No one says they are going to Spain for the chicken.
So, I was surprised when a bartender pal of mine in Brooklyn insisted I check out Casa Mingo when I get to Madrid. This old warehouse restaurant is known for two things - cider and roast chicken. No surprise that Missy K and I ordered up both right quick when we arrived. We tossed in a simple salad, a slice of Spanish tortilla, a bowl of buttery green olives, and a plate of Lacon (lightly smoked pork shoulder) - the latter, as to avoid insulting Spain's first and foremost "white meat."
That said, the chicken was stupendously good. I still smile thinking about those delicious chicken juices dribbling down my chin.
It might have been my favorite meal in Madrid.
It was my favorite meal in Madrid.
Chicken may be underrated in Spain, but when they decide to commit to pollo, it is truly perfecto.
Nothing in Spain seemed quite as vital to the national culture as its glorious, dry-cured ham. Gin and tonics came in at a close second, but Jamon definitely ruled the day - and, the night too for that matter, when restaurants save space for a decked out leg of Jamon iberico with a knife-wielding ham-slicing expert at-the-ready. More often than not, two or three bone-in beauties are polished off in night.
...a small Madrid chain of grocery stores dedicated to the history and majesty of Jamon.
Thinking this would be an excellent franchise opportunity for someone in the States. Happy to make an investment. After relishing this gorgeous delicacy on its home turf, thinking Jamon is probably a safer bet than gold right now. And, goodness knows, it's a lot more tasty.
There really isn't anything more exquisite than fresh seafood. Barcelona was brimming with the stuff -- briny, sweet, and altogether addictive. An Oyster Ceviche at Suculent in the Raval went down all too easy on my first night in town, and I was on my way.
A trip to Barcelona's beach was required. And, a stop at the seaside Marina Bay by Moncho's wasn't a disappointment, with a brilliantly simple plate of Grilled Shrimp and Squid...
My first meal in Seville was unquestionably the best. My pal Max had recommended I hit Bodeguita Romero, a casual neighborhood spot for tapas. So, once we checked into our hotel, I grabbed Missy K and the two of us worked our way through Seville's winding alleys to settle into an outdoor table at the front of the tavern for a proper lunch. After a cross-Atlantic flight and a three hour train trip we were famished and thankfully even the media raciones that we ordered were more than ample.
First up, a heaping bowl of perfectly marinated potatoes, followed by a platter of thinly sliced cured Spanish lomo, and a plate of rich, nutty Manchego cheese. We laid waste to it all and then ordered up more. We moaned over a couple of golden brown, crisp salt cod croquettes, and then let a quick saute of farmhouse eggs and wild asparagus bring up the rear.
And then there was the main event...
This sucker may be small, but it packs a wallop. Called a PringaMontadito, it is a miniature sandwich stuffed with bits of glorious braised pork and a smear of morcilla blood sausage. I know it sounds like a weird combo, but trust me. This is the bite-sized sandwich that bar snacking dreams are made of.
Sadly, we never made it back to Bodeguita Romero for a round two with their tapas menu, but Missy K continued talking about that Pringa Montadito till the end of our trip. I'm sure she's talking about it still...
If all went well with my flight, I should presently be on terra firma in Spain. Stay tuned for stories of tapas, flamenco, pinxtos, Gaudi, sherry, bullfighting, cava, the Prado, and more. And, if you have any suggestions for Seville, Barcelona, or Madrid, send 'em my way!
I am not one to suggest drowning your sorrows in a drink. Had a bad day? Alcohol can soften the edges, but I usually recommend getting out into nature (or a nearby park), petting a dog, or going to the movies to make for a better disposition.
Then - and only then - can you imbibe with the spirit with which I believe it was intended. Joy.
There is, however, one major exception to the rule: Tiki cocktails.
Who the heck can be depressed with a big ol' drink filled with tropical juices, rum galore, finely-tuned bitters and aromatics, topped with a mini-umbrella and little plastic mermaid? No one!
Not that I was in a sad state when I took pleasure in sipping the gorgeous Tiki specimen above. I was sidled up to the bar in New Orleans' legendary Beachbum Berry's Latitude 29 with a friend. Laissez les bon temps roulez!
And, thankfully, Brooklyn barkeeps have a flair for the Tiki, keeping me in a good mood when parks, petting friends' dogs, and movies fail. Though Julie Reiner's Manhattan ode to Hawaii, Lanai Kai, is no more, her Carroll Gardens spot Leyenda makes some righteous Caribbean-inspired drinks graced with sprigs of mint and the occasional orchid. Red Hook's Fort Defiance transforms into Polynesian paradise on the last Thursday of the month, becoming ground zero for all things Tiki as the Sunken Harbor Club. And, even one of my nearby Brooklyn Heights watering holes, The Binc, makes a mean Tiki cocktail called Ashes to Ashes, a potent combination of amaro di angostura, white rum, patron XOXO café, pineapple, and lemon...
So, it shouldn't be a big shocker that I was seeking some killer Asian when I hit San Francisco earlier this month. One pal insisted I check out his favorite Thai haunt. Other friends wanted to shepherd me to their go-to dim sum hang. But the real find was a small takeout counter at the back of The Market at the base of Twitter's HQ -- a Malaysian gem called Azalina's.
Pictured above, Chef Azalina Eusope in all her glory.
And, pictured below is Eusope's glorious Roasted Chicken Rice -- a deceptively simple name for a dish of saffron rice served with chunks of roasted chicken redolent with 7 spice, and a dab of rich, spicy sambal, all topped with a green blanket of crunchy pea shoots.
Now, this was a find!
You may quibble that Azalina's has gotten its fair share of press and that it isn't a "find" at all. But considering the short wait I had to order at lunchtime on a Monday, I would disagree.
Conveniently located near a hotel where I regularly attend client conferences, a pal let me know that I needed to check it out. Boy, was he right. This slice of Fushun was a lunchtime revelation. It was hard not to order the dumplings, but a plate of hand-cut noodles with seafood was calling my name.
Glad I listened.
Apparently, Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen has been hailed by the New York Times, so some would argue that this "find" has already been "found." Once again, quick seating at lunchtime on a Tuesday would argue for its "yet-to-be-widely-discovered" status.
Anyone game for whispering in my ear about a hidden gem of a Nepalese restaurant? Or how about Cambodian? I'm all ears!
I have many beloved go-to's, as documented morethanonce on this blog. Yet, as of late, I've felt the need to shake things up. Try something new. I haven't always been rewarded by my intrepid grazing, but when I am, I win big-time.
Still feeling a bit of bovine overload from my summer trip to Argentina, we opted to split a classic Egg, Bacon and Cheese Sandwich...
Well, maybe it wasn't that basic.
And, then there was that order of pancakes we shared...
Yeah, this was really more of a Dutch Baby with stewed apricots and thick whipped cream. Oh baby, oh baby, oh baby!
As I said before - a win big-time.
Don't think the adventurous attitude left me when I left the City of Brotherly Love.
Just last night, I planned to hit a mainstay Chinese joint in the West Village, but the potent combo of cute signage and frigid winds, blew me into a Singaporean restaurant on Cornelia Street called Chomp Chomp. I need to thank the sign company and Mother Nature for the find. Didn't take photos, but let me tell you that you want their BBQ Stingray - all at once delicate and richly satifying, the fish was grilled, wrapped in a banana leaf, and accompanied by a tart flavor-bomb of a calamasi sambal for dipping.
New might be the rule for 2016. Then again, some of these new spots could just end up becoming my next set of regular go-to's. And, I wouldn't mind one bit.