mill). You should obtain a thick tomato juice.
  • Stir diced shallots, cucumber and celery into tomato juice. Add salt and vinegar to taste.
  • Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  • Now for my variation: Just before serving, top soup with basil-infused oil and a little sprig of basil.
Broiled Fillet of Halibut with Parsley Lemon Butter, served with Pipérade


Part 1: Pipérade

Ingredients:
1 yellow onion (chopped)
2 green bell peppers (seeded, halved and sliced)
1 red bell pepper (seeded, halved and sliced)
1 orange bell pepper (seeded, halved and sliced)
6-8 sliced prosciutto (coarsely chopped)
8 medium tomatoes (peeled, seeded and coarsely diced)
Butter & Olive oil for pan
Salt, pepper and herbes de provence, to taste

Directions:

  • Heat a medium dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add prosciutto and cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove prosciutto and set aside. Melt butter and/or olive oil. Add onions and slowly cook for 8-10 minutes.
  • Add bell peppers and seasoning. Allow to slowly cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Just before serving, put prosciutto back into pipérade.
  • Serve alongside halibut. Leftovers are wonderful and are traditionally served with an egg or two, sunny side up.

Part 2: Broiled Fillet of Halibut with Parsley Lemon Butter

Ingredients:
1 fillet of halibut
parsley lemon butter
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1/2 cup fresh parsley (coarsely chopped)
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Basil oil (or olive oil) to grease pan

Directions:

  • Place tin foil on a large rimmed cookie sheet. Grease foil with basil oil (or olive oil).
  • Carefully rinse and pat dry the halibut fillet. Place the fillet on the greased baking sheet.
  • Place pats of parsley lemon butter on top of halibut. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, lemon juice, shallots and parsley.
  • Turn your oven’s broiler on the low setting and place the halibut in the top 1/3 of the oven (no need to preheat, the broiler becomes hot fast).
  • Broil the halibut for about 15 minutes (more or less depending on the size of the fillet…mine was about 2.5 pounds).
  • Remove from oven and serve with parsley lemon butter and pipérade.

Paleo Raspberry Tart with Raw Whipped Cream


Ingredients:
For paleo pastry crust:
3/4 cup dates (pitted and coarsely chopped)
3/4 cup coconut flour
3/4 cup almond meal
1 stick cold butter, diced
1/4 cup very cold water

For paleo raspberry jam (no sugar!):
12 oz frozen, unsweetened raspberries
1/4 cup honey
7-8 lemon seeds

For topping:
Raspberries
Raw cream

Directions:

  • For paleo pastry tart: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add first 4 ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Turn food processor on and slowly pour in cold water. The dough should come together, although it will be nearly impossible to roll out. Instead press the dough into a buttered tart pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes (but I recommend checking after 10 minutes, because the almond meal will have a tendency to burn if it bakes too long). Allow the crust to cool completely before using.
  • For paleo jam: Cut a small square of cheesecloth and a small piece of kitchen twine. In the center of the cheesecloth, place your lemon seeds. Then use the kitchen twine to tie the cheesecloth into a small bundle.* In a small pot, add the raspberries, honey and lemon seed bundle. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. You can test whether the jam is starting to come together by spooning a small amount onto a clean plate. The jam should move slowly when the plate is tipped to one side or the other. If you prefer less seeds in your jam, pass the jam through a food mill on the medium setting. Allow the jam to cool completely before using.
  • For the topping: Top crust with an even layer of raspberry jam. Then top with raspberries. If desired, whip up some homemade whipped cream in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, to make for a more decadent dessert. I used raw cream to keep the meal the least processed possible.

* Wondering what the lemon seeds are for? Lemons and apples are “high pectin” fruits and can be used when making jam to add a little natural fruit pectin boost. These methods have been used for jam-making for many years, in the days before you could buy nifty little boxes of pectin from the grocery store. For more info check here, or google it!

Chilled Coconut Carrot Soup


This summer soup was inspired by a recipe from Bea at La Tartine Gourmande, one of my favorite food bloggers. She originally made a “Coriander-flavored Carrot Mash with Coconut Milk”, which I adapted into this soup.

Ingredients:

6-7 large carrots, peeled and largely chopped
2 tsp green curry paste
1/2 cup light coconut milk
4 tsp creme fraiche
Salt to taste
Chives for garnish

Directions:

  • Fill a medium-sized soup pot halfway with water. Add the green curry paste and carrots. Cook the carrots over medium heat, until they are very soft.
  • Pour out most of the water from the pot, but keep about 1 cup of the cooking water with the carrots.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree the carrots until they reach a smooth consistency.
  • In order to reach an even smoother consistency, now pass the carrot puree through a food mill, at the finest setting.
  • Mix the coconut milk into the carrot puree. Add salt to taste and chill the soup in the refrigerator until cold.
  • Just before serving, garnish each bowl with a dollop of creme fraiche and a few sprigs of chives.