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Macaron ice cream sandwiches at La Boqueria

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There is no visit to Barcelona without a stop at La Boqueria, the vast and crowded market situated along the ever-popular pedestrian street, La Rambla. Before the first visit, it was among the first sights recommended. Just looking around the place is amazing, seeing the variety of food – baked goods, fresh seafood, colorful fruit, etc. – and, of course, sampling.

After the Camp Nou, it might be my favorite place in town; it’s definitely my Dad’s favorite, when in town, he makes sure to stop by at least once a day.

On the last trip (coincidentally, the photos from that vacation are currently popping up on Facebook’s “On this day”), spotted a booth that was not there on the previous visit (which was a few years prior) selling macaron ice cream sandwiches.

Of course, I was stopping for one.

First enjoyed macaron ice cream sandwiches at François Payard Bakery, their location along W. Houston Street in New York City was only a couple blocks from the old office and walked over with a friend to try out their goods (have since found out they closed all of their locations earlier this year). Split a chocolate and strawberry sandwiches (if I remember correctly) and they were both amazing.

The next opportunity came in Seoul, encountered street vendor with a variety of flavors in Myeongdong – another lovely experience.

The selection at La Boqueria, like the market itself, was wide. They were also really colorful, like the many fruit stands throughout the place selling fresh juice. Decided on speculoos. Not entire sure why they went with blue for the macaron – delicious nonetheless. The macaron left a bit of a stickiness on the fingers, not sure if it was a matter of humidity or if it was the market air, but it was still a worthwhile purchase and would definitely go back to sample another flavor.

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Written by Paulo Loreto

May 19, 2018 at 8:28 AM

Dining at Lasarte

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Before the most recent trip to Barcelona, I spent a lot of time researching various restaurants to dine at for a good friend’s birthday. In a city known for its food, narrowing down the choices was not an easy task. Obviously, the first place to look was anywhere with the name Adrià, either Ferran of elBulli fame or his brother, Albert, who runs the much-raved about Tickets, along with Enigma.

Making reservations turned out to be somewhat vague, with no clear confirmation a table would be available once in Barcelona. In the end, decided it was important we had a confirmed table to make sure it was an amazing birthday celebration. Running through various travel guides and, especially, the Michelin guide, found out about Lasarte, a three-Michelin star establishment located just off the Passeig de Gràcia.

The reservation process was straightforward and when inquiring about their menu, with regard to dietary restrictions, their response time was remarkable (they are very accommodating when it comes to dietary restrictions). The reservation process alone was just about enough to confirm the birthday would be celebrated at Lasarte.

The day arrived and we took a walk down the Passeig de Gràcia, even stopping for tapas on the way.

Upon entering the establishment, it was amazingly clean and modern. We were seated right away and noticed a few of the other tables with elegantly-presented dishes and just as elegantly-dressed patrons. It was already exhilarating walking into such an establishment, it got even more exciting once the menus arrived.

The evening began with an array of ornate appetizers, each served in a unique way, with a variety of textures to start the evening. The first course began with an oyster dish served with an iced watercress slush, parsnip, and sea mist. For molecular gastronomy fans, seeing anything with foam arrive to the table automatically get the senses going.

Probably the most beautiful of the 11 courses was the red curry dish. Described as scarlet shrimp royal with red curry, raw artichokes, celery, and apple, the dish offered a variety of colors and textures. It’s the typical go-to photo when telling people about the dinner.

Scarlet shrimp royal with red curry, raw artichokes, celery, and apple.

If I were to name the most memorable dish, there is no doubt it was the charcoal grilled pigeon with citrus, capers, black olive, and smoked sauce with galangal. The idea of eating pigeon was a rather foreign concept, which made it the most striking option when first perusing the evening’s menu. There was a red meat quality to the flavor and texture and, overall, it tasted good – it was mostly about getting over the idea of a pigeon being on the plate.

Charcoal grilled pigeon with citrus, capers, black olive, and smoked sauce with galangal.

Dessert was amazing – and gorgeous. Almond and salt praline, apricot, and rum ice cream. It’s cliché to say “it was too beautiful to eat,” but this, in fact, was; and it was all worth it once getting that first bite.

Almond and salt praline, apricot, and rum ice cream.

There’s a reason places like Lasarte are acclaimed. The aesthetic really makes a difference in the overall experience. A quiet and relaxed room with perfect lighting made the dinner all the more appealing. Very attentive staff – who even walk you to the bathroom – add an appreciation for the care the restaurant puts into service.

Then, there’s the food. 11 courses, each with its own unique taste and beauty, it truly presents the soul of the restaurant itself.

All of it comprises the “dining experience,” and this was one of the most memorable ones.

Pintxos along Via Laietana

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With the sun was going down on a relaxing afternoon in Barcelona, it was time to step out for dinner. As with local custom, before sitting down to a formal meal, tapas first, small plates of food to kick off a long night of deliciousness.

Staying in the Barri Gòtic, right by the Barcelona Cathedral, started with drinks at a nearby bar and then proceeded to Tapa Fina, a tapas bar that was literally steps from the previous spot.

Having stayed in the area a few times prior, for whatever reason, had never walked into the place. Visited the next door coffee shop several times for a morning brew (and an afternoon pick-me-up), also stopped into the FC Barcelona shop located on the other side, but have always bypassed the tapas bar in between.

On this first visit, got a glimpse of a small and packed place – it was lovely. Bottles of wine lined the walls and heaps of pintxos, traditional Basque bar snacks, beautifully littered the display case.

Browsed the menu and spotted it; on a visit a tapas bar the night before, made a request for txakoli, a light Basque white wine that I had been introduced to at a New York City tapas bar, but they didn’t have it available. Tapa Fina had it right on their menu and it was the perfect accompaniment for what was just the beginning of the night.

Next came the difficult task of choosing what to order. Walked up to the display case and, pretty sure, I paced back and forth a bit in indecision. So many delicious-looking selections, but had to order just enough that it wouldn’t be filling, along with making sure it was something that would keep the appetite motivated throughout the night.

Both options were served on a lovely slice of crusty bread, one was topped with jamón, potato and red pepper; while the other comprised of salmon and cream cheese – wonderful. Tapas are a beautiful thing, both physically and to the taste buds.

A beautiful pair of pintxos. One topped with jamón, potato and red pepper (left) and the other with salmon and cream cheese (right).

Written by Paulo Loreto

May 6, 2018 at 8:46 AM

Indulgent patatas bravas steps away from La Sagrada Família

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On a recent trip to a local mall in Bacolod City, ordered, what the restaurant purported to be, patatas bravas. When the dish arrived, it was, essentially, potatoes served in a tiny cast-iron skillet topped with spaghetti sauce and cheese. While it was tasty, it shouldn’t be called “patatas bravas.”

During last year’s Mediterranean cruise and subsequent stay in Barcelona, not sure why but, at nearly every meal, an order of patatas bravas was included; although, it did offer sampling of the different ways the iconic tapas dish is prepared (none of which includes spaghetti sauce and cheese).

One such occasion followed a long walk through the city, starting at Park Güell, which began the morning with a relaxing walk and a chocolate croissant, meandered downtown towards La Sagrada Família (it was a very Antoni Gaudí-themed day). Getting closer and closer to the destination, the spires of the iconic cathedral became markers, indicating we were heading in the right direction.

Arriving near the structure, there was still a while before our assigned entry time and stopped for some snacks. A tall glass of Estrella Damm, a delicious plate of pa amb tomàquet, and patatas bravas provided some delicious sustenance after the long walk.

The place, TapasYcia, which, according to recent internet posts, has reportedly closed up shop, offered a generous portion of patatas bravas, with the salsa brava and garlic aioli poured separately across the long plate of hot potatoes. While the taste of authentic patatas bravas will always be a pleasant one to think back to, the sheer sight of the TapasYcia version is definitely a unique memory; and if they, in fact, have closed for good, glad to have captured the beauty on camera.

Stopping for a café con leche along the Passeig de Gràcia

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One morning in Barcelona, walked up the Passeig de Gràcia, a street lined with restaurants and shops, and was looking for a breakfast spot. Along that street, have enjoyed breakfast at Navarra Restaurant on previous visits, a Basque bar that offers “American breakfast,” which came with really good bacon; they also have one of those fresh orange juice machines that cracks out some of the most flavorful juice.

Not in the mood for something heavy, was looking to sit down to something, shall we call it, European? Happened across a familiar spot, Farrgi, which has traditionally (for me) been a place for ice cream and gelato; however, I do recall stopping at a different location and having a really tasty sandwich.

Walked in and saw there was a line, which offered ample time to check out the offerings for the morning and it was a pretty easy selection. A croissant and a café con leche were exactly what was needed to start the day.

Oddly enough, have had similar breakfasts when working in New York City, but, for whatever reason, it just feels different in Barcelona.

The croissant, as expected, light and flaky; but the café con leche was spot-on. Even during the preceding cruise, throughout Italy, it was espressos and cappuccinos, but once crossing into the Spanish and Catalan territories, it was café con leches every morning – and this was no different.

It sounds a bit overdramatic but, thinking about the numerous times enjoying a hot café con leche, whether it be a morning at a nearby bar or a quiet café, it always offers a moment to sit back and enjoy the memories.

Selecting croquetas at Mercat Santa Caterina

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The last trip to Barcelona, the fourth time in the Catalan capital, opened with a spot never visited on previous holidays; ironically have always seen it from afar but never made the effort to really take a good look.

Arriving in the city following a Mediterranean cruise with close friends, immediately got to wandering around the hotel’s neighborhood, the Barri Gòtic, and strolled towards the Mercat Santa Caterina.

Located along a wide clearing, a couple blocks from the Barcelona Cathedral, it’s not as vast as the famous La Boqueria along La Rambla, but it still offers a wide variety of goods; from fresh meats to ready-made meals. Renovated in 2005, the structure features a colorful ceramic roof, fitting for the city Antoni Gaudí called home.

After taking in the sights of the market was drawn to a display case filled with all kinds of croquetas.

Croquetas are delicious fried goodies covered in breadcrumbs and filled with a mix of mashed potatoes and some kind of meat. Anything with jamón was the easy choice, but with the array of options available, it was hard to choose – plus, was still planning a full meal afterwards, but was not going to be satisfied picking just one.

Given it was a few days in Barcelona, and it was close to the hotel, should have made it a daily stop and picked up a different flavor each day (something to think about for the fifth visit).

Written by Paulo Loreto

April 13, 2018 at 8:19 PM

PB&J cupcakes in Brooklyn

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If there is anything that immediately draws my attention it’s a pastry shop. Whether it’s some high-end place selling french macarons and ornately-decorated cakes or a little bakeshop with a variety of cookies and cupcakes in their display case, it is always a gorgeous sight.

Wandering Bay Ridge on the last visit to New York City, happened across the Little Cupcake Bakeshop. It is lovely little shop with a variety of goodies in their display case.

Apparently, they also have three locations across New York City – two in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan.

When a place offers such a wide variety of goods, it’s always difficult to choose. However, on this visit, it wasn’t so hard a decision. There was the fact that I was staying with friends in the neighborhood, so a follow-up visit was more than likely; then spotted their peanut butter and jelly cupcake – there’s no denying anything PB&J.

The cute little cupcake, topped with peanut butter cream and drizzled with jelly, was just beautiful; even typing about, the PB&J smell that wafted from the cupcake are coming to mind.

In all honesty, as mentioned before, anything PB&J is a must – but a cupcake might be one of the best variations.

Written by Paulo Loreto

April 6, 2018 at 8:11 PM