Ajo Blanco

Ajo Blanco, L’lamber, Barcelona

A translator will tell you ‘ajo blanco’ means white garlic. Ajo blanco is not really white garlic soup though. The recipe calls for a single clove of garlic with the green germ removed. The key ingredient is blanched almonds.

The version we had at L’lamber in Barcelona was what you might call a refined version. That is if you consider adding water a refinement. The traditional version of ajo blanco has the consistency of a smoothie.

I read at least a dozen recipes before attempting my own version. What I found is that ajo blanco pre-dates the introduction of tomatoes in Europe. The recipe has had several tweaks over the centuries. I would add a few of my own.

The restaurant version we tried included smoked anchovies as well as the traditional addition of green grapes. I ditched the smoked fish and the grapes. ( I would have loved to use fresh Dungeness crab like Danny Hook suggested. It’s not available in Spain.) I used clams instead. Then I added Pink Lady apple cubes to the recipe. I used threads of dried mango as a garnish.

What I made was too thick. I thinned it out by adding small amounts of water and splashes of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar cut the sweetness of the apple and brought out the apple flavor.

I chose to cut the recommended amount of bread in half. Some recipes eliminate the bread altogether. That turns ajo blanco into a gluten free option.

I subscribe to the ‘Taste as you go Improvisational School of Cooking’. In this case Donna enthusiastically approved of the results. Nothing beats a cold soup on one of Spain’s simmering summer days.

Ingredients:

1 cup Marcona almonds pre-soaked overnight and strained

1 1/2 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed and cubed

1 clove of garlic with the green germ in the middle removed

3-4 tsp sherry vinegar

1/2 Pink Lady apple peeled and diced

1 cup of cold water

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Apple cider vinegar to taste (1 tsp at a time)

Salt to taste (a pinch at a time)

Garnishes: smoked anchovies, Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, dried mango threads, muscat grapes, cubed apples soaked in Cava…

Directions:

Add 1 1/2 slices of cubed stale bread (crusts removed) to the blender.

Pour the cold water and sherry vinegar over the bread and let it sit for a minute.

Add the almonds, olive oil, cubed apple, and garlic to the blender. Blend until the mixture is milky and smooth.

Chill for an hour before serving.

Add seafood, and garnishes. Drizzle the soup with olive oil.

Tweaking the Recipe: Add salt a pinch at a time. Add sherry vinegar 1 tsp at a time. Add apple cider vinegar 1 tsp at a time. Add water a little at a time to thin. ( I have a heavy hand when it comes to vinegar. I add it one splash at a time to taste. 1 splash = 1 Tbs )

Ajo Blanco Antonio Maura, 8 Style…

Our Pandemic Tour

Bars and beaches are crowded. Diners, drinkers, and bathers aren’t masked up. The people threading their way through packed streets might be wearing masks. Not everyone is. We are seeing a lot more faces than usual.

Officially masks, social distancing, and using sanitizer every time you enter a shop are required. On the train anyone whose mask has slipped below their nose is reminded to pull it up. In local markets security personnel are vigilant. Those cups of fresh fruit you just bought are to be enjoyed outside.

Spaniards for the most part are following covid protocols. It’s a mixed bag among tourists from other countries. When you hear accents from some of the big brawny Northern countries, you don’t expect to see masks. (This is not a scientific fact. Louder voices could account for this being more noticeable.)

Just outside of the zones filled with maskless throngs social distancing is possible. We are sticking to that territory. We’ve pulled out our stash of highly rated masks and are wearing them. We pay the 5% terrace surcharges and eat outside. Museums and cathedrals aren’t drawing big crowds and are strictly managed. If we see long lines, we keep moving.

I keep reminding myself that Seattle isn’t just the Space Needle, The Market, and Starbucks. Each of us finds our favorite haunts and they become loosely kept secrets. Some of them stay strictly local. Some of them are discovered and survive with their souls intact. Staying healthy means directing our energies into finding those places. We’ll let you know what we find.

Pintxos San Sebastián…

In the meantime rain and thunderstorms are being forecast. The reaction to the slight drizzle we witnessed has us hoping for thinner crowds. A little thunder should make people scatter.


Poco a Poco

Is that our house above the woman on the right? Next block up???

Every time I grab a paint brush to touch up our Oliva house the neighbor smiles knowingly and says, “Poco a poco!” Donna thinks it’s because my projects cause his wife, Maria, to get after him. It could be, but I don’t think Antonio’s advice is just a method of keeping chores at bay. It’s also a realization that racing to complete every task an old house creates is an exercise in futility.

The test wall on our lower terrace suggests Antonio knows something I don’t. I painted it a year and a half ago and believed I solved the peeling problem. Paint appeared to be sticking to that wall, and I was proud. Then I scraped away a rough spot. Paint started peeling off in sheets. I quickly scraped off everything I could and threw on another coat of paint. The meticulous prep work I engaged in last time didn’t do a damn thing.

“Poco a poco!” has me keeping paint brushes in the freezer. There’s exterior patching compound above the washing machine. Every color of paint I need is stored on top of Donna’s closet. When the mood strikes me I patch walls and paint for ten minutes. So far that’s keeping me even.

There was some catch up though. You can’t leave a Spanish house alone for a year and a half and expect to find everything just as you left it. Someone wrote Indira’s name on the front of our house. Someone else bounced a soccer ball against the wall until the paint wore off. Those two things weren’t going to wait. The outside of the house got another coat of paint. Eventually I tackled the rest of the terrace walls. I’ll give them nine months, and then have another go.

Some jobs require expert labor. When the hot water heater died we called Mi Electro. They replaced it with a larger one. The electrician had to beef up a hollow brick wall with strips of metal. I got to paint and patch that wall again. Longer showers are worth a little bit of work.

Bringing in Oscar and his work crew was always on our agenda. They did an impressive job on our house’s exterior. We’d been creating a job list for them for quite awhile. The back wall in our atrium was slowly crumbling. Adding a shelf in the atrium below the kitchen window would create a pass through for food and drinks. Adding a railing on our interior stairs was deemed necessary. It’s a steep narrow passage. This exchange with my daughter, Alyssa, was typical, “Dad, I was trying not to ask, but you are putting a railing in the stairway aren’t you?” (Honey, that wasn’t really a question.) Then there was the spectacular first step into the main bathroom.

The step was too short. Overshooting it meant launching yourself into the bathroom and desperately trying to regain balance in midair. At least five people besides myself performed that maneuver. Donna admits to an almost. I am the only one who admits hitting the bathroom floor with both knees and sliding to a stop against the bidet.
“No, I’m fine! I’m fine!!!” “If you say so, but I doubt it.”

The thing about Oscar and his crew is that there is no ‘Poco a poco.’ There is a brief consultation and then half a wall gets carried out to the streets in buckets before 10 AM. Cement is spread. Plaster is applied. A marble shelf is installed. A new bathroom step is built, tiled, and grouted. Clean up occurs. Oscar sends the railing guys back to the shop because the railing just isn’t right. It gets installed in a week, and it’s perfect.

Donna will tell you it’s no surprise I have adapted to the ‘Poco a Poco!’ lifestyle so quickly. It’s what I have always done. You could ask my sister, Martha. At home it gets called procrastinating and puttering. Of course at home we like to believe “putting your nose to the grindstone” improves your looks and sense of smell. It does neither, and lacks the measured dignity of moving so deliberately it makes all the rush around types want to scream. Sometimes they do, but in the long run it has never made me move any faster. ‘Poco a poco!’ suits me fine.

Don’t Hurry, Be Happy!


Call it Romantic

It isn’t necessary to travel halfway around the world to find magic. It helps though. Placing the familiar in the middle of foreign creates the soft lighting old cell phones capture. Somehow we managed that trick. Of course it would be easy to credit the Negroni served in a fish bowl with one ice cube for the mood…that wasn’t it.

The restaurant we were headed to was closed. Mondays and Tuesdays are days off for a lot of Valencia’s restaurant workers. That means if a restaurant is open it’s fully booked. Reservations would have been a good idea. We passed a well-rated place a couple of blocks from our apartment, and then circled back. It was either going to be Restaurante Shiraz, or takeaway pizza from the Italian restaurant below our place.

After consulting with Restaurante Shiraz’s staff we were shown an outside table with one chair. Another chair was found and brought over. This was followed by an apology for what was going to be slow service. The party of nine seated next to us had booked a tasting menu with elaborate wine pairings. Our second thoughts were interrupted by the waiter asking what we wanted to drink.

Slow service isn’t typically promised right up front. It’s usually something you discover after a long wait. When it is promised and a waiter actually shows up at your table, it makes sense to be decisive. I ordered two Negronis.

A Negroni is a good drink to mull over a menu with. I’ve had them served in Cocktail glasses, a teacup, jelly jars, and Old Fashioned glasses. The fish bowl sized glass was unexpected. The single ice cube looked lonely. We asked for more ice. It arrived in minutes. This was slow service I could get used to.

When the staff member running the front of the house came around to take our dinner order she brought a bowl of hummus and pita bread. We ordered the Pear and Gorgonzola salad, Bottarga Spaghetti, and a swordfish pasta dish and settled in for the wait.

It was a great wait. The waiter gave elaborate dissertations on the wines he was serving. It was all Spanish, but I got enough to know he was talking about each wine’s country and region of origin, the barreling process, and the type of cork used. Down at the end of the street buskers were performing Spanish versions of Chuck Berry songs. A group of young women was clapping along flamenco style and dancing. The salad arrived. We had barely touched our Negronis.

As our main courses arrived the party of nine broke into song. It seemed they were celebrating a special Saint’s Day. The streets in Spain tell you there are a lot of saints. The waiter said something that sounded like St. Ricci. I looked it up. It wasn’t her day.

Donna was fascinated by the wine presentations. When a heavily praised wine was served, tasted, and applauded Donna asked the waiter if she could get the name of the wine. He brought it to our table so we could take its picture. The gentleman at the head of the table insisted we taste it. Glasses were brought. The wine was poured. It was delicious.

We thanked the gentleman, and the celebrants. Then the waiter brought the bottle back as a gift from the table. It was a 2013 Malbec from Argentina. It paired nicely with the homemade brownie and ice cream Donna ordered for dessert.

At the end of the meal we thanked everyone again. They responded with a warm and genuine welcome to Spain. It was a celebration of good health and St. Catherine de Ricci. St. Catherine is the Patron Saint of fighting against illness, and of the sick. With Spain cautiously opening up after the pandemic it was a fitting celebration. In a very Spanish way good fortune was being acknowledged and shared.

On the way home I took photos of graffiti. One piece exhorted women to never apologize for being powerful. Others represented a communal process. As we turned down the street to our apartment several women were taking turns showing off their skateboard skills. Somehow all the evening’s random events felt inevitable. We kissed on the doorstep. Call it romantic!

July’s Apartment: Valencia

Our plan to rent a bolt hole in Valencia for a year was put on one our back burners. Renting an apartment in Valencia for a month was the consolation prize. Oliva is still home, but it was always meant to be a comfortable place to begin our explorations.

The question always comes down to, “Why?” Strip away all the rationales and it’s, “That’s what we do.” A change of venue might change the nuances of an act, but it doesn’t change the performers. Our unspoken motto is, “If you want to keep moving, you have to keep moving.”

July’s apartment is a five minute walk from Valencia’s world renowned Central Market. We have already scoped out a bakery that makes the bread I’ve been looking for. We have never gone wrong at any of the produce stalls.

Donna found a gourmet shop on the way to the market. It carries several dozen varieties of olive oil. A bottle of spicy extra-virgin Cornicabra now graces our kitchen counter.

My personal quest was for a bottle of hot sauce to doctor up any paella I am persuaded to try. This is a horrifying notion to Spaniards. Even 5th graders I met were shocked by the notion that paella could be improved with a little heat. I was assured by a South American stall owner that a bottle stuffed with Malagueta peppers from Brazil would do the trick.

Valencian Restaurants:

We have favorite restaurants in Valencia. They are tried and true, but adding to our list is part of the quest. It might be the real quest. You can get me to go to a museum once. I am usually ready to find an exit half way through. A restaurant? If we find a good one I want to go again tomorrow, and I’ll stay for dessert!

We used to make fun of El Encuentro’s sign. It says the restaurant has been around since 1994. That’s a blink at our age. Pre-COVID we ate at the bar and watched the finishing touches being put on everything coming out of the kitchen. That experience made believers out of us.

We tend to show up at lunch when the restaurant caters to the business crowd. Drinks are perfectly made, and the food is good enough to let a client know you mean business. Take the waiter’s suggestions seriously.

A few years ago the concierge at a fancy hotel we lucked into gave us a handwritten list of restaurant recommendations. He let us know his list wouldn’t help us find tourist fare.

La Salvaora was fully booked the first few times we tried make reservations. Our persistence paid off. When you wake up in the morning wanting another bite of last night’s meal, you know you have been fed well. The avocado ceviche we ordered on one of our return visits has inspired several dishes in our home kitchen. Even departures from the original are getting encores.

The Plaza de La Virgin in Valencia is full of frozen food restaurants that cater to tourist crowds. Saora’s tables are always reserved in advance. That’s the first hint that this place serves food that’s a cut above the rest. If you are in the mood to people watch in a historic location, Saora is your best bet.

Kukla was an accidental find. We just finished viewing an art exhibition at the Carme Contemporary Culture Center (highly recommended, air conditioned, & free) and it was 90 degrees outside. We turned a corner and Kukla looked inviting. All of the outdoor tables had toy animals with notes that had someone’s name on them. An inside table next to an open window was available.

Kukla’s vermouth is house made. The falafel took me back to my University of Washington days when Cedars of Lebanon first opened on the Ave. It’s tough to beat your first falafel. I’ve had quite a few that brag about being the world’s best. Kukla’s and one from a hole in the wall in Barcelona are better. It’s like Texas BBQ though. The debates are fierce. I know for certain we are going back to Kukla tomorrow. Donna swears their eggplant sandwich is the best she’s ever had!

Clochinas are only available from May through August. They are small firm fleshed mussels that pack a briny punch. Our preference is for broth that’s rounded out with enough garlic to keep vampires at a safe distance. We order clochinas every chance we get.

At this writing the clochinas at Palacio de la Bellota are the standouts. Eating the mussels is only part of the experience. Sopping the broth up with bread is the real test for me. Three fist pumps is my highest score so far. The broth at Palacio de la Bellota was on the verge of earning four. If bread had been served at the same time the mussels were, earning four fist pumps would have been a breeze.

La Pilareta is known for its clochinas. On crowded evenings boxes are supplied for customers to chuck their shells into. La Pilareta’s mussels delivered a walloping dose of brine. Garlic would have smoothed out that wallop. The paprika in the broth was too faint to counteract the Mediterranean’s saltiness.

El Encuentro’s clochinas balanced the flavors of garlic, salt, lemon, and mussels. Nothing overpowered the dish. Bread was a timely and pleasant accompaniment, but it wasn’t necessary. Scooping up the broth with a spoon, mussel shell, or bread all worked fine. I wound up giving their preparation two fist pumps, and that’s probably not fair. I can actually remember what their mussels tasted like. It’s just tough to beat Bellota’s broth!

And the winner is yet to be determined!

In the Still of the Night

The Infamous Garbage Truck…

It’s almost midnight when the garbage truck arrives. It creeps past our house and tears tiles from the overhang above our neighbor’s door. Maria is hanging out of an upstairs window and haranguing the driver. Despite scraping half a dozen tiles off her house the driver is giving as good as he gets. We are in Spain. This is a reminder. Donna and I close the window and laugh.

Spain is not quiet. It doesn’t matter what city you are in. So, you can either enjoy it, or choose to let it get under your skin. There are fireworks at weddings and funerals. There are fireworks for no apparent reason. Church bells ring at all hours. People assure us there’s a pattern, but when all the bells are ringing at once that’s difficult to discern. Dogs bark. Fighting cocks crow. A pleasantly intoxicated person sings a soul song. There’s always a fiesta. Music isn’t played softly. A scene for a teen vampire movie is being shot in Valencia. It requires screaming, and multiple takes. Morning, noon, and night life is punctuated with expressions of exuberance.

Calle San Luis, Grenada

In 2016 we stayed in a house in Grenada. During that month we learned to appreciate the sounds of Spain. We slept with a row of French doors open to the night. It was our air conditioning, and given the fairytale views it was romantic. Near the end of our first stay university students were celebrating the end of the term. It was past 3 AM and up in the Albaycin we could hear singing. Some 30 voices joined together and started heading down the hill towards our house.

It wasn’t the singing of tuneless drunks, although sobriety could not be assumed. The sopranos carried the melody, and everyone else sang along or harmonized at will. It took 15 minutes for the singers to pass by our house, and another 15 to fade away. At 5 AM the baby next door started wailing. Dogs joined in. Two workers waiting for a ride right below our terrace shared the weekend’s gossip. Roosters crowed, doves cooed, someone’s donkey brayed, bells rang. The sun peeked over the hill. We sat up in bed and soaked it all in. When all the things that should bother you don’t, you have probably fallen in love.

Morning in Grenada…

The garbage truck stops a little closer to our house in Oliva these days. Someone hops out in order to fetch the dumpster. They roll it two blocks down to the truck. Then they roll it back again. A dumpster is louder when it’s empty and it’s creeping up to midnight. It makes a surprisingly happy sound. It’s right up there with an intoxicated version of an old soul song. As for the hordes of screaming horror film teens in Valencia??? I think they should have quit after the 35th take. It was perfect.

Hollyblood!!!

Mango, Avocado, and Smoked Cod Ceviche

A visit to La Salvaora in Valencia inspired this version of ceviche. They served a fishless avocado version. It was delicious!

I usually use fresh halibut when I make ceviche. Using a smoked fish simplifies the preparation. There is no need marinate the fish. It’s just a matter of making your citrus marinade, chopping your produce, and adding it to the marinade. You add the smoked fish right before serving. Simple!

Don’t measure! Taste!

Marinade: The juice of two limes. The juice of 1/2 lemon. The juice of 1/2 orange. (Oranges are juicier in Spain. So, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice), fine sea salt to taste (I added a small pinch.)

Produce: 1 large mango (peeled and cubed). 1 avocado (peeled and cubed), 1/2 orange (1/4 inch slices, cut peel off, cut into small triangles), 1 Anaheim pepper (roughly chopped), 1/2 red onion (medium dice), green onion (1/8” slices), 1 clove garlic (finely chopped), cilantro 1/4 cup (finely chopped)

Fish: 4 oz. smoked black cod

Garnish: Fried Anaheim pepper rings and thinly sliced red onion to garnish, smoked sweet paprika

Note: Next time I’m going to use smoked halibut.

Prep: Toss the produce into a bowl with the citrus marinade. Chill for 30 to 60 minutes. Gently stir in the smoked cod.

Serve with chilled white wine, and corn chips.

Enjoy!!!

The Inspiration: La Salvaora’s Avocado Ceviche!

Our Spanish Life

Rainy Days and Sundays…

Donna looks around our house on Calle Antonio Maura and exclaims, “Living here feels like camping!” I have to do a few mental calculations to determine if she thinks this a good, or a bad thing. I asked her if she had ever put on a backpack, climbed halfway up a mountain, and pitched a tent. There was a long silence before she answered, “Maybe once.”

Camping with Donna means putting a blowup bed in a tent, bringing a down comforter, Pendleton blankets, high thread count sheets, a pop up shower enclosure, and two battery operated shower pumps. When she says it feels like camping it doesn’t mean she thinks we are roughing it. She means that in order to make coffee we have to use a lighter to light a burner on the stove. Hanging clothes out to dry in a Mediterranean breeze reminds her of camping too. It reminds me of my Grandmother’s house.

It is true that we don’t have an “American kitchen”, or a clothes dryer. We wash our dishes by hand. Our clothes are air dried. Upstairs the rooms are heated with portable heaters, and cooled with fans. Downstairs there’s a fireplace, and a single air-con/heater unit. The Spanish real estate agent showed us a house that had a kitchen with no roof. She told us the weather in Oliva is “very soft”. Living in that house would have required a blue tarp to cook under. That would have really felt like camping.

In many ways our current Spanish lifestyle is still informed by our insular Covid19 lifestyle. That lifestyle was informed by Seattle’s own peculiar style. When I was 17 my brother offered some advice about Seattle’s social scene, “If you don’t have a girlfriend by October, you’ll have to wait until April to meet anyone.” Seattle is like that. When you are born and raised there you need someone like my brother to point it out.

Today it’s raining and 61 degrees in Oliva. We could light a fire. We could turn the heater on, but we won’t. We’ll curl up on the couch. Donna will read. I will fidget and think about the best way to make ceviche with the smoked cod we brought from home. It’s a perfect way to spend a rainy day no matter where you are.

Geraniums…

Recalibration

Recalibration was a given. We’d been wrapped in foggy bubble wrap for a year. Life in pandemic Spain has been a burst of color and warmth. Masks are mandatory. Noses are exposed. Life goes on.

One of the American expat sites was subjected to a few obligatory anti-vax rants. In a country where mask wearing is viewed as a personal contribution to the health of your fellow citizens the rants seemed even more juvenile. It’s not Science denial. It’s a fundamental lack of knowledge about how Science works. It’s a full-on embrace of pseudoscience, and crackpot theories. That the rants come draped in jingoistic pride is dismaying.

It’s not a post-pandemic Spain we are experiencing. Schedules, social routines, and the tourist economy are still impacted. When the state of emergency was lifted on May 9th you could almost hear the gears shifting.

We toyed with getting a small studio apartment in Valencia. Until the travel restrictions in Spain were lifted on May 9th leaving the Valencia Region was against the rules. If we couldn’t explore beyond the region, we’d dive into Valencia. Having a bolt hole in the heart of it seemed to make sense.

We retraced old steps, and found out what survived. A few old wonders have disappeared. We got pretty close to being lost, and discovered new wonders. Valencia is worth a deep dive. It’s historic center is just a place to start.

The rental market tested our ability to do business in another language, and within an unfamiliar system. I’d like to say we performed spectacularly. We hit the ground stumbling. We found tiny top floor apartments with dizzying hamster cage stairs that left you breathless. Prices reflected a wish to make up for a year of vacancy, or a hope to finally bring in a modest steady income. When things opened up on May 9th the market was flooded with short term rentals. The long term lease we were on the verge of securing fell through. The reason given was that our source of income is foreign. The owner believed this would make getting insurance impossible. Even the real estate agent was mystified!

The question at our stage of life is always, “What do you want to do with the time you have left?” That’s always been the question, but the realization that time is a finite resource has planted its feet firmly on our chests. Time is looking down at us with a sneer.

My answer to life’s most profound question is simple. “Everything!” We’ve compiled an extremely long bucket list. There are a million things on it we’ll never get around to. That’s freeing! If something doesn’t work out, there are 999,999 equally satisfying choices. It’s not life writ large where the joy lies anyway. Life is in the small moments. Having my locked left hip pop free is a huge pleasure these days. On 22,000 step days it’s a high point.

We tossed out the long term rental in Valencia idea. We secured a place in Valencia for the month of July. Air conditioning, lots of air conditioning and fewer steps were the draws. There’s an Italian gelato shop around the corner that makes an incredible lemon sorbet. All the markets sell cups of chilled fresh fruits.

In the meantime I’m writing down useful Spanish sentences. I have found my Spanish reading comprehension to be surprisingly good. I understand most of what I hear. Speaking is the challenge. Questions I didn’t anticipate come up. Words get lost as the context shifts. People think my initial attempts suggest a level of fluency I don’t possess. They start speaking faster and faster. I stand there tongue tied. Then I say something in Spanish that winds up being, “I think Tuesday is an excellent breakfast after midnight. Perfecto!” This earns a look that says, “WTF???” That look doesn’t need any translation. Life is good!!!

The Adventure Continues…

Cafe Life

  1. I wrote this in January of 2020 before we knew what the year would bring. The visual memories the photos bring feel distant to me. I have to add the colors myself. Like all memories I add color at will.
  2. What I missed most about dining out was the ambiance. The food has to be good, but the people around you create the experience. Donna and I can cook. No one is likely to break into song though. In these memories song, and the addition of color, are always possibilities. 

Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

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Tucked into back alleys and narrow streets you’ll find the places making the food Rome is famous for. Around major tourist sites and plazas you will find high prices, indifferent service, and food that’s seen the inside of a microwave. Some cooks never had an Italian Grandmother to show them how it’s really done.

It is possible to find delicious overpriced surprises, but that’s not why you are seated at a table in one of these establishments. You are there to watch people. You are there for the ambiance, and the experience.

Street musicians play and the woman at the table in front of you starts rubbing her partner’s balding head. The hip oldsters have a front row seat. They were there when you got there. They’ll be there long after you leave. The young girl is having lunch with her grandfather. As he listens to the music he moves his hands like a conductor.  He’s correcting the beat the musicians are hanging on to. “Crisper! More fluid!! Like this!!! 

Gandia, Spain

In Gandia there are two similarly named restaurants within blocks of each other. One is the time tested Casa Sanchis La Tulipa. The other is Restaurante Sancho’s. The first time we wandered into Sancho’s there was no signage, and no printed menu. The passion in the kitchen was evident from the moment we peeked inside. Energy flowed and the dining room hummed. Every time we’ve returned the crowd is bigger. The buzz has been sustained. Couples, work colleagues, and families are all gathered to experience a meal that verges on an event.

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On a return trip we found Sancho’s closed for the day. A short walk away we found a crowded Casa Sanchis La Tulipa winding down its lunch service. We were seated at an outdoor table in the sun. Out came platters filled with traditional versions of traditional dishes.

Out back was where restaurant workers from Casa Sanchis La Tulipa and adjacent restaurants took breathers. I was reminded that serving a crowd is intense work. It’s rewarding, but intense nonetheless. 

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Mercat de Santa Caterina, Barcelona, Spain

If you ask me where I want to eat tomorrow, my answer will be Barestaurant L’Univers in Barcelona’s Santa Caterina Market. Give me a stool where I can watch cooks turn market fresh products into my lunch. I’ll be happy!

The Santa Caterina Market is in the Born District. It’s not the easily found and famous St. Josef Market off the Rambla, but it’s my favorite. If Donna and I are in Barcelona, we head to Santa Caterina Market and eat at Barestaurant L’Univers.

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L’Univers is where my attempts to capture the essence of a restaurant began. Pictures of food don’t really capture a place’s “vibe”. Black and white photos of diners seem to capture something closer to that. At L’Univers there is a lot to capture.

Ask me where I want to have lunch tomorrow. The answer is always the same. “L’Univers!”

Sometimes curiosity kicks in though. A few steps away from L’Univers is the restaurant La Torno. It’s the same basic bar stools and open kitchen affair. La Torno has a small table, and there’s a bakery connected to the restaurant. The action is still in the kitchen, and at the stools. If you ask me to choose between these two neighbors, I’ll say, “Go to the place where Grandma is cooking!”

This is where we left off in 2020. The return trip has been sweeter for the waiting! Live Well!

UPDATE: Campó de Fiori, Rome, Italy, Many restaurants around the square are currently open.

Restaurante Sancho’s, gastroranking 9/10, Calle Rausell, 17, Plaza del Prado, Gandía, Spain. (Open)

Casa Sanchis La Tulipa, #67 of 348 restaurants in Gandía, TripAdvisor 4/5, Carrer del Forno, 9, Gandia, (Open)

Barestaurant L’Univers, Mercat de Santa Caterina, TripAdvisor 4/5, (Open)

La Torna, Mercat de Santa Caterina, four square rating 7.8/19 (Open)

Note: Covid19 has been tough on the restaurant business. Support your local restaurants! Tip the staff generously!