Saturday, June 30, 2012

Restaurante Julivert Meu

AddressCarrer Bonsuccés 7, 08001 Barcelona, Spain. 34 93 318 03 43.

Review: During our morning walk through Barcelona's amazing modernist architecture, we saw a Ferran Adrià museum exhibition regarding his work at his restaurant El Bulli, which many consider the best restaurant in the world. I thought to myself, "That would be neat to see." We then promptly walked to an authentic Catalan restaurant (Restaurante Julivert Meu) for lunch. 

See, while avante garde food might be pretty to look at, and is undoubtedly stellar in its own way, it simply isn't the traditional food of the place. It doesn't have the same feel or taste as foods that have been perfected through repetition for hundreds of years, even though those dishes are quite often its inspiration. Well, now you know my prejudices, as it were. On to the food.

We started with grilled bread, which comes with garlic and tomatoes for rubbing. In so rubbing you taste the essence of garlic and tomato without the heaviness full servings of either would impart. It is a smart way to start a meal.

Next up was a selection of Iberian pork products. 

There was a progression on the plate from left to right. The leftmost ham was sweet and ultra thin. As you worked across the plate, the meats become more salty and thicker cut. The salamis were my favorite, although all were good.

And now, the main courses. My son, by means of his mother, ordered a traditional Catalan sausage and white beans. 

I only had a couple bites, but the sausage was beautifully cooked and juicy. It had those ubiquitous grill marks found in Spanish cooking, which made its juiciness all the more impressive. The beans were cook to the point of falling apart, but they weren't quite. The herb oil streak on top surprisingly didn't add much flavor, which was a bit disappointing because herbs would have cut through a bit of the fattiness of the meat and olive oil.  In all, a solid, rustic dish.

And then my main course: pig's feet casserole. 

When I ordered the dish the waiter looked at me and said it was all fat and skin, and then he explained what a pig's foot was. I appreciated his explanation, said I understood, and that I wanted to try it anyway. In reality, this isn't a casserole in the American sense of the word. This is a pig's foot slow braised with, presumably, vegetables and broth, until it is tender tender. You have to imagine this is the ultimate in poor man's cuisine. There is almost no meat to speak of. It's almost all fat, skin, and cartilaginous stuff. Normally, this would be a little off-putting, but not in this case. The skin and underlying fat were full of the braising liquid, which was wonderfully savory and aromatic. And while I prefer pork meat to this sort of other stuff, this was an imminently satisfying dish I would eat again in a minute. 

We finished with a sort of cheesecake.

It was a a bit grainy and tasted almost more farinaceous than cheesy. The soaked rasins didn't add anything. Meh.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average).

La Granja & Xurreria

Addresses: Xurreria-Carrer dels Banys Nous 4, 08002 Barcelona, Spain; La Granja-about eight doors to the east of Xurreria.

Review: As an American, when I think of churros, I think of those puffy pastry sticks doused in cinnamon and sugar you buy at Disneyland for $45 a piece. Thankfully, those monstrosities are about as close to real Spanish churros as Chef Boyardee is to real Italian food or Taco Bell is to real Mexican food.

Having received some tips regarding the best churros and hot chocolate in Barcelona, we meandered to a pair of establishments that share a symbiotic culinary relationship. First, you buys churros at Xurreria. (Apparently, the "X" is pronounced with a "ch" sound in Catalan, making Xurreria a "churreria," or a store that specializes in churros; and specialize they do.) Second, you take the churros to La Granja and dunk them in hot chocolate.

Upon entering Xurreria, all 50 square feet of it that is, you sense the unmistakable perfume of hot oil and sugar and see these beautiful lady-finger like cookies. 

But these are not the main attraction; the churros are. To order, you tell the nice man at the extruder how many orders you would like. He then extrudes the correct amount and plops them one-by-one into the oil. 

For one euro you receive about five piping-hot sugary churros in a paper cone. 

More on the churros in a minute.

To enjoy the chocolate portion of your churros and chocolate feast, you need only walk about eight doors to the east of Xurreria to la Granja.

At La Granja there is a wide array of hot chocolates. Most of them come without milk added, which makes them dark, viscous, and delicious. I ordered the hot chocolate picante (i.e., with a bit of cayenne), although I could have ordered it with orange, kiwi, or with about eight other add-ins. The taste was all chocolate all the time.

Now, I've had this type of hot chocolate before in Italy, but La Granja hot chocolate was a step above. The chocolate was richer and darker, with only a hint of sugar. This is what hot chocolate should be. And when chocolate met churro, well, together they made love and had little chocolate churro niños

Okay, maybe that was over-the-top, but honestly, the combination was quite perfect. The outside crispiness of the churro contrasted perfectly with its warm doughy interior. And the hot chocolate's silky butteriness and slight bitterness ensured you didn't get too much sugar in any one bite. A beautiful combination of things.

I'm fairly certain breakfasts are ruined forever now that I will compare them with the early-morning churros and hot chocolate from Xurreria and La Granja.

Rating: 8/10 (5/10 is average).

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mesón David

Address: Carrer de las Carretes 63, 08001 Barcelona, Spain. 93 411 59 34.

Review: So, dinners in Spain are late night affairs. We discovered this after attending a concert and finding ourselves quite hungry. We found Mesón David from a reputable travel guide and walked and walked until we found it down a side street across from a church.

The atmosphere was very laid back. We were within six inches of the next table (temporary inhabited by a nice Australian couple). The television was on blaring the Italy-Germany UEFA semifinals. (Mario Balotelli scored Italy's two goals, and gli Azzurri won 2-1. Forza Azzurri!) The tables were dark wood, reminiscent of mountain restaurants in the Alps. Good start.

For whatever reason, probably all the testosterone exuding from the soccer match, I decided on a meat and potatoes dinner. First on tap: beef kidneys cooked in a sherry sauce.

I've eaten liver and heart quite a few times in my life, but I'm not entirely familiar with the full range of cow offal, so this was a new experience. These kidneys were thoroughly cooked, and while I usually like my meat a nice medium rare, I think fully cooked kidneys is the way to go. As with most offal, there was a wonderfully metallic taste and grainy feel. The sherry sauce was meaty and rich. The sop on the left-hand side of the plate was drenched in sauce and intense with sherry and kidney flavor. This was the best offal I've ever had, bar none.

And for the entree, there was more meat. 

Surrounding the fried potatoes were: fresh sausage, beef rib meat, a scallop of pork, a chicken leg, and a lamb chop. All were drizzled with a light herb and olive oil sauce. The chicken, lamb and sausage were particularly good. All were perfectly cooked, juicy, and crusted with grill marks to perfection. (The chicken stood out to me, not because it was necessarily better than the lamb chop or sausage, but because it was so well cooked, which is hard to do with chicken on a grill.) The pork was tasty, although slightly dry. The beef rib meat is simply not a cut I like because it is far too tough unless it's braised. That said, it was as good as it could have been cooked on the grill. And the potatoes, ah, man. So crispy and light. Dipped in a bit of mayonnaise, they made the day.

My wife ordered the scalloped veal.   

She said it transported her back to eating in Argentina, which is a high compliment coming from her. 

Such a satisfying meal. Well done.

Rating: 7.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Restaurante El Consulado

Address: Carrer Nuo del la Rambla, 95, 08001 Barcelona, Spain. 93 441 98 28.

Review: On our way to a concert in a part of town we had been in for all of five minutes, we decided to pick up a quick bite at Restaurante El Consulado. The criteria for our decision: it was right there. 

Look, I'm on vacation and we're going to eat churros and hot chocolate in a minute, so I'll make this quick: Consulado was an unmitigated disaster. I ordered the Catalan salad, which looked thusly:

Not a bad initial look. It has all the right stuff, e.g., corn, eggs, tuna, ham, olives, cheese, carrots, etc. Of course, beneath the arranged toppings is a mess of tasteless iceberg lettuce. There was no salt. The vegetables were of nominal quality, as was the tuna and ham and cheese. Worst part, they overdressed the salad, leaving a large puddle on the bottom of the plate. Ugh.

Demaree ordered the penne bolognese. It was overcooked like unto the Olive Garden in America. The sauce, quite honestly, had nothing to do with bolognese. It was akin to canned sauce from a certain American chef whose name rhymes with "shmardee." Consulado didn't even spring for parmigiano reggiano, instead putting some mess of indiscernible shredded lactose on the plate. Pitiful.

Rating: 2.5/10 (5/10 is average).


For those who read this blog regularly (which, including myself, would make one of us) an announcement. We are in Spain, Barcelona to be precise, for about the next two weeks. Thus, assume all posts will be from Barcelona.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mi La Cai

Address: 961 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. 801.322.3590.

Review: We wanted to try some Vietnamese food last night, and Mi La Cai (Mi) serves Vietnamese food; ergo, we frequented. (Not all decisions need to be complicated or well thought out, I've decided.) Mi's menu included an array of pho (a traditional north Vietnamese soup), as well as other Vietnamese classics. It also included American-Asian staples, and for whatever reason, those are what we ordered.

We began with egg rolls.

Yes, the above is a photo of egg roll remnants because we inhaled these bad boys with gusto. Usually, I find egg rolls to be among the most disappointing foods on earth. They should be great, but they are so often filled to excess with those little tasteless rice noodles and wilted cabbage that they make me want to erase my memory with one of the erase-your-memory-and-fill-it-in-with-a-tale-spun-by-Will-Smith devices from "Men in Black." These egg rolls, however, were crispy, dense and filled with porky goodness and crisp vegetables. The sauce accompanying the egg rolls was sweet enough to accentuate the pork, but not too sweet as to mask any flavors. Well played, Mi, well played.

Next up: the entrees. I went with the salt-baked shrimp. This was an exceedingly simple dish consisting of crunchy onions, scallions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and wok seared shrimp. The shrimp was juicy and salty. The vegetables were only slightly cooked, which conserved their crunchiness but didn't develop much flavor. The jalapenos added neither discernable heat nor the chile's natural fruitiness. A splash of lemon would have livened things up a bit. Notwithstanding the issues mentioned, I ate almost the entire plate because, in the end, it was good.

My wife ordered the sweet and sour chicken. The chicken was juicy, and the batter was intensely crunchy. The sweet and sour sauce actually had quite a surprising depth to it and was not overly sweet. Perhaps the best sweet and sour chicken I've had.

Before ending, a special shout out needs to go to Mi's house-made chili sauce. It was a perfect accompaniment to the food, and quite good on its own. It's nice when an establishment takes the time to  do the little things well.

Rating: 7/10 (5/10 is average).

Mi la Cai on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Grove Market & Deli

Address: 1906 South Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115.

Review: Friday was what we at the law office call "bail bonds day." It's the day during which we go around to all the bail bondsmen in Salt Lake City, chat 'em up, and leave our business cards. Such is the life of a small criminal defense firm. 

So, while making our way north toward the downtown bondsmen, my partner turned to me and said, "You ever eaten at the Grove?" 

"No." I replied. 

He went on, "We should go. They sell baby sandwiches there." 

"Baby sandwiches? What's the draw there?" I queried.

His reply: "No, not small sandwiches. They're called 'babies' because they're big as babies."

The conversation ended thusly, "Oh, well then, let's go."

When you approach Grove Market & Deli, it looks like one of those places you frequent because you want to buy beer at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. 

However, in the back is a sandwich shop, and a pretty good one at that. 

The options are limited and built around the type of meat you want one your oversized French bread loaf. I chose corned beef. The corned beef was not made in house, but, honestly, you can't expect too much from a convenience store sandwich shop. It came stuffed with mayo, mustard, lettuce, pickles, onions, provolone cheese, and tomatoes. And yes, the thing was the size of my first child. 

After grabbing a Weinhard's root beer (best root beer on earth, mind you), I partook. The bread was spongy and slightly crusty. Of course, what we conceive of as French bread has nothing to do with actual French bread, but this bread was perfectly suited for a sandwich the size of a small human. Toppings were good, nothing special. Corned beef wasn't particularly spiced, but it was salty and meaty and completely satisfying. This was a fat, fill-you-up sandwich, nothing more, nothing less. And, as such, it was good.

Rating: 6/10 (5/10 is average).

Grove Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Costa Vida

Address: 4361 State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84107. 801.268.6200.

Review: Anyone who has read my reviews knows I am loathe to compare one restaurant to another. Each should stand or fall on its own. There are exceptions to this approach, however. The most notable exception is when one restaurant is more or less a carbon copy of another restaurant. Such is the case with Costa Vida. I'm pretty sure the conversation leading to the founding of Costa Vida went a little something like this: [Person 1] "Wow, this Cafe Rio food tastes great. I think we should simply copy Cafe Rio's menu, its ambience, and its business plan in hopes that we can steal its market share." [Person 2] "That's a great idea. You're so smart. No wonder you got an A in our learning-to-rip-off-another's-idea class in business school." 

Unfortunately for Person 1 and Person 2, they forgot to copy Cafe Rio's quality. Thus, not only is Costa Vida hopelessly derivative, its food is vastly inferior when compared to its exemplar. Don't waste your time; just go to Cafe Rio.

Rating: Go to Cafe Rio/10.

Costa Vida on Urbanspoon

The Dodo Restaurant

Address: 1355 E 2100 S, Salt Lake City, Utah 84105. 801.486.2473.

ReviewThe Dodo Restaurant is a Sugar House staple. It has a clean, modern interior and bustles with activity. It is the hip kind of place you want in Sugar House, which explains its continued popularity over the years. Of course, as knows anyone who has eaten at more than three restaurants in their lifetime, ambience does not guarantee quality food. So, let's see if the Dodo's food lives up to the ambience.

We began our meal with the artichoke pie. It's artichokes baked with cheddar cheese, onions, and garlic. It comes with crackers and lemony mayo. The pie was spongey, savory, and cheesy. The mayo was quite lemony and is an ode to the classic combination of lemon and artichokes. Unfortunately, the pie lacked much artichoke flavor. In fact, the most pronounced flavor was that of cheddar, which is not desirable given the pie's name.

Next up was the roasted tomato polenta cakes. They were served over an avocado spread and under a chipotle mayo. There was also a side of pine nut relish (more salsa than anything) and greens. I couldn't figure out this dish. The avocado spread was pureed avocado; nothing else. No salt, no nothing. The cake was moist, although it didn't taste much of roasted tomatoes. The greens were not dressed, and were out-of-place. The chipotle mayo was the real bright spot of this dish, but one great element does not a dish make. Disjointed is the best word to describe this dish.

Then there was the entree: cobb salad. It was served with a gorgonzola cream sauce, gorgonzola crumbles, smoke turkey, bacon, tomatoes, boiled eggs, and smoked ham. With a line up like that, how could a salad be anything but stellar? Well, the answer starts with the gorgonzola not having a ton of that beautiful quasi sour flavor that is its hallmark. Then you move to the smoked turkey and ham which had no kiss of smoke flavor (not even a little peck on the cheek). After that, the other elements, which were perfectly fine, made the salad perfectly average. 

And on to the end. In my pre-meal research of the Dodo, the one constant was the assessment that the desserts were stellar. On the recommendation of the hostess, we ordered the mango and raspberry tart. 

With vivid flavors and a light and a flaky tart crust, this dessert would have sung. Unfortunately, such was not the case. The crust was inordinately dense and lacked flavor. The mango portion tasted sort of like mango, although if the menu hadn't read "mango raspberry tart," I'm not sure I would have been able to discern mango. The raspberry on the other hand, wow. Very fruity flavor, and just the right sugar content. Again, however, one stellar element does not a great dessert make.

In the end, the meal was alright. More than anything else, the flavors were muted and uninspiring. And for the price you pay at the Dodo, muted isn't good enough.

Rating: 5.5/10 (5/10 is average).

Dodo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thai Lotus

Address: 1435 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84115. 801.474.3322.

Review: Our monthly young-lawyer lunch took us to Thai Lotus. The lunch specials seemed the choice of the table, so I ordered the Gang Ga Ree (which pronunciation to a whitey like me is unfortunately a little too close to "gangrene" for comfort).

Actually, the Gang Ga Ree was preceded by a green salad with what might be be described as an Asian peanut vinaigrette. Tasty, although not entirely Thai in any discernible way.

Now, back to the Gang Ga Ree, which is a yellow curry dish with potatoes, peanuts, and chicken. The yellow curry, which contained copious amounts of coconut milk, was beautifully smooth and fragrant. The rice was white and sticky, exactly as I like it. Amazingly, the potatoes were the best part of the dish. Perfectly cooked with just the right amount of al dente feel to them, they were luscious. On the other hand, the chicken was mealy and dry. Overall, a very satisfying dish with some stellar components and some weak spots as well.

Rating: 6.5/10 (5/10 is average).
Thai Lotus on Urbanspoon