Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Barcelona is Gaudi's town. If you ever want to capture Barcelona in a single idea, a single image, you would be hard pressed to find a better one than the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Born in 1852, Gaudi would become the leading proponent of the Catalan Modernismo movement. Though loathed by many of his contemporaries, especially more constrained and less creative architects, in time Gaudi would come to be seen as one of the most creative members of the international Art Nouveau movement.
The following pictures of are Gaudi's four greatest accomplishments in Barcelona--Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Mila. Each reflects Gaudi's love of nature, bright color, and movement.
At night, the roof of Casa Batllo looks like the scaly back of a dragon.
There are no corners in Casa Batllo, just movement like the flow of water.
Casa Batllo by day. It rests on the uber-chic Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona's Fifth Avenue.
The roof contains Gaudi's playful chimney's decorated with broken tiles scavenged from around the city from places being torn down.
Tori and Brenden in front of Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's final work, which remains unfinished more than a century after it was begun in 1882.
Gaudi speant the last decade of his life--before he was run down and killed by a tram--living in the crypt of this church and dedicating his entire genius to it. After his death, work was continued, but the plans were destroyed by anarchists in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War.
Joseph Maria Subirachs is responsible for the sculptures on the Passion facade of the church. Many have complained that Subirach's work is too dark and angular, but I love it. I think Gaudi would have appreciated the fact that it captures the darkness of Good Friday.
The modelling workshop inside the church.
My favorite angel on the Glory facade. Angels are known for playing lutes violins, but a bassoon?
Jesus in the Temple with the Rabbis.
The base of on of the pillars rides on the back of a tortoise, exhibiting Gaudi's love of God's creation.
Inside the massive nave of the church. Much of the stained glass has still not been completed.
Gaudi designed the pillars to look like trees, so they entire feel is like being in a forest of ancient trees climbing to the heavens.
This park was begun at the instigation of industrialist Eusebi Guell, Gaudi's long-time patron. It was intended to be a planned housing estate, but it never garnered enough interest to be financially viable. It was donated to the city eventually. Gaudi did live one of the two houses built by other while Guell lived in the other.
This the stair way to the public space of the development. The pillars support a landing with tiled benches and a beautiful view of the city. A perfect place for a huge block party of this had ever been successful as a neighborhood.
Possibly Gaudi's most famous piece, the Dragon Fountain is now emblematic of the city of Barcelona
These buildings serve as the entrance to Park Guell. I would happily live in either of them.
Casa Mila, La Pedrera
This is the roof of the apartment building Casa Mila; possibly Gaudi's most complete project, he designed it from top to bottom at the height of his designing prowess.
The rumor is that George Lucas was inspired by Gaudi's sculptures and later Darth Vaders helmet was the result.
I think this is a perfect space for a party under the stars.
A shot of Sagrada Familia from the roof of La Pedrera.
Monday, April 12, 2010
So what is food without wine, and let me tell you, Spain has plenty of the good stuff. In fact, they have some of the best old world wine and less than old world prices. So it was off to Penedes, one of Spain less well know wine regions at the heart of Catalunya. Thanks to Tori's stop at the tourism center, we opted for the bus that would visit three different wineries by bus with an English speaking guide.
First stop was the winery of Jean Leon. This boutique winery was the brain child of Cefferino Carrion, a Spaniard whose refusal to serve in Franco's army drove him from his homeland to Hollywood via Paris and New York. In LA he changed his name to Jean Leon, worked for Frank Sinatra and developed a friendship with James Dean which would lead to their shared dream, the restaurant La Scala. In 1968 he decided to found his own vineyard to create the wines that would best complement the food at La Scala.
Jean Leon decided to grow old world, French grapes in Spain. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Cabernet franc, and chardonnay are Jean Leon's staples, grown in the Pago vineyard. Here is the winery's very modern stainless steel holding tanks.
Jean Leon wines are truly hand crafted, with picking and pruning done manually. The tasting was fun, but I was not overwhelmed. Not being much of a Cabernet fan put me at a disadvantage. In truth, I really prefer local varietals. Give me a good garnacha or a tempranillo anytime. To each his own I guess. Jean Leon was served a Ronald Reagan welcome to the White House in 1981, which is something.
Torres winery was our next stop. Funny enough, before he died, Jean Leon sold his vineyard to Torres, one of the largest wineries in the region. The Torres family have been making wines for generations, and are in their third century as a wine company.
This is the magnificent expanse of Torres vineyards. Bombed during the Spanish Civil War, a massive effort resurrected the winery, and today they have family properties in Chile and California.
The tour of Torres was really, as Brenden described it, the Disney of winery tours. We were bundled into a tram that was driven around the plant with a canned description of the procedures around us. There were even some hologram projections and weird high tech pictures and sounds. Of course, being Semana Santa (Holy Week), there was little work going on as most people had the day off.
Torres is a serious winery, with plenty of wine in casks, which do double duty as brandy casks at another Torres winery once they are done here. Torres offers six red, three white, and one rosado at it Catalunya winery; they have twenty-four different offerings in Spain alone.
The tasting was a wine and cheese pairing with three wines and three cheeses. First was the Viña Esmerelda, a Gewürtztraminer and Moscatel blend that was light and refreshing. Paired with a Spanish version of Camembert cheese, it was my favorite of the day. The second and third wines were reds, but neither knocked my socks off, and I can't remember which was which, so.... Next time I will bring my note pad and take actual notes so I remember what I sampled.
Cavas Freixenet was the last stop on this marry sojourn, and it was possibly the best tour of them all. Cava is the Spanish sparkling wine, which cannot be called champagne because it is not from the Champagne region of France, thus cava. Having toured the winery at Moet & Chandon--the makers of Dom Perignon--I can tell you there is no difference in the methods that produce cava. The only real difference between French champagne and Spanish cava is the source grapes.
Like champagne, bottles of bubbles can be quite massive. Names after Biblical kings and persons, the giant bottle, in order are the Nebuchadnezzar holds 15 liters, the Balthazar has 12 liters, the Salmanazar holds 9 liters, the Mathusalem is 6 liters, the Rehoboam is 4 liters, the Jeroboam is three liters, and of course a magnum is a 1.5 liters, while the standard is 750 ml, the mediana is half that at 375 ml, and the individual mini is just 200 ml.
This is Freixenet's most famous advertisement, which is never scene outside of Spain as a little boy carrying a bottle of booze as big as he is is most gauche.
Standing in front of the Reserva Real 1982. This is the wine I brought home; the best they have to offer of course. Soon after the death of Franco and the ascension to the throne of King Juan Carlos, the monarch and his wife toured Freixenet and the result was a Royal vineyard and a cava to match. This is not available in the USA, which is part of the reason I wanted to bring it home. Now I just need a good excuse to celebrate.
At the end of the tour, we not only sampled both the Cordon Negro Brut and the rosado as well, but they fed us tapas too. Cheese, Serrano ham, chips, and tomato rub bread was just the right way to end our day. Brenden, it turns out, loves the cava. I think I saw him stealing other people half empty glasses.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Everyone who travels abroad should plan one special meal, something that will allow you to experience the best a place has to offer. This time around in Barcelona, I went tot he New York Times for my research, and found an article on Bistronomy, the concept of inexpensive traditional food (bistro) combined with the Spanish tradition of experimental gastronomy. Tori, Brenden and I decided on Hisop, and what we found was a delightful menu with something for everyone, even the pickiest eater on earth. In addition to the items we ordered from the menu--two starters to share, three entrées, and three desserts--chefs Oriol Ivern and Guillem Pla offer a series of amuse bouche that echo the creativity and inventiveness of Chef Ferran Adria, the dean of Spanish molecular gastronomy.
To begin, we were offered a single perfectly cooked mussel on a cauliflower crema with a finely diced apples and a squirt of parsley jus. Though Be wouldn't touch it, Tori thought this was divine. It was by far the best cauliflower I have ever tasted and the mussel perfect.
Next was my favorite bite of the night. A single square of smoked fresh tuna on an roasted aubergine puree with a pistachio pesto. I don't even remember what that dollop on top is, but dear God it was wonderful. The saltiness of the tuna was enough to make you numb from joy.
Tori ordered the gambas (shrimp), heads, tails, and all. These were of course prepared in the traditional "al ajillo" (with garlic) style found in Catalunya. They were delicious if ridiculous looking.
Foie gras, a gift from God Himself, is the my most favorite delicacy. The perfectly sautees lobe was luscious and silky smooth with just the right texture--something between gelatinous and cotton candy-like, it's there when you bite into it, this in just dissolves into a massively flavor explosion. The sauce is flavored with coffee and chocolate was shaved table side for the final presentation. A single shallot roasted in the coffee sauce added a nice note of sweetness and balance for the foie. Honestly again, partly due to accents and language barriers, I cannot remember what the foam was. I want to say pistachio again, but I have no faith in that memory. Suffice it to say I was in heaven.
Now for the entrées. First above is my suckling pig with boletus (mushrooms). This was melt-in-your-mouth pig with cracklin' to make your you cry tears of joy. This was not your supper market pork known for its flavorless profile and chewy texture. The closest I can describe is heritage pork, the likes of which I have only had at Eno's in Atlanta when Chef Eli Kirschstein of Top Chef fame was there. The pork has flavor bursting from it. This roast pig was accompanied by mushrooms in several forms, most inventively as frozen mushroom dust that was the most fungal experience I would ever choose to have.
This was Brenden's deer with salsifis and coffee. It was a work of art. The loin of venison was cooked to just past red and warm in the middle. (Spaniards prefer their meat very rare, so this was a special request.) The coffee was in the sauce, while the salsifis was root vegetables from India, but they tasted like rutabaga or turnips. The surprise on the dish was mango gelato whose sweetness was a marvelous accent to the gaminess of the venison. Yes, Brenden the world's pickiest eater finished it all.
Tori opted for the most innovative and experimental combination of flavors, lamb with licorice and curry. This tiny crown roast of lamb packed a ton of flavor. The sauce was licorice flavor, star anise I assume, and the dab of yellow foam was the very essence of Indian curry.
A mojito flavored slush was another amuse bouche from the kitchen that was a perfect palate cleanser to help prepare us for the three fabulous desserts that were to follow.
This was my roasted pear with blue cheese. A traditional combination, the menu never mentioned that the blue cheese was in gelato form. It was overwhelmingly wonderful.
This was Brenden's chocolate molten cake with more mango gelato.
If I remember correctly, this was Tori's strawberries with rhubarb gelato. She could not get enough.