Barcelona Day Trip: Cava Tasting by Train in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia (or Cavalandia, as we dubbed it on our last trip there) is a beautiful little town less than an hour by train from Barcelona. It’s full of wineries where they produce cava, the delicious Spanish sparkling wine made using the champagne method.

sant-sadurni-danoia

Sant Sadurní d’Anoia is one of our favorite Barcelona day trips because:

  1. It’s so easy to get to (no DD’s necessary) and involves a day of walking from winery to winery to restaurant to winery
  2. It’s very affordable (full disclosure: my palate is not refined enough to appreciate expensive champagne, and I am very happy with a 5-euro bottle of cava brut nature)
  3. It’s a lot of fun with a group, especially folks visiting from out of town

I recommend calling or emailing wineries a few days in advance to reserve places if you want to take a tour. Or go for the DIY approach and take over a winery’s garden for a barbecue. More details on both methods below.

Barcelona Day Trip: Cava Tasting by Train in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia

How to Get to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia by Train

Take the RENFE suburban train (Rodalies) R4 toward Sant Vicenç de Calders. It stops in Barcelona Sants, Barcelona Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona La Sagrera-Meridiana and Barcelona Arc de Triomf, and you can buy tickets from the machines in the station (less than 9 euros round trip). The train goes directly to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, no transfers, and the journey is about 45 minutes.

There are two trains an hour – but the times listed on the website and the real times trains actually arrive are often a few minutes off in either direction. Just to keep you on your toes. So arrive early to be safe.

You can also buy the Freixetren ticket from the machines at the station, which includes a round-trip train ticket and a tour of the Freixenet winery for 11 euros. If you’re interested in doing this, you still have to reserve a time for the tour on the Freixenet website.

Wineries to Visit in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia

Freixenet and Codorníu are the biggest wineries in the area, and they have a larger international footprint than some of the smaller cellars. Both have good English tours, though you don’t get the personalized experience you have at a smaller producer. Freixenet is definitely the easiest to reach; it’s right next to the train station. Codorníu is a gorgeous property with cool modernist architecture – but it’s not within walking distance, so you’ll have to spring for a cab ride (there are usually taxis in front of the station).

 

First #grapes of the #harvest

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The other wineries that we’ve visited have all been stellar and within a 15-minute walk of the train station:

Gramona: Make a reservation for the historic cellar (they also have a newer facility in a different location).  The staff is very nice and the tastings are excellent. (We’ve only done this tour in Spanish, and I’m not sure if they offer other languages.)

Solà Raventós: I love, love, love this place. It’s a one-man operation, and the proprietor is so nice and generous with his time (and cava) – showing you the caves, explaining each step of the process and letting you taste a wide selection of cava. We’ve visited twice and will go back again. (Tours in Spanish and Catalan.)

 

This weekend in the land of cava. More specifically, Solà Raventós.

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Recaredo: We had such a good experience here. We took Brian’s parents when they came to visit, and our guide took tons of time to show us around and let us enjoy a few glasses. (We did this tour in English.)

Where to Eat

Ticus is in the town center, and it has a great menu del día that never disappoints (plus lots of local cavas and wines to try).

DIY BBQ at Cava Jaume Giró i Giró

Cava Giró i Giró is a 12-minute walk from the train station, and it has a big shaded garden surrounded by long wooden tables and barbecues.

 

Beautiful Sunday for drinking cava and BBQing

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If you call a few days in advance (or perhaps even the day before; they were very patient with the million changes we made to our reservation – and we came with a group of nearly 20), you can reserve space to relax and grill for the day… all while drinking the winery’s chilled cava on demand. The winery provides glasses and wood for the barbecues, but you have to bring everything else you need to cook and eat.

 

Cava BBQ in the cava region ??????

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It’s one of the best ways to spend a sunny day – and you’ll leave with bellies full of cava and food for around 10 euros a person.

Open every day, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
2.50 euros per person for the space
6.40 euros per bottle of brut nature reserva cava (and a glass each to use)

 

We are goal-oriented.

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We also saw that the winery across from Cava Giró i Giró – Cava Blancher – has a similar barbecue setup, with interior and exterior tables available on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Guess it’s almost time for another trip out to Cavalandia…

 

Photo credit

Three Belgian Breweries in Three Belgian Cities (Brussels, Bruges and Ghent)

We just got back from a trip to Belgium, and have been drinking Belgian beer for over a week straight.  We generally plan our itineraries around food and booze, first mapping out where/what we will eat and drink, then we see what kind of historic things we can fit in between. Breweries, distilleries and wineries almost always have top priority.

This trip was of course no exception and Belgian beer has a reputation that needs no explanation, so I’ll cut to the chase. We visited three cities: Brussels, Bruges and Ghent and hit one brewery in each. There are hundreds of breweries in the country, but we selected these three because they were centrally located and easy to get to on foot.

More from Cantillon brewery.

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#1 Cantillon – Brussels

Rue Gheude 56, 1070 Anderlecht, Belgium

Practical Stuff:
Open: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1000 – 1700
Closed: Wednesdays, Sundays and public holidays
Cost: 7€ (comes with two sample sized beers)
Tour is self-guided and takes about 45 minutes.
More info: http://www.cantillon.be/

Going to Cantillon is like stepping back in time to see how beer was made 100+ years ago. Here they make Lambics, Gueuzes, Faros and Krieks the old fashion way, literally. Nearly all of the structure and equipment is the original from when it opened in 1900.

The process of milling and mashing the grain is pretty much the same as modern breweries today, but what is truly fascinating about this place is that they rely on spontaneous fermentation to make their beer. That means they do not add yeast, but instead pump their wort to a large shallow tank that is exposed to the ambient air, and wild yeast finds its way to the liquid. They are the only brewery in Brussels still doing it this way.

The beer is then pumped into large oak or chestnut barrels where it is left to ferment for up to three years. Yes, you read that right, three years. The beer can then be bottled or have fruit added, which gives them their kreiks.

Touring Cantillion is really an amazing experience because the place is unlike any brewery you’ve ever been to before. Like all great tours, at the end you get two tasting glasses to drink in the bar area. Even if you don’t feel like doing the tour, you can still buy a bottle and hang out for a drink.

Fair warning though, lambics are not for everyone because they are quite sour/bitter. If that’s not your thing, the tour is still worth seeing.

 

Ok one more from the half moon brewery in Brugge.

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#2 Brouwerij De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery) – Bruges

Walplein 26, Bruges, Belgium

Practical Stuff:
Daily Tours between 1100-1600 in Dutch, English and French. On Saturday Tours available til 1700.
Check their website for times of the tours and to book your reservation.
Cost: 8.50€ (comes with a glass of their Brugse Zot Blond)
Group guided tour takes about 45 minutes and includes lots of stairs.
More info: http://www.halvemaan.be/en/brewery-visit

Half Moon Brewery in Bruges is set in a beautiful part of a ridiculously picturesque city. Nestled between a cafe-lined plaza and one of the city’s canals, this brewery is half modern and half museum. The brewing kettles were recently upgraded and the bar/restaurant area looks like an upscale brewpub. Taking the tour however, you see the evolution of machinery and equipment that have been used over four generations of brewing.

The tour meanders up and down stairs, through old lofts and between tanks. A brief stop on the roof gives an amazing view of the city, but also make it clear that they have no more room to expand their facilities and production. The solution, our guide explained, is to build a beer pipeline from the brewery to a bottling facility over a kilometer away. That’s right, a beer pipeline.

Beers here were great; they go by two different labels: Brugse Zot (with a blond and a dubbel variety) and Straffe Hendrik (with a tripel and quadrupel variety). You can try them all in the bar/restaurant and get lunch or dinner while you’re at it.

 

#3 Gentse Gruut – Ghent

Rekelingestraat 5, 9000 Gent (When you look this up by the address on Google maps it puts you on the wrong side of the river. It is directly across from Gravensteen Castle on Rekelingestraat)

Practical Stuff:
Tour by appointment, mainly for groups Check their website to book.
Cost: 9.00€ (8+people) or 10.00€ (less than 8 people). Comes with three tasters.
Tour/tasting can be paired with some small food items.
More info: http://www.gruut.be/

Gentse Gruut is super interesting because they do not use hops in their beer, but rather a mix of herbs. This is apparently how beer was made before the days of hops, we’re talking medieval time here. Only one of their five beers has any hops in it, and honestly it was hard to tell which.

To be honest, we did not figure out the tour at this brewery, which recently moved locations. After walking by it several times (see note above about the address on Google maps) we came into what looked like a reception or event hall. There was a bar, tables and chairs, and OH HEY! a very small brewing setup. Given the really small size, it’s impressive the reach this beer has because we saw it all over the city. We certainly could have asked about the tour, but we really just wanted to sit and drink this hop-less beer, which turned out to be SUPER good.

One more interesting fact about this place is that the head brewer/owner is a woman named Annick De Splenter, which is really cool to see in an otherwise dude-dominated industry.

 

Have you been to any other awesome breweries in Belgium? Let us know because we’ll definitely be doing the pilgrimage again soon!

La Rovira Brew Bar: Another Awesome Craft Beer Stop in Gràcia

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Last Monday, August 1o, La Rovira opened its doors and taps just in time for Festa Major de Gràcia. Since then, as far as we can tell, they’ve been killing it. One or both of us have been three times since the opening, partly because it’s minutes away from our place, but mainly because they have an incredible selection of craft beers from all over. La Rovira tap line up-traveling to taste La Rovira has 18 beers on tap from craft breweries far and wide and with many, many more in bottles. It’s enough to keep any beer enthusiast busy for a while. They are also serving their own beer called De La Vila, which was made just for the Festa Major. It’s a light session IPA with a citrus and floral nose and a slightly fruity taste with mild bitterness from the hops. Most standard IPAs have an ABV (alcohol by volume) in the 5.0-7.0% range (some are much higher); this one comes in at 4.7%, which means you can drink it all afternoon on a hot summer day and still find your way home.  

We are super pumped to have another great craft beer bar in the neighborhood, and La Rovira joins some other greats along Gràcia’s growing beer route like Chivuo’sCara B, El Col-leccionista, Catalluna and La Cervesera Artesana (and if you’re a homebrewer, there is Family Beer).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to head back over to finish the rest of the 18 beers. See you there. Cheers.

La Rovira Brew Bar
Carrer de Rabassa, 23,
08024 Barcelona
+34 691 20 24 10
Metro:  Joanic I (L4/yellow line)

10 Barcelona Craft Beer Bars & Breweries

One of the many things I love about Barcelona is how vibrant its craft beer scene is. We have made it our mission to visit all the craft beer bars and breweries in the city (and eventually in Catalunya), but it’s tough when there are new spots opening all the time. No one said it was gonna be easy.

So consider this a first installment in an ongoing series on craft beer in Barcelona. Here are some of the fantastic places we’ve fallen in love with so far.

Barcelona-beer-bars

Craft Beer in Barcelona

1. Edge Brewing

Edge Brewing is an American craft brewery located in Poblenou – a cool warehouse district near the water that isn’t yet teeming with people. Two Americans, Alan and Scott, started the brewery in 2013, and I love everything about it. The beers are excellent and diverse (I’m partial to the Hoptimista IPA and the Padrino porter), the people are super friendly and knowledgeable, the space is open and welcoming.

For the last year, we’ve been going frequently to their “open doors” events on Friday nights – where you can buy a pint or two and eat food provided by local vendors. Sadly, they recently stopped doing these events, but they are now offering Saturday tours and tastings and private tours by reservation.

Edge Brewing
Carrer de Llull 62
08005 Barcelona
Metro : Bogatell (L4/yellow line)

Tour & Tasting
Saturdays
12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
€15 (cash)
Reserve in advance

Edge Brewing
Edge Brewing

2. Chivuo’s

Chivuo’s is an awesome street food and craft beer bar close to our apartment in Gràcia, and it takes all of my willpower not to stop in every time I walk by. Juan and Ale, the Venezuelan proprietors, are wonderful and take great care to offer a well-curated list of craft beers (10 rotating selections on tap) and excellent food.

There are only a few items on the food menu – hamburger, pulled pork sandwich, tuna melt, chicken sandwich, Philly cheesesteak, a few varieties of fries and patatas bravas – but everything from the buns to the BBQ sauce is homemade and delicious. The pulled pork and hamburger in particular are to die for. It’s a small place with a few tables and seating at the bar, so I like to go in the afternoon or early evening before it gets too busy. (They also have free Wi-Fi, but your productivity will probably plummet after a couple pints…)

Chivuo’s
Carrer del Torrent de l’Olla 175
08012 Barcelona
+34 932 185 134
Metro: Fontana (L3/green line)

Monday – Friday: 1:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Saturday: 6:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Sunday: Closed

Chivuo's
Chivuo’s

3. BlackLab Brewhouse

BlackLab just opened its doors in a beautiful space in Barceloneta, after several months of hosting smaller beer events around the city. I’m already looking forward to the summer when we can take advantage of its big outdoor tables. BlackLab is pretty much the brewpub I wish I had started. It was founded by Jing and Yuan, Galicians of Chinese origin, and Matt, an American, and it has a solid beer list (from BlackLab and other breweries) and excellent Asian-American food. The pork belly buns are insane. As is everything else we’ve tried.

BlackLab Brewhouse
Plaça Pau Vila 1-5
08039 Barcelona
+34 93 22 18 360
Metro: Barceloneta (L4/yellow line)

Monday – Thursday: 12:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Friday & Saturday: 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Sunday: 12:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

4. Garage Beer

Garage is brand new, and we had the good fortune to check it out the day after it opened a few months ago. Since then, it’s been blowing up – hosting cool food and design events, experimenting with tasty new beers and being a generally cool spot to hang out.

Garage Beer Co.
Carrer Consell de Cent 261
08011 Barcelona
+34 93 52 85 989
Metro: Universitat (L1/red line)

Monday – Thursday: 5:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Friday & Saturday: 5:00 pm – 2:30 am
Sunday: 6:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

Garage Beer
Garage Beer

5. Ale&Hop

Ale&Hop is a small bar in El Born with an impressive selection of beers from all over the world – on tap and bottled. As one of Barcelona’s well-known craft beer bars, it gets crowded, especially late and on weekends, but it’s worth checking out. We haven’t tried their food yet, but they serve pintxos on Thursday nights and brunch on the weekends.

Ale&Hop
Basses de Sant Pere 10 bis
08003 Barcelona
+ 34 93 12 69 094
Metro: Arc de Triomf (L1/red line), Jaume I (L4/yellow line)

Monday – Wednesday: 5:00 p.m. – 1:30 a.m.
Thursday: 5:00 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Friday: 5:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.

6. Cerveseria La Més Petita

As the name implies, La Més Petita is teeny tiny, but it boasts a massive chalkboard of beers on tap. Throw some ‘bows, find a spot and make some new friends while you drink.

Cerveseria la Més Petita
Carrer de la Diputació, 30
08015 Barcelona
+34 628 11 67 84
Metro: Rocafort (L1/red line)

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 6:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.
Friday: 6:00 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Saturday: 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. – 2:30 a.m.
Sunday: 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.

7. HomoSibaris

Alan and some of the other good people from Edge Brewing were kind enough to let us tag along to HomoSibaris one night after a BlackLab event at La Més Petita (if that gives you an idea of the fun craft beer scene here). It’s tucked away in a cute little plaza in Sants with eight beers on tap, specializing in those that are unfiltered and unpasteurized, and a small tapas menu.

HomoSibaris
Plaça Osca 4
08014 Barcelona
+ 34 93 18 56 693
Metro: Plaça de Sants (L1/red line, L5/blue line)

Monday – Thursday: 5:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
Friday – Saturday: 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

HomoSibaris
HomoSibaris

8. La Cerveteca

La Cerveteca, a cozy little bar in El Barri Gòtic, offers a diverse list of craft beers – many of which I hadn’t tried before.

La Cerveteca
Carrer Gignas 25
08002 Barcelona, Spain
+34 93 31 50 407
Metro: Jaume I or Barceloneta (L4/yellow line), Drassanes (L3/green line)

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Thursday: 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m./ 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

9. Bar Mingus

I’m not sure if we ever would have found this place if it hadn’t been for our friend Matthias, a German beer fanatic. It’s a funky little gem in the Gòtic decorated more like a California surf bar than a craft beer bar. It’s open late and a welcome relief from some of the tourist traps in the neighborhood; but most importantly, it has an excellent selection of international craft beers.

Bar Mingus
Carrer Ataulf 6
08002 Barcelona

+ 34 63 09 01 690
Metro: Jaume I (L4/yellow line)

Monday – Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. – 1:30 a.m. 
Thursday: 7:30 p.m. – 2:30 a.m. 
Friday & Saturday: 7:30 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Sunday: Closed

Bar Mingus
Bar Mingus

10. BrewDog Bar Barcelona

The cool kids from Scotland’s BrewDog just opened their newest bar here in Barcelona, and it just happens to be a block away from Garage. Grab a seat at the bar for a pint and tapas, or reserve one of the bigger tables to have dinner and beers with friends.

BrewDog Bar Barcelona
Carrer Casanova 69
08011 Barcelona
+34 93 48 85 979
Metro: Universitat (L1/red line)

Every day: 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.

Toledo, Spain: How to Get There and Where to Eat

Toledo View
Toledo view from the rooftop patio at the Oasis Hostel 

First of all, Toledo, SPAIN. All searches for “Toledo” seem to default to Ohio, which I’m sure is nice(ish) but not the topic for today.

This Semana Santa (i.e. Holy Week, i.e. the week before Easter), we took a trip to Madrid, a city that we both love, and Toledo, a city I visited briefly as a college student, and a new city for Gillian. We’ll talk about Madrid separately, but here are some food and logistics we figured out so hopefully you won’t have to.

Getting there:

Getting there is super easy; you’ve got two main options: bus or train. We opted for the train (AVE or AVANT), which left from Atocha and arrived at the Toledo train station in less than 30 minutes. Round-trip cost per person was 20.60€. The bus will cost you about half the price but will take you three times as long.

Side note: you can purchase train tickets online from renfe.com, but we’ve run into problems when using a non-Spanish credit/debit card. Not having a chip in our card also causes some issues when trying to buy from the machine in the train station. Bottom line: you can pay via PayPal when buying online from renfe.com and sidestep this whole mess.

There are two types of bus that can take you up to the city (I don’t recommend the walk with bags) from the Toledo train station: a red one and a blue one. The red one is a tourist bus that will take you to Plaza Zocodover for 2.50€ and picks up directly outside the exit of the train station (inside the perimeter wall). The blue one is the city bus, and lines 5, 61 and 62 will also take you to Plaza Zocodover, for 1.40€. The bus stop is outside of the perimeter wall to the right as you exit the station.

Where to eat:

As a general rule, we avoid any place that has huge picture-board menus hanging outside, and this made finding a restaurant in Toledo a challenge. We did find a few really great places that are worth mentioning:

The name "Kumera" is not very prominent on the sinage, so keep an eye out as you walk by.
The name “Kumera” is not very prominent on the signage, so keep an eye out as you walk by.

Restaurante Kumera
C/Alfonso X El Sabio 2
Phone: +34 925 25 75 53
www.restaurantekumera.com
Weekdays: 0800-0230
Weekends:1100-0230
Closed December 25, 31 and January 1.

This place has a beautiful outdoor seating area on a street that seems to be off the tourist traffic heavy streets.  They have an amazing mix of tapas (3.00-4.50€), tostas (7.00€), larger plates to share (8.00-13,50€), fish (12.50-15.50€) and meats (12.90-15.50€). A tosta is a large piece of bread with, for example, black olive tapenade spread, roasted red peppers and anchovies (delicious, by the way). Some of the items like cochinillo (roast suckling pig) appear a couple of times on the menu and can be ordered in smaller portions (tapas) or larger entrée portions.

Before taking the train back to Madrid we came by again for lunch and had the Menú del Día. Three courses, included wine and was 12.90€ each.

The menu was:
Primeros: (pick one)

  • Salad with manchego cheese cubes, seasonal fruit and dried fruits vinaigrette
  • Salted gulas (a tiny eels that look like pasta) with shrimp and ajillo (a spicy garlicky olive oil sauce)
  • Fried asparagus with Iberian ham (thinly sliced, cured ham)

Segundos: (pick one)

  • Grilled salmon with vegetables and teriyaki sauce
  • Steak and veggie skewer with blue cheese sauce
  • Lamb chops with garlic and parsley potato sticks

Dessert or Café
(The desserts were admittedly unimpressive, we opted for the coffee)

This place is the perfect combo of quality and price.

Alfileritos 24Alfileritos 24
C/ Alfileritos, 24
Phone: 925 23 96 25
www.alfileritos24.com
1300-1600 Lunch
2000-2330 Dinner

Though they didn’t break the bank on coming up with a name, this place was another great spot to stop. It’s divided into two floors: upstairs is more formal restaurant (reservations seemed to be a thing), and downstairs there are plenty of smaller tables and a separate tapas and wine menu. The latter is what we were looking for.

The menu includes tapas, or “raciones” (5.50- 12.50€), tostas (5€) and wine by the glass or bottle (2.50-3.50€ / 11.20-20.90€). We thought we’d get started with three “raciones,” believing we would ask for more afterwards. This did not happen. We ordered a chicken salad with cheese and a mustard dressing, mushroom croquettes and small pieces of grilled deer meat. It was nearly too much food for two people and incredibly tasty.

Total cost, including two glasses of wine, was 22.30€. Amazing. Also has a lunch Menú del Día for 10.50€ but didn’t get to check this out.

A look at the vertical garden inside.
A look at the vertical garden inside.

Mercado San Agustín
C/ Cuesta del Águila, 1 y 3
Phone: 925 21 58 98 (info)
mercadodesanagustin.com

About two minutes from Plaza Zocodover is an amazing new gastronomic market that opened in September 2014. Spread over its four floors (plus a rooftop terrace) there are 19 different food and beverage establishments that include tapas, Asian fusion, fancy burgers, grilled meats, cakes, wine and cheese shops, you name it. The place is beautiful inside and has really impressive architecture, including a three-story vertical garden. We stopped at the Marisquería y pulpería (shell fish and octopus shop) and got a huge mixed plate of fried calamari, tiny squid, fish in adobo sauce and anchovies that the woman fried up right in front of us (for 10€). Wish we were there on a Wednesday because apparently the burger place does a 4€ special every week.

Next time you’re in Madrid, consider taking a side trip down to Toledo. I haven’t gone into any of the city’s incredible art, history or architecture in this post, mainly because I’d be writing for a very, very long time. We just want to make sure you don’t go hungry when you get there.

Got a place that you found on your trip? Tell us about it! Cause we might find ourselves there again real soon…

Our Go-To Pizza Place in Barcelona: Napoletani DOC

Before moving to Barcelona, we lived in Naples, Italy for three years and during that time, we ate pizza as if it were our job. We did not chronicle our pizza hobby as this guy did (who ate 365 pizzas over two years), but between the two of us, we did pretty well as connoisseurs in the birthplace of pizza. We ordered pizza from our neighborhood joint so many times that they knew us by name over the phone (this is still one of our proudest achievements to date).

We got spoiled by having amazing Neapolitan pizza at our beck and call all the time. We never had to travel more than a block or two to find a pizza restaurant, and within minutes we could have hot, crispy, oozy, delicious pizza that rarely cost more than 6-8€. It cannot be overstated that Neapolitans are SERIOUS about their pizza, and there are very specific rules for a pizza to be called “Vera Pizza Napoletana.” These rules dictate the diameter of the pizza (no more than 35 cm), the thickness in the center (1/3 cm), where the tomatoes must come from (San Marzano) and so and so forth. There is even an organization that governs the pizza regulations called the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana.

As we were getting ready to leave Naples, we knew that pizza would never be the same. It’s like growing up in Philadelphia and then trying to find a suitable Philly cheese steak anywhere else. We were worried, until we went to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants called Osteria DOC. The family that runs the restaurant is very sweet, and after telling them our plans to move to Barcelona they said “Oh you need to go to our son’s restaurant there. He has a pizza place.”

HALLELUJAH!

We arrived in Barcelona, and like any normal person, I put on my Napoli jersey and we went to check it out. Let me tell you, it is FANTASTIC.

IMG_20140731_135210

Walking into this place is like walking into a pizza place back in Napoli; huge wood-fire pizza oven, pictures of Mount Vesuvius, as well as jerseys and scarfs from the SSC Napoli soccer team on every wall (they also have a whole page of pizzas named after the soccer players on the menu).

The pizza is spot on, too. The price is slightly higher than what you would find in Naples, but there is absolutely no difference in quality.

Hello beautiful.
Hello beautiful.

Pizzas come in the standard personal size (no more than 35 cm, if you recall) and are best eaten with a knife and fork. They have what seems like an endless list of pizzas (more than 30) which includes the classics (diavola, capricciosa, margarita, etc.) but some unique ones too (Spacca Napoli, for instance: mozzarela, butifarra, mushrooms, parmesan and basil). If you’re going with a group, consider getting the 1/2 meter, or if you’re really hungry, the 1-meter pizza. In both cases, you can choose more than one topping to accompany the metric measurement.

1-meter of pizza.
1-meter of pizza.

They have a considerable list of antipasti, primi and secondi, but our experience with these is limited.

It is, without question, our favorite pizza place in Barcelona. It is also the only one we go to, but I have a hard time believing a better one exists. Maybe someday we’ll branch out, but until then, I’ll have another capricciosa.


Napoletani D.O.C.

Metro: L1 Urgell
Calle Diputación, 101
Barcelona

Phone:+34 93 451 6902
http://www.napoletanidoc.com

Welcome to our winery. Well, not exactly.

Not a bad spot, eh?
Not a bad spot, eh?

As Gillian mentioned in her previous post, she grew up in Sonoma, California, so when we head back to visit her family, we have been known to frequent some Sonoma wineries like Ravenswood, Cline, Viansa, etc. Wines in Sonoma are amazing, and they are the first wines we pick when we’re in the States, but when Gillian describes where she is from, people often give her a quizzical look. Then she says  “it’s north of San Francisco” and if necessary, “it’s right next to Napa” and suddenly they understand.

Of all the times we’ve been to her hometown together, we’ve hardly ventured into Napa for any reason at all, much less for some wine tasting, but then we found this place: a winery that bears our last name!

What a fantastic name for a winery.
What a fantastic name for a winery.

We are, unfortunately, not related in any way to the Burgesses of this winery, nor did we really “find” this place. A good friend of ours works at another Napa winery and brought us a fantastic bottle from Burgess Cellars wine a year ago, with the promise that she would arrange a trip to the winery the next time we were in Sonoma. Monica was not messing around, and despite having a 6-week-old infant, she and her husband Jason drove us up to this beautiful winery up on the hill north of St. Helena.

The winery started back in 1972 when a guy named Tom Burgess bought a 1870s-era vineyard. Tom is from Ohio (so definitely no relation to my Brooklyn-born relatives) and cultivated a taste for wine after being stationed in Europe while flying in the Air Force. When he began Burgess Cellars, there were only a handful of wineries in Napa Valley, it being a few years before Napa gained world recognition in 1976 (as depicted in the movie Bottle Shock). The woman pouring wines for us told us how much he paid per acre, and the number so low it made me long for a time machine.

It’s still family-run and a relatively small outfit with three separate vineyards totaling just over 100 acres. Their Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and Merlots are all fantastic and award-winning, and they grow a total of eight different varietals.

The whole family is here!
The whole family is here!

If you find yourself in Napa Valley (and have already been to some Sonoma wineries, of course), check out Burgess Cellars. It’s beautiful and tranquil and a nice change of pace from the wineries on the main drag of St. Helena Highway.

Tastings are done twice a day (10:30 and 2) in small groups and by appointment only, so call ahead or send an email to make a reservation. $10 will get you six different wines, but the fee is waved if you purchase a bottle. Most wines range from $30-80 and we walked away with a bottle of Petit Sirah that made the long journey back the Barcelona with us.

For more info, check out their website, and when you show up, tell them the Burgesses sent you 😉

Tel: 800.752.9463 or 707.963.4766

Oysters, Chowder & Beer on the Sonoma Coast

Brian and I just got back from a month-long trip to the U.S. for the holidays, which made us feel like fancypants jetsetters. Just stops in Fairfax, New Orleans and Sonoma; no big deal. For such a long trip, it flew by, and we managed to indulge in many, many delicious meals with some of our favorite people.

hog-island-oyster
Hog Island Oyster Co., Tomales Bay

I grew up in the town of Sonoma, California, where my parents still live, and I love going home for obvious reasons. Awesome wine, food, people and scenery? Yes.

I was especially excited to make it back to Sonoma because I haven’t visited in almost two years, and Brian hasn’t gone with me in five. We must have charmed the weather gods because it was sunny, temperate and beautiful for our entire stay (a rarity in January), and we took full advantage by planning a day out on the Sonoma Coast.

Way back in high school, my friends and I would pile into someone’s car, crank up the tunes and drive out to the coast as often as we could. Mind you, a Northern California day at the beach is not a scene from 90210. It’s usually freezing. We’d wear hoodies and jackets and scarves… but every now and then, we’d get a day warm enough to get in the water. But even on the grayest, windiest, saltiest days, the Sonoma Coast is absolutely gorgeous.

Bodega Bay has always been my favorite for lounging, grilling and eating out, but we decided to go south 30 minutes and stop in Tomales Bay first for one reason: oysters. Tomales is known for its fresh-farmed, delicious oysters, which I wasn’t really aware of when I was younger. I’ve always liked oysters and would eat them grilled or cooked in butter or wine from an early age, but it wasn’t till I lived in New Orleans that I started eating them raw. Oysters on the halfshell, plain or with just a little hot sauce and lemon, are damn near perfection. They taste like the ocean in the best possible way.

Hog Island Oyster Co.

A Day on the Sonoma Coast

Hog Island Oyster Co.

Hog Island Oyster Co. has oyster bars in Napa and San Francisco, but if you head out to Marshall on Tomales Bay, you can eat a few fresh-shucked beauties right on the farm. If you have a picnic reservation, you can shuck and grill your own, but we went the lazy route and ordered from the bar – which is the bow of an old wooden boat. An order of raw oysters, an order of grilled oysters with chipotle sauce, two beers from North Coast Brewing Co. in Fort Bragg: heaven.

Sweet boat.

We got there at about 11 a.m. on a Monday, the day the Golden Gate Bridge was reopening after a weekend closure for renovations. We had the place entirely to ourselves for about an hour, enjoying views of the bay while the friendly staff worked around us to a great soundtrack.

IMG_0180

Tomales Bay Oyster Co.

After Hog Island, we drove a few miles down the coast to the next stop on our oyster tour: Tomales Bay Oyster Co. You can buy bags of oysters by the dozen for a great price (we paid $15 for ours), then carry out or pay $5 a person to shuck, grill and eat at the picnic benches next to the bay.

IMG_0182

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had never actually shucked my own oysters before… so we got a quick tutorial (and a knife) and got to work. The oysters were amazing, and totally worth the extra effort.

Tomales Bay Oyster Co.

The Tides

We still had a little room after our oyster appetizers, so we drove up to The Tides, an old favorite in Bodega Bay. Normally, we order a feast from the snack bar – clam chowder in a bread bowl, calamari, oysters – and eat at the tables outside if it’s not too windy (or more often inside), but it was closed that day. So we got a loaf of sourdough and a large order of clam chowder from the deli and feasted that way instead.

Lagunitas Brewery

Bellies finally full, we drove back into Petaluma and wrapped up the day at the fantastic Lagunitas Brewery. I love their beers and their funky NorCal character, and the tour and tasting didn’t disappoint. You leave wanting to hang out there all the time and somehow get a job (any job) there. Go for a visit, drink a beer in their tap room and ask them to tell you all the good stories (like the Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale).

I miss you, NorCal, but we’ll be back soon for the rest of your oysters and beer.

 

I wrote this post as part of the Your Turn Challenge from Seth Godin’s team. Anyone can participate and write one blog post per day for seven days on any topic. My lovely sister Melia inspired me and gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get writing again. Gracias y besos – here’s to Day 1!

 

Las Empas and the making of the Porterhouse Blue

Dag Flachet is a good friend of ours, and along with some partners, he runs an empanada joint called Las Empas, here in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Mind you, this is not your standard restaurant; these empanadas are made by the customers. I don’t mean you show up and make your own bespoke empanada, I mean customers compete using a Facebook application to design and promote an empanada of their own creation. The one with the most votes gets the opportunity to make a test batch, and if all goes well, get an empanada on the menu.

“What’s the incentive?” you may ask. Once your creation is on the menu, for every 20 that are sold, you get a free empanada when you go by the restaurant. It’s a clever business model that links social media with food in an engaging (and competitive) way, and rewards creativity with deliciousness.

Needless to say, it was enough to motivate me, so I’ll walk you through how the process went.

A couple of years ago, Gillian and I had an amazing meal at some restaurant in Hawaii that used a red-wine reduction sauce. We thought, “Why are there no beer reduction sauces?” and set to work making one. What we ended up with was a seared beef tenderloin with blue cheese and porter beer reduction, which turned out surprisingly well (consequently, it was later featured on craftbeer.com). I thought this might make a good empanada, so I gave it a shot.

Using the Las Empas Empanada Creator on Facebook is super easy and intuitive. Pick the type of dough (out of five options), pick the filling (too many to count), add the spices (also too many to count). Simple. If something essential is missing (for instance, porter beer reduction sauce), let them know, and they’ll add it to the application.

Select filling and specify amounts.
Select filling and specify amounts.

 

Once you’ve created and named (a good name is essential) your empanada, it’s time for shameless self-promotion. Share it on Facebook and encourage your friends to vote for your empanada. Likes on Facebook contribute to your overall score, and votes are tallied so you can see your progress on the leaderboard.

leaderboard-screen-shot
Leaderboard shows total votes and time remaining in the competition.

 

After a month of, as mentioned before, shameless self-promotion to friends and family who may never get to try my empanada based on geographic distance, I ended up at the top! Seriously, thank you all of you who voted.

I'm not just making this up, here's the screen shot!
I’m not just making this up, here’s the screen shot!

 

The next step was to met with Dag in the test kitchen and do a test run. This day started by writing all the ingredients of the empanada on his giant chalkboard wall. Being a designer who loves typography, I maybe went a little overboard.

Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova.
Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova.
Probably spent too long on this.
Me + Food + Typography = Way too much time making this.

 

I’ve never made empanadas before, but the prep of the filling was similar to what I’d done when making the original recipe. Dag had handy little patties of empanada dough and we made about 15-20, using a fork to close them up.

Putting the pieces together (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova)
Putting the pieces together (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova)
Ingredients and pre-oven empanada.
Ingredients and pre-oven empanada.

 

A few minutes in the oven and the empanadas were ready for a formal presentation in front of the Las Empas sign. You should note that Dag is seated and is still taller than I am when standing.

I present you Empa Porterhouse Blue.
I present you Empa Porterhouse Blue (Photo courtesy of Blaga Popova).

 

The empanadas came out with gooey, cheesy, beer reductiony steak filling and were really good. With zero prior knowledge and this being my first attempt at empanadas ever, I’m extremely pleased with the results. Of course, now I see there are a few things I would optimize the next time around. Mainly, cooking the meat less time before it goes into the dough (it gets cooked again in the oven) a using LOT more beer sauce. Obviously.

These things are to be expected, and overall I had a ton of fun making empanadas and drinking beer all afternoon (we had to make sure we had the right beer for the sauce, of course). Many thanks to Dag and the rest of the Las Empas team for humoring me, as well as Blaga Popova for documenting the event. Looking forward to the next round of testing and seeing Empa Porterhouse Blue on the menu soon!

The Empa Porterhouse Blue
The Empa Porterhouse Blue