Boredom has given birth to another great dinner. The dish looks impressive but it’s one of the simplest meals you can make. I just dredge the butterflied fish in milk and then sprinkle lightly with flour, saute in 1 1/2-2 tablespoons butter with the tiniest bit of olive oil to get the heat up without burning the butter. Two minutes on each side on medium-high heat. Then I set aside the fish and ditch the butter, because it’s quite brown at this point. Then I brown a handful of slivered almonds in another pat of butter, and squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the pan before pouring over the fish. The green beans couldn’t be easier. Olive oil, sea salt, and about a tablespoon of finely chopped pancetta. One to two minutes on medium high heat lightly blisters the skin but reserves their crispness. French comfort food with minimal effort.
Well… there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is, La Cage Aux Folles opened on Broadway to rave reviews, received 11 Tony Award nominations, and walked away with 3, including Best Revival of a Musical. The bad news is that Tony week and all of the shenanigans that lead up to it left me so fatigued that I’ve since fallen ill and have missed several performances. Yet still… there’s more good news. I have finally found the time to update my blog and post some of my recent kitchen creations. So go on and taste with your eyes…
I got released from rehearsal early today…. so, after eating lunch out all week I decided to take a trip to the market and come home to cook something special. I rubbed the outside of the tuna steak with tahini and whole grain mustard, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Seared on medium high heat for a little over a minute on each side, then sliced with a very sharp knife. Then I dressed the salad of mixed baby lettuces, dill and chopped snap peas with a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tahini, whole grain mustard and finely chopped italian parsley.
When the door to La Venencia shuts behind me, I am transported to another Madrid. Dust covered bottles hanging behind the bar, large ancient barrels holding Jerez wine (sherry), a cat passing through customers’ legs, wilted posters hanging on yellowed plaster walls…. Through the puffs of cigarette smoke, I can’t spot a single tourist. One possible expat, but I suppose the rest turned around at the entryway. I feel as if I’ve landed in the 1950s, or possibly earlier… the 1920s when this bar served it’s first glass? The decor is decidedly unfussy, with a staff to match (the female bartender is wearing a moth-eaten turtleneck) and, strangely enough, I love it! I order a fino (your only options are manzanilla, fino, oloroso, amontillado or palo cortado) and sip it slowly while munching on garlicky olives. The gal behind the bar keeps my tab in chalk on the old bar, and later declines my tip with a nod, “no.” The people-watching is unreal, and the sherry is top-notch. Sherry, unlike other wine, doesn’t benefit from age in a bottle, and is better closer to the source… so Madrid is a perfect place to sip this product from nearby Jerez de la Frontera. Grab a glass and take a trip in time before catching the flamenco show at adjacent Cardamomo.
La Venencia, Calle Echegaray, 7 | Sol | +34914297313
“We lunched upstairs at Botín´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.” The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Well, I can’t say that I drank three bottles of rioja alta, but I did have a very big meal at Restaurante Botin on Calle De Cuchilleros. To call it one of the best restaurants in the world is also a stretch, but to call it the oldest restaurant in the world… that would just be fact. The restaurant, opened in 1725 in a building dating back to 1590, holds the certificate from the Guinness Book of Records to prove it. How’s a foodie on holiday to resist? As you can imagine, the place has become wildly popular with tourists trying to scout out Hemingway’s seat; but it’s worth mentioning that when I dined there, there were several tables of spaniards enjoying cochinillo asado, the roast suckling pig they are so famous for. And of course, that is what I had as well.
The portion was laughably large, but so much of it was fat and bone, that I only got a small fists-worth of meat. The pig is roasted in the Castilian style with a mixture of onion, garlic and parsley, tomillo (thyme), some bay leaves, dry white wine flavored with fermented fish, and pig’s fat. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the meat as flavorful as expected, and the potatoes that accompanied it weren’t exactly inspiring. I did, however, end the meal with the most incredible flan de queso I have ever tasted!
With light spilling in through ancient window frames, waiters in white jackets flying by, a nearby elderly madrileno enjoying a taste of her childhood, azulejos (ceramic tiles) dating back to the 1700s (and others in the cloisonne-like style of the 1500s) surrounding me, I found the ambiance sort of infectious. The menu is headed with an etching of Madrid in 1561, around the time the first cutler’s shanty was put up on this very spot. If you come at lunch, the crowds are sparse enough to sit back and contemplate all of the generations that have passed through these arches. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Restaurante Botín. Calle de los Cuchilleros, 17. 28005 Madrid, Spain. 91 366 42 17
In celebration of our 1 1/2 year anniversary, belated Valentines Day and our Broadway debuts, David and I recently treated ourselves to the tasting menu at Thomas Keller’s Per Se! I have many updates before I get the “Apple Slices” of these past few weeks, but I thought I would give you a peek at the menu in the meantime.
The Castelo affords the best views in all of Lisbon. After spending a week gazing up at it, David and I finally made the trek up the hill, through the Alfama, to the shaded courtyards and fortified walls. Nowhere else is the history of this city so palpable…. from the Moors in the 9th Century to the crusaders of the 12th Century, these grounds were central to Lisbon life for over a thousand years. The walls protected kings, housed prisoners, you name it. And the view, of course, is breathtaking!
This entry concludes our adventures in Lisbon. Although not featured with individual entries, David and I also had lovely meals at the pricey Conventual, the chic Sacramento de Chiado, and the airy Restaurante Mercado de Santa Clara (mentioned in Frances Mays’ A Year in the World). I still have to post updates from three days in Madrid that followed, and I fear I’m terribly behind! But stay tuned, because these past few weeks in New York have been wonderful (and delicious!), with trips to Le Cirque, Mercer Kitchen, and the crown jewel… Per Se!
The common denominator in every Portuguese meal we had was, strangely enough… custard! Pastelerías occupied every corner, and round the clock, we found ourselves sinking our teeth into the most incredible custard-filled pastries. In the morning as a vehicle for our bicas (espressos), as a late afternoon pick-me-up, as a post-dinner dessert. I became particularly addicted to the delicias ovos (layers of puff pastry sandwiching a mixture of sugar and egg yolk) at Pasteleria Suica in Rossio square, and David made a habit of trying a new pastry at each sitting. None, however, compared to the now world famous Pastéis de Nata at Pastéis de Belém. I suppose they should hold the title, and enjoy the deserved hype… This was the first place that the pastries were sold in 1837, shortly after the Monesteiro dos Jeronimos closed. The monks, left to their own devices to make a living, decided to sell the pastries that they had been making for years, for a profit. All of the recipes created by these Portuguese monks revolved heavily around the egg yolk, as whites were used in large quantities to starch clothes and (if you can believe it) to make wine, such as Port. They managed to find a very delicious solution to the overabundance of yolks! Shops all over Lisbon attempt to recreate the recipe, and all are delicious (though we were disappointed by those at the renowned – and beautiful! – Confetaria Nacional in the Baixa), but none have as creamy a custard, or as flaky a shell. Sprinkle the still warm pastry with powdered sugar and cinnamon and your sweet tooth will be chattering for more and more…
Determined to uncover more of Portuguese seafood than salt cod and sardines, David and I sat down to lunch at Baixa fixture Martinho da Arcada. Once a haunt of poet Fernando Pessoa, they are known for their Cataplana, a seafood stew from the Algarve region that is similar to bouillabaisse in France. The waiters scurried around us in white jackets and brought our starters of cabbage soup (another Portuguese staple) and asparagus, because I was feeling starved for greens. Sadly, when the asparagus dish came, it was pickled white asparagus that tasted only of vinegar, but the folly was forgotten when the Cataplana came! Named for the clam-like copper shell that it’s cooked in, the instrument was unclamped at our table and the stew was served table-side. Steaming inside were sea bass, salmon, prawns, lobster, clams, mussels… we eventually stopped counting! After soaking up some of the flavorful broth with our bread, it was easy to see why Pessoa would loiter here…
Martinho da Arcada, Rua da Prata, 2-8 1100 – 419 LISBOA, ph. 218879259