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A love of culture, food culture.

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jaccola Mar 2, 2012 08:54 AM

I discovered this Chowhound board while preparing for our trip to Spain. I spent hours reading and taking notes. We are just finishing up a three week trip around Spain. Our route included: Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Sevilla, the white villages of Andulusia, Cordoba, Toleda, and finishing up in Barcelona. Today enroute to Barcelona from Toledo we stopped in the city of Lleida, about half way between Barcelona and Zaragoza on A2.

At the beginning of our trip when we were in Barcelona we had a difficult time finding Hyssop one of the restaurants recommended on this board and the city is so full of great options that we gave up trying to find any of those recommended and instead ventured out blind. But we had good luck at the Troubador in the old city center, not far off the Ramblas. The grilled artichokes with Romescu sauce were fabulous. The Valenzian fish we had reminded me a bit of Tinken Chik, the Maya way to prepare fish, but without Achiote. (Please excuse my spelling of some these entrees!) Service was very good.

The whole time we’ve been here, we’ve had a hard time adjusting to the late dinner schedule of Spain. Arriving before 8pm at a restaurant is just not done! Actually, it won’t be open, unless it’s a fast food or touristy place.

Another food highlight was in the seaside coast town south of Barcelona, L’Ampolla at Pinyana. Our first real Spanish Paella and the Menu Del Dia. First course, second course with bread, drink and dessert for a set price. We also had the Fideua, similar to paella but using short spaghetti-like pasta instead of rice. We enjoyed the rice Paella much more. The Spanish white wine, SummaRoca was a great addition to the lunch at this sunny outdoor location. Watching our waists, we ordered tangerine sorbet for dessert but when we expressed curiosity about the traditional Catalan Cream, the waiter brought us a dish to share, compliments of the house. A lot like crème brulee without the crisp topping.

The best paella of the trip was at San Miguel Bar in the San Miguel Plaza in the old town in Valencia. Like many places, it requires a minimum of two people to order the paella because it is prepared when the ordered is placed and the pan is of the size to serve two people. We wondered why it took so long until the waiter appeared with the classic shallow pan, a good twelve inches or more in width; the rice topped with a satiny golden crust. This paella was unique in that it had large flat beans, like a fava as well as the red and green peppers and seafood and meats. It was so good, we scraped until the pan was nearly pristine.

Oh, there is one meal that was also great I nearly forgot, in Barclona, a little place down the hill from the Fundacion Joan Miro museum. It was called Bar Celona, cute! Popular place and the staff, although busy tried to help us with selections, again the Menu del Dia. Paella, roast vegetables in olive oil marinade, but what I remember the most was the fresh made strawberry Profiteroles (sp?)and fresh made sorbet. Here again the chef sent out little treats for us to try, unbidden. We loved this element of Spain….as my husband said, they don’t sweat the small stuff.

A little food strategy here too, in case you’re on a budget and want to still eat good and not be stuck with just any old fast food you can find. Go to the market and buy, good olive oil, lemon ( that’s all you need for salad dressing), some olives or other jarred pickled items (beets, asparagus, artichokes, etc.), nuts, whatever fruit is in season, maybe a good chocolate bar, a fresh baguette, and whatever else looks intriguing. I usually go to the deli counter and ask the butcher: Que es mejor cheso de Catalan (or wherever we are)? They usually give us a sample and we tell them how many Euros we want to spend and they give us that. So then if you don’t want to wait until 8pm for dinner and instead you just want to relax in your hotel room, you can enjoy tapas in your room, maybe with a bottle of wine. A traditional way to prepare bread as a tapas is to toast it if you can, cut a tomato in half and rub that onto the toast, lightly salt and drizzle with good olive oil. You can also scrub the toast with a slice of garlic for a variety.

So on to other food highlights of the trip. In Sevilla, roast shoulder of lamb at Alta Mira in the old city. Salmorejo, a cross between a light cream soup and a chopped salad (boiled eggs, bacon bits, tomatoes, etc. ) Also the venison stew at Naranjos in Sierra de la Zaharra, in the mountains of Andalusia. And the creamy dessert, possibly ricotta lightly sweetened with pineapple blended in was wonderful. Way too many great little pasteleria’s everywhere to not have a sweet pastry and coffee with warm milk blended in. In Ronda, another white Andalusian village, Restaurant Socorro, where we had eggplant sliced, coated fried then drizzled with cane syrup and their ultra sweet Chestnut cream dessert. In Toledo, quail stew with white bean soup, comfort food, especially since it was unseasonably cold while on this trip.

But tonight in Lleida, what inspired me to finally sit down and take note of these highlights was the food experience I’ve been looking for, truly ‘tipico’ dinner served by someone who really cares about the food experience. The Lladanosa family operates the Nastasi Hotel and Restaurants. Since it was Sunday the fine dining restaurant was closed but The Tram was open and Peppito was cooking. Peppito is the father and owner along with his ebullient son Pepo. These two Catalans to the soul, serve up proudly, the best local ingredients they can find; from the little jar of olive oil at the table hand labeled to inform you it’s origin, to the final liquor of the meal. We tried the Esqueixada de bacalla, a cold salad of cod that had been brined in salt and tomato and likely garlic, served with carrot and dark little olives. Very tipico! Then the best salad ever, Escalivada amb formatge de cabra, a round of goat cheese topped with roasted peppers and eggplants, baked inside a filo dough pouch served with green salad, cracklings and tomatoes with balsamic reduction drizzled over the top. Prior to all this they taught us about Pan y Tomate, the toasted bread raked with tomato I mentioned earlier. The entrée we selected was Rostit de Tira Argentina, a slow roasted piece of t-bone beef served with herb/oil sauce. The roast potatoes and tomato were on the side and nothing to ignore themselves, perfectly caramelized Yukon gold….or similar yellow potato. We were too full for dessert so Pepo treated us to a taste of the local liquor, Catalan Cream and another yellow more medicinal liquid derived from assorted local herbs. I forgot to mention the soup, since we were having such a great time discussing Spain and it’s people with Pepo, who lived for a year in Florida and is quite a world traveler. The soup, Tasseta d’Olla Aranesa, was similar to chicken noodle soup but with the addition of meatballs. Again, comfort Catalan style.

The Tram is located in what appears to be an actual train car, very charming! I hope all reading this find not only the food they crave but the experience of true love of culture to accompany that as well.

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