Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Urepel


"Don't let the decor turn you off, the chef makes wonderful food," our hotel's concierge called out as my husband and I headed off to Urepel, a restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. Located in the picturesque area where the Urumea River meets the Bay of Biscay, Urepel's interior is an eyesore- drowning in faded fabric wall coverings and red tablecloths better suited for a run-of-the-mill banquet hall than an upscale restaurant.

Outdated design aside, chef and owner Peru Almandoz (cheffing is a family affair, with Tero and Tomas Almandoz preceding Peru), takes his food very seriously. Inspired by seasonal ingredients found at local markets and emphasizing the area's abundance of fresh fish, Urepel's newest chef has constructed a menu that is both modern and creative. We devoured our exceptionally tasty appetizers, entrées, and a shared dessert with not one complaint, and marveled at the impeccable service (at one point our waitress appeared with ninja-like reflexes to grab my knife before it hit the carpet). Upon leaving the restaurant, we were shocked and disturbed to learn Urepel recently lost its Michelin star. In my opinion, a revisit and reevaluation from Michelin's reps should be the first order of business!

The only restaurant I can remember being in with tacky fabric covered walls
The interior is uninviting and outdated
Dinner began with complimentary glasses of Cava- a Spanish sparkling wine akin to Champagne
The chef's amuse bouche- a creamy cod cake with vegetable chutney and spicy sauce
A creative three pronged roll (rye, wheat and white with poppy seeds) saves diners from having to decide which bread to choose
The English name for this delectable dish- "juicy rice"- may have gotten lost in translation, but the the flavors of the rice and shellfish translated perfectly
Jumbo prawns cooked with butter, spinach, and thinly sliced potatoes
Moist and tender sole with crispy potatoes
A Basque delicacy- baked spider crab- was served in the crab shell
For dessert- fresh fruit with chocolate and vanilla mousse
Complimentary crispy chocolate candies and brown sugar cookies round out a deeply satisfying meal

Sunday, August 22, 2010

San Sebastian Txikiteo

When my husband and I landed in San Sebastian, Spain (Donostia to locals), we immediately set out to discover the Basque-based gastronomic empire that lay before us. Refusing to let our inevitable jet lag effect our appetites, we headed straight for San Sebastian's Parte Vieja (Old Part- the formal center of the city) to partake in a traditional pintxos crawl (an event known as txikiteo). Pintxos (also referred to as pinchos- elsewhere known as tapas) crawls are a ritual and an art in San Sebastian- going too early or too late, lingering too long, or eating too much at one spot can ruin the experience.

Our pockets lined with Euros, we zigzagged through Parte Vieja's narrow cobblestone streets seeking out the best pintxos bars. At each densely packed stop we were met by bar tops piled high with plate upon plate of bite-sized fare. Intimidated by the unknown, but emboldened with each sip of txakolí (a local fizzy white wine with a tart, fresh taste) we dug into terrines topped with mayonnaise, polpo (octopus), marinated anchovies, miniature Jabugo ham and cheese sandwiches, toothpick skewered morcilla (blood sausage), egg tortillas, and olives with spicy peppers, among other creations. At 1.5 to 3 Euros each, overindulgence would have been easy, but in following Basque tradition our txikiteo served as a prelude (albeit a very calorie-laden, long prelude) to our late night dinner.

Standouts- La Cepa for its Jabugo ham sandwiches, salt cod and pepper tortilla, and historical charm- who doesn't love a few hams hanging from the ceiling (if it were socially appropriate we would have camped out there all night); Fuego Negro for its modern atmosphere and beautifully arranged pintxos (definitely not a traditional take on pinxtos); Bar Txepetxa for its fish and award-winning anchovies (anchovies are not my first choice- but I didn't mind eating one or two of these); and Martinez for its delicious croquetas.

A view of Agosto Street in San Sebastian's Parte Vieja
Nearly empty plates in a crowded La Cepa
Hard-boiled eggs with ham, mayonnaise, cheese, prawns and olives (too much going on for me- so I skipped this one altogether)
Bread with red peppers, hard-boiled eggs and anchovies
Bread with anchovies, minced onions and peppers, and parsley
Bread with ham and tomatos
The bartenders and hanging meat in La Cepa
Miniature ham and cheese sandwiches
Salami sandwich
Olives, peppers, and anchovies skewered with a toothpick
Bread, terrines, and a jazzed up dollop of mayonnaise
Croquetas next to a plate of polpo, onions, and peppers
Chunks of bread topped with a cod, mayonnaise, and onion combo, more mayonnaise, and prawns
Plates on the bar at Martinez- in the forefront are toothpicks holding sausage, peppers, anchovies and olives
The proper way to pour txakolí- by the end of our San Sebastian leg- my husband got to be an expert at pouring, and I got to be an expert at drinking
Fried anchovies and morcilla with peppers and parsley
Anchovies marinating in onions, peppers and olive oil
The crowded counter at Martinez

Friday, August 20, 2010

Have Your Cake, Ltd.


The pastry gods are conspiring to make me fat. My husband and I are spending a lot of time in Westhampton this summer (along with what seems to be the bulk of Manhattan), giving me leeway to frequent Main Street's Beach Bakery Cafe (their raspberry pastry squares were my summer addiction). The weekends are a madhouse, with the line stretching out the door as disinterested teenagers package baked goods and pour coffee. Still, I spent a large portion of the summer queuing up with the rest of the weekenders just to satiate my sugar tooth...but that all changed when I made a sweet discovery.

While I was riding my bike through neighboring Quogue, I happened upon a little gem of a bakery- Have Your Cake, Ltd. The bicycle rack directly out front told me it was fate- so I parked my bike and moseyed on in. I was the only customer and received prompt and courteous service- something that never happened in Westhampton's Beach Bakery Cafe no matter what time of day or night. I had a difficult time choosing between lemon squares, raspberry oat bars (a similar look to the Beach Bakery Cafe's coveted raspberry pastry squares but I have yet to see if they are similar in taste), moist cupcakes and giant cookies. I opted for a chocolate cookie vanilla cream sandwich (basically an excuse to eat 2 oversized chocolate cookies and enough cream to cover a wedding cake). With its crackly crust (dusted with confectioner's sugar), gooey center and rich cream, it provided much needed fuel for my long bike ride.

Prime parking for cyclists
Have Your Cake, Ltd.'s colorful interior
One of the display cases with several cookie jars on top
The bakery also sells homemade jams
Lemon, marble and regular pound cakes
My latest obsession, the huge chocolate cookie vanilla cream sandwich, also comes with peanut butter cream
I ate my cookie across the street on a shaded bench

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 11


Stoneledge Farm's week 11 delivery brought the biggest abundance of tomatoes yet- a welcome 3 pounds of large red tomatoes and 1 overflowing basket of cherry tomatoes (absolutely delicious). In addition to the sweet, tangy tomatoes, members of the Chelsea CSA received boothby blonde and slicing cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, tomatillos, Walla Walla onions, bright lights swiss chard, basil, and what seems to be a CSA staple- summer squash.

Knowing that my husband and I will be on vacation and miss the next two deliveries (my share from weeks 12 and 13 will be donated and put to good use) I decided to savor summer's bounty by using this week's take-home for individual vegetable pizzas. I made two pies using Metsuyan's seven inch "Pizza Parlor Crust" (no need to go through the process of making my own when I have a trip to pack for!). With no real direction (that's the beauty of pizza- throw everything but the kitchen sink on there and somehow it still tastes good)- I cut up the vegetables and started layering them on the two crusts. I topped one with chunks of gouda and added blobs of ricotta to the other. One drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkling of salt and pepper and they were ready for the oven.

The two pizzas before baking at 375 degrees for approximately 15 minutes
Pizza 1: Walla Walla onions, sweet peppers, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, swiss chard, gouda, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
Pizza 2: Walla Walla onions, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, basil, ricotta, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

Week 11's fruit share brought more peaches, clapp pears, and a basket of apricots. Since I have been focusing on peaches in previous weeks, I decided to set them aside (stealing a few bites here and there) and take on the apricots. This turned out to be a good plan of attack as they unexpectedly developed brown spots the next day. I set out to make a classic American treat- the s'more. With no campfire in sight (the sad consequence of apartment living) I improvised by baking an open-faced s'more topped with apricot. The process may not be as fun as toasting a marshmallow over a hot fire and sandwiching it between two graham crackers and chocolate, but the result is just as tasty.

Apricots, peaches, and clapp pears

I used classic ingredients (graham crackers, marshmallows, and hershey's chocolate) and topped my open-faced s'mores with slices of apricot

Two of the open-faced s'mores- baked in a 350 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kelvin Natural Slush Co.

I met Alex on an unbearably humid night in August. The former attorney was smiling, leaning his head out the big blue truck that houses his latest endeavor- Kelvin Natural Slush Co. Kelvin Natural Slush Co., named for the Kelvin scale (thankfully my distaste for high school science didn't deter my curiosity), has been careening through the streets of Manhattan for the last two weeks offering "slush beverages" made with all natural ingredients.

A slush-goer can customize his/her beverage ($3.50, $4, $4.50 for a small, medium, or large, respectively) by picking one of three flavors as a "base slush" (on this particular night, ginger, iced tea, or citrus) and adding a "mix-in" (fruit or herb infused juices based on the season- my choices were guava, strawberry, raspberry, mango, apricot, peach, mixed berry, mint, or basil). For the adventurous ("go big or go home" was the phrase the woman in front of me used) an additional $2 gets an oversized scoop of ice cream- transforming a gourmet slush beverage into a gourmet float.

Perched above the sticky corner of Sixth Avenue and 21st Street, Alex counseled me as I chose an iced tea base, guava mix-in, and vanilla bean ice cream add-on. A slightly odd flavor combination- my "slush float" did not disappoint. The icy drink left such a lasting impression that I went back for round two the following night...but the Kelvin Natural Slush Co. truck was nowhere to be found (my one issue with mobile food trucks- mobility when you're looking for stability). The truck's location can be found via twitter (something that I refuse to sign up for) or by calling 646.200.5083.

Alex in his Kelvin Natural Slush Co. truck (pic courtesy of Cool Hunting)

A Kelvin Natural Slush Co. "slush float" with iced tea base, guava mix-in and vanilla bean ice cream

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chelsea CSA: Week 10


As a member of the Chelsea CSA I look forward to Tuesdays- when I receive my weekly fruit and vegetable share- but this Tuesday, the summer's ever-present heat wave had me in a negative mood. I wasn't nearly as excited by week 10's fruit and vegetables (peaches (donut, yellow and white), red clapp pears, summer squash, cucumbers (boothby blonde and poona kheera), tomatoes (heirloom and cherry), edamame, basil, peppers (red, green and hot), and summer spinach) as I have been by prior weeks' allotments. The tomatoes were a sad sight compared to week 9's, the peaches seemed to have been plucked before fully ripening, and I felt, on this particular hot and sticky Tuesday, that three pounds a week of summer squash was more of a burden than a blessing.

When I finally took time to mellow my mood (thanks to a visit from my friend Liz and a few sips of Tensley Syrah) and realized I had some gorgeous ingredients to work with- it wasn't difficult to create a quick, tasty dinner. I started with a panzanella salad that incorporated week 10's cherry tomatoes, two varieties of cucumbers, basil, and a few other ingredients I had in my apartment. I toasted cubes of Grandaisy Bakery's pugliese and tossed them with halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumbers, diced mozzarella, corn kernels, torn basil leaves, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Our simple starter- panzanella salad- was ready in a matter of minutes

For our main course, I attempted to use as much of the summer squash as possible. I took the largest of the zucchini, sliced it lengthwise into thin strips, and roasted the strips in a 350 degree convection oven for approximately 15 minutes, flipping them halfway through. While the zucchini roasted, I sautéed onion, yellow squash, tomatoes, peppers, and summer spinach with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. When the vegetables were fork tender I added toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. I made zucchini involtini by rolling the sautéed vegetable mixture in the roasted zucchini strips. I topped the rolls with homemade tomato basil sauce and warmed them in a 350 degree convection oven for approximately 10 minutes.

Roasting thin strips of zucchini allows for easy roll-ups

Sautéed veggies, pine nuts and parmesan piled on strips of roasted zucchini

Zucchini involtini with homemade tomato basil sauce

For dessert, I added yellow peaches and semi-sweet chocolate chips to fresh ricotta cream (made with ricotta, confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract). I piped the ricotta cream into cinnamon cannoli shells and sandwiched it between bite sized ginger snap cookies.

Donut, yellow and white peaches, and red clapp pears

Cinnamon cannoli shells with peach chocolate chip ricotta cream

Ginger snap sandwiches with peach chocolate chip ricotta cream