Posts Tagged ‘Food Review’

Sketches of San Sebastian

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Into San Sebastian, in the Basque region of Spain, for a tour – more of a feeding frenzy – of its Michelin starred restaurants. Given that the city has more three star restaurants per head of population than anywhere else in the world, this holiday borders on the obscene. Perhaps foodie tourism has taken over from sex tourism?

A curious thing happens when I consult my notes, for though I make mention of Arzak, Mugaritz, Akelare, and Martin Berasategui, it is the places arrived at by happenstance that seem to have marked me most. So I shall put the big guns on hold and offer a few tidbits from one man’s journey with his near saint of a girlfriend and their convection oven of a car.

In the Picos de Europa amid vertiginous gorges and extraordinary scenery, we stop for bread fish soup – a shellfish broth that is leavened with stale bread. It plops onto the plate like pig slops but tastes like heaven. A local sidre, poured from a great height to oxidise it, is dungeon cold and sour as green rhubarb.

At Praia de Mogodof on the scalloped, bleached white, beach, made from the dust of a billion crushed shells; a lean-to shack offered salade nicoise made, correctly with tinned tuna stored in sunflower oil. Who needs French beans? This came on a plate you could land a helicopter on along with a tractor wheel of tortilla that had been cooked to order and was thus perfectly liquid at its centre. The owner was touchingly aggrieved we could not finish it. It would have sufficed for a coach party of sumo wrestlers.

In Lugo, lamb’s tongue; leathery crunch and yielding interior. Tripes, yes the texture and smell is like eating boiled Converse trainers, but the taste! Raw armandine clams, still throbbing, chewy like seaweed and sweet as fudge. In Santandar, fabada, the Asturian stew of beans, sausages, morcilla, cocina and sweet, artery clogging pig fat, bubbles and broils its way to our table. A mini Vesuvius.

At Alona Berri tapas bar – ‘cuisine in miniature’ – they promise to feed us till we are not hungry. And they do. Stand out dish; pig foot terrine, peppercorn crisp, roast baby squid suspended above a reduced fish stock laced with vermuth. One if by land one if by sea.

Thank heaven for Schwartz’s Deli

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Before disembarking the Queen Mary 2 at foul Fort Lauderdale I was advised that American food was cheap, substantial, and crap. The first two observations proved correct, happily the latter did not. The food, incidentally, on the Queen was uniformly fine. I particularly recommend the tasting menu in the Chino/Japanese restaurant. That is to digress, the meat of this piece is modern American cuisine and for those of you planning a visit the prognosis is good. From grits – like polenta only, well, grittier – to porcini dusted snow crab, you will find it in rude good health.

They have not yet latched on to – excepting Enoteca’s and Deli’s – the current British vogue for letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Here the average dining experience is all flash and filigree put to good effect. It is elaborate but never overly so. Thus, pecan dusted orange roughy fish with jalapeno mash and cilantro jam or pheasant chipolatas in an oyster broth with chorizo oil – cheap certainly, though on closer inspection the oyster broth, which kicked off at $10, eventually costs $14 once you factor in local and state taxes and obligatory service charge. As an aside it’s funny that as a rule of thumb American establishments suggest between 15 and 20% as a reasonable tip yet when they visit our shores more often than not they do not tip at all. I presume they assume the tip is ‘built in’.

What of quantity? Why here I have no complaints. In Savannah’s 45 Bistro a lacquered bento box contains: ½ a kilo of rare seared tuna; 8 vegetable tempura fritters; a mountain of ramen noodles and a lake of endame and nori sauce. Unbelievably, this constitutes the first part of a three-course lunch for one. In Scotland this would be the makings of a substantial meal for two, end of story.

As we veer over the border into Montreal, all is style over substance, which is to pontificate. In mitigation I offer these dishes sampled; coffee dusted scallops on walnut mash, foie gras, apple jus, candied leeks with a grapefruit and caramel syrup followed by frozen fig nougat, fig carpaccio, maple syrup and chips flavoured with port. Thank heaven, then, for Schwartz’s deli – a favoured haunt of Leonard Cohen. Melt in the mouth salt beef, dill pickle, mustard and rye, simple. Anything you can’t eat gets packed into a doggy bag and will sustain you for another couple of days, all for $3.50.

As we make to leave the counter assistant asks me if I’ve forgotten my coat, “I didn’t bring one,” I say (outside it is minus twenty degrees). He smiles ruefully. “You grow old quickly but not wisely,” he says, shaking his head slowly. Homespun homilies for free…what’s not to like?