Oct 31, 2010

Bar Lobo, Las Ramblas, Barcelona

There is nothing like exploring a city being a local. Or at least as if you were a local. Maybe my love for Barcelona was because I had a wonderful friend that is from and lives there. La Rambla is an arbored boulevard located in Central Barcelona; it connects the Plaza Catalunya to the Port Vell. 

Bar Lobo is located on a crossing street of La Rambla and few blocks distant from the Mercado de la Boquería. This place is fabulous for a tapas dinner or a Sunday brunch. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly and the food is delicious.

I had tried their seafood dish (which ressembles a paella), gaspacho, patatas bravascrema catalana (which is similar to a crème brûlée), few other tapas in a group of friends. The food is an updated version of the Spanish classics --- delicious!  The place is simple, casual and amazing! 

More info on Bar Lobo: http://www.grupotragaluz.com/barlobo/

Oct 28, 2010

I love Barcelona!

I am completely in love with Barcelona. I love all the Gaudí architecture, sculptures and creations. I love the way people are so friendly, educated, kind and culturally educated. I love the food, cuisine and fresh food. 

The first time I had heard from Barcelona was on the Olympics in 1992. Since then, I heard many other things from holding the International Exposition to the Mediterranean Sea beauty. The rich history of Catalonia and the deep value it has on the people in Barcelona is amazing. The individuality and character can be felt in the language, city development and globalization.

Casa Batlló, Park Guell, Costa Brava, Plaça de Catalunya, Iglesia de Santa Maria del Mar, Mercado de la Boqueria, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona FC (soccer team), La Pedrera, Fundació Joan Miró, Las Ramblas, Tibidabo, Museo Picasso describe a little of everything this city has to offer. Keep time to enjoy food, wander all the streets, visit the Gaudí creations with time. 

The only thing is if you have time and conditions, go explore the beaches on the Aguablava coast. These treasures have so much to offer and are amazing spots. Plus, if you have a chance go - at least - visit where the worldly famous El Bulli restaurant used to be (yes, it was announced they have closed for granted) and savour El Celler De Can Roca (one of top 10 restaurants in the world).

Recipes: Green Bean Salad with Bacon and Shallots

2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
6 slices turkey (or lean) bacon
3 shallots, sliced
2 tbsp of red wine vinegar
2 tbsp of dijon mustard
2 tbsp of olive oil

1) Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tbsp of salt. Add the green beans and cook for about 4-5 min (or until tender). Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking; transfer to a serving bowl.

2) In the mean time, in a medium skillet, add 1-2 tbsp of vegetable oil, stir fry the bacon over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Let cool, then break into pieces (if they don't get crispy, it's still fine and delicious).

3) If there is excess fat from the bacon, discard all but 2 tbsp of the bacon drippings (the lean and turkey ones should have just about 2 tbsp), return to the skillet and add the shallots over medium heat. Stir it for about 1 minute. 

4) In a separate salad dressing container, mix the vinegar, the mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper (to taste). Whisk them all together. Add the bacon, shallots and dressing to the green beans and toss to combine. 

Outcome it was a very simple seasonal recipe. Still the shallots and bacon give a new dimension to the green beans! Give it a try! It takes about 20 minutes total to prepare. 

Oct 25, 2010

Jupiter Brewery, Downtown Berkeley

Jupiter is a brewery-pizza place located in Downtown Berkeley. My first time there was about five years ago with friends that always describe this spot as the nice place to relax, meet friends, enjoy great beer & pizza and get some nice music.

Five years later, coming and going, we went back there again to remember the old times. The place has a fabulous outdoor patio, perfect for a early happy hour or a lunch by the sun. It also has a fire, for the chilly times that do come. 

The atmosphere is very casual and some evenings they offer live music. They have a great selection of beer, while I always stick with the Hefeweizel (the wheat beer). The pizza has some interesting toppings, check it [here], this time, we ordered a garlic mozzarella bread and a pizza with two toppings: Theokleia and Cassiopeia

I recommend this place, specially if you are in a laid back mood and want to enjoy the Berkeleyan atmosphere!

More information about Jupiter Berkeley: www.jupiterbeer.com

Oct 22, 2010

Give Me 5 Gelateria, Trastevere, Rome

The traditional gelato couldn't be missed, we have tried few spots, many flavors and our favorite was a little shop, artisanal as many others, but with the best flavor was: Give Me 5 (very Italian name, huh?). It is located on "Vicolo de' Cinque", and it's a little shop at the bohemian neighborhood of Trastevere, where many small off-tourists restaurants and bars are located. 

Unfortunately, they don't have a online page.

Oct 20, 2010

La Canoleria Siciliana, Rome

Cannoli are Sicilian pastry desserts, they look like a dough tube, filled with a soft fluffy sweet cream filling. I am definitely not an expert on preparing them, but I can tell you when I try a good one. I have my favorite one in San Francisco, as described [here]. And I was on a mission to try a delicious one while in Rome.

Asked few people, read a couple of reviews, until we definitely reached La Canoleria Siciliana! They make different types of cannoli, with a large selection of fillings, flavors and sizes. I had the traditional one and it was amazing! The cannoli tube was very crispy and crunchy. Filled with a light, delicate sweetness. Combined they were just divine. 

More information about La Canoleria Siciliana: www.lacannoleriasiciliana.it

Oct 19, 2010

Recipes: Homemade Turkey Bolognese Polenta

Created by Priscilla Portes, this recipe is a must. Since the early Romans, polenta has been part of the Italian cuisine. In the early ages, it was considered a peasant food, but lately it has stepped up to be in the gourmet dishes from many Chefs all over the world. 
Mostly, this recipe is simple to make and we include some useful tips here. And always, try to use fresh and good ingredients, as they make a big difference on the final result!

Ingredients for the Polenta
3 cups of whole milk
1 cup Polenta Powder (we have used a Brazilian version called Milharina)
salt to taste
3 tbsp butter


In a large pan, put all the ingredients in medium-high heat. Stir it frequently, until it doesn't stick on the pan. The polenta will be all homogeneous.

Ingredients for the Turkey Bolognese

2 lb turkey ground meat
1 large yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 bunch cilantro
1 large tomato sauce (it can be homemade too!)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 lb asiago cheese (it can be mozzarella, queso fresco...)

Cut the onion, peppers, cilantro into about 1/4 inch cubes and mince the garlic. In a large pan, put the oil, let it warm up, include onion and garlic, stir it frequently until golden. Then add the meat and stir fry until almost all the water evaporated. At this point, add the peppers and cilantro. 

On a large oven pan, put the warm polenta spread evenly on the pan. Add the bolognese sauce on top of the polenta and the cheese to gratinate. The dish will be ready in about 15-20 min at 350F. 

Preparation time: 45min

Oct 18, 2010

Recipes: Brazilian feijão tropeiro (tropeiro beans)

Feijão tropeiro (roughly, Tropeiro beans) is a typical dish from the Brazilian cuisine, more specifically from the State of Minas Gerais. Its history goes back to Brazilian Colonial period, where the so called tropeiros would sell many things from city to city, travelling on horses. 

Traditionally, this dish includes beans, eggs, bacon, sausage, collard greens, yucca flour, onion, parsley, salt and pepper.

I tried to adapt the traditional version to create a lighter version at home, substituting the bacon for turkey one and pork sausage for chicken sausage. This dish is very delicious, tasty and very rich. With the few changes, it became less heavy and still very delicious. Give it a try!

1/2 lb pinto beans, cooked al dente (if you don't have a pressure cooker, soak them overnight and cook them for one to one and half hour)
4 links of spicy chicken sausage (cut in small pieces)
1/2 lb turkey bacon (cut in small cubes)
1 bunch collard greens (cut very finely)
1/4 lb yucca flour (many Latin markets or sections carry that)
2 tbsp. butter
1 large yellow onion (cut in 1/4 inch. cubes)
1 bunch of parsley (coarsely cut)

Savoury Preparation:
Cook the beans as per instructions above. While cooking that, cut all the ingredients accordingly. Saute the sausage in 1 tbsp of butter. Reserve. Include the second tbsp of butter, saute the onion, bacon and collard greens. The collard has be cooked and still crunchy (about 3 min in medium heat). Include the sausage and the cooked beans. Put the flour in small parts, constantly mixing. When all the ingredients are well mixed, include the parsley and mix one final time. The dish is ready to serve.

I served just with plain white rice. Include a lemon caipirinha if you feel like it!

Preparation time: 1h20min

Oct 16, 2010

Ombre Rosse Cafe, Trastevere, Rome

There is no way to come to Italy and not think about food. It's hard to find someone that doesn't enjoy on savouring some Italian food: pasta, pizza, gelato, bruschetta, prosciutto, cannoli, wine, cheese... While in Rome, we ate all those things. And we learned few things, Italians don't put shredded cheese over tomato sauced pasta, for example. Nutella is something super common in gelatos here. The al dente is really perfectly cooked here, everywhere you go. 

Following our travel guide, we went walking to explore the bohemian neighborhood Trastevere, with all the bars, restaurants and international crowd. Amid all this diversity, we stopped to check Ombre Rosse Cafe for an afternoon snack. We tried two of their local beers and a delicious prosciutto panini. Famous for the nightlife, we found Trastevere still waking up when we were there: lazy, slow and very friendly. Perfect pause for all the sightseeing. 

And for our amusement, there were shooting a Italian TV series on the brewery right in front of us! 

Oct 14, 2010

The classical beauty of Rome

Rome is one of the cities that holds the most history in the world. On the same level as Athens, Beijing and few more, pretty much every corner of this ancient city can tell a story written in many many books. Some spots can tell you what happened way before Christ time - the so called B.C. (before Christ). 

Despite the traffic chaos and the subway lines that don't necessarily go everywhere (the archeological treasuries are always found when building up), the beauty of Rome is everywhere. On the Italian people that are really gorgeous and charming; on the food, delicious, tasty and flavorful; on the values, so much related to the family and the dolce far niente (roughly: the art of doing nothing) and for sure, on the architecture and history.

We walked all over Rome and did most of the sightseeing all walking. It was indeed a great way of getting to know the city, while it was also the most tiring spot we have been. Piazza Navona, Fontana di Trevi, Sistine Chapel, Mouth of Truth, Colosseum, Trastevere, Vatican City and St Peter's Basilica were among the spots we visited. Each of them with its own personality and story sort of help to make the puzzle history together.

But we also saw some interesting scenes along the way. Gorgeous bookshops, charming stores, open markets, huge tomatoes and wild mushrooms/truffles. And I took so many pictures. One interesting thing I noticed is that the Latin countries have so much in common. I knew they have the same root language and friendly culture, but I could tell the similarities also on the way the open markets were set up, for example. The fruits and vegetables are equally amazing as elsewhere, but the display has the same pattern. 

Along the way, I fell in love for the old cars that are all over town. These old cars, which fits one/two people, doesn't have air bag, air conditioning, but are so adorable.

Oct 10, 2010

Café Belgique, Amsterdam

Wandering around Amsterdam, we were looking simply for a great place to enjoy good beer. In a narrow street (as many around this city), we found a spot just signed as "La Chouffe". Later I find that in fact that's the name of a great Belgium beer and the "real" name of the place is: Café Belgique (thanks Jere!) 

Regardless, there are many, really, many different pubs around Amsterdam. And most of them serve a great selection of beers from all over the world. This one is special because it's tiny (fits about 10 people maximum), have a great intimate old decor and a live DJ. 

My favorite beer is the fruity lambic. Girls tend to like these beer: fruity, sweeter, no bitter taste, lighter. From the little I know, lambic beer is made from spontaneous fermentation, that results in a dry, sour aftertaste. (According to my friend wiki: "Lambic is made with the addition of raspberry, framboise, peach(pêche), blackcurrant (cassis), grape, strawberry, as either whole fruit or syrup. Other, rarer fruit lambic flavorings include apple (pomme), banana, pineapple, apricot, plum, lemon and blueberry. Fruit lambics are usually bottled with secondary fermentation.")

On the same note, these Belgium and Dutch beer are also served around the world. For instance, in San Francisco, there is an amazing hidden spot on North Beach: La Trappe Cafe. 

When you are coming in, you have no idea what to expect. The entrance is at street level and most of times, there is nobody there dining nor drinking. That's because the big deal is downstairs, where the real pub is located. 

There, with pub-tavern decoration, you will find the largest selection of beer (the menu is actually a large book to accomodate and describe the very wide selection) I have found around San Francisco. They also have delicious Belgium fries and burgers to pair well. 

More info about the Café Belgique: http://www.cafe-belgique.nl
La Chouffe beer: http://www.achouffe.be/en
and the San Francisco's La Trappe Cafe: http://latrappecafe.com

Oct 7, 2010

Amsterdam in a brief

It's hard to describe a city in just one post. But as I have been getting busy in my other (day) job, weeks have been passing by without any individual post here. 

In a nutshell, Amsterdam was very special to me. Other than all the crazy stuff I heard before going (all the cafes, Red Light District and some more = they pride themselves for the big tolerance), I saw a different gorgeous city (friends had warned me that a sunny weather makes complete difference on the experience). That was the first city we visited while on this trip to Europe. Weather was gorgeous, sunny, not too cold, comfortable. People were so friendly and they all spoke English.

My Dutch is extremely limited, I learned two or three words while being there (ingang, sortie...). My Amsterdam highlights (you are definitely welcome to share yours) were the channels, the architecture, the tulips (that I will have to come back to check), beer & fries (actually they were Belgium stuff, not Dutch), fresh mint tea, Indonesian food (super unexpected), walking around the city, Van Gogh museum. It's on my "coming back" list of cities to visit again.

For those who like fashion and would like to grab a bite around downtown Amsterdam, we stopped by the Caffe Esprit. Esprit is a clothing store based in the Netherlands and they have a flagship store in Amsterdam. Other than cool European clothes (I might have a separate post about European fashion), they have a cafe. We sat outside got the Dutch Heineken and the Belgium Duvel + pasta & burger. Both were delicious - we were starving. It was a good stop if you are right by there and hungry. Don't miss the beers (anywhere in Amsterdam). 

Last but not least, Indonesian cuisine had never been my strength. I know few Indonesians, they are great people, but the food was never my top. Amsterdam has many different Indonesian restaurants spread around the city, due to their colonial Dutch history. The Rijsttafel is the meal they used to serve to the Dutch families, is based on rice (as many other Asian cuisines) and combines many small dishes together. Usually one or two types of meat, vegetables, starches, a great use of spices and seasonings. 

We tried the Restaurant Indrapura, located on the Rembrandt Square and it was delicious. Despite the famous nightlife, Amsterdam restaurants close relatively early, around 10pm. We arrived there almost on closing time and were really well served. It's a family owned restaurant, the wife and "chef" is Indonesian and the husband and "server/waiter" is Dutch. The food was very fresh, meat was very tasty, spicy, but not overwhelming. We complimented the food to them and they respond: "the only thing we do differently is to always use fresh ingredients".  If you don't care for spicy food, let them aware of that. I love spicy, so for me was perfect. This experience changed the way I see this cuisine. I'm sure I will have good and bad ones in the future, but it was a great surprise. 

More info about the spots:

Restaurant Indrapura http://www.indrapura.nl/

Oct 6, 2010

Special Review: Gary Danko, Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

Each person like to celebrate special days in different ways. Some drink, others go party, others shop... I like to celebrate great occasions with good food, either cooking or eating out. 
I always get amazed how talented chefs can do so much with the same ingredients that I might have on the refrigerator but with all their good techniques and abilities (that I don't have ;). They can create so many different flavors, combinations, pairings, textures and aromas. It's a fascinating science for me! They take the best advantage out of fresh ingredients, good sources and exquisite flavors.

Foie Gras --- the best one I have ever tasted!

Gary Danko is a recognized Chef established in San Francisco. His restaurant is located in the Fisherman's Wharf, but a little distant from the Pier 39 touristic spots. His cuisine style combines French, Mediterranean and American influences. The menu is set in prix-fixe menu courses, with the flexibility that you can "mix&match" your favorite choices... for example, you can savour all lobster dishes you may want or all the desserts you feel like within those four or five courses. 

For a table of four, we tried many unique combinations and the dishes were so fresh and tasty. I have tried there the best foie gras I ever tasted. Very delicious! The other dishes were equally divine. One interesting to point was - in my lay language - that I LOVED to feel the way the dishes smelled, the aroma was so inspiring!

I definitely do recommend this spot. If you want to surprise your loved one and/or want to celebrate a special day, give this place a try. The price tag is in the high range, but they do give you great options of choices as far as three, four or five course menu. Their wine list is vast allowing you to choose in different ranges, with good quality. 

Make a reservation way ahead to guarantee a spot there - the place runs out of tables quickly.

More info on Gary Danko: www.garydanko.com
Price range: $$$$