Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sara's Kidding!

Hello! Sara here, just back from three days at Caromont Farm. I had such a GREAT time! I'm inspired and tired and overwhelmed and so very excited about all I learned and saw while I was there. Oh, and the baby goats, people, the baby goats are just about the most adorable creatures I have ever seen!! I have a bajillion photographs to share and lots of tales to tell from my city-girl-goes-to-the-farm adventure - I just have to figure out how to get them all on here. Stay tuned - I'll post more in the days to come!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

StinkFest Cheese Class March 9th (NEW DATE)

Hello Cheese People!

Due to the little snowstorm, we've moved the class to next Monday. There are still seats left!

StinkFest Cheese Class!

For all you fearless fans of strong cheeses, this is what you've been waiting for! Join us Monday, March 9th 6:30-8:00pm for a tour of duty only the strong will survive. We'll crank up the air-handler and dive into sticky, pungent washed rinds, wickedly funky blues and moldy mountains of beefy bloomies. While tasting these 6 ripe and ready stinkers from Virginia, France, Spain and Italy, you'll learn how they're made, how to serve them and what to pair with them. Real Cheese for Real Cheese Lovers!

Call 804.355.1375 to reserve your spot. Tickets are $35 per person, prepaid. Must be 21+ to attend. Seating is limited. RCC accepts Visa, MC, AmEx and Cash.

Julia & Sara

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spanish Wine Tasting, Monthly Beer Tasting, Cheese Class Announcement

I miss Spain! The only antidote is to continue the eating and drinking, so Friday night's tasting will feature many of the wines we had while in Barcelona, along with a sweet slideshow. So come fuel your envy and taste some Catalunyan treats!

Other News...
There is so much going on! Our Barboursville event is SOLD OUT. But I'm pleased to announce next weekend we are hosting a fantastic CRAFT/ART/JEWELRY next door.

Also, this month's Staff Picks are up, and tonight we have our monthly BEER TASTING.

Finally, Sara and I are excited to announce our next CHEESE CLASS: Stinkfest! Join us Monday, March 2nd 6:30-8:00 for a tour of duty only the strong will survive. We'll crank up the air-handler and and dive into sticky, pungent washed rinds, wicked funky blues and moldy mountains of bloomies. I wanted to call it "Date-Night for the Truly Perverse" but was voted down. Call 804.355.1375 to reserve your spot. Tickets are $35 per person, prepaid. Must be 21+ to attend. Seating is limited.


Friday, Feb. 20th, 5-7pm: Cataluynan Adventures!
(Julia's Notes)
I just got back from a week of winery visits and tapas bar hopping in and around Barcelona, so of course this week's tasting will feature some of the delicious wines I encountered on my trip! I'll be assisted by my handsome travel partner Dave Martin of the Country Vintner, and we'll have plenty of pictures to share as well. Here's what we'll be featuring:

Can Feixes 2007 Blanc: The three Huguet brothers run this amazing organic winery high in the Alt Penedes. This lively, dry, zesty white is made primarily of Parallada, with small amounts of Chardonnay and local Malvaxia Sitges. Hints of lime and pith on the finish heighten the peachy notes on the palate. Expressive and food friendly.

Subirats NV Cava Rosat: Made by family owned Vilarnau in the Penedes out of 100% Trepat grapes, then aged a minimum of 18 months before disorgement. A robust rose with great texture and pit fruit flavors. Delicate mousse and a floral finish make this an all day/every day sparkler, but it is really tasty with fried fish or calamari.

Albet i Noya 2007 Tempranillo: Also from the Penedes, but the same owners as the Mas Igneus winery in Priorat. Medium bodied, it has a velvety, well-developed fruitiness with a bit of spice and earth. Organic.

Mas Igneus 2004 Priorat "FA206": The first certified organic vineyards in Priorat make hearty, rich, full-bodied Grenache (Garnatxa) based wines. The code means FA (French Allier oak barrels) 2 (second use of the barrels) 06 (6 months in oak). Dark fruit notes, vanilla, plum and porty notes make this a perfect accompaniment to lamb or grilled steaks.

Jorge Ordonez 2005 Malaga Seleccion Especial: dessertTechnically this is not from Catalunya, but we had it paired with the 7th of 8 courses during our tasting menu at CincSentits in Barcelona. Fantastic!! Made from Muscat, it is a delicate and honeyed dessert wine with undertones of hazelnut cream. It was matched with clementine and orange blossom "air" over passionfruit with cardamom crumble. Heaven!

Don't forget to bring your own glass, unless you like health-department mandated plastic medicine cups!

(Sara's notes)
Howdy cheese people!
Guess what? It is cheese class time again! And due to increasing demand for more challenging cheeses--Julia and I will be hosting our first ever stinky cheese class the first Monday in March! Washed rinds, blues, and other assorted wrinkly stinkers from all parts of the world will be gloriously featured for all of you who aren't afraid of a cheese that bites back! We decided that if we were going to do it, best to schedule it before it gets too hot to handle the aroma, right? Ha. I mean, really, can you imagine a stinky cheese class in the heat and humidity of June?? Whoa. I think we'd stink ourselves out of the room! So, while the weather is still relatively cool, we are busy choosing a line up of all sorts of palate expanding selections to appeal to those of you who like your cheese to have an attitude. There is something so spectacular about a cheese that can take your taste buds into a new dimension. Meek is for the weak, I say! As always, space is limited so sign up now!

Guess what else? I'm heading to Caromont Farm this weekend for kidding season! Wheee! I think there are about 30 goats that are about to have their babies in the next week or so and I couldn't be more excited to help welcome them into the world. I'll be bringing my camera, of course, and I'm sure I'll have all sorts of tales when I return. I've never seen anything but human babies being born - so this will be a new experience for me. I've even been looking at all sorts of youtube videos to prepare. Ha, what a goof. I just can't wait to get there! I'm sure it will only make my fantasies of having a farm one day all the more vivid! Hrm... I wish Richmond would let me have a city goat or two in my backyard...

(Peter's notes)
Chateau Vaugelas 2006
Corbieres Rouge
Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre are the grapes behind this full-bodied, deep-toned red from the South of France. Served with grilled lamb, pork or chicken even, this is a red that pairs well with all manner of winter-friendly fare. $11.99 per bottle.
Want a taste?
We have one open for you!

Beer News!
(David's notes)
Beer Tasting 5-7pm
Sierra Nevada beer tasting Thursday 2/19

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: yes we've all had this beer before, but it should be a great starter to remind you of their basics or if you consume this regularly it will be a great yard stick.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA: This is the new IPA that Sierra have been working on for the last few years. During one of the hopping processes the hops are place in a metal tube that apparently looks like a torpedo.

Sierra Nevada Stout: From what I've been told, one of the brewer's wives had complained that the original recipe for this beer was the best. But it had been years since they brewed this style till now! Should be good...

Sierra Nevada Big Foot Barley Wine style Ale: This is the big one. Brewed once a year, it is THE micro brew barley wine. To the newer, trendier breweries they may call it Imperial IPA, or some such thing.


Duchy Originals English Ale
Big bold beers are in the news. But many lesser talked about beers are out there quietly providing a great food-worthy pairing and maybe even a little peace of mind. Duchy Originals is a charity that produces only organic goods in small batches. It was started by the current Prince of Wales, and has since gone on to raise a ton of money and produce a huge variety of goods. Duchy Originals English Ale is on of these fine products. Brewed at the Witchwood Brewery, famous for their Hobgoblin beer, it is a great easy drinking English bitter. These beers are really best consumed as cask condition draft, but the bottle version is quite good and all we can get.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gaudi, Pintxos, Jamon y Queso, the Sea, and a fond Adeu...

Thursday morning we headed off for serious sightseeing: Picasso Museum and La Sagrada Familia. If you haven't been, go. Astounding, especially when you visit the educational area where they explain Gaudi's design principles and you can see the models being constructed for use in fabrication. Dave really has the best photos so I'll post later. We spent hours and hours going to the top towers and wandering around the most beautiful construction site in my lifetime. Head-shakingly impressive. Picasso was great, but foodies take note: the alleyways surrounding the museum are lined with artisanal chocolate and cookie shops. I don't even have a sweet tooth and I was wooed.

At that point the temperature had dropped so we grabbed a cab to Jamonisimo! On the suggestion of Amelia at CincSentits we grabbed a tiny table in the back (there were only 2) and ordered the "3 textures of Iberico" to share with a bottle of Rioja. The cute boy with a sharp knife prepared a slate of thin slices from different parts of the leg and explained the differences in flavor and composition. Along with some crusty home made bread and local olive oil, we snacked like kings. Educational and gluttonous in one simple setup. Sigh.

That whet our appetite, so we headed back to the old city for more eating and drinking, this time going Basque: Euskal Extea! The food of choice here are Pintxos ("pin' chohss") which are like mini tapas but served on little picks or "sticks" often on small slices of bread. The idea being you graze among all the offerings along the bar and passed by servers, keeping your picks to be counted later for your bill. There is no cheating. What there is a lot of is Txakoli ("chah' kohlee"), a brisk, zippy white wine poured in small quantities from a dizzy height into small tumblers, often to the accompanying shouts of "Hay! Txakoli!!! It's similar to Vinho Verde--lime-y, briskly acidic with a bit of frizzante (the small pour from a height keeps it fizzy in the glass) and pairs perfectly with salty fare (combo of green olives, pickled green beans and anchovies, my favorite pintxo), fried fare (small pieces of fried cod with what seemed like aioli, fried anchovies), marinated mushrooms, spicy sausage, cheese-stuffed peppers, etc. They are also cheap--we ate a dozen of them over the course of the night, along with um, 2 bottles of wine (it's only 11% alcohol!) and our bill was shockingly low. Of course we had to try a couple shots of Basque liquor since we were closing the joint down with the staff. Em. That was a little rough and more than a little medicinal. Makes you realize how tough the Basque really are...

Friday morning we were jonesing for the water and headed to Barceloneta and the Ports to take in the sea. Why we didn't run to the boardwalk the second we hit town I'll never know given our predilection for beaches. But we made it and ahhh, salt air, sailboats, cigarette butts. Life was good. But it had been hours since our last meal so we headed into the narrow alleys in search of seafood. Found a classic old Taverna called Can Romanet (est. 1763, when that was a pretty rough part of town): old men and fresh fish. My kind of joint. We ate the appetizers too quickly to take pictures: traditional pa' amb tomaquet (tomato rubbed bread) and grilled razor clams in some kind of herb oil. Whoa. Then I got shellfish stew with saffron and Dave got the salt cod. Heavenly with a dry, lemony bottle of Catalan white (?Xarel.lo & Parallada I think). A brisk walk up to the post office to send postcards and shoe window-shop erased thoughts of a nap and turned our thoughts to cheese. Like that's hard to do.

Here's where it gets funny. The cheese shop we'd heard about, both from Time Out and Amelia at CincSentits was run by a Scottish woman, Katherine McLaughlin. Her shop, Formatgeria la Seu (translates to Cheese Head Quarters, in the diocese HQ sense of "la seu"), specializes in Spanish farmhouse cheeses and she is as passionate and knowledgeable as you get. Lucky for us she'd had a crap day and when we came in and started chatting, she closed the shop, took us into the back and poured a few glasses of Bierzo to talk cheese over. What an amazing woman. Her tiny shop used to be a butter factory (food karma) and she and her sister restored as much of it as possible, including the beautiful wooden doors leading to the cooler. Her "cheese case" is really a climate controlled show room walk-in and I could have spent hours in there breathing it all in. Irony and serendipity are my bunk mates, so I wasn't even surprised when she told me how, for the past 2 years she'd been trying to open a tiny wine bar next door. Seriously. Not making that up. She showed us her "wee box" (a really cool mock up of the bar made by a set designer) and best yet, gave us a tour of the space itself. I thought Secco was small. Hers will seat (stand?) 6 maybe. The picture here may give you a clue to the ancient interior of the space she's working with. I thought the city of RVA was a pain to deal with? Imagine living in fear of finding Roman ruins under your wine bar while installing electrical and plumbing? The joys of entrepreneurialship. I am pleased as punch to have successfully smuggled all of the cheeses I bought from her into the US, and we are having a little contraband tasting at my house tonight. I'll definitely be raising a glass to Katherine.

Kathererine was also kind enough to recommend two spots to try before we left, so of course we did: a little wine bar called "Ginger" and Barcelona stalwart of Catalan cuisine, "Cafe de l'Academia". At the former, a tiny bar with a sunken lounge (disco ball and plush seats) and a half-mezzanine (?) seating area overlooking the literally 2' bar, we had a half bottle of "La Rosita" Cava Rosat. Basically we were pleasantly killing time until 9pm when the restaurant opened. I love eating on Barcelona time! Dave had a still bleating rack of lamb and I had grilled Catalunyan sausages with poached egg and wild asparagus. Washed down with copious amounts of house red and (do I have to even say it?) Orujo. Delicious. Finally, as we headed back to the hotel to pack, we passed by the parade they had for us (and OK, maybe also for Mary and Joseph but whatever).
Adeu, Barcelona!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Serious Eating And Drinking

With only a few navigational snags (I can't believe how patient Dave was with "Maggie" and her snippy "recalculating route" nonsense as she tried to take us down a wrong way street and dump us in a reservoir, and then took us across town TWICE during rush hour) we made it back, ditched the rental car, napped, showered and headed out to our Big Dinner at Michelin-starred CincSentits. We walked in and it was then I realized my mistake with 24 hour time. The place was almost empty. Our hostess Amelia Artal (one of the two owners, along with her brother chef Jordi) was super kind and accommodating despite my missing our reservation by TWO HOURS. Duh. The entire meal was perfection--flawless service, expert wine pairings, and the food...oh, the food! They prepare modern Catalunyan cuisine with a perfect balance of local ingredients, molecular gastronomy, and traditional flavors. We opted for the house selected wine pairings which were spot on. Here's my bad handwriting version of the menu. I'm hoping we get an emailed copy soon!

Amuse: the "CS Shot" which was layers of maple and cream in suspension, with little salt crystals at the bottom that hit your tongue last once the shot glass was upended. Shiver...
Aperitif: La Bota Manzanilla
Appetizer: marinated olives with citrus and fennel, crusty bread with olives and fantastic local olive oil and sea salt
Appetizer: (Dave) Foie Gras "coca" with leek confit, burnt-sugar crust, chive "arrope" (Julia) mini "canalons" chicken and black truffle, cèp bechamel, roasted chicken skin
Wines: Christoffel Erber Auslese QBA Mosel/Zarate Albarino
Seafood: diver scallops, sunchoke purée, onion "escalivada" sauce, and "jamón" chip
Seafood: "Pearls" of herring roe over cauliflower puree and white chocolate
Fish: Mediterranean tuna with smoked tomato water, lemon peel confit, black olive salt
Wine: Astrales Ribera del Duero
Meat: Iberian suckling pig sous vide with apple in two textures, "ratafía"
Wine: Enrique Mendoza La Marina DO Alicante (handwriting a little rough here)
Cheese: local, unpronounceable funky blue with truffle honey
Dessert: (see picture above) passionfruit, clementine and orange blossom "air" with cardamom crumble
Wine: Jorge Ordonez Malaga "1"
Dessert: Grand Cru chocolate 67% with olive oil ice cream, shattered bread, macadamia, sea salt
Wine: Mataro Dolce DO Alella (the name is lost forever..)

We were tickled. Thoroughly. We presented the owners with a bottle of Barboursville Octagon 8th as a thank you for such a perfect experience.

Of course, being the TOTAL GLUTTONS that we are, that just got us started for the evening (it was after all only midnight), so we asked the wine steward for a good after dinner drink location. He recommended "Dry Martini" a few blocks up. Talk about a gin joint--old school white-suited bar chefs with homemade bitters and unshakable (har) professionalism. I opted for the classics (different classic martinis with different small batch gins--one Brit London Dry that I LOVED ("Bulldog"), and one from Philly ("Blue Coat"). The former was more citrusy and floral but not delicate, the latter spicier and aromatic but balanced like Plymouth. Dave went all out and got a Singapore sling and something else I lost track of, maybe more Orujo from Pazo de Senorans, since there is a random picture of that in my iPhone...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Winery Visits: Penedes & Priorat


Vilarnau & Mont Marcal
We got up early Tuesday morning and pointed the rental car (a 3-cylinder Opal with the bitchiest Brit-voiced, temperamental navigation system ever made. "Maggie" became the butt of many jokes and threats for the next two days) to the mountains of Catalunya. We had three visits lined up in the Penedes (Cava country). Our first was with the makers of Subirats Cava Rosat, a regular feature at RCC. We met the lovely Marta Molina Ballesteros, head of PR and "Enoturismo". She gave us a tour of the very impressive facilities: exquisitely modern and landscaped office/warehouse/production building overlooking vineyards. Rotating art collections and state of the art eco-design. Very new school but still family owned. The winemaker and viticulturist are both women. Since we were there in February, the only action going on was in the stacks of slowly maturing cava bottles. I'll have to get the pictures here from Dave because as much as I love my iPhone, it has no flash. The rose is made from 100% Trepat, matured in bottle for 18 months before disgorgement**. Both the Vilarnau and later Mont Marcal facilities are built for production on a very large scale--the international world has a never ending thirst for cava and there's no romance in hand-riddling* hundreds of thousands of bottles. Robotics and precise mechanization take over in these volume oriented facilities. But they still make delicious, drinkable bubbly and no one can complain about that! Mont Marcal was similar in many aspects, 4 million bottles produced annually (with a bottling line that moves 3,000 bottles per hour) exported to 22 countries. While I appreciated our tour givers and the sips of fun, quaffable sparklers, at this point I was itching to get out of the warehouse and actually see some vines!

*The process, after aging, of turning and upending Cava or Champagne so the yeast bodies deposit in the neck. A person takes two weeks to do this, a computerized geo-cage 2 days or less.
**When all the yeast is deposited in the neck, it is flash frozen, the cap popped off and yeast plug allowed to shoot out. It is then quickly topped off and corked and caged, labeled and packed, ready for sale.

Can Feixes
So Dave and I headed off to our last (and best) stop of the day: Can Feixes. Their red was the first Catalunyan wine I ever had, so I already knew I was biased. But after getting lost (failing to turn left in a town that maybe was 100 feet long with only one turn--thanks Maggie) we drove up to the 16th century family house high up in the hills of Alt Penedes. Out came Joan, one of the three Huguet brothers that run the family owned winery. We shook hands and he motioned to the battered Land Rover and said, "Let's go see the vineyards." I knew this was going to be good! Joan drove us all over the family vineyards--all organic, some with 80 year old vines--explaining their connection to the land, the history of the property, his father's simultaneous talent of honoring traditional land-based winemaking and embracing technology, and the passion he and his brothers have for long term stewardship of the vines. I think Dave was enjoying the 45 degree hill climbs in the old Rover as much as I was enjoying the history lesson. We talked about organic vs. biodynamic viticulture, crop rotation, climate change, water management, and the concept of a multi-generational family business--a topic his brother Josep Maria would go into at length later. At one point we hopped out and he pointed to a spot near the tires: "Wild Pork" he said. It took me a minute to figure out he was showing me how much the wild boars love the grapes (they prefer red, not because of the flavor but because they stand out more from the foliage than green grapes). Then we drove back to the house to meet the winemaker (Josep Maria) and taste some fabulous wines. I presented them both with a bottle of Barboursville's Octagon 8th edition as a present and they seemed really pleased. That's when I noticed the awesome motif on the wing of the house: a smiling pair of peasants about to club a smiling pig. Ah, Jamon, my old friend!

To give you an idea of the differences between this kind of operation and the larger houses, Can Feixes has 80 vineyards on 350 hectares and produces a total of 250,000 bottles a year (one-sixteenth the production of Mont Marcal). All the fruit is picked by hand, and instead of irrigation they cross-plant or dig up water-holding herbs to control how much moisture gets to the vines. The Cava they produce is made mainly from Parallada, plus Malvaxia Sitges, Macabeo, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Parallada grows particularly well in this higher region and the vines average 25-3o years old. Because there is a light wind and no mist, there are no issues with rot or insects. Anticipating the ever warmer summers, they have begun planting grapes that can handle the heat like Petit Verdot. They cull each harvest to maintain consistency and quality, hand-selecting each cluster before pressing. Half the production is white wine, and 25% each goes to Cava and reds. The vineyard patches are small and spread around according to slope and soil type, so if a hail storm hits one section they haven't lost all of that varietal. The vineyards are also lined with Arbequina olive trees (but sadly they only make enough olive oil for friends and family).

In the cellars Josep Maria showed us the "history" section: original barrels and riddling racks used for centuries. It provides a link to the modern winemaking processes and shows both the carefully planned growth of the winery and also their commitment to natural methods (temperature and humidity control come from design rather than electricity hogging HVAC systems).

On to the tasting! We went through quite a lineup: The Huguet 2005 Cava Brut Nature (Parallada+Pinot Noir+Macabeo), the 2007 Seleccio Blanc Can Feixes (Parallada+Chardonnay+Malvaxia Sitges+Macabeo), the 2005 Chardonnay (100%), the 2005 Negre (Tempranillo [known locally as Ull de Llebre 'eye of the hare']+Cab+Merlot+Petit Verdot), and their elegant and ageable 2000 Reserva Especial (Cab+Melrot). We'll be tasting many of these out at the shop Friday 2/20 5-7 if you'd like to experience them yourself!

Next up...Priorat!

Mas Igneus
The next morning we headed into the steep hills of Priorat, home of deep gorges and hearty reds. Curving along the winding roads we were amazed at how barren and wild the region was, with only small groupings of rocky, terraced vineyards poking out between rock formations every quarter of a mile or so. We met with Ian (the first of two Scottish expats I would encounter) the viticulturist and Franc the winemaker to tour the winery. Mas Igneus was the first certified organic property in Priorat, and their small (ten hectares total) but well edited selection is clearly terroir-driven. Primarily they grow Garnatxa Negra & Carinyena, but there are also small areas of Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and native white varietals. The grapes are hand harvested (which, when you see the angle of the vineyard slopes is no surprise), hand selected, and the winemaking involves minimal intervention. The "FA206" is an intense, barrel aged red made from Garnatxa, Carinyena, Cab and Syrah with brambly fruit on the nose and balsam, spice, and plum notes on the finish. But don't take my word for it...come by Friday night and taste it yourself!

After leaving Mas Igneus we had time to kill and empty bellies, so we drove into neighboring Morela Monsant. This town was so small we dubbed it a "three dog town" (and all three followed us around hoping for snacks). We ended up eating Jamon y Queso Bocadillos in a smoky little bar full of local construction workers and two of the dogs (who were rewarded for their vigilance with pigs' trotters), watching Spanish Wheel of Fortune. This would be in stark contrast to the exquisite eight-course tasting menu we almost missed later that night back in Barcelona because I thought "20:30" was 10:30. Sheesh.

sightseeing, an interesting cocktail and a really good Jewish Joke

Monday evening found us in a wineshop close to the hotel: Neyras, on Laietana. It was staffed by a smart, vivacious woman named Nuria. She was very knowledgeable about local and Spanish wines, cordials and local food. We talked about the wineries we planned to visit and tasted some of her "wines of the week." We ate dinner at a fussy little place (el Bitxo? hee) run by a mean woman: 2 kinds of chorizo along with Manchego and Idiazabal. Eh. Jumping ahead to the last stop of the night, Teller de Tapas. The liquor choices were pretty slim, but I told the handsome barkeep that I had a weak spot for anisette and he made me an original concoction he dubbed "Spring in a Glass." It was sort of like a mojito but made with muddled strawberries, basil/mint, anisette, a splash of soda water and plenty of ice served in a tall glass. We got to chatting and we asked him if he came to Barcelona or ended up there. He laughed and told us how different the city was when you're a visitor as opposed to an immigrant. Yair was originally from Tel Aviv (a "real city" not a "little big town"). When he told his boss he'd fallen in love with Andalucia and was leaving, his boss responded with this:

"A man once fell into a deep sleep and was convinced he'd died and gone to Hell. Once there he was pleasantly surprised. It was full of beautiful people and delicious food and drink and musicians and wild parties. He figured this was the place to be! Years later he became deathly ill, died and opted for Hell. After many days of being set afire, flayed, beaten, starved and otherwise tortured, he decided he needed to speak to the person in charge and complain. This is not the Hell I signed up for, he said. Not at all what I experienced before! The Devil flipped through his notebook, scanned down to the man's name and said, ah-ha. Here it is. It appears you were on a tourist visa."

Spain: La Boqueria

Words cannot relate the thrill...

Trip to Spain--Part1

There are only 2 downsides to Spain, as far as I am concerned: everyone smokes (even the babies and the dogs) and free wi-fi is hard to come by. Everything else was fantastic! Dave, my most excellent and handsome travel partner has half the pictures, so I'll add those as I get them.

We landed Sunday morning, checked in, took a nap, and wandered off into the Gothic Quarter in search of libations. Finding Placa Reial we settled on the touristy but reliable and beautiful Taxidermista--Dali and Miro's old hangout. Here we started a week-long habit of ridiculous eating: Dave had Foie Gras with citrus confit, and I had Bacalao (fried salt cod) with the most delicious white beans ever. Al dente and more like quinoa or pearled barley in texture. The name might have been ____ Ganchet? Since we also had a bottle of Xarel.lo (it was breakfast so we stuck with a white) I can't read my handwriting. It also started a bizzarre trend of bad music soundtrack for our vacation. The Tina Turner, Beatles and Saturday night Fever were just the beginning, capped off by Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" in the taxi back to the airport. *shudder* After a few hours of wandering we found a delightful local market with an amazing cheese selection, where I purchased the first of many items I would later sneak past customs.

All that walking left us thirsty, so we popped into VildsVin Antiga Taverna in search of flinty Sherry. A few glasses of salty Fino later we were ready for another nap and a shower. Life is hard. For dinner that night we stumbled upon PLA (named after the chef Josep Pla). Beautiful and typical of many restaurants in the old city, it was a glass fronted modern space carved out of a 15th century stone building. Super friendly waitstaff (who were kind with my stabbing attempts at speaking Catalan), interesting graphic/art video projections on the wall above us, and a delightful menu. Everything from kangaroo carpaccio starter to yogurt honey mousse with pinenuts dessert. Accompanying all the deliciousness was the heartiest rose (rosat in Catalan) I've ever had. It was from Monsant: "Poigenc" Syrah. Full, spicy, with dark fruit notes and a hint of candied orange on the finish. Perfect with Dave's plank smoked salmon and grilled ramps. I was feeling much better at that point (I'd had a 48 hour flu with 102 degree temperature the day before we left), so of course we had to hit the cordials: Badalonci (sp?--handwriting is a lost art) Anisette and Galician Porta del Mino Orujo Herbes (kind of like a Spanish grappa infused with citrus, rosemary, oregano and fennel). Needless to say I was instantly hooked and added it to my list of smuggleables. Side Barcelona Portishead is considered dinner music.

The next morning, in a fit of Facebook withdrawl, we blew the transformer and most of the fuses in the room. Classic. The guys at reception loved us by the end of our stay. Silly Americans that we are, we tried to get coffee to "go" so as to not waste time getting to the Boqueria Market. Doesn't exist. Sit down and drink a cafe amb let (cafe con leche) for goodness sake! We got to the market and WHOA. At this point it's Europe's largest, as well my personal foodie fantasy. Since we had to eat, we pulled up barstools at the boisterous Pinotxo Bar. The lively old gentleman behind the bar practically pinched my cheek when I hit him with my well calculated, "Bon Dia!" and asked, all in Catalan (oops--it's not like I SPEAK it?!) what we wanted to eat. There was no menu. We looked around and he points to me and asks if I like verduras and something else that I figured out was chick peas. I nodded. He asked Dave, "carne?" Dave nodded. What showed up was a classic Catalunyan breakfast (though admittedly more traditional for people who do physical labor rather than sell wine all day): Dues Birras (2 beers), carxofes (boiled and grilled artichokes) and salted potatoes, and Cua del Toro (12 hour braised bull's tail. Yup. For breakfast. Booyah!

Next post: market photos.