Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Next digression.....more old history.

Just in case there were still people out there that are not yet offended..........

Anna Nicole Smith died of chloral hydrate, a sleep aid. A sleep aid? Why not a ball bat?

I am really feeling like a fossil now. I have been having chloral hydrate flashbacks....

I am a former Local 7 New York City Union Bartender. This was serious stuff, being a union bartender. There were rules, and if you broke them, you were done. A union bartender never puts his hands in ice......supposedly something about arthritis. This is why there were bar-backs....also a union job.

We were highly trained, though. Only just now is bartending as a profession coming back to the old standards.....and going beyond. In New York, in a neighborhood bar, you can get a passionfruit margarita with barrel aged single source tequila, Meyer lemon oil, and Murray River Sea Salt rim. Or have a vodka tonic......the bartender made the tonic water from heirloom Peruvian quinine and non-ossified mineral water. We won't talk about the Meyer lemons.....

We were trained more socially and culturally then technically.....though I once was voted creator of the "Best Martini in New York". The secret was in the stirring or shaking.......chill it but don't bruise it. The rocks needed to jump, and get out. Any junior banker could tell out of the corner of his eye if the bartender was fucking up his fifth martini by over stirring.

We were trained to assess the customer as he or she walked in: Scotch, gin or vodka; if scotch, J&B or Dewars, or Chivas, or single malt; soda or water. You could tell by the suit, the shoes, the tie, the walk.....Dewars guys were Democrats, J&B, Republicans; water guys were solid...soldiers, soda guys more flighty or artistic. English tailoring probably meant single malts, especially older guys......look for pipe and cigar ashes.

Another thing we knew about was Mickey Finns. The Mickey was the barman's last resort. If the customer was too fucked up, too belligerent....and beyond gentle, or not-so-gentle persuasion.....you had to go to the Mickey. Mickey Finn was historically an old time boxer with a famous knockout punch. The Mickey Finn was your bouncer in a bottle.

There were two basic classes: direct and indect Mickeys. The Italians preferred the direct route: chloral hydrate. A splash in the glass with a little scotch or anisette.....goodnight, Irene. The problem was that the asshole would immediately fall over off his stool with a bang. If the door guys weren't there to catch him it made a scene. In my day, at places like the Copacabana....where the door guys were armed.....and there was an attractive level of simmering violence pervading the club's atmosphere, it was not a big deal. In nice, subdued, WASPy French dining rooms it was not such a good thing. A nasty scene could ruin a place.

We used veterinary laxatives instead. A few drops in a complimentary drink for the obnoxious dickhead creating a problem.......and the guy would be sprinting for the bathroom. There, the door guys would be waiting for him, grab him, fuck him up...or not, and throw him out onto the street out of sight and earshot of the VIP's. The kind of elegant thing about the laxative was that the asshole would probably shit himself out on the street, and be too ashamed and embarrassed to come back in and cause problems.

Also, the laxative was not lethal.....well, not normally. My friend Pierre, liked to relax after work and drink Grand Marnier and Dom Perignon with a cute waitress on his lap at Le Berry. To which practice his wife objected on both financial and marital grounds. After a hard day's work, Pierre did not want to hear it.......and used to move her along back to the apartment with a little dose of Mickey. Sometimes she would be up there for days. Eventually she did pass on from some kind of digestive problems.........Yeeesh, the French. And he was the sweetest guy in the world......

Meanwhile, the chloral hydrate would occasionally kill a guy straight out. Too much booze, too much Mickey, and the guy would perhaps forget to breathe....Plus, it had a vicious hangover.......the bartender's revenge.

The fact that Anna Nicole Smith's psychiatrist prescribed chloral hydrate as a sleep aid is mind-boggling to me. She could have saved herself the medical fees and just acted like an asshole in an Mafia place in The Apple or Miami......Sweet dreams, baby. Personally, I wouldn't chloral hydrate my dog.....and I don't like my dog.

Meanwhile, as I said, the laxative was not without side effects. I was finally fired from my prestige job at The Colony behind it, and exiled to Europe.

It was Mother's Day, 1972......all the old ladies came in with their daughters and granddaughters. The Colony was on Madison and 61st Street, so these were the real deal grannies. That day we had Jackie Kennedy and Carolyn, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Claire Booth Luce and her hot granddaughter from Ithaca. A single guy came in and right away started making a scene. He ordered escargots and a filet, and a bottle of Latour, and started screaming for his food two minutes after the order. We brought him stone cold escargots.....he didn't notice. When two of us came over to try to quiet him screaming for his steak, he yelled: "Typical of you French faggots....takes two of you to deal with a real man!" I had to stop Marcel from pulling out the .22 automatic he always carried in his tux and shooting the guy where he sat. Claire Booth Luce glared at us.....but she was an acidhead at the time, so I figured it was still OK for a minute. Go with The Flow, baby.......

We dosed the guy's Latour, and told him he had a phone call that he could take in my office in the kitchen. As he got up from the table I brushed his lapels and buttoned his blazer for him. As he came through the curtain from the dining room he got The Look.

"Where is the rest room?"

Marcel grabbed him from the back, jerked his blazer down over his arms, trapping him with that good English bespoke button-stitchery. We grabbed his belt and collar and slammed him out through the back door of the kitchen and tossed him into the Dumpster. "Fuck you, and don't come back......"

Ten minutes later.....with the ladies still dining......the guy came back through the front door. He was covered in slime and orange peels and he had shit himself. He didn't care. Turns out he owned the whole block across the street (61st to 62nd, Madison to Park) and a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He wasn't fazed at all.....and got the owner to apologize to him. And fire us. I barely kept Marcel from shooting him, and the owner.

Shoulda used chloral hydrate. Damn, it sure worked for Anna Nicole...........

Fourth Digression.....Politically Incorrect

I may need a second blog. It turns out that clients, brides and people looking for property in Cachagua read this thing. Sometimes, people, kitchen humor (like cop humor and pathologist humor) is a little dark. I know you are shocked to hear that. Shocked!

Let us dispose of the latter category right now. Wanna buy a ranch in Cachagua?

While we were in Spain, on a Tuesday morning, we got a phone call from Brendan at The Store. It was midnight in Cachagua. The Sheriffs were prowling all around The Store.

Normally we have absolutely zero law enforcement. It really is the Law West of the Pecos. In the immortal words of Abbie Hoffman: "What you own is what you can defend"......and not a nickel, or a garden hose more. The attitude towards drinking and driving trucks and automobiles is still in the Eisenhower era: "Keep the rubber side down, and the shiny side up....you'll be fine."

The more sober and productive town people comprise our early seating and leave prudently early.....the later seating is the Rana Creek crazies, the Big Sur people, the Wine Geeks, local chefs, etc: the fun bunch. My people.

The appearance of the Sheriff put a serious dent in this scene. At midnight in Cachagua, the Sheriff doesn't need a breathalyzer. Leaving The Cachagua Store past ten pm is prima facie evidence that you are not a member in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Brendan had moved into "Sleepover Mode": doors locked, wait it out. Kind of like New Orleans people in a hurricane. Omelettes and Beaujolais for everyone! Not to mention the zydeco music from Pat Clark.

The reason for the law enforcement presence? Our landlord.

This dear soul had come to believe that people were out to get him. Possibly true. His particular paranoia was that these people were armed with bows and arrows and were shooting through his windows. His response was to call 911, grab his 9mm and crawl out a window into the dark. He spent the next couple of hours creeping through the bushes and around the Mercedes in our parking lot trying to get the drop on the bow-and-arrow people while the Sheriff surrounded his house and looked for him.

His family was safe, though. His quick thinking wife moved them into the laundry room, and put the baby in the washing machine for protection. Who knew those Kenmores were arrow proof? Who knew bow-and-arrow paranoia was transferable?

The Sheriff eventually got our guy (the bow and arrow people were strangely hard to catch or see) and dragged him off for a night at the Steel Hilton. I am quite confident that his attorney will prove that there were no drugs involved......just performance art.

My clients were released from The Store onto the roads without further incident. Rubber side down, shiny side up.

Mmmm......Beaujolais and omelettes.....Even so, I am thinking that David Kinch does not have these problems at Manresa.....

Anyway, the whole Frogua thing got me going......memories of Etienne, L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge and the Upstate Duck Slaughter. These are the things that got me hooked on this business to begin with.....the natural, organic connection of food to the life around us, and the possibility of using skill, science and art to create a beautiful experience and beautiful memories.

And life does imply death.....can't get around that one. The dialectic is especially vivid in the country. Now we are parsing the differences between perceptions of cruel and painful lives and deaths for lobsters and ducks and cows on a level that would challenge a philosopher.

Don't kill the lobster, Wolfgang? What, ever? No more lobsters for you, Wolfie? Or, it is OK to kill him close to his natural waters, aka frozen Australian rock lobster tails. Is it cruel to refrigerate him and ship him somewhere in a dark box? How far is cruel? A block? One time-zone? And......exactly where is the cruelty here? Not being with his buds? Anticipation of something grim, or dis-orientation at exchanging a dark, cold, muddy hole at the bottom of the ocean for a dark, cold box at the bottom of the walk-in? Do lobsters anticipate? Do they anticipate more than Little Bobby Broccoli? Do I give a shit?

Or, if I am allowed to kill him....... is one way better than another? Boiling may take 30 seconds to kill. Kind of a bummer 30 seconds, true.....and all of us still have to steel ourselves for that duty. But, still.....it is a bug from the bottom of the sea. It is not a baby from Darfur......

At Auberge, back in the day, we did a lobster special every Friday night in winter. The Lobster Guy would drive down from Maine and drop off fifty lobsters or more. We had a dozen ways to prepare them.

The most dramatic was Lobster Thermidor. We would hypnotize the lobsters by standing them up on their noses until they stood there balanced, quietly. This was a busy kitchen: two guys, all sautées, a hundred dinners. Six or eight lobsters were always lined up ready to go. The sautée guy would grab a lobster, stab it in the head and immediately whack it up into parts. A lot of whacking and smashing. Shit would fly! The meat would go into the hot sautée pan, the tamale or roe would be reserved to thicken and enrich the sauce. Next! We had to hide the fact that we were killing the lobsters to order with a knife from the customers.......they much preferred "normal" boiled lobster. So much less violent and cruel.


I had a restaurant in Telluride in the middle seventies.....The Sheridan Hotel. We found an old menu from 1890 that listed fresh Long Island oysters. You can't get fresh Long Island oysters in Telluride nowadays, even with the jetport. These bivalves rode the rails packed in barrels in ice in the dark. Cruel? If not, what is the difference between a lobster and an oyster?

Etienne's father and mentor was Pierre Merle.....one of the classic old-school great chefs. The fact that I worked with him makes me a classic......and an antique, probably. His name for me was "Deguellasse"......."from the throat of an animal"......I was not very good about keeping a clean station.

Pierre was a poultry chef back in the day when 99% of the kitchen people would follow one particular metier for their entire professional lives. He wound up in New York in the French Ghetto in Hell's Kitchen after jumping ship from his job on the S.S. France as poultry chef. He was allergic to feathers, and in those days they used live birds. The cramped quarters on the steamship were literally killing him.....so au revoir. He wound up owning Le Berry on 51st Street between 8th and 9th Avenues (I can't type the address without being overwhelmed with nostalgia....sorry). Pierre married an American woman, fathered Etienne, and eventually probably slowly killed his wife with veterinary laxative...but that is the subject of the next digression.

Pierre's job before the France was at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The Gare du Nord had a number of cafés and restaurants: the regular commuter brasserie and a high end fine dining establishment on the second floor. Pierre was the poultry guy there.

Next door to the Gare du Nord was a whorehouse. Among the pleasures made available to the clientele were pretty much anything you can think of......but I bet you didn't think of this one! Discreet, country-style bestiality: the travelling salesman could get a room, buy a goose or a chicken.....and fuck it to death.

Ooops, there go all the brides and clients! Sorry...please don't shoot the messenger.

Pierre even shared the technique as it was described to him: the customer would grab the bird around the neck with one hand, close the dresser drawer firmly on the feet, and then........I still can't begin to picture the next part, but involved some timing in the throttling of the bird and the ecstatic moment of the........never mind.

Anyway, the French being.....well, French......the brothel would sell the perfectly good dead geese and chickens to the high end restaurant next door. Pierre had to face a not infrequent supply of freshly fucked dead fowl to prep upon his arrival at his station in the morning. This eventually wore on his morale.....for some reason. He jumped at the chance to sail on the France. I don't think they had OSHA in Paris.....

If this seems incongruous to you, you should know that they still keep live birds in French restaurants for eating. Ortolan, a happy little chickadee-style bird, often was found in cages in the garden of restaurants to admire on your way in (Hannibal Rising, the latest Hannibal Lechter novel by Thomas Harris describes this.....Hannibal lets the birds go). Nowadays it is more secret and cult-like, and the birds are kept in the back. They are fed on grain......duh. When an order comes in, the chef grabs a birdie, drowns him in a glass of Armagnac, quickly plucks him and sautées him whole. Whole whole. Guts, feet, head. Whole whole. There are special little ortolan pans for this. At the presentation in the dining room, the pans are brought directly to the table. The diners cover their heads in big ortolan napkins.....to capture the explosive essences.....and munch the little critters whole.

This is a savory course. After dessert, you see.

All this may seem a tad repellent....but it is part of my cultural upbringing. It won't be long that one of my apprentices will be posting to his kitchen blog: "I had this job back in the day.......we would take live oysters that had been scooped from their homes in the sea, shipped in boxes all across the country in airplanes......and we would man these displays at weddings and corporate events. We would seize the living oysters, cut open their shells and hand them to guests. The guests would squeeze a little lemon on them.....and smile when they saw the still living tissues contract in pain......."

Pass the tofu, Natasha......or shut the fuck up while I eat my lobster with foie gras.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Jillian on Fox LA just mis-pronounced Frogua….

And today my Number One Hors D’oeuvres (arduves?) Girl just sent me the bill for the party where we did the "frogua moose".

Big news today: Wolfgang Puck is no longer serving frogua….because he cares about cruelty to the ducks. Jillian says, “Screw the ducks….the cruelty is in making ME eat it…..Caviar is cruel too! To me!”

Chicago has banned foie gras. Our friend Michael Ginor, from Hudson Valley Foie Gras (the gold standard of American foie) was forced to help write the statute that will make foie gras illegal in New York in 2010, or sometime soon…..

I am sitting here mystified. Wolfgang I can understand. He needs a little new press to distract from that unfortunate giving hepatitis to everyone at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party thing.....Funny: both issues are liver-related.....

Meanwhile, if you get a bunch of high end chefs.....say among the top 100..... together to knock out some menus…..or if you decide to drive through a country filled with high end chefs…..say: France, Spain, Italy, England, Germany, America, Mexico…..you are gonna run across foie gras….a lot.

In our three weeks in Spain (which most Americans think of in terms of bullfights and paella…as opposed to the high tech paradise that it is….) Amanda and I ran across foie roughly twice a day. That is an average. There were Four Foie Days.....

Foie is the ultimate combination of fat and protein we currently have available to us on Planet Earth.

Let me digress…..God knows THAT never happened before…..

First Digression:

I knew Julia Child. We did a party together, and she used to eat in my old restaurant in The Barnyard in Carmel. The last time I served her she, obviously, wanted to know what was on the menu that was cool. She would always eat two entrées, so there were some decisions to be made. I mentioned the Bobby Veal Loin….from a calf that was not locked in a cage in the dark and fed pale food, but a grass-fed calf that had been abandoned by its mother and therefore.....

Julia interrupted me: “Young man….All things considered…..I don’t give a SHIT about a COW…..What does it taste like? What is the preparation?”

Second Digression:

One of my first jobs was working for a French restaurant in Upstate New York, L’Auberge du Cochon Rouge. Our Mentor Chef, Etienne Merle, believed in doing things the old fashioned way….well, actually back then it wasn’t the old fashioned way yet. The Auberge ("country inn" in French) truly was a country inn. We had a pond, a barn, pigs, a garden….and ducks. Turkeys even.

In the French world view nearly everything visible is also edible in principle. (The fact that all things visible are also fuckable is the subject of another digression). And so it was with the ducks....the edible part anyway.

At the appropriate season, the more impecunious staff was mustered for the duck slaughter. The ducks were happily living in the pond and in pens around the Auberge. Our first task was to gather them up. Another initial task was to build a fires under the porcelain bathtubs we had dragged under the old clothesline. One tub was to be 145 degrees, the second was to be 140 degrees….(Fahrenheit, you American peasants…….)

The process was this: 1) muster the ducks, 2) grab one, hook its feet in a wire attached to the cable on the clothesline, 3) stab it under the chin with a paring knife so that the blade cut the connection between the medulla and the spine but didn’t kill it....this kept the feathers loose somehow; 4) drop it in Tub 1; 5) drop it Tub 2; 6) move it on to a work table where workers maniacally ripped off all the feathers in detail; 7} rehang the duck on the clothesline and send it on to the gutting station.

This was not as physically hard as you might think. The ducks completely cooperated. They even lined up for slaughter......in an actual line like the supermarket. (The plucking was another matter….For duckplucking, think Sheepdog odor times ten, plus the superhot water pouring into your rubber gloves, and the whole breathing in duckdown thing…..)

The ducks in the line would actually limp on occasion, hoping to draw pity from us slaughterers…..Like we needed another guilt trip. But they stayed in line…..like little feathered Republicans following the dominant paradigm…..

There is a classic and definitive French expression: “Pas de pitié pour les canards boiteux…” that comes from this exercise.

“No pity for limping ducks.”

In English: “Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke…..” This may or may not say more about French people than ducks….

Unbeknownst to Merle we liberated a few ducks out over the fence into the cornfield….and, ashamedly, when we could no longer deal with plucking another dead duck….and they too went into the cornfield.

The worst job I ever had…..and I have some BAD jobs......

Third Digression

My Amanda loves birds. My office window looks out onto the Boston Market of Birds. We have finch feeders, suet feeders, hummingbird feeders, who knows what the fuck feeders. We have bird baths the Romans would like. She gets up before dawn to take care of her birds. She spares no expense or trouble. She knows more about her birds lives and sexual habits than Kitty Kelly knows about the Bushes.

Today I looked out and saw the fattest finch in history sitting on the rock in the near birdbath…..looking seriously hung over. He was FAT. His throat was still bulging from all the seed that he had eaten that there was no more room for down below. He looked like Rush Limbaugh at an oxycontin convention. This was Foie Gras Finch……

Here is the deal…..Ayla of the Clan of the Cave Bear did not invent foie gras while she was inventing fire, domesticated animals, pharmacology, hot sex and modern weaponry. The fucking birds invented foie gras the same way the Irish and Russians invented cirrhosis and the Pumas invented morbid obesity: they were following Nature’s call.

Migrating ducks descend on ripe grain and eat the fuck out of it until they can barely move….to store enough fat in their livers and elsewhere to make it through the migration and the winter. The ones who can’t move are grabbed by savvy hunters of whatever species, who have a wonderful time with the grossly distended livers….and perhaps make it through their own migrations and winters. In modern times the hunter is a cardiologist, and he just has to make it through the malpractice suit and the IRS audit….but that is another story.

Fourth Digression

If you are a meat eater….you are eating pain and death. It doesn’t matter if you eat chicken nuggets, free range Rocky chicken, Wagyu beef, Provimi veal, wild salmon, farmed Idaho trout, whatever.

A creature lived….and then died so you could eat it. Get over it!

Seriously: buy or borrow a copy of "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Read it. Give it to your friends.

If you are squeamish about the way your protein comes to you, become a vegetarian…..it is not that hard. And even then….what about Little Bobby Broccoli? Torn from the ground before he could ever germinate. What a cruel world.

If not…then you are fucking hypocrite of the worst caliber. Someone call Wolfgang Puck up and have him come along with me to a cattle branding. We grab the adolescent steers, gangbang them down to the ground, cut their balls off and fry their skins with hot irons. The only anaesthetic available is Jack Daniels…and the steers don’t get it...we do.

Go to a “free-range” chicken farm…..the free range part only kicks in after 10 weeks…..and it is a tiny door in the back of a giant chicken shed that leads out to a tiny lawn. Like the shuffleboard court at the old folks home where you sent Grandma. By the time the chickens are allowed out, they aren’t interested. Neither is Granny. Like the French ducks, they are in to their routine.

Foie gras is no different than any other meat that we eat….

It is a duck. If you are going to eat the thing to begin with….at least let it chow down like a teenager at the Reese’s factory before it goes down.

And, in the words of Julia Child….

"All things considered….who gives a shit about a duck?"

Friday, March 16, 2007

Happy St. Paddy's!! Racist bastards......

There was a time......when referring to an Irish person as a ''paddy'' was like calling an African a "nigger" or "kafir".

When was this? A hundred years ago? No. Oh, last year...... in England......

"Paddy Wagon"? for police arrest vehicle.....think "Nigger-Be-Good Flashlight" for Mag-Light.

South Park hit a home run last weekend when they had the "Wheel of Fortune" final question be: "People Who Annoy You". The puzzle was "N*GGERS".

Kartman's dad guessed wrong.....The answer was "Naggers", not what he thought.

We went one further after Gen. Peter Pace's comments about gays. Our menu from Monday:

People That Annoy You Roadhouse

*AGGOTS or N*GGERS? (Check your racism at the door!)

11 March 2007

-Cachagua Valley


Duncan’s Pizza: Corralitos sausage, smoked ham and bacon; artichoke hearts, jalapenos, and mushrooms $7.00 and $12.00

Micah’s Pizza: Crème fraiche, Corralitos ham, carmelized onions, fresh basil leaves, fresh and domestic mozzarella $7.00 and $12.00

Cate’s Pizza: Shiitake mushrooms, carmelized onions, fennel, asiago 7.00/$12.00

Soup: Cream of Four Mushrooms (Shiitake, Chanterelle, Porcini, etc….vegetarian) $4.50

Fresh Local Dungeness Crab Cake with Meyer Lemon/Rosemary Aioli $7.50

Terrine of Duck and Rabbit with Roasted Apples and Celeri-Rave Apple Purée $4.50

Brendan’s Roasted Beets, Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad $5.50

Cool Salad of Jicama, Blood Orange and Cumin Salad $4.50

Polenta Fritter with Shitakes, Maple Braised Pork Belly $6.50

Cachagua Caesar Salad $4.50

Zolan’s Blue Cheese Iceberg Wedge $4.50

House Butter Leaf Salad with Brendan’s Redneck Ranch Dressing (mmmmm)$4.50


Served with organic King City asparagus, Bemidji canoe picked wild rice , and roasted creamer potatoes

Grilled Aussie Natural Grass-Fed Beef Filet with Porcini Cream $16.00

Syrah Braised Wyoming Buffalo Short Ribs with Leeks and Heirloom Carrots $16.00

Pan Roasted Petrale Sole with Fennel Pollen and Basil/Yuzu Oil $14.50

Conejo Caçater (Catalan Braised Rabbit with Leeks, Tomatoes, and Pecans) $14.00

Mesquite Grilled Creekstone Farms Tri tips of Beefs $11.00

Duck Confit with Braised Endive and Szalay Raspberry Reduction $14.00

Oven Roasted Fulton Valley Brined Organic Chicken $12.50

New Zealand Double Venison Chop with Szalay, etc $20.00

Saffron Linguine (Ours) with Trout Caviar, Quail Eggs, Jamon Iberico and Mushrooms $14.00


Grilled Jet Fresh Maui Pineapple with Ginger Ice Cream

Michel Cluizel Single Source African Chocolate Cremas Inglése, Sea Salts and Olive Oil

Txema’s Crema Catalan

Girl Scout Thin Mint Ice Cream

Death by Brownie with Caramel Mousse

Susan’s Jamesburg Apple Blueberry Pie

Michael’s Savory Course: Compots and Cheese

Roasted Apples with Apple Syrup and White Chocolate Zabaglione

MAGGOTS, dummy. Even in high school in the sixties I had a button: "In England...we BURN faggots....."

But.......forget all that.....

In RacistLanguageLand.....who was the Number One Guy last week?

No, no....not Al Sharpton!!

Rev. Al was just on The Daily Show. At the end of the segment he said mentioned that even though his name is a by-product of slavery (actually the name of the slaveholders who owned his grandfather back when) he would not "denigrate" his grandfather's memory by..........saying something negative.

The continuing problem with racism in America and the world is that it is systemic....and built into the language and culture. We don't even notice that it is there.

The term "denigrate" means to blacken or defame, coming from the root Latin word "niger" for "black".....like black is a bad thing? I mean......NEGATIVE is kind of racist if you think about the roots.......forget "denigrate"......

Where I come from Black is still Beautiful. How depressed am I to hear Rev. Al, of all people....use a culturally loaded word to describe his own family? The Reverend is the wordsmith; let's get him better tools. How about "besmirch"?

Anyway, I am going off about this on the most racist of all our Anglo Holidays.....St. Patrick's Day.

I am forced, culturally.....to serve corned beef and cabbage in The Bar. Guinness and Harp sales go up markedly.

Corned beef and cabbage is not Irish. It is the cuisine of oppression.

The middle of the Civil War....ours, not Iraq's....coincided with the denouement of the Great Famine in Ireland. Three million Irish people died or emigrated because of British racism, agricultural policy and a fungus...... starting in the late 1840's. England continued to export corn , cows and horses from Ireland while the people who produced them starved....for a dozen years. Darfur is nothing new.

Many of the emigrants fought in the Civil War, and are happily providing compost to this day for tobacco farms in The South. Many more signed on as laborers for building the TransContinental Railway across America. The Irish dug West....the Chinese dug East.....as it should be.

By this time the Great Plains had been scoured of buffalo and most of the pesky indigenous peoples. The Irish, having left a country where they had to compete with English export cattle for the grass that grew in the meadows.....were grateful to be dry and fed anything more filling than fescue.

American Industry responded. Slaughter the cows that replaced the Natives and the buffalo, and feed the grateful Irish just enough protein to sustain life and continue to dig.

Problem....refrigeration had not been invented.

Solution: Pour into the beef enough salt and toxins to destroy any bacterial action in the cow flesh, and keep the protein safe to rebuild the Irish muscles necessary to dig the railroad.

Problem: The Irish, deprived of the grass they used to live on in Ireland ....are dying of scurvy, or their teeth fall out and their cartilage fails to the point they can't chew the Toxic Beef....and they are useless with the shovels.....

Solution: Cabbage! Really cheap to grow! Just enough Vitamin C to sustain life. Add potatoes to barely supply enough amino acids to complete the proteins to get the rails built. Even so twice as many Irish died building the railroad as did in the War. We won't even talk about the Chinese....Egg Foo Young, anyone?

Serving Irish people corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day is like serving Jews a thin gruel on Krystal Nacht, making them dress in striped clothing and shooting all the laggers.

We could have a big parade up Fifth Avenue and all get drunk. Starve the Jew! Work him to death. What a party!!

Unfortunately, Irish people turned to alcohol to self-medicate, and it became cute. Jews turned to......don't start me. I would hate to be accused of racism.

Our how about this: have a holiday serving black people pig guts, ditch weed and agricultural waste on their holidays....

Whoops! Chitlins, greens and grits.

The cuisine of racism........

Look around, people. It is much easier to characterize a people than to embrace them.

So.....what can we do? Take a Republican to lunch?

Irish Republicans don't count.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Little Old Ladies Who......

First I want to point out that we linked with Chez Pim. I hope she does not sue me. Pim is in some not insignificant way connected to our favorite restaurant in our local world (Manresa).

Pim has far and away the best food fotos and food-related fotos I have ever found. She makes "Saveur" seem like Mad Magazine. She must have chrome balls, because she has memorialized dishes on film in places where I was grateful to even be allowed to sit quietly passing out hundred euro notes without disturbing the staff.

Anyway, Pim's foto of the Truffle Granny in a recent post started my day today....a day which is coincidentally the 85th birthday of my restaurant godmother, Momie Hilde. Hilde was the first woman chef in Germany...just before WWII, and a combination of steel, velvet, sugar, spice and soul that the world will never see again.


Today we got some fresh local anchovies and sardines in at Wharf 2. And, I had to drive to Marina to pick up my meat order, so my Bookkeeping Day became Driving Day. Hey, but while in Marina I could pick up some quail eggs.....

But.....gotta drive to town. As I left, Amanda said: "I hope you have good radio!" The best you can expect these days from a Wednesday on the road.

There was good radio. A lot about a 97 year old woman in Poland who saved a ton of Jewish babies from the Warsaw ghetto.....who is being honored by the Polish government. They interviewed a friend of the special lady. "She doesn't think she is special....the babies were special. Plus, she is still mad at the parents that would not trust her to save their kids....." The friend of the special lady was herself saved by an SS housekeeper who fiddled some books and stole the SS grocery money to save a family. No big deal.

After I picked up my meat in Marina I was driving back on Res Road from the quail egg guy. On the side of the road was a little old lady sitting on a walker, holding her head with both hands as if she were in pain. She looked like "The Scream...." I was talking to an annoying bride on my cell phone, so I signed off, flipped a bitch and pulled up to the old gal.

"Are you OK, ma'am?"

"Of course, vie do you ask?"

I spotted the "vie" and slipped into German. Turns out she was from Dresden and used to be an opera singer, and survived that whole Dresden firebombing thing.

"Well, you are holding your head like you are in pain, and you are sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in Marina."

"Yah....well, the wind is blowing, dummi. Look at your long hair...you should be holding your head, too! Your hair is blowing all around! It looks ridiculous!"

Are you here to kidnap me? I could use some excitement....I am 93 years old! I just came from the dentist...." at which point she spat out her upper plate.

"Then, with new teeth, I got hungry, so I walked to Denny's and had lunch. But, you know I broke my hip and arm last year......so I get tired. I am sitting here waiting to get strong again."

You know....I told my doctor when I broke my hip: I am not an old woman. I just look like one. I am only 92 and I still cook and care for myself. I don't let anyone into my house!"

Are you going to rape me? If so....you will need plastic surgery......"

I mentioned to my new friend from Dresden the radio broadcast about the 97 year old Polish woman.

"Sounds like she is just getting an award for being old. Or.... the young people are feeling guilty for being lazy and weak. We all just did what we could. I wish I could say you would do the same."

I said goodbye and went on to the wharf for my anchovies and sardines. My cost: Sixty cents a pound. Nobody buys them but the old Japanese and Filipino women. I tried to talk to Sal and Buster about the irony of some Irish guy being the only guy in all Monterey Bay buying the sardines that their grandmothers came to America to filet. Nobody buys sardines....too much work.

Back at the kitchen, I turned on the tunes and settled in for a couple of hours of old school manual labor on my own. I felt the ghosts of Momi Hilde, my crazy new Dresdner friend, and the Sicilian grannies looking over my shoulder. "Mensch, you are doing it all wrong! It is a nice fish! He died for you....don't screw it up! Vie are you so slow....it is not hard.....Look, let the knife do the verk.......It only goes where you tell it, dummi!"

I tried to maintain a pace and a rhythm while picturing a life in the canneries.....young immigrant women with sharp knives on a production line with their hands in cold water and guts all day. Certainly talking major shit as well....

I got to the point where I could do four pounds in twenty minutes......certainly laughable by granny standards, and I knew it. This is the same way I feel when I am peeling fava beans, making tamales, making gnocchi or spaetzle or angellotti. I can hear the old ladies cackling away at my fumbling incompetence.

The last whole fish I had fileted recently were at The Masters a couple of weeks ago. The fish were rouget, or salmonete, or red mullet....depending on your country of origin. These fish appear on every starred menu in Europe.....They were prized by the Romans, and you can still see a salmonete farm owned by a famous poet at Pompeii and Herculaenium. Think Koii, but tasty.

The Masters flew in their salmonete.....(well, since I was working for French guys I guess they were rougets).... from Egypt. They were about 8 inches long, pale red and still with the guts inside (the Froggies saved the livers and made fish liver crostini). The cost: about 10 bucks each. We had to scale them first with the back of a good knife....scales flying all over the kitchen, and then filet them.

The filets weighed maybe a couple of ounces, max when we were done. So.....$5 cost for two ounces of meat.....or $80 a pound for an Egyptian fish with some serious SkyMiles. From Fuckinbumfuckegyp......


Hey, no problem there......I am sure the farming, fishing, sanitation, packing and transport scene in Fuckinbumfuckegyp is just fine. Really. Just fine.

Meanwhile.....My sardines: Per each pound of whole fish I get about fifteen filets weighing half an ounce each. They have been out of the water for maybe a day.....and they have no SkyMiles. They have all the omega3 fatty acids....and a wonderful, subtle fragance that those fatty acids carry right back to your soft palate. Try and eat half a dozen tempura-ed filets, cooked Rafa-style in an iron pan. Rich and nice. Fragrant, tender.....

Lets do the math: Half a dozen filets=3 oz. Five servings per pound, if the servings are for sheetrockers or rugby players. Ten servings per pound if they are for typical esoteric food nazis. My cost? Twelve cents to twenty four cents a serving.

Now I know why those grannies hover over me while I work. I may be screwing up individual filets....but the rest of these people are screwing up the planet. They are flying a two ounce filet 15,000 km.....because......? The marketing is wrong? Dagos and college students eat sardines...... and cool people eat rougets?

I challenge anyone in the world, anywhere, any time: Blind tasting. Bring it, bitch!

Trust me. Like the surfers say: "Locals rule".

And, the little old ladies rule: "What....are you afraid of a little work? What....you got no knife skills?"

Happy Birthday, Momie....

I hope I am half as good as you were gracious enough to pretend that I am......

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Captions: The water taxi at Pasajes, aka Donibane.

View out the window of Txulotxo.
Workin' here.

Typical grafitti for the home team.

Typical Donibane street scene.

ETA is the supposed terrorist organization that operates in Basque country. I say “supposed” because even though ETA has killed a couple thousand adversaries over the last couple of decades, they are more or less completely embraced by the Basque population. In every town there is ETA grafitti….and in the mountain towns it is ubiquitous, and scary. ETA just wants the Basques to be left alone.

Basques are supposedly genetically descendent from the Cro-Magnons (thank you KyeBlue!!!)…..they are still here despite thousands of millennia of outsiders trying to fuck with them. These are the people that recognized Ayla of the Clan of the Cave Bear for the ignorant yuppie poseur that she was: "No boom boom for you, Ayla. We are happy with our AB positive blood. Keep your O+ away from us." They can’t figure out why everyone else has not got the message after 30,000 years…..The Goths, the Visigoths, the Moors, the French, the Limeys, the Aragonese, the Castillians, the Eurotrash….

In Basque country, no one is opposed to ETA….even the police. If there is an ETA demonstration, the central government has to bring in troops from Madrid. Recently a convicted ETA killer had served out his term and was due to be released. The central government came up with an Alberto Gonzales-style charge to keep him in prison after his release….He went on hunger strike….and all of Basque country revolted, albeit somewhat mildly. You didn’t hear about it in America, because Britney shaved her pudenda….or maybe her head. Something important.

The rest of the country counter-demonstrated, against “terrorism”….and the Basques counter-counter demonstrated. I don’t mean a bunch of hippies, acid heads and crazy lesbians…..half a million people, including all the grannies and all the politicians, and all the engineers and shop girls and waiters and truck drivers, marched through the streets of Bilbao in support of……Senor Chaos, the murderer….or freedom fighter, depending upon your outlook.

I kid you not, Senor Chaos. ( Don’t laugh, Yankee: the president of the company (IAP) who privatized nursing at Walter Reed and left our soldiers in fecal squalor? David Swindle. So shut up about Sr. Chaos…..).

The best comparison we could have to ETA in California is…..marijuana. It is everywhere…..no one really cares.... but the Central Government. They have to bring in outside cops to arrest people…and the grannies are all about it…….The ETA bake sale is unbelievable.....and no one womanning the table is under 60.......

If you go to an ETA demonstration in San Sebastian, you run across Ed Leeper’s octogenarian Basque pen-pals, and all the soccer kids, and the grannies, and the single moms, the business owners, the college kids, the stoners…everyone. People stand around and peacefully sing folk songs…and march around with beautiful grafically designed posters.......and drink a bit…..Until the Guardia from Madrid show up and spoil the party. Think: Pan’s Labyrinth. Guess who the good guys are?

I have pictures of a street in San Sebastian where they put up an ETA banner every Friday. The cops cut it down every Monday, but never arrest the dudes who always put it up. It is not like they don't know who does it.....given that it goes from one apartment to another. The accumulated strings that hold the banner every week, on both sides of the street, are testament to all that you need to know about the politics of freedom in Basque country.

Brendan got caught up in an ETA thing on his only day off from Mugaritz a couple of years ago. He was on his way to Akelaré for brunch. Sunday in Donostia is normally grannies and gramps pushing strollers around the pristine streets enjoying the sun…..This Sunday there was an action: bands and folks carrying banners about political prisoners.

The Guardia (the bad guys in Pan's Labyrith) sent in a crew from Madrid, because they knew the local cops were out at the soccer match. These guys were aggressive and ready to kick ass. Picture a SWAT team from Texas coming to straighten out a welfare strike in South Central LA. The minute the marchers hit the streets the cops swarmed out of their armoured cars and started beating ass. The marchers were ready, and dispersed off into the tiny streets of the Parte Vieja.

The streets of San Sebastian are marble and stone, and slippery in winter….especially on a Sunday after a long Saturday night of drinking and partying. Don’t even talk about the overnight dogshit from the cutest tiny dogs in the world. When a demonstrator would slip on the marble, the Guardia would swarm and start to beat ass. Instantly, a dozen Basque grannies would counter-swarm, surround the victim and shove and scream at the Guardia and whoop their butts with furled umbrellas. The cops would be shamed and run off to seek a new victim. The grannies would re-group and follow.

Meanwhile, Brendan was trucking through with his camera, taking pictures. The Guardia saw him and took after him. He almost got away when a Guardia hit him on the sole of his foot with a truncheon and dumped him like a sack of shit on the marble on the Avenida Libertad. Four Guardia swarmed up with billyclubs….but half a dozen grannies were there with umbrellas…….They surrounded him and shamed and battled the Guardia away. Bren caught the17 bus for Akelaré.

Anyway, back to what is important: Food! Basque country keeps to its roots. Not much happens on Sunday after 5pm….and almost nothing happens on Monday. Their Monday is our Sunday….and our Sunday is their Sunday as well. And, their Saturday is our Saturday, only less. Not much happens on Saturday either, except the bars are open. It is a rough place to work, believe me. All this emphasis on family, and food, and entertainment…….Weird.

After back to back meals at Arzak and Akelare, Amanda and I were in withdrawal....almost Basque Anorexic. Still, we needed a place for Monday lunch, or at least I did. Meanwhile, nothing is open on Monday. Well, one place in the port of Pasajes, in the gnarly modern urban ghetto….not out girl's style. I drove the girl around the beautiful mountains bordering the coast for a while before sneaking her back to the port.

The Basque coast is Pittsburg. It is Newark. It is Oakland. It is Hunters Point.

The ultimate irony of the whole Basque revolution is that after two millennia of providing all the fish, steel, guns and boats for the rest of Spain, and funding the Fascists with their skill and labor….the Basques were kind of set up by their worst nightmare, Francisco Franco. It is as if George Bush had accidentally done something right and all our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren got free health care and education and housing and transportation from some deal he had cynically negociated…..Whoa, boy. Stop with that.

Franco ran the Basque country as his arsenal and foundry for forty years. At the end of the Franco regime Europe was desperate to absorb Spain. The heavy industry of Basque country (steel, boats, weapons….the rifle that killed JFK was made in La Coruna) was heavily subsidized by the Spanish Facist state. Franco’s deal was that he would join the EU if the EU would pension off everyone…..for three generations. The result is a socialist/capitalist utopia that would make Marx and Adam Smith cream their genes.

The Sierra Club would not be happy, however. Basque country is among the most beautiful in the world. Big Sur mixed up with the Swiss Alps, mixed up with the Riviera. And everyone is working....so almost anywhere you turn in Basque Country there is a factory, and giant trucks pulling in and out of the pristine mountain valleys and beaches. Meanwhile, the residents work at the factory 35 hours a week, live in the beautiful country in architecturally cool housing projects, and are home for three hours every afternoon to cook, eat, talk to their children.......and have sex….Oh, and they have zero medical and educational costs….and the transport is subsidized, too. Damn……

Anyway, I snuck Amanda back from the mountains to Pasajes. Pasajes is a perfect harbor just east of the Ulia Mountain of San Sebastian , and only about ten miles from France. It is where Magellan left for his round the world deal, and where Columbus left for his little trip. The Brits took over the town after the sack of San Sabby in 1813 and used it as the supply port to invade France and crush Napoleon. It is still the modern port that San Francisco wishes it was.....on one side of the harbor.

On the other side of the harbor (Donibane) the town has not changed: tiny streets and piers and tunnels. The modern town is a tad to the west, and involves crazy interstates full of giant tractor trailers in huge traffic jams. The old town…not so much. You park outside town, and you walk.

The walk involves going along the old wharf and through some tunnels surrounded by eight hundred year old houses. Every surface is covered with ETA posters. Here, at the heart of modern Spanish commerce, and the heart of historic Spanish commerce…..ETA rules. Picture Snoop Dogg as Secretary of Commerce of California.

We found our Monday-open restaurant clinging to the side of the cliff, and got a table by the window overlooking the bay. Russian tankers came and went. Pilot boats came and went. A little taxi boat went back and forth from the Old Pasajes to the New Pasajes across the way every few minutes.

Amanda had lecheria de cordero….milk fed lamb. The Disney people would never let this happen in America……a cute little lamb still on its mother’s milk. In America a lamb might weigh almost eighty pounds, and the city slicker could not tell it from its mom. In Spain, maybe twenty pounds....it is still cute and fuzzy. Amanda had a life-changing experience behind the quality of the meat.....while looking out over the same view that Magellan had. Oh....it was cheap, too. Check out Txulotxo, 71 San Juan in Pasai Donibane. Pray for no French people.

Unfortunately, French people came to the restaurant when we were there, and ordered weird complicated expensive cocktails in a place where you drink Txacoli for nothing….We left and took the water taxi over to the modern portside, Pasajes de San Pedro. Half a Euro to the cute ld man. We had café con leche and shooters of aguardiente in a gnarly sailor bar and took the taxi back, walking past the shrine on the mountain that was established for sailors two hundred years before Magellan…..

On the way back to the car…..I could not resist. I took out my knife and cut an ETA poster off the wall of a fourteenth century tunnel. There was a slight line of sight up to an old tenement. Four gnarly Basque grannies were up there, watching guard.

As soon as my knife came out, they started hissing like Nero’s geese. Amanda ran in justified terror. I kept cutting: “Necisitamos este en California! Está bien! Serioso! Está bien…..” We need this in California! Seriously!

I cut away the poster and ran like a dog. I slammed it in the trunk of the car, and made sure that my dirty T-shirt hung over the license plate to mask it as we sped away.

These people are organized……

We are friends...but they don't need friends.

Just ask the Goths.....or the Visigoths......or the Moors......or the French.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Best Restaurant in The World....For Reals

Akelaré (the accent is really supposed to be over the ''r''). Captions for the pictures: Calgon Bathbeads, Atlantic City View,The Men's Room,Waiting for the 17 Bus....NOT drunk!.

This really super obnoxious website that I battle with (egullet.org) would have all of us believe that Akelaré is past its prime, just like Arzak…..The chef, Pedro Subijana is nice guy…..a humanist….but no longer tracking with the best of the best.


We went to Akelaré on a Sunday for brunch.

The background for us: Brendan went there on his day off from Mugaritz, on the bus. There was an ETA riot en route, and he almost got his ass beat by Madrid Guardia Civil imported for the occasion (the locals would not arrest ETA demonstrators)….but was saved by the gnarly Basque grannies. He sat away from the window by himself. It was OK, but he did steal a smoked tomato/tuna coulis recipe that we ran with for a while. Also, the best chef in California (Thomas Keller notwithstanding) is David Kinch from Manresa. David is an Akelaré graduate. We know him from The Masters, and worship at his restaurant in Los Gatos whenever we have a spare $500.

For us, this particular Sunday was the morning after San Sabby Day. We had been to Arzak the day before for brunch, and spent 36 hours listening to the Pas de Charge outside our hotel room. After Arzak and the Pas de Charge, Amanda was crispy and faded while I charged around the city trying to fit in. Forget it…..It was like being a Baptist at Mardi Gras. The place was packed with chain-smoking lunatic Basque alcoholics-for-a-day. Not just the bars…..the STREETS! Fourteen year old girls, old scary working class dudes, psycho grannies, drunken yuppies…….Go home, white boy……..take a nap

Sunday morning was a paen to the Chris Kristofferson song, Sunday Morning Coming Down. “I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt……” Picture an entire TOWN like this. The bands had stopped about three hours before. The place was fucked up. I had my coffee and gorgeous sweet rolls at the bakery and walked to the harbor to check out the fishing fleet. I roused Amanda and we drove up to Igueldo to Akelaré for our second Three Star meal in 24 hours.

If you don’t get the star rating thing…..there are six three-star restaurants in all of Spain. Spain is a country about three or four times the size of California, not some cute little old-school tourist spot like Disney World Columbus. (California has one three star….and the award is probably generous. Manresa has two....and the award is probably accurate).

Spain has the best food in the world, and the most technical, artistic chefs in the world. Spain has better industry, better housing, better health care and better day by day food and booze than us snotty Americans could even dream of behind six hits of Ecstasy and a winning lottery ticket.

And..... Amanda and I had decided to double up our three-stars, and go back to back meals with Arzak and Akelaré. As they say in Pennsylvania Amish country: “Vee grow too soon old…..und too late SCHMART!!”

San Sebastian is pinched between three mountains: Ulia on the east (the name of my favorite pintxo at Alona Berri), Igueldo on the west and Urgull in the middle. Akelaré is on Igueldo.

We fired up our trusty 1000km per tank Peugeot and set out. It turns out Akelaré is way the hell and gone outside the city, maybe 10 km east on the Igueldo mountain on the coast. We passed beautiful farms and agroturismos….and an albergo. We were early, so I stopped at the albergo. It was packed…. at noon on a Sunday. There were hot, leather-clad city chicks with tiny little dogs and homoerotic boyfriends chain-smoking on the terrace, local farmers, Donostia families with babies and grannies, Bilbao tourists en famille. The place was nuts. Everyone was having pintxos and Txacoli…..my namesake wine that is served by pouring it into the glass from a legally imposed two feet above the glass. Really. Two thirds of a meter, or else. The Basques may not give a shit about ETA, but DO not screw around with Txacoli.

Basques have the Cachagua version of hangover relief…..full speed ahead. If it worked last night, it might work this morning. Jesus. Sunday morning going UP…..

We pulled into Akelaré a discreet fifteen minutes of Txacoli late, nervous as cats. They were waiting for us. They google their guests, and knew about David Kinch, about Brendan’s visit, about the blog…..the whole deal. And they still like us. We got an unbelievably gorgeous table by the window, overlooking……well, Atlantic City, New Jersey. The chef himself came out…..a large, smiling fat man….and crushed us in abrazos. They poured us cava from the get-go, because Lord we had not had enough at the albergo……

The waitress was from Chile…..think Anouk Aimée, if you are old enough to remember "A Man and A Waitress...." An economic and political refugee unafraid to actually talk to her tables….Well, our table….about Spanish and Chilean and American politics. The wine guy was cute and brought us something that I had never had before, and will never have again…..accompanied by an operatic lecture about its ancestry, eneology, and perfection. He was right.

The place filled up. It became clear that we had one of the best tables in the house. Spaniards came in with mistresses and were relegated to the tables one removed from the Atlantic City view. The girls steamed and gave us death looks. Poor bastards: Five hundred euros for lunch, and no lovin’…..And the fucking Americans had the good table. The waitress was unmoved by their angst…..as befits someone who last saw her father being dragged into the soccer stadium in Valparaiso. Ars longa, vita brevis, baby.

Meanwhile, the fucking Americans could have cared less about the view. I was in love with the waitress, Amanda was in love with the wine guy…..and then the food started. They knew we were restaurant geeks, so we each got a separate menu: (I can’t make this site do side by side columns.)


Basilic Holes
Bread and Black Pudding
Pepper and black olive checkers
Cuttlefish Dropping the Ink
Fried Egg and “Piparros”

Menu “Aranori” (Michael)

Prawns and Shrimps in its Shell powder
Tomato Meringue and Roquette

Steamed Molluscis with Borage

Wild Mushrooms in the Forest

Turbot with Mussels Lentils

Roasted Baby Pig with Tomato “Bolao” and Iberian Emulsion

Curled Coconut, lightly Lime perfumed

Swiss roll with “Leche Merengada” and Mulberries

Menu “Bekarki” (Amanda)

Same apps…thank you, Jesus

Oyseters eaten with Shell

Scallop in Coloured “Sand”

Lamb’s boneless Tail,
Cauliflower, Leekds, Beetroot and Carrot “Macaroons”

Monkfish with Artichokes and Fava Beans

Roast Wood-Pigeon with Cider, Kuzu and Walnut

Rhubarb sorbet and frosted Herbs

Tangerine with Pineapple and White Chocolate

Basilic Holes were packing peanuts made of basil, and somehow extruded. The sand was made of pulverized lobster shells. The oyster was dipped in white chocolate and made to look like an oyster again (oysters and white chocolate share the same original biochemistry….go figure). The baby pig was the best thing I have ever eaten. One of the garnishes was what Amanda called “Calgon Bath Beads”….a jewel of olive oil, baby herbs, and who knows.

We were not just blown away…we were devastated. We could not find words to describe the food; we could not find neural pathways to anchor our memories of the food; we wept the way people do at Aida or La Boheme, with a decent coloratura. The food was technically perfect, and by turnss wildly futuristic, classic, humorous, ironic, soothing….the full palette of emotions….. forget the tastes, aromas and visions.

On the way out, we got EIGHT abrazos from the hostess, along with a personal message to take to David Kinch.

And….it turns out that you can get to Akelaré on the Number 17 bus from Guipuzkoa Plaza in downtown. One euro. The Chilean waitress’ dad would be proud.

The Best Restaurant in The World………\


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Friday, March 09, 2007

21 days, 17 Stars, plus Victor and Rafa

This seems a little self indulgent and was already published on eGullet. They are such a snooty bunch over there (I am SO not cool or smart enough for their elevated tastes) that I am putting the stuff here for anyone thinking of going to Spain anytime this century. Oh, and I finally published our Comerc24 post....go back to 1/15/07 if you care.....24 Horrors

Our impressions of three winter weeks in Catalonia, Bizkaia and Gupizkoa….Two restaurant pros refueling the creativity tank.

Chronologically: Andra Mari, Zortziko, Comerc24, Bar Inopia, Can Fabres, La Llar, Rafa, Manechenea (St. Etienne de Baigorry), Alona Berri, Arzak, Akelarré, Cuchara San Telmo, Bodegon Alejandro, Garro (Munitibar), Mugaritz, Zuberoa, Extebarri, Andra Mari

I did not obsessively take pictures of all the food, like many people. I may be an asshole, but I can't embrace that particular aspect of Ugly Americanism. The whole meal is in a continuum....the place, the service, the food, the wine, your companion, the conversation..... Having some prick taking pictures is just too weird. At Mugaritz, a table of Americans actually brought in a photographer with a tripod and everything to memorialize their meal. They were obviously famous, though even at The Cachagua Store we would have thrown them out on the street. And, I fulfilled a possibly racist lifetime dream of growling at an elegant Japanese man at the next table at Arzak to put down the fucking camera . However, I did get all the bathrooms, and snuck a few odd shots when no one was looking.

Most Beautiful Bathroom: Mugaritz, hands down. Cool soaps interspersed among rocks that poke fun at the clay poached potato and rock first course. Toothbrushes to freshen up between courses. I jokingly told Amanda that the creepy maitre d’ probably counted the soaps in case they were stolen.

Sure enough: Busted!! They replaced the one I stole between pees. I counted, too.

Good soap, though. Hey, it lasted almost a week………

Most Beautiful Dining Room: Ignoring view

Mugaritz. Super-cool; nice, weird touches everywhere (a wrought iron spoon pendulum on each table. Weird little greeting cards (Surrender!! For 240 minutes)….but ascetic and a little creepy. Like dining in a modern art museum, with David Bowie's weird androgynous aunt peering over your shoulder.

Second most beautiful room: Garro. The son is a sculptor from Madrid, and has pieces all around the house. More modern art, but warm. Solid cherry flooring, stairs and ceiling. Five hundred year old rock walls. Big fireplace. The one meter snowstorm didn't hurt.

Most Beautiful Dining Room With View:

Akelarré, of course……and if you are annoyed that you didn’t get a window table, you are an asshole….that’s why you didn’t get a window table!

Andra Mari …..sorry about the industrial park in the gorgeous mountain valley opposite. But, hey….. it’s Spain: “We’re workin’ here!”

Extebarri…..blazing Alpine sunshine, starched linens, hardwood beams in a big loft with joyous kids running around everywhere……

Best Service: Akelarré. The staff perfectly walked the line between engagement and professional distance. Informative, cool, political, ironic. It was clear the staff loved the food and wanted you to as well. The gorgeous Chilean waitress served the food and engaged us in political dialogue about the Pinochet regime and Isabel Allende.

Second place: Arzak. Adaptable, attentive.….I just wish the supermodel busgirl would smile once…..a year.

The Meal I Want Back (except Comerc24). Can Fabres. Technically perfect food and service. Beautiful setting. But, take Henry Kissinger or your grandma, not your lover. The highpoint of the day for us was the villager we met in the square while waiting for the place to open…..walking his senile aunt in the sunshine, bursting with kindness and love. That, and the plaster wild boar we bought on the highway. The $600 for lunch for two……not so much. It took me back to Four Seasons in 1972.

Zuberoa. Granted it is winter, but the Zubie brothers are doing seriously old school food in earth tones only. Waitresses perch ten feet away watching your every move in terror of the maitresse d’ hotel. Nice food….some of it gorgeous (I cried there two years ago over an oyster….)

But….Dark flavors only. And the cochinillo was not so “illo”…..If it is milk fed, why does it taste like the barnyard?

Meanwhile, the brothers are so sweet, and so kind….and they remembered my last visit, and my son’s visit with his buddy from Mugaritz last year……It hurts me to admit that I wish I had gone somewhere else with my $400 for lunch.

La Llar (near Roses) A Michelin one-star eight miles from El Bulli, and two miles from Rafa…..what could go wrong? If Can Fabres took me back to Four Seasons in the Seventies, La Llar took me to back to Kitzbuhel. The traditional Catalan food seemed Alpine. I asked the charming hostess (Mrs. Rafa’s best friend….) if the chef was Austrian. No. Never left Catalonia. I guess the Michelin judges are wowed by perfect little carrot flowers. I hid some of the underdone, veiny foie in the plastic flowers.

Last Place: Comerc24. Badly executed basic food in a poorly realized urban space with snotty, self-absorbed waitstaff. And overpriced to boot….the perfect storm. The Hard Rock Café of Barcelona. Carles Abellan should draw a warm bath and open a vein in shame, if he can find a knife sharp enough, or a waiter not currently texting his dealer long enough to help him turn on the tap.

Best Wine Service: Zortziko, hands down. The kid is 22 and has only worked at Zortziko. Not a word of English. He brought us a wine he liked (Solabal ’01), and served it in a way that brought Amanda to tears. It was clear that he LOVED this wine, and the five minute monologue talking about it was lost to me as I watched him decant and serve our glasses with a Manoleté like grace.

Arzak. We got the stagier for an ’81 Zaco Riserva and he broke the cork, but charmingly. I knew it was going to happen (old school wine, long cork, new sommelier) and didn’t stop him in time. His boss, the much maligned Arzak wine honcho, cruised over and made it OK without humiliating the kid and while generating some laughs for us and the tables around us. The honcho read my mind twice: once when we arrived soaked in sweat from having run to Arzak from downtown…..large glasses of Cava, right now!...and after my foie course. He poured me three successive glasses of obscure Spanish Muscat and obscure sweet Spanish red wines that I had been quietly fantasizing about but was afraid to ask for.

Mugaritz. Rut Controneo gave us a charming short course in modern Spanish winemaking, steered us to an obscure bottle of red and opened four others for glasses on a dead night. She is the star of the show, but like everyone else, seems cowed by the maitre d’.

Best Breakfast in the Universe:

Garro (Munitibar, near Axpe). We came downstairs in the 16th century farmhouse to candlelight, freshly baked bread, freshly baked apple pastries, freshly squeezed orange juice, bowls of coffee and steamed milk, jamon iberico and local cheese…..in a one meter snowstorm. Fire in the fireplace. Wow. An apologetic five euros. Double wow.

Best Fish Dish:

Extebarri, grilled sardine. No sauce, just absolutely perfect. No really…..Absolutely perfect.

Rafa, baby razor clams. Olive oil and salt. Cosmic.

Best Meat Dish:

Akelarré. Roast milk fed suckling pig. Heavenly.

Extebarré Chorizo. Complex, swirly, stained glass, melt-in-your mouth…..

Most Amusing Moments:

Amanda fainting in Cadaiques into the plate of sea urchins (owner recognizing pregnancy and recommending a large glass of brandy)

Amanda biting into a rock at Mugaritz instead of a clay poached potato. The creepy maitre d’ sniffed. The waiter giggled. Points for the waiter.

Michael getting busted stealing the menu at Andra Mari….falling out of the back of his pants as we said goodbye.

Best Foie

Andra Mari. Wrapped in smoked bread, with cherry membrillo.

Best Salad

Mugaritz. Middle of winter and Layda had a crystal clear vegetarian broth with baby herbs. Every note simple and perfect and ringing like a bell.

Andra Mari. Small wild mushrooms, baby clams, baby mussels, and seafoam in a cider escabeche. Had it twice to make sure it was as good as I thought. Perfect.

Best Wine

Can Fabres. San Viecente ‘02

Best Pintxo

Arzak. Pop rocks spoon.

Alona Berri. Grilled mango morcilla with foie and sheep cheese.

Cuchara de San Telmo. Espaldita de conejo, with a poached prune and a poached fig. Three euros. Are you kidding?

Overall Best restaurant (food, service, value, esthetics)

Andra Mari…..Two or three of the best dishes we found in three weeks by all standards……great view…..sweet servers…..140 euros for two with wine.

Akelarré…… Two tears, our highest rating.


Amazing value:

Bodegon Alejandro (Donostia). Martin Berasategui’s original restaurant, now his Triple-A franchise. Lunch is 13 euros with wine and water; the tasting menu is 30 eu. Everything is top notch, and as good or better than the big boys.

Cuchara de San Telmo. Punk rock modern pintxos. Nothing over 3 euros, even the killer foie, the maigret of duck, the rabbit shoulder, the lecherias. Try to spend 40 euros for two.

Crawl through broken glass for another two years to go back:

Rafa, Etxebarri, Bar Inopia, Arzak, Cuchara San Telmo, Alona Berri, Akelarré, Garro, Andra Mari, Zortziko; the Basque and Catalan people.