Tag Archives: tapas

Currently Craving: Pimientos de Padrón

Photo by DesignConundrum via Instagram

Spanish people don’t like spicy things. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be told at a restaurant in Spain that something was REALLY spicy, that I really needed to prepare myself, only to be underwhelmed. I myself have a low tolerance for spice, but I was always shocked by how easily Spanish people would literally break a sweat over a choice piece of chorizo (which in all fairness can pack a bit of a punch) that didn’t faze my tastebuds a bit.

One exception is the padrón pepper from Galicia. Or should I say, one in every five or so padrón peppers. They are not all spicy; the milder ones are the best, delicious, grassy-tasting little pods that have been vigorously sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt. But eating these things is a bit like playing Russian roulette…somewhere in the mountainous little pepper pile you just ordered there are a few evil ones just bursting with capsaicin. But it’s worth the risk, especially when even the evil ones are delicious.

Padrón peppers are delightfully available in the States (or at least in California) in summer and early fall, and are even more delightfully easy to cook. Heat some olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then add whole peppers and cook until the skin is blistering and browned. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with sea salt. And voilà! A quick, authentic tapas dish you can easily recreate in your own home. Just watch out for those hot ones.

If you don’t trust my instructions and need a slightly more complete recipe, see here, or take it up a notch with some jamón and ajo here.  And if they don’t have any peppers in your area, you can always drop some serious cash on a pound or so from La Tienda.

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¡A tapear!

So I just bought a Yelp deal that is going to get me $30 worth of tapas at Lalola on Nob Hill for $15. Needless to say I am very excited, especially because someone there evidently has connections to one of my favorite tapas places in Madrid, Txirimiri. I also stumbled upon a guide for a San Francisco tapeo through an area not too far from my house…might have to do some investigating!!

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Amazing Eats of Europe: Txirimiri

The name of this tapas bar looks a little crazy, but the pronunciation is quite simple: “cheery-meery.” Txirimiri is a Basque word for something they are very familiar with in the region; rain. One of my students from a private lesson told me that txirimiri is a very specific, very fine type of rain that is super characteristic of the Basque Country. If it’s anything like the fine, misty, blow-under-your-umbrella-into-your-face rain that I am thinking of, it sounds absolutely horrible. But, we are not talking horrible rain here, we are talking delicious food, and I found plenty of it at Txirimiri.

Since it’s a Basque restaurant, the tapas are called “pintxos” (pronounced “peenchos”) and are usually sitting on a piece of sliced baguette. We sampled a few things and they were all delicious, but the servings were so huge and awesome that we stopped ourselves early because we were sure we had spent a million euros. We started with a pintxo of eggplant (aubergine) which was battered in tempura and placed on top of a pile of unidentifiable but absolutely delicious something. I think it involved caramelized onions and peppers and maybe some cod? I have no idea. It was dark, and I was hungry. But the thing was huge, and it cost two euros!! Heaven. Mid-pintxo we saw a big piece of grilled steak floating by on a plate and pointed and ordered one for ourselves without really hearing what it was or how much it cost. It ended up being “entrecot de ternera” with soft red peppers and a creamy garlic sauce, one of the day’s specials. It was honestly the second best piece of steak I have ever had, beat only by the Basque masterpiece I experienced in Barcelona. It was called a “tapa” but was honestly big enough to be a light dinner in itself. The cost? It ended up being 4.90, not the 18 euros we had hypothesized. We should have ordered three. Before we realized that our bill was shockingly small, we decided to tone things down a little and go for one more pintxo and then move on to somewhere else. Marshal chose the tortilla and I was going to smack him for picking something so boring and basic, but then I tried it and it was, of course, incredible. It was sweet or something, I think from the way they cooked the onions. Regardless, Marshal was right and I was wrong and we enjoyed the tortilla to the very end. When the bill came, we were honestly amazed: for the two pintxos and the plate of steak and three beers, we paid 13 euros. An amazing price for a ton of delicious, unique food.

The bar was absolutely packed when we were there at 9:30. There is also a restaurant in the back if you prefer to eat sitting down at a table like a civilized person instead of battling your way to the bar and then ravenously scarfing down your food, plate in one hand, caña in the other, all the while watching your bag like a vulture to make sure that nothing disappears. But, if you don’t like that style of eating, maybe you shouldn’t eat out in Spain. c/  General Diaz Porlier, 91 (the original in Salamanca) and c/ Humilladero, 6 (the La Latina location near c/ Cava Baja).

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Amazing Eats of Europe, Part I: Granada

The "Tabla Caliente," Antigua Bodega Castañeda, Granada

This will be my first installment of a multi-multi entry series on food that I have indulged in and enjoyed throughout Andalucía and the rest of Europe. Some of my exploits, such as those in Prague, Krakow, and New York have already been detailed in earlier posts, but I might include them again in an effort to keep things organized. Full reviews and more pictures coming soon!

Poë

Poë is one of the few things I have to thank Lonely Planet’s Andalucía guide book for. Generally I was not too impressed by the book, but its restaurant recommendations for Granada were dead-on, and pretty much everything I love in that city food-wise was covered in that book. So thank you Lonely Planet! Now back to Poë.

Poë is owned by an Englishman and his Angolan wife. Not exactly what you’d expect to find in a tip-top tapas bar, but I swear, it works. For those of you looking for authentic Spanish food, I encourage you to take a break and enjoy the international fare on offer in this little place. It may not be completely Spanish, but the deliciousness of the food, the great ambiance, and the fact that you get to choose your tapa make this an incredible find. Also, if you do not feel comfortable speaking in Spanish, the owner is usually behind the bar, and being English, he can probably take your order in his native tongue.

The food is a mish-mash of cuisine from all over the world, but all of it feels vaguely tropical but still warm and comforting, and perfectly suited to the tapa-sized portions. Order a caña (a small beer) or a tinto de verano (red wine with lemon Fanta) and use the English/Spanish menu on each table to pick your first poison.  Each drink comes with a free tapa, so order as many drinks as you’d like tapas, and if the alcohol becomes too much, get a Coca Cola or Coca Cola Light instead; the tapa’s still free. You specify the tapa when you order, and if you’d prefer to take the tapa without the drink, you can order them separately as well.

I don’t know which tapa of the night was my favorite, and we didn’t try all of them, but we got damn close. The chicken stew with polenta might have been the stand out, but the salted cod was surprisingly unbelievable, as was pretty much everything we tried. I would recommend going in hungry and just trying as much as you need to fill you up, though there are only a few tables, so be ready for the possibility of having to wait a while.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of Poë, but fortunately for you they have a great English website where you can check out everything you need to know. Also good to know for planning purposes: it’s about a block away from Om Kalsoum, so if you want to get really international and hop over for some Moroccan fare before or after Poë, it’s super easy. ¡Buen provecho!

Los Diamantes

Los Diamantes is a diamond in the rough. Maybe more accurately, it’s a rough gem, since there is nothing sparkly and shiny about this jam-packed, bare-bones seafood bar, and there is nothing rough about c/ Navas, a street overflowing with promising restaurants and bars.

It’s easy to miss Los Diamantes, except for the fact that people are literally pouring out of it. There is no outdoor seating (those tables outside are actually for the neighboring restaurants), and the seating inside is super limited, so plan on either fighting for a little table where your face will be at butt-level with the ever-growing crowd, or just get ready to elbow your way to the bar and stand while you eat, Spanish style.

The name of the game here is seafood, and loads of it. Messy menus on the wall detail what’s on offer, and every caña or tinto de verano that you order will earn you a heaping plate of something delicious. Los Diamantes is one of those places where you seem to work your way up to the good stuff. Oftentimes tapa #1 will be fried eggplant (aubergines). Good, but not amazing. You still might luck out and get a great surprise for your first plate, but you never know. Stick around for a few drinks and you’ll be enjoying juicy chunks of fried fish, huge steamed prawns, sprinkled with sea salt, and a slew of other tasty morsels.

Part of the fun of eating here is the chaos of the place. Every time I’ve been there it’s been literally exploding with Spaniards and I’ve only ever seen a couple other foreigners in there. It’s not pretty and it looks a little intimidating from the outside, and I think that keeps some people at bay. The waiters are experts at their craft, and even when you are positive they have forgotten you or your tapa, they’re on it, shuffling around behind the tiny bar and passing platefuls of pulpo and berenjenas over the heads of the obliging crowd. It’s exactly what I want in a tapas bar, and it brings back memories of the scene at Can Paixano in Barcelona. So next time you’re in Granada, take a deep breath, stick your elbows out, and head in. You won’t regret it.

(http://www.travelandleisure.com/restaurants/bar-los-diamantes-granada-granada-jaen)

Antigua Bodega Castañeda

This bodega is one of the big names on nearly every Top Ten Tapas list around, and for good reason. All you have to do is look at the picture above of their heaping tabla caliente above to see why. That would be a selection of tortilla de patatas, lomo, atún con queso, habas, and a number of other cheeses, meats, and a few vegetables (but only a few!). The food is hearty, heavy, and super Spanish. It’s also extremely popular with locals and tourists alike, and it’s standing room only unless you’re ordering more than a few tapas. If you want to try one of the tablas or another full dish, take a seat. The staff here is used to tourists, and chances are you’ll be able to get by with a language other than Spanish. If you just want to tapear or have a drink of vermouth or sherry out of the house barrels, head up to the bar or to one of the tall barrels that serve as tables. I’d recommend the bar, because in the chaos of the place, sometimes a tapa or two is forgotten. One of the occupational risks of getting free food with your drinks in a crowded place.

This is another one of those places where you just order your drinks and see what you get, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with everything from a generous serving of steaming paella to a delicious dish of sliced mushrooms, chunks of jamón, and whole black peppercorns. I’ve never been disappointed…except the times they forgot my tapa.

The wait staff seem like they were born working here. They’re all older men and I’ve never met one who was less than extremely, extremely friendly. If crowds aren’t your thing, try visiting a little early for the lunch hour to avoid the hordes. There’s also an attached restaurant with outdoor seating, but my experience there wasn’t as great. Still good, but not excellent. My advice is to do what you need to, but make sure you get inside to the bar at least once!

(http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guides/europe/spain/andalusia/granada/49022/antigua-bodega-castaneda/restaurant-detail.html)

Om Kalsoum

Om Kalsoum taps into the Moorish ancestry of Granada with a menu of Moroccan and Middle-Eastern inspired tapas. The first thing you need to know is that the place is always jam packed with people and full of smoke. I am not a big fan of cigarette smoke, but I was able to bear it a few times to eat here. But, if you have a sensitive system, beware of spending more than a few drinks’ time in this long, narrow, windowless bar.

The décor is decidedly not Spanish, but that is part of the exotic allure of Granada, which isn’t entirely “Spanish” itself. This place would fit in great in a Granada itinerary that includes a visit to the Alhambra, a hammam, and a teteria in the Albaízyn for some tea and hookah. The menu, a huge selection of exotic tapas, is in English and Spanish, and you can select what tapa you want with each drink. My favorite was the noodles with almonds, though I forget the name they gave it exactly. Everything was pretty good, some things really good, though some of the items can be hit-or miss. The place is obviously popular enough as evidenced by the crowds, so just be ready to try a few tapas and see what you like and what you don’t.

The chairs are not super comfortable, (read: baby-sized stools), which can be important if you’ve been walking around the Alhambra all day, but there are a few coveted lounge areas which I have never seen empty. If all the tables are taken there’s little standing room, so be ready to wait if you’re determined to eat here. If the place is full, you can always wander over to Poë first, just a block or two away.

(http://www.urbanlowdown.com/destinations/spain/granada/169.html)

So there you have it! My not-at-all-comprehensive, Lonely-planet influenced, delicious little list of things I love in Granada. I’ll be continuing on this theme with short lists for all the cities I’ve been to and eaten in on this trip. Some will be tiny, others will be tinier, but they are all the absolute best of what I’ve enjoyed and they all provide the ability of eating well for cheap. That is one of the absolute best things about Andalucía for travelers on a budget–you can still eat such incredible food! Tapas are a godsend, and I will miss the Granada/Jaén style of the institution so much in Madrid! That’s all for today, more food tomorrow!

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