The end of the road…

Dear Readers,

First of all, I want to thank you all very much for joining me along this gastronomic ride over the years that took us to six continents, several dozen countries, and way too many (mostly undeserving) Michelin stars. However, as of this point, I think it’s time to call it a day.

In this current environment, with the chaos that COVID-19 is causing this industry that I love so much, there’s little joy I can continue to share. Even if things get better, it won’t in any hurry, nor will it bring back how things should be. In addition, as a frequent solo diner, the closing of bar seating and the limited number of tables inside restaurants also makes it far more difficult for me to dine out, and also in a way selfish to take up a two-top for myself (even if I tend to spend far more than a two-top).

Many of the places I love around the world have said goodbye in the last few months, and as I said before, I fear many more are to come. It’s becoming a painful ritual to say goodbye to places on Instagram, to those people who have put so much of their blood, sweat and tears into their baby — and to lose it in such a way. So many people are hurting, having lost not just their livelihoods, but also their sense of being. Having lost my restaurant baby myself, I know how it feels, and do not wish it on my worst enemies…

And honestly at this point, I’ve lost the joy of dining out. The few times I have done so since this all kicked off has been melancholic, with this terrible shadow looming above, perpetually reminding you that things will not be the same. And the inability to relax and converse freely, with everyone so cautious of everyone else, it affects the single, lone diner far more than those who go out in pairs/groups. The days of solo dining out is gone, the way I like to dine out is gone. And frankly, the raison d’être for this blog is also gone.

There are so many places I wish I was right now instead of writing this at 2am at my desk just off the Potomac. I wish I was in Hilo eating at Moon & Turtle, but alas that’ll never be again. I wish I was enjoying a 21-course tasting on Tomato Wednesday with my dear friend Sal Marino, alas that feels half way across the universe at this point. I wish I was visiting the newly-moved Dewakan in Kuala Lumpur, I wish I was chatting with my dear friend Andrea Camastra after another spectacular meal at Senses in Warsaw, I wish I was in a rustic trattoria somewhere in Italy where I feel truly at home, I wish I was in a proper sushi-ya in Tokyo where I can feast on the gifts of Neptune properly. I wish I was in the West Coast so I can eat an Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack-in-the-Box. Frankly I wish I was anywhere but here, but here we are.

So with this, I wish you all the best of luck — especially those of you in the industry. It’s been a fun ride over the years. I especially thank my numerous readers in Singapore, who I’ve noticed have been the most numerous of my readers. Thank you, and I’m so glad I finally made it out to Singapore before all this. But thank you each and every one for joining me in my travels as this chapter comes to its final line…

Tänan väga. Dziękuję bardzo. Grazie mille. Vielen Dank. Mahalo nui loa. Merci bien. Köszönöm szépen. Дякую дуже. Takk fyri. Mil gracias. Hvala lijepa. Tysen takk. どうもありがとうございました. Много благодаря. Ačiū labai. Muito obrigado. 감사합니다. Liels paldies. Thank you very much.

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Imaginary Trip #2…Probably Not

4 May 2020

Last week I posed a bit of a dilemma on whether to continue on this #imaginarytrip thread with a second trip, and it just doesn’t feel right to do so…

When I wrote my last entry, a bit of an agitated and frustrated shouting of the silent kind, it was prompted by the sudden closure of a place I had planned to visit on that #ImaginaryTrip2, the fabulous Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis (please go to their site to read their open letter). Stopping in the Twin Cities just won’t be the same anymore. Now I so wish I didn’t have to run for that expired parking meter last time I visited

Now comes the word that one of the places I visited on this most recent #ImaginaryTrip, the excellent Sweet Root in Vilnius, Lithuania, has also decided to close. Please go see this video, it’s heartbreaking but also a wonderful tribute to the best restaurant in Lithuania and its dedicated staff, raising the game so much for the local dining scene in its six years…

Sadly, this is probably not the last of the restaurants that we all love and cherish that will not re-open after all this. I’m highlighting these two because I have so many good memories from them, but sadly there are hundreds more already that are not getting as much coverage, from the fancy dining rooms to the small cafes and diners. Every place, from the 3-Michelin stunners to the greasy spoons alongside a rural highway, has regulars and those who love them — and those whose lives depend on them. They will go away perhaps with less hoopla, but not any less heartache and tears.

Even some beloved small chains are going. I for one will miss Marché in Toronto, a place I’ve spent so much time over my dozens of visits to YYZ over the many years. Some wonderful memories there, almost always with my dear friend Alan, and also a perfect place to chill before heading to the train to Pearson — as recent as this past March for me. Now that’s no more. Even if I make it up to Toronto again, it’ll just not be the same…

In light of all this, I’ve decided not to do another #imaginarytrip, honestly because I’m just too disheartened to do it. I don’t even feel joyful thinking about these things anymore. All I feel is sheer anguish for the people who have to let their babies go for no fault of their own, in a most untimely, unfortunate way imaginable. No proper send-off, no easy way to thank the crew and the regulars. Just like if one day everything ended unexpectedly…but then drawn out in this chaotic, unprecedented process with no end in sight.

It’s a tunnel, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, but right now it’s hard to see that light…

Imaginary Trip #2 — Whither, or not?

First of all, thank you to my readers, especially in letting me indulge a little in the #imaginarytrip series. It’s been a wonderful distraction re-living some of my favourite moments in my travels and dinings over the years. At times it is disomforting to think I may not see these places again, to eat some of these foods again. But for now, the way to enjoy these fine places is sadly, vicariously through my own memories…

Some of you have asked if there’s a second #imaginarytrip planned, and the answer — well, until today — was yes. I had a sketch of a trip plotted out and I was going to start posting it this weekend, but sadly a bit of reality, as one of my planned destinations — the excellent Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis — has just sent out an email saying they have shut their doors for good.

Sadly, as we all know — and fear — this will not be the last place we cherish that we’ll never see again. The independent restaurant business model, already ridiculously tough, is being shattered, and so many are on figurative life support they are likely not to survive — even with the re-opening process in the horizon. So many of these places run on such fine margins, it’s extremely unlikely any scenario in our new reality will allow them to continue in any meaningful and sensible way. It’s heartbreaking…

As a former small independent restaurant owner myself, I think a lot of people don’t know how difficult this industry really is — even during the good days.

  • Rents are outrageously high, with unbending landlords (or worse, REITs that can care less about its tenants).
  • Credit card fees outrageous, they constantly take large percentages from each transaction — and that’s on a sliding scale, depending on how often you want them to pay you what they owe you. They’re barely on-time paying you, yet if you’re late by an hour paying them they go absolutely ape and make your life hell — and start to withhold money that they owe you.
  • Delivery services like Grubhub are basically exorting businesses, especially now, taking ridiculously large chunks of each order. They run these infuriating “save the restaurants we love” commercials on TV, yet they are one of the exploiters of the current situation and are the vampires of the industry.
  • Insurance companies that never pay out but suck you dry for payments. Sadly it doesn’t surprise me that they have all denied coverage on business interruption from the pandemic, despite business being interrupted. Even those people with policies that specifically covers pandemics (yes!) have had their coverage denied. The insurance industry is another of the evils out there that exploit people and never do what they’re supposed to do — because that wrecks their business model?
  • Payroll — especially for a responsible employer — is far higher than anyone imagine. You never see 2/3 of the restaurant staff because they work either in prep, cleaning, maintenance and other “less glamorous” roles. They are unloading the boxes of onions at 7am, washing the dishes around the clock, mopping the floors at 3am. People complain about the mark-up on prices in restaurants, saying they rather tip their servers directly. How about the guys that wash their dishes? The guys that clean the chairs you’re sitting on? The guys that fixed the wonky table that you’re eating off of? It takes a team of people, and that’s not cheap — again, especially if the employer chooses to be a responsible employer.

That’s just scratching the surface — and the reality before this whole crazy situation began. Now it’s 1000x worse. Some landlords are being even more inflexible (sadly a situation I remember too well in 2008 during the financial meltdown in NYC, and we had the one asshole landlord that refused to bend on the rent.

Chain restaurants are hogging all of the SBL funds, with their banks colluding to divert most of the money to them because they’re bigger customers. Having banks distribute the emergency funding program is the dumbest aspect of it, and ripe for this kind of abuse and preferential treatment. Reminds me of 2009, when we went to our bank seeking a SBL, and they demanded 100% collateral. Banks are never helpful on good days, and they are even worse on bad days.

And Grubhub is still sucking you dry, doing their best to “bankrupt all the restaurants that we love” in reality despite their infuriating commercials.

And for the ones who have temporarily (hopefully only temporarily…) closed due to worries about their staff, the lack of revenues from takeout/delivery, etc, it’s even harder. Nothing is as painful as to lay off family — of which restaurant staff are. If you wonder why we call it family meal, that’s how things are in this industry. And not being able to do your family right is something that feels like a moving meathook in your heart.

And as you can see from the sad open letter from The Bachelor Farmer, this has, is, and will overwhelm many a small, independent restaurants, causing them to have to make these heartbreaking decisions. From the 2008 financial meltdown, we hung on (perhaps stupidly, in hindsight) until the fall of 2009, much to our absolute financial detriment (to which I have never recovered, even a decade later), so I can see why some small restaurants have made this decision at this relatively early stage of our new reality.

Hey, at least piece-of-shit Eater isn’t doing their “Deathwatch” series anymore like they did back in 2008. That was the most revolting, insulting bit of restaurant blogging during those horrible times. Amazing how in 12 years they can go from the gleeful, piling-on for the many restaurants in trouble hobbled by the banking crisis, to this apparent sympathetic tone today.

Anyway, back to my original theme. I was going to write a second series of an imaginary trip that was going to focus on some of my favourites in New England, Canada, and the Midwest, but now I really don’t know. This letter today really bummed me out, and it brought back a lot of memories of 2008-09 that I don’t wish on anyone else with a successful, wonderful small restaurant that suddenly faces collapse due to crazy external circumstances.

But we all know it will, and this won’t be the last of these letters we see from the places that we all love and cherish. That’s what makes it so sad…

And again, FUCK YOU, GRUBHUB. Fuck you.

 

Imaginary Trip — Day 15-16: NYC and Homeward Bound…and Back to Reality

23-24 April 2020*

Ugh…it’s always tough going to the airport for the flight homeward-bound, made much more unpleasant by it being Malpensa. First of all, it means one is leaving Italy, this place I love so much. Second, it’s one of the most inconvenient major airports in Europe. On a good day it takes about an hour to get there by train…

But that’s why I stay near Centrale, convenient as I came in by train and now heading to the airport by train. An uneventful experience there and on the flight back, where I go into my now-patented “zombie mode” where I don’t sleep, but close my eyes, listen to music, don’t eat, don’t drink anything but the bottles of water I brought with me, and get to my destination…

Luckily I had yesterday’s feasting — for the stomach and for the eyes — to keep me going until I landed… Back into JFK, where I departed on this #imaginarytrip a fortnight ago.

Back in NYC…so you think I’m a tough kid? Nah, just tired, and hungry. No food all day and it’s nearly evening here, so I need to eat. A long taxi ride into Manhattan, with the absolutely inevitable traffic jam on the Van Wyck.

I really do not know how much of my life has been lost on the Van Wyck to/from JFK over the years…

I get into Midtown and drop my bag off, then hop right into the subway to go to Brooklyn. I’m hungry, and I need a lot of food. Luckily I know my old friend Chef Akhtar Nawab would be there to make sure I have plenty of good stuff to eat at his Alta Calidad.

I’ve known Akhtar for a long time, and for a short but wonderful period we were partners in our baby that was named Elettaria… We share a lot of pain from her demise, but I’m glad to see his current restaurants doing so well (well, until this insanity began…). I get to Atlantic Avenue and stroll to Alta Calidad, and park myself at the bar…

A cocktail in hand, and I suspect Chef has seen me, so I slowly look over the menu, knowing he’s gonna bring out stuff otherwise… And soon, he comes out and brings me my starter, the marrow roti.

A1-marrow roti

Chef Nawab has somehow successfully fused Mexican and Indian flavours here at Alta Calidad, with his Kentucky flare, and this is a very unique dish. Lovely roti, but that marrow just made it so nice and rich… As I’m picking at the roti, we also catch up quickly, which is always nice. Then he heads back into the kitchen when my second dish is brought…

A2-king salmon

A nice king salmon salad, working well with the myriad of veggies; I especially love the radishes. A nice start, but knowing Chef things are gonna get very interesting very soon. And sure enough, a delightful combination of belly and octopus…

A3-octopus belly

These skewers are just delicious, I can eat them all day. Grilled perfectly, the octopus was tender and flavourful, the belly decadent and rich… So good, they work so well in concert… Then Chef brings out something he’s really perfected at Alta Calidad, the mangalica collar…

A4-mangalica collar

They come out sizzlin’, so good… A normal pork collar done this way would be excellent already, but the bonus is that this is mangalica…so good… Again, I can eat this all day. You can wrap this with tortillas but they are sooooo good as is also… Chef then brings out some cauliflower…

A5-cauliflower

He know I love cauliflower, and when he gets such good raw produce, he always makes the most of it. Lovely stuff, helps cuts down on all the rich foods so far. Then next, he brings something he’s been doing so well since our Elettaria days, the lamb ribs…

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Oh so good, brings back so many memories… He gets the best out of the lamb without losing its unique flavour, keeping the meat moist and rich. I don’t know how many of these I’ve eaten over the years from Chef Nawab, but it’s likely in the hundreds… I close my eyes and think back to the summer of 2008, when everything was nearly perfect, when life was nearly perfect, before everything came tumbling down in succession in a matter of months… I’m so glad to see Chef doing so well, partly because he’s recovered from that nadir; on the other hand, I have not, and that’s a burden I carry with myself on a daily basis, #imaginaryday or not…

Anyway, back to the food. I was getting a little full, but plenty of cocktails from the very able bar staff keeps me going. Chef then comes out with porchetta

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So good, rich and perfectly roasted. The skin crispy, the meat juicy, just the way it should be done. Again, brings back memory, as this was the last thing Chef made for our final evening of service at Elettaria. So I guess that’s an appropriate end to this #imaginarydinner, this wee trip down memory lane…

A few more cocktails later, a good chat with Chef, but it’s time to head out as it’s starting to weigh on me a little, in every sense of the term. This has been a long trip, and I’m tired — even if it’s all imaginary…

That was one fine evening of #imaginarydining. Not hungry anymore, and I make my way back across to Manhattan to my hotel to collapse… Next morning, I manage to rest a little and to get myself ready. I head out, but before I go to Penn Station for my train ride home, I decide to have one last meal.

And for my last meal I decided to drop into the venerable Keens Steakhouse. Partly because it’s open for lunch, it’s hearty, and it’s near Penn Station. I arrive and they happily store my bag as they lead me to my table. As I enjoy a martini they hand me the menu, which isn’t really needed as I know what I’m having…

B-mutton chop_edited

Yep, their famous mutton chop. A half bottle of red, some veggies on the side, and I’m happy. I devour this large yet delicious piece of meat, knowing all of this has to fuel me for that terrible experience called Amtrak that’s coming up…

I finish up the beast, as well as my half-bottle (I decided against a full bottle as I need to ween back to “normal” existence…), and have a double of rye to close the tab on this #imaginarytrip.

I walk over to Penn Station, probably the worst train station on the planet (tho Gare du Nord in Paris ain’t much better) to queue for the train south. The #imginarytrip is now officially over, in every sense of that word. Back to reality. SIGH…

Alta Calidad
552 Vanderbilt Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

Keens Steakouse
72 West 36th Street
New York, New York

Imaginary Trip — Day 14: Roma, Bologna e Milano

22 April 2020*

I wake up extremely early this 14th day of my #imaginarytrip, still remember an excellent day yesterday here in Rome. I need to head north-east this morning, but that’s later. First up, I need to head out to visit the Vatican — when it’s still early…

A1-San Pietro - 01

So peaceful here when there’s no crowd…

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Then inside, again, an amazing amount of peace — without the crazy crowds (by the way, these photos I took myself in January 2017, and no, I did not have a private visit in St Peters, it was just eerily empty)…

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I absolutely adore St Peter’s Baldacchino, designed by the great Bernini, and I am afforded absolutely amazing and clear looks at this most magnificent of works…

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You can get a wonderful look at the cupola, and through the Baldacchino at the transetto… Again, not a soul in site, except a few sleepy guards…

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I spend some more time walking around St Peters before I need to head out…

A6-View from San Pietro - 02

What a lovely view, again, so peaceful… I make it back to my hotel to grab my bag and head straight for Termini as I have a long train journey north-east…

Firenze…well, sadly no time to stop here! Schedule too tight, so I remain on the Frecciarossa and we roll into Bologna in a quick 2.5 hours since leaving Termini. I find a locker and store my bag quickly and head out of the station and walk south into town.

After being cooped up in a train all morning, a good 15min walk was much needed as I arrive at my lunch destination, Da Bertino

This old-school place was one of my many highlights last time visiting Bologna, and it’s a town I’ve really got to like during that trip. I was led to my table and I quickly ordered, since there’s little doubt what I want to eat. That’s the great thing about old-school places, you don’t need a menu because you know what you want most of the time

Quickly a bottle of cool house red appear, and I’m happy. I enjoy the wine as the antipasto plate arrives…

B1-antipasto

Some nice simple stuff to nibble on, goes so nice with the excellent (and cheap) house red from here in Emilia-Romagna. Then it’s somethink you always get in Bologna, tortellini in brodo

B2-tortellini in brodo

Lovely broth, so aromatic and flavourful… This is one of those dishes that you can easily have like 5 helpings because it’s so good… The joy of Da Bertino’s version is really that broth, which comes from the prep of my secondo…which is about to be plated, as they roll the cart-of-joy around and ask me what I want… IL TUTTO!

B3-bollito misto

Now this is a bollito misto… Now you know why the brodo for the previous dish was so ridiculously good… This is like a bollito misto from heaven…lingua, cotechino, testino di vitello, zampone… Every piece of this was ludicrously good, so full of flavour it’s hard to describe. I felt like a kid at a candy store, but my version of a candy store, when they bring you a best-of plate… This almost makes me teary…

So crazy good… Now bollito misto is a dish that for me is as close to the soul as it gets. The more rustic, the more “off cut” it is, the better. Deep down, I am content with all things for a brief moment…

I snap back to reality and they ask if I wanted a dessert…certo!

B4-zuppa inglese

A beautiful and delicious zuppa inglese, lovely with my espresso and grappa…so good. They brought me a second one, comped, so lovely. In fact, even in reality, I would say 75% of places I dine in Italy ends up bringing me free grappa. I think you can see why I love this place so much, I feel so at home in this country…

I thank my server, take a last look at that cart-of-joy of bollito misto (and a quick peak at its counterpart the arrosto misto cart-of-joy…next time, next time…), shed a quick tear, and head out the door… A busy afternoon here in Bologna…

It’s a 20-minute walk across town, but I arrive at the Pinacoteca Nazionale, one of the top yet lesser-visited art museums in Italy.

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I love the works displayed here, some extremely beautiful works by Giotto, Titian, Carracci, Perugino, Costa, Reni and so much more. But I came here specifically to visit that most gorgeous of pieces, Estasi di santa Cecilia by Raphael…such a stunning piece of work, especially meaningful for us musicians.

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Oh, don’t forget El Greco too… It’s sad this place is not busy, but better for us who really want to spend time to appreciate the pieces…

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Alas, time to head out for the 20-minute walk back to the station, grab my bag, and hop onto another express train up to Milano… Another non-descript ride and we’re in Milano Centrale. Lucky my hotel is nearby, and I go drop my bag off before I head to the amazing Cimitero Monumentale for a bit of a late afternoon stroll to marvel at the amazing monuments, including that of the Campari family (yes, that Campari…).

E

Then I rush back to my hotel and get ready for my #imaginarydinner. Tonight’s dinner is with friends who had introduced me to Manna the last time I visited, and we are planning to revisit the unique, Michelin-starred eatery.

It’s a little outside of the core of the city but easy with public transportation. I get to Manna, and my friends are arriving at about the same time, so that worked out well. We’re quickly seated and I’m anticipating an excellent #imaginarydinner here.

Manna’s chef, Matteo Fronduti, is quite a unique character — and a major talent in the cooking world. Excellent sparking to start the night and the antipasto arrives…

D1-Uè, Testina

A lovely combination of veal head and razor clams starts this night off. Two of my favourite ingredients done extremely well, juxtaposing the fried veal head with thinly-sliced razors. Lovely stuff. Then next up, a golden paradise…

D2-Quasi Milano (risotto)

Can you say saffron? This risotto is so rich and good, done with bone marrow…so rich and flavourful, it’s far more valuable than gold for me, for my stomach! Ridiculously good… Chef Fronduti is an expert at getting strong flavours to work, and the secondo has more strong flavours…

D3-Riassunto di Cassoela

The humble Lombard cassoeula is done to perfection here… Similar to my lunch of bollito misto, the local casserole uses off-cuts and other joys that you just need to love. Musetto, verzino, cotenne, costine, zampone… So ridiculously good, it’s winter food but my brain still wants it to be winter, so… What an awesome dish…

That was a fabulous dinner, so amazing the flavours… Then the dessert, a tribute to the piña colada

D4-virgin colada

The lovely nexus of pineapple and coconut here, delicious as a combination (or alone, really). So good. A grappa with my espresso, and sadly this meal has drawn to a conclusion…

As this was pretty much the end of this #imaginarytrip my friends and I go for a last drink across town at the excellent cocktail bar Nottingham Forest before we parted.

I make my way back to my hotel by a late tram and collapse. A bit sad that tomorrow waking up only means to rush to Malpensa to fly back across the Atlantic as this #imaginarytrip draws to a close…

But Italy, always close to my heart (and stomach), will always be. Presto ritornerò – in realtà… 

Da Bertino
Via delle Lame 55
Bologna, Italia

Manna
Piazzale Governo Provvisorio 6
Milano, Italia

Imaginary Trip — Day 13: Rome

21 April 2020*

I somehow manage to wake up for this 13th day of my #imaginarytrip, surprised yesterday’s excessive feasing — both in the day, and certainly also in the evening — didn’t do me (and my #imaginaryaorta) in… But I had to hurry and run off to Barajas to fly out…

Sad part of leaving Madrid is leaving all the food. Best part of arriving in Rome is all the food… Yep, day 13 I arrive in Fiumicino after the short flight and quickly jump on the train to Termini. I’m back in Italy, and it feels fantastic…

I get off the train at Termini and I go and dump my bag at my hotel near the station and jump back into the Metro to get to San Giovanni. I start there and walk north-west, quickly visiting San Giovanni di Laterno.

A1-Laterano-Colosseo

I walk towards Colosseo, not really stopping as I rather admire it from a distance, to get the full perspective. Then a quick pivot north and I go and visit a few churches en route to lunch.

I drop into San Pietro in Vincoli to see the beautiful Mosè di Michelangelo. Every time I see this piece, probably the least-visited masterpiece by Michelangelo, it stuns me. Don’t use your coin to turn the stupid lights on, it makes it look gaudy; donate that coin instead.

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Then I step north to the less-visited Santi Dodici Apostoli, which is surprisingly beautiful inside. Then I move west and stop at Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio and the beautiful tomb of Pope Gregory XV designed by Pierre Le Gros.

A3-loyola-minerva

Then finally, the lovely organ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva… But I’m hungry (despite yesterday’s #imaginaryfeasts) so luckily my lunch destination is just around the corner, Armando al Pantheon.

Now people call this place a tourist trap, just because of its history, popularity, name, and proximity to the Pantheon. But rarely does a “tourist trap” has such awesome food, and I was happy to return here for my #imaginarylunch

My server leads me to a table in the middle of the room, almost like a throne for a single diner. I love this. I ordered, and he nodded his approval. So good to be able to speak freely again; a few days in the Iberian peninsula where I was labouring through my awful Castillian and even worse Catalan, I can happily talk somewhat normally to people in Italian now without stressing… And soon, a nice bottle of house red arrives, a little cool, which is perfect, with my starter…

B1-coratella d’abbacchio

Coratella d’abacchio… Again, when I travel I order things I Want — and can’t get at home. This dish of lamb offal includes pluck like haggis, which means it’s illegal (or, well, “not fit for human consumption” in the “Land of the Free”) back home… So I get to enjoy it here, and it’s lovely… What an offaly good start here! Next up, a true local dish, spaghetti alla gricia

B2-spaghetti alla griscia

When the quality of the pasta is this good, you just can’t have less than one, frankly… So amazingly good… Sadly I had to stop at one, as I need my secondo, and it’s another local staple — trippa alla romana

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Lovely serving of tripe, and the sauce has a bit of a zing here, which is quite nice. Oh, I can eat this meal almost on a daily basis and not grow tired of it…so absolutely delicious…

Ah, that was fantastic. The bottle of red was also done, so it’s time for my usual espresso…and a glass of grappa. I so miss my grappa…so good, I asked for a second (to fortify myself to plough through the tourist hordes outside) and they comped it. So cool…

I thanked my server and headed on out, feeling refreshed — and nicely fuelled for the afternoon. I walk south through the tourist hordes and after hanging out with the feral cats at Largo di Torre Argentina (I love spending time here), I head west to make a few more church stops. First up, right next door, Sant’Andrea della Valle. Such a beautiful church…

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Then Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, where the Borgia popes are exiled in the afterlife, it’s also a spectacular church that few visit (aside from those intrigued by the Borgias). Then I walk back south-east, towards Galleria Spada, to enjoy some art…

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Of the museums in Rome, this is one of the lesser-visited, which is beyond me why. Stunning pieces of artwork, all crammed into the relatively tiny historic space, but…

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One of my art museum pet peeves is BAD LIGHTING, and sadly this place is one of the worst perpetrators of it. Some of their finest pieces are impossible to view clearly at any angle due to the amateurish lighting, such as Reni’s Ritratto del cardinal Bernardino Spada…

C3-bad lighting

And Guercino’s stunning Morte di Didone is even worse. It’s sad that they can house such amazing pieces of work and can’t spend the time to deal with the lighting issue to make it possible ot appreciate the art. But frustrations aside, a lovely small art museum that you’ll spend too much time in — and hurt your neck because of the angles — but it’s time to head out.

It’s gone dark since, and I can start slowly making my way towards Trastevere to dinner. I always love looking at Ponte Sisto when I’m walking along the river.

C4-ponte sisto

I’m actually crossing at Ponte Garibaldi as I want to get the full view of Ponte Sisto… I cross over to Trastevere and instead of taking the tram, I enjoy the walk down Viale di Trastevere to my dinner destination, Fernanda.

I’ve had several excellent dinners here over the years, one of few fine-dining, tasting menu places in Italy I would actually visit (I usually “go local” when I’m here), because it’s proven itself so nicely. So a perfect way to finish this #imaginaryday here

The host and sommelier Andrea Marini greets me as usual, and seats me at a nice table. I relax as he bring some bubbly to start, and soon the food starts…

D1-amuses

Some nice snacks to start with, from cod chip to a herbal “sponge” to a cheesy croquette and finally a morsel of foie. Lovely start. Then things get flowing nicely with some cozze

D2-mussels

Excellent quality mussels, lovely simple like this with some herbs accompaniments. Then next up, lumache

D3-snails

Some very earthy tasting snails here, quite nice. I like when snails have that earthiness, like back in Madrid for lunch yesterday, not the swimming-in-too-much-butter French style where you can barely taste the snails anymore. Excellent. Then we have a cute one next up…

D4-calamari

It’s a reconstructed squid in various ways! The tentacles are fried nicely, and the body is a nice roll of various goodnies including roe and ink. Lovely and fun! Following that, animelle

D5-animelle

I honestly am not the world’s biggest fan of sweetbread, but these were quite good. I know a few people who love sweetbread to death, and it’s just not me for some reason… But these are delicious.

D6-cavolo nero

Next up a wonderful example of cavolo nero, delicious as the star of the dish. I always enjoy vegetables with character, and this is indeed one. Delicious. Then now we move into the pasta segment of the evening, oooooh….

D7-plin_edited

Agnolotti al plin is the specialty of the house, and this version is urchin-filled…oh my, so good… That urchin is so lovely, and it’s just oozing from every bite… So good… But as I finish it, I can already smell the next dish before I could see them bringing it…oh my (I keep saying that)…

D8-bottone di animelle

Bottone pasta filled with sweetbread, and soaking in a brodo that I cannot describe. It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever drank. I would drink this as a beverage (hey, it’s an #imaginarytrip) if I could…

Oh my things have been so good. Did I mention how smooth the service has been? Plus the fabulous Signor Marini has been pairing the dishes expertly with some lovely stuff from all over the country… Soon we have one of the larger dishes, triglia.

D9-triglia

Second night in a row with mullet, a joy being so near the Mediterranean. Lovely fish, one of the items I love most about being down here. Then finally, another of this kitchen’s specialties, lingua

D10-veal tongue_edited

This veal tongue is so ridiculously good…soft, but still enough texture to make it solid and tasty. A difficult balance, pulled off very well here. It’s not easy doing a thick portion of tongue like this, but they managed it. So good, one of the best tongue dishes ever…

A bit sad as the savouries are finished… This has been so nice… Then the desserts start…

D11-yuzu

A nice yuzu-centric dish, lovely citric touches playing well with the vanilla. Then the second dessert, and it’s definitely a wow dish…

D12-black garlic

Black garlic is the theme. Now you know why it’s last! It’s intense but so, so, SO good… This is such a wonderful way for this day to end… I thanked Signor Marini for taking such good care of me as he brings me my usual special house grappa that I always have. After a second, I head out, thanking the staff for the wonderful night of hospitality and food.

I look at my phone and ah, there’s a bus coming soon going straight to Termini. Now I have a horrible flashback to the last time I took this same bus…perhaps that’s why I have a sciatica problem now… Lucky this ride was smoother, but still fast. We get near Termini and it’s 22.50…quite early…should I? I just had a really bad idea…

So I jumped off the bus and walked half a block to see La Matriciana seems to still be open. I peek my head in there, they don’t seem too thrilled, but I tell them I just want one dish and they reluctantly let me sit down.

There were still customers so I didn’t feel bad. I enjoyed some nice house red when the one dish I wanted arrived…

E2

Yep, cacio e pepe…it’s Roma, I had to have it. An excellent rendition. Now you may ask why I would go to the place that made the amatriciana famous to eat cacio e pepe…that’s cuz you don’t know! But this dish is so simple, the pasta so good…you need good pasta to have good cacio e pepe, and this is good.

I think my server forgave me for the late stop seeing my delight as I expertly finish the dish with gusto…oh that was a wonderful nightcap. I ask for a grappa, and they give me a good pour. As I was ready to leave, they brought me a second one on the house…

How can you not love Rome? I thanked him and head on out for my hotel a few blocks away. I need to get some sleep as tomorrow I have to wake up very early… But goodness, it’s so good to be back in this city, a feast for the eyes and stomach…

Armando al Pantheon
Salita dei Crescenzi 31

Fernanda
Via Crescenzo del Monte 18/24

La Matriciana
Via del Viminale 44
Roma, Italia

* I love Rome to death, tho this around the corner of my hotel says it all about this rather unique and eternal city…

E-

Imaginary Trip — Day 12: Madrid (Part 2)

20 April 2020*

It’s an #imaginaryday like today that really makes me understand why restaurants in the Iberian peninsula open so late for dinner… Goodness today’s 5-part lunch was a bit excessive, even if it’s a figment of my imagination. Yet, it feels so real, as did that #imaginarysiesta that was so needed after all that food…

But that also means it’s time for the #imaginarynight to start, and on this day devoted to feasting, that shan’t change… I head out of my hotel, needing a walk after that mandatory siesta, taking the stroll south towards Retiro for my dinner destination, Alabaster.

They were ready for me this time, although I did arrive at a proper, later, Iberian-dining hour this time…. They led me to my table and I relaxed with another glass of dry sherry. I so rarely drink sherry outside of Spain, but when I’m here I just love it…

A1-cod skin snack

And this is the snack I’ve been waiting for. Fried cod skin…oh, I can eat these things all day… Then the first dish of the night arrives…

A2-navajas

¡Navajas! You know I love these, going back to the first day of this #imaginarytrip back in NYC at my Spanish-Galician “local” El Pote… I can eat razors all day and all night, and probably more the next day… So good… Then next up, Dory…

A3-dory

Absolutely delicious, another of my favourites. Even better than the one I had a few days earlier in Boccadoro in Venice. And that fideuá under the fish was absolutely wonderful. Such a good dish…

BTW I remember I asked this last time I was here… Why is John Dory San Pedro in Castillian (and Italian and others) and Sanmartiño in Galician (and also Basque)? Saint Peter vs Saint Martin? Hmmm…  As I pondered that in my head — during this #imaginarydinner and in real life as I write this — the next course arrives.

A4-salmonette

Lovely salmonete, I love red mullet when done well — and it’s done very well here. But again, the star is what’s below the fish — this rice is just ridiculously good, cooked in shellfish essence… What a wonderful dish again! So sad that the savouries has closed, but there’s a reason for that…

I decided to have an aguardiente and a coffee and they brought out some closing snacks…

A5-after-dinner

Delicious, I slowly pick them off and finish off my tipple as well. What a wonderful dinner. I think everyone I know who visits Alabaster enjoys this place, its Galician-influenced cooking is spectacularly good. One of the best sit-down places in Madrid that’s for sure! I thank my server and take my leave.

I head on out of Alabaster happy, but even happier knowing the night is just starting. I head east, into Retiro, a lovely park but at this hour also home to a few noisy botellón. I frankly just don’t want to step on broken glass or vomit… I get across the large park and emerge out of Puerta de la Reina Mercedes and walk another block east and arrive at Rafa.

I often visit Rafa when I’m in Madrid, a fabulous place where there’s always good stuff to eat. A glass of dry sherry in hand, and I order a few items. I relax on this quiet night in the front section, as the restaurant section was quite busy still in the back. Then soon, the first item arrives…

B1-erizos

¡Erizos! Oh my are these good! Mineraly, great stuff from the Iberian coast. People who only eat cold-water urchin needs to try warm water stuff too, it’s different and lovely in its own way. Next up is something I can rarely find anywhere else in the world…

B2-Espardeñas

¡Espardeñas! It’s so hard to get sea cucumber like this, these are sooooooo good. It’s very different from how sea cucumber is often prepared in Asia, which is often braised or stewed (or raw in Japan). This different specie of sea cucumber lends itself to this type of prep, cooked in just a little garlic and olive oil… So crazy good. Then one more rare treat…

B3-Ortiguillas

¡Ortiguillas! Oh, the lovely sea anemone, fried up so nicely here… It’s so hard to find these things anywhere outside of the Iberian peninsula, it’s something I always look for when I get the chance. So good, again great way to really taste the sea…

Ah, as delicious as it is, I decide to head out. I thank them and head on out, going north-east. A few minutes later I drop into La Hoja, an interesting Asturian place. I order a glass of wine and some lovely chicharrón comes out with it alongside some polpo I ordered…

c1b

Mmmm, lovely stuff…just look at that chicharrón my goodness… Then my order of callos comes out…oh this is big and rich!

C2-callos

You know I can’t live without my tripe, and I had to get it at some point on this trip! A second glass helps me finish this lovely dish. That was nice, love to get a little land after all that seafood. But time for a bit more seafood, as we revisit Galicia a block away at O Grelo.

This is a much loved restaurant and bar featuring some fabulous seafood, as you’d expect from a Galician place. I was pretty full, but I order a big ol’ plate of cárdidos

D1-cárdidos

That was quite excellent. Cockles, when good, are so good… They seem to be getting ready to close up, so I thanked them and headed out. I really need to come back here earlier to really enjoy the seafood they have…

I kept strolling around the area, peeked into a few places, but nothing really caught my attention — or else they were in the process of closing down. So I just wander back towards Rafa, and they weren’t closing down just yet, so I decide to grab a last round there…

They almost laughed when I came back, but probably didn’t notice I’ve gained weight since leaving about 2 hours earlier! But they welcomed me back, and told me to sit in the back because they were starting to clean up the front. I quickly ordered some wine and mojama, and they also comped me some mejillones

E1-

A good bite, but that’s really to wait for them to bring me the dish I was thinking of having earlier but didn’t as I was sticking to a seafood theme… You’d think I’d had enough of thick stews after the callos earlier at La Hoja, but…

E2-Manos y morro de ternera a la madrileña

Manos y morro de ternera a la madrileña… A cute, collagen-rich dish that gets the best from parts of veal that some (sadly) discard. So rich and sticky good, this is gonna really stick to my ribs. I think it’s probably best to call it a night. But I need my dessert…

E3-Jamón

Oh too good, but that really was enough food for the evening… I thank them once again, they smiled at this audacious bit of eating, and I didn’t turn around to look at the place again — in case I get tempted for round three! I needed the walk back north towards Salamanca to my hotel, as this was again quite a lot of food!

As I approach my hotel, I wonder when I’ll be back in this gastronomic wonder of a city again. My stomach may never be the same after this, but it’s all worth it. Not many cities in the world you can really eat like this. Not New York, not London, definitely not Paris. Even if it’s all been a mental exercise, a wonderful dream, it still satisfies like few other places.

…Gracias, Madrid, gracias…

Alabaster
Calle de Montalbán 9

Rafa
Calle de Narváez 68

La Hoja
Calle del Doctor Castelo 48

O Grelo
Calle Menorca 39
Madrid, España

Imaginary Trip — Day 12: Madrid (Part 1)

20 April 2020*

Woke up on this 12th day of my #imaginarytrip and took my time, having a little bit of time to relax. Last night’s excellent #imaginarydinner at Xerta was fantastic, but late — so I get off to a slower start. Nevertheless I head for the nearby Sants railway station for the express train to Madrid.

I decided on this #imaginaryday in Madrid I’m just gonna eat…do little else, but just eat. Hey, one can still dream, right? A 2.5 hours later, we roll into Atocha. A Metro ride and I’m in my “usual” Salamanca area and I go and drop my bag off. I then head to lunch, as it’s late enough for places to open. And my destination today is the much beloved Viridiana.

For more years than most people can count, Viridiana has been the place that every top Madrid chef had to put in their time, to learn at the side of Chef Abraham García. I relax over a drink and decide on a few dishes that’ll get me going. And it didn’t take too long, as I was enjoying a crispy glass of albariño, when my starter arrives…

A1-caracoles

Oh my! What a starter right? I love snails, and these were just gorgeous… The good thing about these is that it takes time to properly get them out and enjoy them, so you can just keep going… But all good things come to an end…

A2-gazpacho

Chef García brings out a refreshing wee gazpacho with strawberries, an excellent rendition, and then the “main” course comes out…

A3-marrow

Oh dear once again…such good marrow. So rich. I was economical with the bread this time (unlike the last time I was there) because this is just the first of many stops today in this #imaginaryday of excess… So good, so rich. So I needed to have a walk.

I thanked Chef García and headed out for a bit of a walk. I decide to walk south-west, past Fuente de Neptuno and arrive about 15 minutes later at my second destination of the day, Casa Alberto.

This old school place, open since 1827 (!!), is quite popular but I sneak in and get one of the tiny tables across from the bar. I think I need to sit down for this order. I guess I wasn’t done with the snails, cuz…

B1-Caracoles a la Madrileña

A different take here, cooked in a spicy tomato base that gets that unique bitterness from the snails. Messy eat here, but the locals seem impress how I manage well with 2 long toothpicks… Then for the next course…

B2-Oreja Estofada

¡Orejas! I just love them, this time cooked in that similar tomato sauce. This way you get the collagen in the sauce and it’s a messy, sticky but lovely treat. Again, I was slow on the bread as this is just my second stop… I finish this, and I really need a stroll now! I thank the proprietor and head out the door, appreciative of him dropping a few extra wet wipes on my table with the bill…

I head south now, past Atocha, where I arrived earlier in the day, and after another 15 minutes of walking I found my next destination, Gallinejas Embajadores.

Now some people who know Madrid and its cuisine may start to ask me WTF would I go here after all I’ve had already today? Well, it’s something that’s extremely hard to find anywhere else in the world, so…

C1-

I won’t explain. If you know, you know. Let’s just say as an offal eater, this is pretty awesome… But if you don’t want to know, you don’t want to know. I thanked the frier of the lovely offal and headed on out, getting quite stuffed but glad for the long walks in between stops. The day is still young, and I guess I’m gonna push myself…

I head back north, slightly west, towards Centro and 20 minutes later I stop at the venerable Casa Lucio.

It’s a bit of a posh place and famous with VIPs, but it’s worth a short stop. It’s mid-afternoon and the tourist hordes have gone and I stop by just before they finish their lunch service. A quick stop as I just needed one dish…

D1-rabo de toro

Yep, rabo de toro. Now eating this on the 4th stop of the day is quite a bad cardiovascular idea, but hey, the clogging is in my #imaginaryaorta right? Lovely, rich, just absolutely gorgeous stuff… I kept myself to one dish and headed out, as even in an imaginary trip it’s starting to get a bit too heavy. So I start on my way back for the long walk north-east back towards Salamanca…

Just over half hour later I get back to Salamanca and I’m near my hotel, and I decide, why the hell not. One last stop, as the one thing I’ve not had yet today for this now-5-part lunch…

Of course conveniently I’m staying near a Joselito’s, so it’s convenient to have this as a snack before my siesta

E1-flight

A jamón flight at this hour, after 4 filling stops, is not a healthy way to do things — even on an #imaginarytrip — but yet it’s done. Lovely to savour every piece of all 3 selection, just pure joy. Even if you get a top quality one elsewhere, it’s just not quite the same as having it here in Spain… So good.

But I’m about to pass out, so I finish the 3 trays of delight, drain my third glass of dry sherry, and head out of this “fast food” joint and stumble to my nearby hotel, where I truly need a siesta. You really start to understand why it’s so much a part of the culture…

e2

Oh, this has been a fabulous if not excessive #imaginaryday of eating here in Madrid…and the day is only half done! It shall continue — after the siesta!

Viridiana
Calle de Juan de Mena 14

Casa Alberto
Calle de las Huertas 18

Gallinejas Embajadores
Calle de Embajadores 84

Casa Lucio
Calle de la Cava Baja 35

Joselito’s
Calle de Velázquez 30
Madrid, España

Imaginary Trip — Day 11: Barcelona

19 April 2020*

I wake up early on this 11th day of my #imaginary trip, headed for the airport in Ljubljana. Now yesterday was a pretty awesome day in Trieste and Ljubljana

Pretending that flights were still common out of this airport, I fly west and catch up on a little sleep for the flight into Barcelona. Quickly after we land I hop on a train and jump off at Sants, and drop my bag off. Then I hop into the Metro to get into the centre for lunch — at Racó de la Vila.

I don’t know why people call it a tourist trap, but it’s a fabulous place. Last time I was there it was so good. I’m early for my #imaginarylunch, as I suddenly remembered how late people ate on the Iberian Peninsula… I’m only here for 2 imaginary days, so I’m going to eat when I want to…

Good thing is that I’m the only person here right now and my friendly server takes my order. Glass of wine in hand, I smile, good to be back in Catalunya… Then my starter arrives, and I feel happy — a plate of cloïsses

A2-bcn-cloïsses

Mmmm, these clams from the Galician coast are so good, especially cooked with ample amount of garlic. So good, I can eat several plates of this. But that’s just the start as luckily my #imaginarytiming is right for this trip for some rovellons!

A1-bcn-rovellons

Hey, this is an #imaginarytrip right? I followed the no-night-in-Trieste photo rule on the last post, but this one I’ll have a temporal fib. These mushrooms are such joy when they’re in season… Then next up, ronyons de cabrit

A3-bcn-ronyons de cabrit

As an offal eater, it’s so nice to be able to get stuff like goat kidneys — one of the true joys of travelling. Lovely flavour, no blandness here! One of the best things to eat in Iberian cuisines is kidneys, and this is one of the best. Lovely! Well, it’s dessert time, and if you know me, you’ll know exactly what I’ll get for dessert…

A4-bcn-pernil

Yep, no words needed here. It’s been way too long since I had a good plate of this… Just such joy. People eat this too fast, I really take in the flavour of each bite, each piece, so it takes me a good 20 minutes to eat this… Sheer delight…

If I wasn’t so short on time I’d stay and order more, but I thanked my excellent server and headed on out. I need to hike this off!

So I decide to hike up Montjuïc as the afternoon exercise. Barcelona, much like Venice the other day, is so utterly inundated with tourists it’s almost a game to avoid them now. I remember the first time I visited 2 decades ago, going up to Park Güell and it was nearly empty. Now? Every damn Instagrammer has to post a picture from there, usually with an open bottle of wine for a rather un-Cataluynian picnic.

c1

Montjuïc has some spectacular views because of how high up it is, but I hike further to the Cementiri de Montjuïc — one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world… For centuries the rich and powerful of Barcelona created intricate tombs to outdo one another, and you can really see it here…

c2

After a few hours of exploring (and hiking) this very hilly cemetery, I stop to pay my respects somewhere again. If you know, you know.

c3

Then I walk part way down, and I was running low on energy — even with that fabulous #imaginarylunch — so I hopped on a bus back down to town. Plus I hate walking downhill, it hurts my joints far more than hiking uphill… Only those of us with serious joint and pain issues know that it’s far, far easier to walk upstairs than downstairs (which sometimes makes public transportation a pain as I so much rather walk upstairs from the Metro than down).

But after all that, I was hungry again…and tonight’s dinner at Xerta beckons…

I was so looking to this #imaginarydinner back at Michelin-starred Xerta, where I had a wonderful dinner last itme I visited. I’m hoping for the same magic this time back. I arrive, and a cheerful staff greet me and guides me to my table — even if they were a little slow to open up at this already late (for us non-Iberians) hour…

I relax and anticipate a wonderful tasting menu. I was hungry, so I skipped the offer of an apertif and then things started with the set of snacks…

B1

Several cute bits, the navalla (razor clams, or navaja for those of you Castillian speakers) dumpling was the best of the lot, the shrimp in the cream not bad. Then we revisit my memories of lunch with a plate of cloïsses

B2-seafood selection

Oh wait, there’s navalles here too! The clams were already better than this afternoon’s fabulous version, and the razors just made an awesome dish even more awesome. I love being back on the Iberial peninsula! Next up, with a nice dry sherry, is a dish focusing on foie…

B3-foie eel

A good bite, though it brought back #imaginarymemories of last night in Ljubljana and that decadent goose liver at JB… Enjoyable enough, the corn and some smoked eel helping it long nicely, then we have ventresca.

B4-tuna belly

So so, I’m not a big fan of how they do tuna belly on the Mediterranean to be honest, as the Japanese way has utterly spoiled me… Next is a dish that shows off the kitchen’s humour, as they call it “rich man’s breakfast”…

B5-breakfast

Lol, it’s a humorous take on the humble porridge, but some very rich stuff strewn in the potato mash, including foie and duck yolk. An interesting, surprisingly rich and lovely combination. Then next up, their take on cap i pota.

B6-rice

They did a fabulous version of this humble Catalan dish, the extremely lovely collagen-rich stew turning each grain of rice into a gem; some lovely tripe beneath it all just adds to the total experience, so intense yet fabulous! I wish this dish was bigger! So good… Next up, sea bass.

B7-sea bass

Lovely cooking once again, just a touch of unexpected miso here. Excellent dish, the aubergine purée added a nice touch to the already flavourful fish. Then next up, the story of my entire #imaginarytrip really…

B8-eel

Oh goodness is this eel good! It’s so good again it’s almost wrong, its rich oily flavour flowing out like some true ambrosia with every bite… That was sooooooo good the last savoury dish couldn’t really touch it…

B9-suckling pig

Garrí rostit, done well enough, but frankly the eel was still in my mind (and tastebuds)… It’s hard to have a sequel when the best stuff is so overwhelming good… But sadly that was the end of the savouries for this fine evening of dining. Then some excellent local cheeses…

B10-cheeses

Quite a nice selection, but I was getting full… But for the desserts we really see the humour of this kitchen come out…

B11-rice pudding

Loooool, this is not a paella! It’s a wonderful humorous version of it, a rice pudding dessert. That chocolate “mussel” was absolutely delicious, the candied lemon so cute and tasty too. I love this imagination! Then finally, we have some “soap and water” to close things off…

B12-soap and water

This is actually a brilliant, coconut-centric dish. The “sponge” is a tribute to the piña colada, and the “soap” is a lovely coconut pudding that reminds of the Hawaiʻian haupia. So good, what a wonderful wasy to finish an excellent meal here in Barcelona!

B13-closing

Some final snacks with my coffee and late-nite tipple, I thanked the staff and headed on out. Amazing how affordable this tasting menu was compared to most places in Europe…

I enjoyed a late-nite stroll, it being quite late, the dining hours in this part of the world always annoyed me since it never harmonises with public transport hours (nor hotel check-out times in the morning). But overall it has been a wonderful, yet tiring, day here in Catalunya.

Gràcies una vegada més, Catalunya…

c4

Racó de la Vila
Carrer de la Ciutat de Granada 33

Xerta
Carrer de Còrsega 289
Barcelona, Catalunya

Imaginary Trip — Day 10: Trieste and Ljubljana

18 April 2020*

I woke up early on this 10th day of my #imaginarytrip and had to hurry. I had a wonderful day in Venice, but it’s time to shuffle off to Santa Lucia to catch a train east. Lucky it was early enough the tourist hordes were not out yet… A few hours later, I roll into Trieste, a charming city I’ve really enjoyed visiting over the years.

I put my bag away at the station and walk south into town. I have a bit of time, so I enjoyed a long stroll, a hike up to the castle, then back down for lunch. After all that I needed a good lunch, and I head to a place I discovered the last time I visited, Nerodiseppia.

I get to Nerodiseppia the moment it opened for lunch, as I know how busy they get and how quickly the place fills up. I relaxed, knowing this #imaginarylunch will be excellent. I looked over the menu, heard the day’s special, and ordered.

Soon, a nice bottle of house red arrives and not soon after my starter…

A1-trs-cappesante

Some lovely grilled scallops here with radicchio, very tasty. Then for my primo, something a little different — and hearty…

A2-trs-canederli

Candederli is something you see more often in parts of Italy that used to be the Austro-Hungarian space, and these dumplings are sure filling yet delicious. The sauce is utterly divine, using smoked swordfish with some cuttlefish to really give this dish some serious creds — and taste. Lovely, lovely stuff. Then finally, for a secondo, back to something more traditional, fritto misto

A3-trs-fritto misto

A good selection here of seafood and vegetables — you really need the veg to balance these things out. The local shrimp is my favourite, so delicious eaten whole like this. So delicious. But another very filling dish, and I was spent. The bottle of red now finished, I bypass any dessert and have my usual espresso and grappa.

I thank the proprietor for an excellent lunch and head out for another quick stroll before I have to return to the station to get to my next destination. Oh, this is such a charming town…

c2

I get to the station, but walk a block away to the coach station instead and hop on a coach east — across the border into Slovenia. A few hours later, we roll into Ljubljana.

Lucky it was still early enough in the afternoon for me to have a good stroll. Such a lovely town…

c7

I needed to walk off that excellent lunch, plus the long bus ride, so I hike up to the castle. Much needed, but it’s time to head down and then to dinner…

c8

Tonight dinner is at JB, a restaurant that really intrigued me last time I visited Ljubljana. The cuisine of Chef Janez Bratovž is one key reason I decided to head to Ljubljana again on this trip, and I was very much looking forward to this #imaginarydinner.

I arrived and was seated soon and I enjoyed a kicker of a rakija…not the most recommended starts, but it works for me! Soon the starters arrived as did a nice glass of local furmint (known as Šipon). First up, two nice cones with parsnip and beets.

B1-snacks

Then also two croquettes, one filled with fava tinged with chilli, and the other with cod. A nice selection of different flavours here, good start. My server more than generously touched up (or basically re-filled) my glass with Šipon and brought the next dish, the baked stuffed pepper.

B2-pepper_edited

Delicious pepper, with just a touch of a bite in this varietal, and stuffed with eggplant of all things. But it works beautifully. Excellent dish. Next up, some smoked trout.

B3-trout_edited

Again, delicious, good quality fish here. It’s the assortment of flavours here that really make this dish even more interesting, including orange and mustard seeds, plus some delicious roe. An excellent trout dish overall. So far things are moving very well, lovely use of flavours by Chef Bratovž. Next up, local shrimp.

B4-shrimp

This is even more delicious than the fried version I had for lunch. Lovely meaty flesh accentuated by wonderful flavours from almond and lemongrass, another wonderfully cooked dish! When the next dish arrived my face just lit up…

B5-goose liver

Oh. My. This goose liver is crazy good. Ridiculously good. That flavour is just…words really cannot do it justice, you just know it when you taste it and your eyes close and you make this audible yet soft sound…which you imagine Chef Bratovž can somehow hear back in the kitchen with a smirk… That’s how good this was, my, my… And that wasn’t it for the goose liver!

B6-ravioli

Now we get these beautiful ravioli, filled with various things, including pistachios, but most importantly more goose liver! These packages of total delight were almost too much… This is so crazy rich I’m glad I hiked up to 2 hilltop castles today!

I almost need a breather after that! Of course that breather came with an off-the-tasting-menu item Chef Bratovž brought out, mangalica bacon…

B7-yolk & mangalica

Dear me, this is another winner. Mangalica just has such a unique taste, especially when you add the yolk below…this is like a breakfast of true champions here. So good… I am feeling extremely spoiled this #imaginarydinner… A palate cleanser based on basil is served before we move into the big (!!) dishes with a return to seafood.

B8-whitefish

An excellent whitefish here, lovely flavours. I’m actually glad the service has slowed down, as it’s helping me to digest. Plus, they are very generous with the top-ups on the paired wines! Then suddenly, even after they topped up my white, they poured a red and that means…venison.

B9-venison

Cooked perfectly, awesome… I always love well-cooked game meat, and this loin was indeed cooked very well. The chive štruklji was an excellent complement to the wonderful venison. Oh, this was a good dinner. I’m almost full! Then to close, a simple, yet ideal selection for me…

B10-dessert

Excellent vanilla gelato and local cheese, all strewn with some fabulous local honey. A double espresso and another hit of that neck-breaking rakija from the start of the dinner, and I’m happier than Melania’s bank account. Chef Bratovž comes out and we have a little catch-up chat, so that’s a nice way to close my day here.

I thank Chef and head out for my hotel, a little sad my time here is so short. So I have a nice evening stroll, enjoying this lovely city by night.

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I wish I also had the chance to stroll around Trieste during the evening but not this time (breaking the 4th wall here but me posting night photos of Trieste wouldn’t make sense even on an #imaginarytrip!). But I’m so glad I got these 2 lovely places in on this #imaginarytrip, as tomorrow I’m off to the airport again in the morning as things move on… But I so recommend doing both of these places if you get the chance, when the world gets to the point we don’t have to take an #imaginarytrip anymore…

Nerodiseppia
Via Luigi Cadorna 23
Trieste, Italia

JB
Miklošičeva 19
Ljubljana, Slovenija

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* BTW a cute part of today’s dining double, Nerodiseppia’s plush on the left, JB’s cheer on the right…