Thursday, June 25, 2009

Robatayaki in Midtown

I've been in New York for a couple of days and have had a few great meals. The first night, we had a large group at Koi - a Nobu-esque place within the Bryant Park Hotel. The miso-glazed cod was almost as good as Nobu and the Hamachi tataki was phenomenal.

I've also had some great fast food (all local purveyors) in the basement dining concourse of Grand Central Station - paninis with organic ingredients for breakfast, huge slices of white pizza with sopressata and some good chicken schwarma and falafel. Hale and Hearty Soups and a cheesecake from Junior's will have to be saved for the next time I'm there.

Finally last night, I found a little robatayaki place in Midtown, just a few blocks from my hotel, called Aburiya Kinnosuke. I sat at the bar and watched with fascination the choreographed movements in the kitchen area in front of me. Although I didn't order sashimi, I loved watching the master at work - how he precisely sliced the fish, and arranged all the servings on large platters adorned with shiso leaves, radish, wasabi and pomegranate seeds, among other things. After every dish, he cleaned his work and arranged his knives and supplies just so, before starting work on another order.

The big grill with scorpion fish and tsukune (minced chicken loaf) being cooked on wooden paddles was also fun to watch. The grill master worked without gloves and turned the various skewers in a pattern that was only discernible to him, but that ensured everything was evenly cooked in the right order.

Roasted Eringi Mushrooms w/ red miso and scallion - grilled on a large houba leaf placed upon a small charcoal grill placed right in front of me.
Grilled anago (sea eel)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

DIning in London

We had a couple of other good meals in London - it's become quite the dining destination.
We went to a Thai restaurant called Busaba Eathai one night - it's the Thai equivalent of Wagamama (if you're familiar with the Japanese chain). Communal tables, modern decor and a good, if not authentic, menu. I would not have given this a try but my sister assured me it was good. We had a whole bunch of dishes including chicken satay, grilled beef, pad thai, gaang kiew waan kai, gaang karee kai, pad see eew, pomelo salad plus 3 kinds of rice (jasmine, coconut and sticky). No dessert though. All in all, given the genre, fast service and reasonable price, I'd give it a solid three stars.

Another night we tried Maze, a Gordon Ramsey eatery. Quite good but alas, a little slow on the service, especially in light of the multi-small course approach. My favorite detail was the utensil holder with slots for the fork, spoon and knife. A nice variant on the fancy chopstick and spoon holder you find in high-end Chinese restaurants.One of their signature dishes is the "assiette" of sandwiches - with a deconstructed BLT and a croque monsieur. The croque monsieur was a little strip of grilled cheese but the BLT was served in a cocktail glass with tomato gelee on the bottom, a white layer of cheesy sauce, and sprinkled with large bits of bacon and circlets of fried onions. Deconstructed indeed! It was interesting but not sure I need to ever have this again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


We stopped in London on our way home from Spain. A few observations:
  1. I really do love the ritual of afternoon tea, with scones served with Devonshire clotted cream.
  2. People smile a lot more in Spain.
  3. It's hard to remember that a pound costs more than a euro.
  4. It's really nice to NOT be using an outdoor bathroom (see prior posts) and to sleep in a big soft bed with Frette sheets. With no mosquitoes in sight.
  5. The Selfridges sale is a crazy place. What recession?! See the photos below - there was a line of 15 people waiting to get into their little Louis Vuitton boutique. Don't they know that LV never goes on sale?!
  6. We had dinner at a beautiful old restaurant in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, called the Criterion. Modern British cuisine. The ceilings alone were worth the price of admission. Which was pretty high.
  7. Soft serve ice cream tastes better with a Cadbury's Flake stuck in it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nerja - our favorite Costa del Sol town

On our last full day in Andalucia, we headed east along the coast to Nerja, a little under an hour's drive away from us. The eastern Costa del Sol coastline becomes more beautiful as it approaches Nerja, with cliffs and small secluded beaches that somewhat preclude the massive overdevelopment of the western side of the area.
Nerja is a small pretty town notable for a beautiful promenade overlooking little beaches hundreds of feet below - this is known as the Balcon de Europa, or the Balcony of Europe. There was a wedding taking place while we were there - the groom in a kilt and the bride resplendent in a big poofy dress. It added to the atmosphere as they clambered onto a horse drawn carriage for a photo op.
We found a quiet restaurant with a ringside seat to the views, La Punta del Mar. And it was surprisingly good. I finally had my paella al marisco - a huge dish full of mussels, prawns, squid, lobster and scallops - and it was delicious! During lunch, we could see the ocean fog drift slowly in, imbuing the coast with a mysterious air.

After wandering around town and down to the beach, we drove 3 km out of town to visit the famous Caves of Nerja, where their stalactite known as the Column of the Cataclysm is certified as the world's biggest stalactite by the Guinness Book of World Records. The caves were much bigger than I had expected - one of the caverns was so large that they have seats set up for concerts and recitals. We were there at the end of the day, so the caves were virtually deserted except for our party - this definitely added to the slightly eerie atmosphere.Finally, back to the villa for our final dinner and our last evening in Andalucia. Once again, the discussion turned to where we should go in 2011!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dinner in Marbella

Last night we drove down the coast road and headed to Marbella for dinner. Marbella is the nicest of the resort towns and we ended up at Playa la Fontanilla, primarily because we had no idea of where we were going.
We found a lovely restaurant overlooking the main promenade, La Navilla Del Mar. The service was excellent, we were the only non-Spanish family there and happily watched the sunset over the Meditteranean.

I started with the Salmorejo Soup, which is a local variant on gazpacho. It's more like a puree than a broth, with bits of bacon and hard boiled egg scattered over the top. It was a nice soup but I just find cold soups a little off-putting. Hubby had a nice white asparagus soup.
I moved on to a nice grilled turbot while younger daughter had gambas plancha or grilled shrimp. And french fries. The seafood was very fresh.

My favorite thing about the restaurant was the bread service. It came with 4 mini disposable olive oil packets. How cute! And it was great oil.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Strolling around Granada

After our Alhambra wanderings, we took a taxi over to the Albaicin area, which is on a hillside directly across from the Alhambra. The Plaza San Nicolas is a great place to view the Alhambra and is also where many of the postcard photos are taken. The Plaza was busy with lots of musicians and young people hanging out. We had an orange granita and took in the views.

After noticing a distinct lack of taxis up there, we started walking down through the narrow windy streets of the Albaicin. We were quite tired, so we stopped in a tetería for some smoothies and crèpes. A tetería is a smallish Moorish coffee shop with low tables and hookah pipes - serving all sorts of tea and snacks. Ours was lovely, with Arabic pop music playing. It was a nice little stop.

Then hubby decided a stop to Kebab King was in order. It's been over 12 hours and he hasn't suffered food poisoning yet, so I think we're safe.

Tales of the Alhambra

Granada was a fast 90 min drive from our house but of course, we didn't head out until midday. It's very hard to get everyone going in the morning!

We first headed to Plaza Nueva for a nice lunch at Torres Bermejas, a restaurant with both Granada specialties as well as pasta and pizza (satisfied all the constituencies!). I tried the Habas con Jamon - baby broad beans sauteed with bits of ham. It was pretty good although it was something that would have been better in a tapas portion!

After a short stroll around the town (with a yummy gelato stop), we headed up the hill to the Alhambra - we walked up, which was a little tiring, but pretty.

We had a specific entry time into the Nasrid Palace, so we headed there first. Although the tiles were less vibrant that what we had seen at Real Alcazar in Sevilla, the whole building was just wonderful. The only downside was that we were surrounded by a couple of tour groups so some of the spaces were a little crowded. And sadly, the lions in the Court of Lions had been moved elsewhere due to a renovation.We also saw the palace of Carlos V - like many conquering kings, he decided to build his palace on top of the palace of his vanquished foe. Which was a little incongruous - the solid Renaissance palace did not compare well to the light elegance of the Moorish architecture.

After the Palace, we walked down to the Alcazabar, the ruined fortress area that's the oldest part of the Alhambra. We had a great view of the town from the tower.Then we wandered around the Generalife which are the palace gardens. This was probably my favorite part of the complex - the gardens were lovely, there was a nice view of the palaces and the fountains were relaxing.
After roaming the complex for over 3 hours, we were tired but happy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Churros

Churros are part of the standard breakfast in Andalucia, and so far, we've tried three different vendors near our house. Our house owners had recommended one particular place and we finally made it there this morning.

First the batter is fed from the funnel contraption into a huge vat of oil, with a stick to shape it into a large coil.
After a minute, two sticks were used to flip it over.
After another minute, the entire coiled churro was pulled out of the oil and put onto a rack to drain. Then it was cut - this coil was cut into 10 pieces.We took it home, threw a bunch of sugar on it, and devoured it.

Malaga - a nice Spanish town

Although many people coming to the Costa del Sol fly into Malaga airport, most of them bypass the city of Malaga altogether, opting to head for either the inland sights or resort towns like Marbella.

But Malaga is a lovely town, with a central area that's charming and not overly built up. We headed in to visit the Gibralfaro Castle, which provided a bird's eye view over Malaga and much of the Costa del Sol. Apparently you're supposed to be able to see the coast of North Africa on a clear day - alas, we didn't.Then we headed down into the center of town to grab a quick lunch (a late lunch, it was around 3 pm by the time we sat down) and strolled around the town, making the requisite cathedral stop.

Finally we headed to the Picasso Museum. Picasso was born in Malaga, although he moved up to Barcelona in his teens (and then later to Paris). This museum was founded with a 150 piece collection donated by his daughter-in-law and grandson. It was a beautiful space - a renovated 17th century palace - and a well-laid out collection. The kids enjoyed themselves.

Then back to the house for a swim and BBQ dinner that ended around 11 pm.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gorgeous Sevilla

We set out for a 2+ hour drive for Seville yesterday morning. It was about 190 km but was on fast motorways almost the whole time.

Seville is the current capital of Andalucia province but was also the historic capital of southern Spain for many years. It was a beautiful city, albeit 41°C when we arrived. That's hot enough to wilt the kids and me (despite all my years in Singapore and Thailand!).We immediately headed to find lunch at Cervecería Giralda, a tapas bar in the shadow of the Cathedral. It's located in a space that was formerly a Moorish bathhouse - so the vaulted ceilings are beautiful, as are the tiled walls. We had tapas (again! I think I'm done with tapas for a few meals) - I've become more finicky about tapas after all the meals. This one was ok, with a tortilla espagnola smothered in some kind of gravy as the highlight.

After lunch, we headed over to the Cathedral - alas, there was a big sign saying that because of a special occasion, the Cathedral would be closing at 15:30 that day. Guess what time it was?! Yes, 3:35 pm. Oops.

So we wandered over to the Real Alcázar, the royal palace where King Juan Carlos still stays when he's in the area. I love Moorish architecture - the complexity and finesse of the arches and swirls, the use of water elements, the fanciful designs. This palace was a joy to walk through.

After we left the palace, we took a walk around the Cathedral (the largest Christian church in the world by volume!) and found a side door open. So we sneaked in and saw a little bit of a concert by a children's choir with some boys in traditional costume doing a dance. It was charming. So we did experience the soaring heights of the cathedral after all, but didn't get to go to the top of the tower or visit Christopher Columbus' remains.

Seville has many pleasant, pedestrian-only streets so we strolled around for a little while and had ice cream and dessert at La Campana, apparently Seville's most famous patisserie. Then grabbed some very good sandwiches and a caesar salad (first one I've found in Spain!) and headed out for the long drive home.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sounds of the country

There are few rooms with air conditioning here at Rancho del Ingles so we sleep with the windows open - thankfully with the mosquito nets over the windows. But this means that we can hear everything outside = and sound carries very well in the countryside.

At night, someone was having an '80s party somewhere in the province because at 1 am, the distinct sounds of "Footloose" floated over the air as I was trying to get to sleep.

After the human party wound down, the dogs decided to have a chat across the valley - lots of gossip was exchanged and arguments were had through the various barking conversations that took place for a while.

At around 5:30 am, the roosters started crowing. Now as a city girl, I was under the impression that roosters typically crowed a few times around dawn - then called it a day and went to bother the hens. Not these Spanish roosters. They (like the dogs) seemed to be crowing at each other in conversation - there were at least 6 distinct crows. And they crowed for a while - I think around an hour.

After the roosters have quieted down, the flocks of birds start twittering and tweeting. I think they're all right outside my window, but at least this sound is relatively relaxing.

Another day in paradise.

Pueblo Blanco Ronda

It was a beautiful day in Andalucia and we had a 90 min drive over to Ronda, one of the pueblos blancos or white hill towns. We took the scenic route, which was a very curvy drive with lots of switchbacks but with pretty views of little towns.

Despite some of the predictions I had read, Ronda was relatively deserted of tourists when we arrived. It reminded me of Gordes in Provence with the hillside perch and the beautiful views. Of course, Gordes was overrun when we were there, so the quiet of Ronda was a nice change.

We had lunch at Restaurant Don Miguel (pictured above), right under the famed bridge (this bridge is featured in all the Andalucia tourism ads). Lunch was imminently forgettable, other than the lovely location. This bridge (the new bridge, from 1793!) crossed into the old town and we had a nice hike across it, and back across the old bridge (2 centuries older).

Ronda is also the home of the bullfight and has a famous old bullring. Here are the kids doing their best matador imitations.

We've determined that a successful vacation requires one, if not two, ice cream stops per day - so we made the requisite stop in Ronda and headed home via the coast. It was interesting to see how built up the Costa del Sol was - golf courses, big beautiful homes on the hills and right down by the coast, massive, ugly condo complexes and hotels. This was quite the contrast with the inland areas.

And finally, the kids jumped into the pool and we had a quiet dinner at home at 9 pm. We're really taking to these Spanish hours ;)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rancho del Ingles

On Saturday morning, we took a short flight down to Malaga on ClickAir - a Spanish low-cost carrier. We picked up our car and drove a short distance to Alhaurin de la Torre, to our home for the next week, Rancho del Ingles.I have to admit that it was a little more rustic than I had expected, but it's definitely grown on me over the past day.The whole rancho consists of multiple buildings with a total of 10 bedrooms, 3 kitchens and a nice pool. We're surrounded by fruit trees - we had plums and oranges from those trees today. My friend Leslie provides an overview here.
My bedroom is in the tower of the main building. It's a small room with beautiful views but it's most unique feature is an outdoor bathroom. Now, this may be common in high end resorts in Hawaii, but it's a little unusual for a renovated farmhouse in Andalucia.
I'm getting used to showering in the open air, hearing the birds and feeling the breeze :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Surprisingly Good Lunch

After wandering around El Born for a few hours, we decided that since it was close to 2 pm, we'd better have some lunch soon.

We happened upon Morelia and their outdoor tables and the girls decided they liked it. So we sat down and ordered the Menu del Dia - an amazing deal at 12 euros. This included a starter, an entree, a drink and coffee or ice-cream. Our best lunch of the trip.

We had a fabulous arugula salad and an empanada with jamon y queso that was so good that we had to order a second one immediately. Then we had linguine in tomato sauce and a curry chicken risotto. Both were excellent. This was surprising to me - no research, just wandered into this place and the food was not only a good deal, but extremely well-prepared.

I couldn't recommend this more, plus the kids got to run around the square for a couple of hours. Because that's how long the meal took. Do not try to eat in a hurry in Spain (or in most of Europe actually).

Chocolate Museum

Most people wouldn't bypass the Picasso Museum just because of a short line and head to the Chocolate Museum instead. But that's just what we did today. We can always go to the Picasso Museum in Malaga next week ;)

The Chocolate Museum was small but cute. The entry ticket was a nice bar of dark chocolate. Inside it was very cool (to preserve the chocolate), which was a nice respite from the heat outside.

There was an interactive display about the history of chocolate, as well as the process from cacao bean to finished product. The main displays were from their Easter chocolate contest, with some very complex pieces.I really liked this Gaudi lizard in white chocolate.And I thought the Tin Tin scene was very realistic. Other highlights were Ben Hur, Star Trek, various religious figures and Homer Simpson. Yes, chocolate seems to be an equal opportunity medium!

The museum also offers chocolate-making workshops for kids, but alas, they were all booked up for the day.