Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Espai Sucre: Sweet Space

One of the hazards of having a pastry chef as a sister is that when she comes to town, you eat a lot sweets! I had no idea Barcelona was home to so many chocolatiers, pastry shops, pastry schools and restaurants with delicious desserts until we walked around and sampled at each one!

One of the most memorable places Alyce took us to was Espai Sucre, a restaurant so devoted to desserts, that's all they serve. 

First comes a palate cleanser, which on the night we visited, was broccoli soup with mustard cream sauce. Doesn't sound like dessert? Well, you should have tasted it!

Then, everyone chooses their own personal adventure of taste. You can select a Cheese Menu, a Chocolate Menu, a Big Pastry Menu, etc. Each comes with several courses, and each course comes with a wine pairing. It makes for difficult conversation when there's so many tastes mingling around your mouth all at once, but we managed.

To begin, some of us were brought an olive oil cake, topped with white peach ice cream, and garnished with a green olive caramel strip and a splash of cheese. It could be thought of as a very sweet salad.

Next, I had a goat "cheesecake"on top of an open-face red pepper. It was served with raspberry ice cream and lemon foam. I thought this one, with all these strong flavors, was too intense, but even so, it was artfully designed and fun to eat.

Another one of our favorites (we passed plates), was this codfish risotto with artichoke hearts, tomato ice cream and fish fin chips. Tomato ice cream is so heavenly, I bet it replaces salted caramel as the next 'it' flavor.

 Alyce, the pastry chef, was most impressed with this one: a simple cake soaked in red wine with a splash of saffron, decorated with parmesan cubes. She's even thinking about adding a version of it to San Francisco's  Bar Bambino dessert menu next month (if you order it, mention this blog and she'll probably give it to you free!)

After five plus courses of dessert, it was smiles all around!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Shields in Spain

 Sorry for the radio silence - we've been busy entertaining guests from Texas (who came bearing many gifts)!

Take a closer look at those Texas delicacies they brought us - I'm not ashamed. We got some maple syrup, Tom's of Maine toothpaste and deodorant, glide dental floss, pancake mix, Texas pecans, two boxes of Velveeta Cheese - yum! - all comforts of home, money can't buy in Barcelona.

We took the train up to Pais Vasco for a week in San Sebastian and the surrounding area...

Sampled some Spanish delicacies...

And a few from France too....

 More on the Shields Family adventures to be posted soon ...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Crashing the Calcotada

Here in Catalonia, it's calcotada season, the time of year when the Catalans feast on calcots to celebrate the arrival of spring. In case you are wondering, calcots (pron: cal-sots) are a local, sweet onion, with a taste and size somewhere between a green onion and a leek.

Not one to miss out on any Catalan traditional festivities, I scoured the interwebs, found a calcotada happening in the nearby neighborhood of Gracia and emailed the organization for tickets.

Upon arrival, we knew we'd found the correct location by the calcots roasting on the barbie outside:

Inside, we were welcomed with the typical Spanish appetizer buffet plus local vermouth in plastic cups:

When all the old ladies hurried to get a good seat in front of the telly showing last year's calcotada, we began to think we were perhaps a bit out of place. 

As it turns out, this was a semi-private annual party and we were the only strangers in the group. Fortunately, they were a warm bunch and treated us as guests to their neighborhood gathering.

We took our seats in the converted high school gymnasium as Jeremy and Guilia prepped for the onslaught of onions...

The calcots were bought to the table, fresh-off-the-grill, in bundles wrapped in newpaper...

To eat them, you first strip the outer layers...

Then, you dip the calcot into the fantastically-delicous romesco sauce (recipe below)...

And lower the onion into your mouth.

After finishing our 20 or so calcots, we thought that was it. But how wrong we were!

The calcots, at a calcotada, are only the first course. Next, comes plate after plate of various types of meat. First, the butifarra (sausage):

Next, the grilled pork and then, lamb chops. Guilia is on her fourth plate of pork and having a hard time stomaching any more.

They also brought many bottles of wine and cava....

...and wrapped things up shots of whiskey, dessert, mandarines and coffee.

Side note: the guy below was so impressed by our American friend Jeremy's Catalan, he offered up his is Barca season passes for a game (but that's another story). 

My favorite part of the calcotada was meeting this 94-year-old woman and finding out that her family owns the cava company of the cava we were drinking. She showed me a portrait from her youth on the cap:

It was a pretty fantastic event by all accounts. We met lots of really nice people, ate lots of delicious food, and left with the secret recipe to the romesco sauce. Score.

Catalan Romesco Sauce
*Delicious on salads, fish and chicken

4 ripe tomatoes
50 grams of toasted almonds
50 grams of toasted hazelnuts
head of garlic
slice of bread
2 hot peppers
chilli pepper
olive oil, vinegar, salt 

Put the three peppers in water and soak for several hours. Then, peal the skins off the pulp.
Fry the bread in olive oil and let drain on a paper towel. 
Roast the tomatoes and garlic in the oven until completely roasted. Then peal off all the skins.
Put all the ingredients into a blender, including the nuts, and blend until the texture is smooth. Add olive oil, vinegar and salt to your tasting. Enjoy hot or cold!