Intermezzo 7 - Xurros

We had our fair share of churros (Catalan: xurros) on our recent trip down the east coast of Spain - from convenience stores, to fast food chains, to dedicated churrerias run by aged members of the Gremi de Artesans Xurrers de Catalonia (yes, it exists). Our favourite rendition was served at a small storefront in Barcelona's El Born district - a friendly and unassuming husband-and-wife team with more than 40 years of experience run Xurreria Layetana.

Locals drift in and out for coffee, hot chocolate, or piping hot churros. Freshness counts - the old man was continuously frying up small batches of churros and porras (a larger, yeastier cousin). The texture of the churros here was remarkable - lighter than every other place we tried. No need for sugar on these - the light sweetness of the dough suffices. And that chocolate... nearly thick enough to hold a spoon upright. The damage? €3 - a steal for a breakfast of this quality.

Xocolata amb xurros - Xurreria Layetana, Barcelona, Spain (2014)

Quique Dacosta - Dénia, Spain

Lunch - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Quique Dacosta (the man) exudes an air of derring-do. He's a rakish charmer, a raconteur. But that concentration - his thoughtful, serious side surfaces quickly and we are plunged deep into a discussion about his cuisine and its place in the web of things.

Quique Dacosta (the restaurant) is a reflection of its patron. Four hours from Barcelona in the holiday town of Dénia, it is a disarming space - modern yet rooted in history (it was previously owned by his father-in-law). The servers are relaxed, and it is their consummate professionalism that sets diners at ease (the GM, Didier, gets a special mention for being a true credit to his profession).

Our party of five arrived at the restaurant for a 1.30pm appointment - the first of the day. The shaded patio was inviting in the heat of the Spanish afternoon - our meal, the "Tomorrowland" menu, began there.

Assinatura - Lisbon, Portugal

Dinner - Friday, October 3, 2014

By and large, the food we ate in Lisbon was cheap, but not particularly great. For example, a meal at the lauded Cervejaria Ramiro was only ~120 Euros (for 5!) and certainly better than anything we might get in San Diego, but it paled in comparison to seafood spots in Barcelona (is this just a cultural preference on our part?)

Our luck improved on our last night, with dinner at the fancifully decorated Restaurante Assinatura. I happened across it as a one-time mention on Chowhound, and it is evidently not on the Michelin Man's radar - too bad for them. Melodramatic waiter aside (and he was charming in his own peculiar way), this was a very enjoyable dinner.

The Ledbury - London, UK

Dinner - Monday, September 29, 2014

Over a decade since I was last in London, and only one night (a Monday, at that) to take in its burgeoning dining scene. I have been keeping my eye on The Ledbury for some time - chef-patron Brett Graham has a cooking voice that resonates with me. We had to visit. We made the short trek from our hotel by Paddington station to sleepy Notting Hill in the dark of a chilly Autumn night - what we ate certainly warmed our cockles.

Camino - Oakland, CA

Dinner - Friday, August 29, 2014


The Chef's Tasting at Cowboy Star - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our third tasting menu at The Cowboy Star brought a number of changes, the most significant of which is that Chris Osborne is no longer solely in charge from start to finish. He's relinquished some control, and other cooks are now involved in developing and plating courses.

NB: Lighting, as usual, was challenging, so I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos.

Taco Maria - Costa Mesa, CA

Dinner - Friday, July 25, 2014

When Carlos Salgado decamped from Oakland's Commis some years ago, it made me sad - this was a man who was responsible for one of my favourite desserts of 2010. Then I heard he was moving to Southern California to run a food truck, and hope returned. Yet, as with many things, I never found the time. Indeed, it took four years, the opening of Salgado's brick-and-mortar location, and some pictures from Trey Foshee to prod me into action.

Central - Lima, Peru

Dinner - Friday, May 9, 2014

Rarely, a meal changes the way you think about food. For me, the most recent place that has succeeded in this regard was Saison (ca. 2011). And now, Virgilio Martinez has done it. This was a truly fantastic meal - every aspect carefully considered, every bite delicious. Central was, far and away, the best meal we had in Peru.

Like many of the modern high-end kitchens, Central has a research team - here, it is the Mater Iniciativa (read their blog/field notes here), devoted to rediscovering the ingredients of Peru and "linking the cultural and biological diversity of Peru with the culinary experience". It is the Mater's discoveries that drive Martinez's sophisticated, thoughtful cuisine. Tonight, the theme of our menu was Elevations - each dish a slice of Peru's many ecosystems, spanning the waters of the Pacific coast to the snow-capped Andean peaks.

Virú at Astrid & Gastón - Lima, Peru

Lunch - Saturday, May 10, 2014

2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of Astrid & Gastón - the first child in what is now a globe-spanning empire. The restaurant, formerly situtated in Lima's Miraflores neighborhood, recently completed a move to the Casa Moreyra, a grand 300-year old house in the neighbouring (and equally upscale) San Isidro district.

To mark this new beginning, Virú is the theme of the restaurant's first tasting menu at Casa Moreyra - a journey through the five macroclimates of Peru in 26 courses. Gastón Acurio was overseeing the kitchen on this day - I gather this is fairly rare, and primarily due to the temporary absence of Diego Munoz.

ámaz - Lima, Peru

Dinner - Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is a pretty big deal in Lima. Trained in the USA and Europe in the 90s, Schiaffino returned to Peru in 2002. Two years later, he opened Malabar, which has received a fair amount of acclaim in the past few years. Known as a champion of "jungle cuisine", his newest venture is ámaz, where he has gone all-in with the ingredients from the Amazon. Not since our meal at Attica 2 years ago have I encountered so many new ingredients - I can readily say that Amazonian flora are much more palatable than their Australian counterparts. (NB: as it turns out, this meal was just the beginning of a week full of new discoveries - South America has so much untapped potential).

TBL3 at Georges California Modern - La Jolla, CA

Dinner - Saturday, March 29, 2014

More than seven months since our last TBL3 meal - it was time.

I find March and April to be tricky periods for eating out in Southern California - caught between a Winter that never came and (particularly this year) a Spring that is less than green. But the vegetables from Chino Farms rarely disappoint, and Trey Foshee is their whisperer.

NB: for point of comparison, our meal from exactly one year ago - March 27, 2013.

Saison - San Francisco, CA

Dinner - Saturday, March 1, 2014

Saison's new digs are quite a sight to behold. The space is lush and inviting, with dark wood tables spaced generously like at an old tippling room. Polished copper pans and walls of stainless steel are juxtaposed against furs and stacked cords of wood - at once refined and rustic.

This was our first visit to Saison in over a year, and also our first time at the new location (we had planned a visit in February 2013, but teething problems closed the restaurant at the last moment - we went to Coi instead). The complimentary pours of Krug remain, as does the two-tier tasting menu - tonight, we opted for the lengthier "Discovery" menu.

Aubergine - Carmel, CA

Dinner - Thursday, February 27, 2014

Four meals in 13 months - that's saying something. And the crew at Aubergine keeps picking up awards - indeed, during our most recent visit in November, Justin Cogley was in Germany receiving a Grand Chef award from Relais & Châteaux. I also said at that time that I did not foresee a return in the first half of 2014 - I'm very glad I was wrong.

alma - Los Angeles, CA

Dinner - Saturday, February 22, 2013

Since our first meal at alma last year, Ari Taymor and team have been building a steady stream of recognition. Bon Appetit, GQ and the James Beard Foundation have all come knocking on their door. The restaurant has changed as well, streamlining itself in the kitchen. Gone is the a la carte menu, replaced by two prix fixe options - one simply an abbreviated version of the other.

I had briefly corresponded with Ari after our dinner in June, but was quite surprised to receive an invitation from him earlier this month to revisit the restaurant, as he felt that the restaurant had "grown by leaps and bounds". With no plans in place for my birthday, we decided that celebrating at alma would be perfect.

NB: at the end of the night, we were refused a bill due to a kitchen oversight (see the end for further details). Ari, unfortunately, was away in NYC doing a collaboration dinner at Contra.

Restaurant Eugene - Atlanta, GA

Dinner - Monday, December 30, 2013

Linton Hopkins was named the James Beard "Best Chef - Southeast" in 2012, and Restaurant Eugene is the flagship of his restaurant family (although Holeman & Finch arguably garners more press for its burger). The style here is very classical - broadly speaking, traditional French technique with Southern ingredients. Arguably not the sort of place we typically gravitate towards, but this time, the lack of information about the food here piqued our curiosity.

The Optimist - Atlanta, GA

Lunch - Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Occupying the cavernous space of a former ham-aging warehouse, The Optimist at lunchtime is a bright, airy space filled with wood and iron and rough linen. We stopped by for lunch before heading to the airport - our last meal on this short tour of the South. The food is as good as the space is beautiful.

McCrady's - Charleston, SC

Dinner - Friday, December 27, 2013

Before Husk propelled Sean Brock into the stratosphere, there was McCrady's. When it first opened, the restaurant had a fairly strong molecular gastronomy bent, but this has been significantly dialed back over the years, as Brock's cuisine has evolved.

While not as tethered to the South as Husk, there is still a strong sense of place at McCrady's. This is first expressed in the 18th century building (older even than Husk's space) that the restaurant occupies - a beautiful wood-and-brick structure that is warm and inviting. The menu, too, emphasizes regional ingredients, although with an appropriately playful spin in many dishes.