Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hygge Time!

The Scandinavian have a term for what they consider to be cozy, relaxing, natural, or chill; hygge (pronounced hoo- gah). It's become quite the trend lately to use this word when describing coffee shops, galleries, even hair color as Forest pointed out to me, but when you are in the atmosphere of hygge you just know it, just feel it. And this city wraps you up in it like a Danish design cashmere blanket! I experienced lots of hygge time.

Before we went for lunch at Noma (that will be a separate post) we headed to the fantastic Torvehallerne.  I was already smitten but for my girlfriends this was their first time. Coffee from the Coffee Collective, pastries from Laura's, and tacos from Hija de Sanchez made for a very good breakfast!

Properly fueled we split up with Forest, Kate and I grabbing the metro to Christiania. This hippy commune is known for being a "free state" and also for selling hash. We were only there to ogle. i'm sure smoking some hash is very hygge to many! Photos aren't allowed because of the drug sales, and we really didn't find it too interesting, but it was on the way to Noma (what a juxtaposition these two locations are!) so when in Rome...

After our incredible lunch at Noma, Kate, Forest and I decided to walk around the Nyvan area a bit. Nyvan is so charming with its Hanseatic buildings lining the waterfront, and the boats traveling in and out of the canals. It's got its fair share of tourists as well, but seeing as CPH is dramatically smaller in size than other European capitals the tourists are number-appropriate. Hygge.

We headed back to the apartment for much-needed post long, long, lunch naps before rallying and grabbing an Uber to Ruby. This cocktail bar is perhaps the most talked about in Copenhagen. We entered the door flanked by lit candles, signifying the business being open -hygge- and were shown to a large booth in the main room. This space is decorated beautifully with pretty mirrors, antique furniture, marble floors, etc.

The menu of cocktails was playful and interesting. They were also expensive as most things in Denmark are.

Next up was Strom, which wasn't as fancy or as expensive. But the service and the drinks were still great. Strom is a bit more casual and not so "scene & be seen". Really good cocktails at both of our stops. We were all a bit worn out from our big (eating) day so we headed home for pajama-nightcaps.

On Sunday Forest & I decided to rent bikes and cycle along the canal to meet the girls for lunch. Biking in Copenhagen is a must-do, the bike lanes are completely separate from the street on the majority and you can rent a bike with a swipe of your debit card at kiosks all over the city. Bike helmets are not required nor commonplace.

I felt very local peddling along, even if it was just for about 20 minutes. We dropped the bikes at a kiosk just a block from the restaurant Ol Brod.

Being a tad early for our reservation we grabbed a picnic table outside on the sidewalk and enjoyed a nice glass of wine in the beautiful sunshine. When Kate, Caitlin, and Sarah arrived and we moved inside the adorable restaurant for our lunch.

The selection of modern smorrebrod here is fantastic and we all loved our food. Unfortunately our service was so bad it bordered on comical. Forgetting orders, disappearing, bringing the wrong things. They are also known for their selection of schnapps and our waiter never offered to help us choose any. Definitely not hygge. But I have to believe that this was the exception and not the rule as so many of my friends had recommended it. I'd go back and give this potential charmer another chance.

After lunch Forest, Caitlin, and I walked to the train station and headed 30 minutes outside of CPH to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It's a super easy trip and once off the train just about a 20-minute walk to the museum.

We started by wandering around the grounds as the sun was out and it was beautiful. This is a fantastic place to bring a picnic and relax on the massive lawn overlooking the Baltic Sea. Hygge.

Then we started exploring the collection wing by wing. We were all absolutely charmed by this museum with its interesting and not so-common works of art (to me anyway).

We finished up by exploring the backyard grounds around a delightful pond. Art and nature. Denmark you have it going on.

When we arrived back in the city we made a little pit stop for some glasses of cava served to us by handsome Nordic men at a bar in the Torvehallerne. As you do.

That evening we said goodbye to Sarah as she was headed back to London. Now down to four we headed to The Barking Dog bar. The bar adopts a theme every few months and we had hit the jackpot with it being Tiki time! Decorations were hung, the menu was loaded with classic tiki concoctions, and they were served in awesome tiki mugs. We even had a pupu platter of sorts.

Great drinks and even better service, the staff here are super fun and it is a bar I'd absolutely drag you to if we were in town together!

Cocktail stop number two was at the well -known Lidkoeb. The space here is so beautiful and definitely hygge. Candles, brick walls, high ceilings, leather club chairs. The drinks were good but not overly impressive. That's ok, sometimes you go for the atmosphere.

Sadly upon leaving we found out the hard way that most restaurants in Copenhagen are closed on Sunday nights. We hadn't planned for that and were kind of out of options. We raided the 7-11 across from Lidkoeb and took our crap frozen pizzas home to bake while we made a few nightcaps. Noma seemed like such a long time ago!

All Copenhagen photos here.
Other posts from this trip:
Danish Days
An American in Bornholm
Dinner in the Middle of the Baltic Sea

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Danish Days

July of 2016: I was heading to Copenhagen to meet my Europe girlfriends for some fun. I had been wanting to visit this city for years, I was so excited!

I flew from Seattle via Paris, a few hour layover gave me time to do some relaxing duty-free shopping. Once I arrived in Copenhagen I took the train from the airport to the Central Station which took all of 15 mins and cost about $6. From the station I had a 10-minute walk to the Hotel Alexandra.

I was arriving a full day before my friends to shake off the jet lag, since they would all be only 1 hour ahead of their normal time zone. I had picked this absolutely adorable hotel, completely furnished with Danish design, for immediate immersion. My room was a small single, but it was lovely. And I don't know if it was my jet lag or the linens, but as I grabbed a nap I thought it was one of the most comfortable beds I have slept in!

On my first evening I called an Uber (the hotel concierge told me they were illegal at the time as the city's cab companies were fighting them but they were still available) and had him take me to the water bus stop on one of the harbor canals. It was a very interesting Uber ride as he was deaf and I didn't have the exact location mapped. We finally arrived and I saw that the water bus only came once an hour. And it had just come. It was next to the very cool Royal Library though so I counted this as my first sightseeing.

Since my plans for the night involved hopefully snagging one of the non-reserve seats at Amass, I didn't feel like I could wait an hour. So I called another Uber and $15 later I arrived at this strange industrial space in the middle of a field.

I made my way downstairs to the dining room was very happy to be told there was a seat at the window table, a counter with a few VERY high chairs which looked out onto the field. On this evening there was a hippy yoga exhibit going on, with the participants camping out and having a communal dinner. It felt a bit weird to be having such a beautiful 7-course meal with wine pairings while yogis were outside washing their Tupperware out with a garden hose!

This was one of my favorite meals of the trip and I would tell anyone going to Copenhagen to book a table here. Chef Matt Orlando worked at Per Se and has brought a very unique style to Denmark. The dishes were incredible, and beautiful, and were mainly vegetables with only one fish course and one pork course. Each was paired with a natural wine, it's quite the rage all over the city, and a few of the wines were misses in my opinion. But the dishes were all hits!

Midway through my meal, right before sunset, the waiter invited me to take a walk out in their gardens. Lovely raised beds full of vegetables, with views of the canals, and picnic tables for outside lunches. The evening was just beautiful!

Back inside each dish was delivered by the chef who had worked on it (a very Scandinavian style of service) and when Chef Matt Orlando came out with his he was super friendly and talkative when I told him I was from Seattle as his friend Chef Edouardo Jordan owns Salare here. I'll also take this moment to mention how good looking he is!

As my meal wrapped up I was offered a digestif and chose a local whiskey. I had noticed a couple of fire pits outside in the garden and saw they were being lit, the waiter invited me to enjoy my drink outside (something that would happen in Bornholm as well). I was a damn happy girl sitting next to a bonfire on my first night in Copenhagen, after an amazing meal, and excited to see my girlfriends the next day.

I took another Uber back to my hotel and found they had an honor bar cart set up with an assortment of liquors and also some wines. I took a glass of wine to my room and got hygge.

The next morning was nice and sunny as I walked to Torvehallerne, the large central market. Although there are farmer's stalls here, the market is mainly a collection of delicious food kiosks, coffee shops, and specialty shops. I chose to have coffee and porridge (both of which the Danish are very serious about) at Grod. I grew up thinking porridge was bland and boring; I can assure you that mine with fresh strawberries, skyr, and caramel was anything but.

I went wandering around town, through the Kongens Have (Rosenborg Castle Gardens), and around the central area. One thing that is obvious immediately is that everyone rides their bikes here. I've been to Amsterdam multiple times, and I know that is a primary mode of transport as well, but here it is calm and organized. Even the mailman was on bike!

Caitlin was the first of the girls to land so we met back at my hotel and the two of us went to Schonnemann for very traditional lunch of smørrebrod. This popular spot has been opened since 1877 and serves only lunch, twice a day (11:30-2pm & 2:15-5pm). We got very lucky with the last available table during the first service and had an awesome meal of open-faced sandwiches and schnapps. They are very proud of their 140+ bottles and will happily make recommendations to you. Go here, but make a reservation. We witnessed many people being turned away.

Kate and Forest arrived next and we met them at our Airbnb which was located right on one of the canals and not far from the market. I'd traveled with all of these ladies but this was the first time we were all traveling together! We went out for a walk around town before getting cleaned up, calling an Uber, and heading out to dinner at Relae.

As we arrived a bit early we grabbed some wine across the street at Manfreds, which is under the same ownership. We weren't super happy with our wine but it was a natural one which none of us are big fans of.

When we sat at Relae we were all super charmed by the space. It's much more casual than most Michelin restaurants, but about the same as the Danish places I'd continue to experience. The tables were custom built with drawers at each diner's seat, holding an array of silverware that we would provide for ourselves throughout the meal.

We had a great time and a great meal. Many hail Relae as their favorite restaurant in CPH, for me it was very good but Amass still gets my vote.

We headed back to our canal and had many rounds of nightcaps while catching up, as girls do.

The next day was our big day, lunch at Norma, the entire reason for the trip!

All Copenhagen photos here.

Monday, March 6, 2017

On the Move in Galicia

Northern Spain Trip Day 3

In the morning we checked out of Casa Rosita and drove to Santiago de Compostela, the end of the Camino de Santiago -a pilgrimage across Northern Spain that hundreds of thousands take yearly. There are different trails that people choose, walking for 20 to 30 days generally, bearing the symbol of the scallop shell on their way to the cathedral. For the next few days we'd be driving along the same route, you just can't drink all this wine and walk that much!

The square and the cathedral here are absolutely gorgeous! We spent quite a bit of time on our own checking out the massive church, also the reported burial site of Saint James the Great. Built in 1211, the church is additionally known for having the largest "Botafumeiro" in the world. Some say this was to clear the air of the body odors of all those pilgrims. Inside and out, this cathedral is filled with amazing sculpture, paintings, architecture, you name it. It's a do-not-miss for sure.

We walked through the square and made our way back to the van, continuing to the Abastos market in the main area of Santiago.

It was a brilliant sunny fall day and the market on this Saturday was absolutely bustling. We checked out the stalls of meat, fish, and produce, and spotted some singers dressed up in medieval costumes making merry before being set up with stools and a table in the middle of the market for a tapas lunch served to us by the chef Iago Pazos from Abastos 2.0.

We drank lots of Godello and had the absolute best pulpo (octopus) I have ever had. Plus it was very amusing to watch the market goers trying to figure out why we were having this very lovely and private lunch.

It was time to move on as we had an hour drive to our next stop, Ribadavia, a very sweet little town with an interesting old Jewish Quarter. It felt good to walk around the town and take in the scenery before continuing our journey to the Miño River in the Ribeira Sacra wine region.

This is where the white Godello and the red Mencia grapes are grown. At the river we were met by Luisa Rubines and ushered onto her zodiac before being jetted up the river.  From the water we could see how the vineyards here were planted and harvested on the incredibly steep slopes. These wines were a labor of love for sure! We also saw a burro having a little snack of grapes while checking us out. John told me that burros use to be used to transport the grape harvest and now they just roam.

Luisa also happens to own a bodega on the shores which she invited us to; we unloaded a selection of picnic provisions Gerry had acquired at the market. Wines were opened and we had a delicious and very fun picnic of local cheese, sausages, tomatoes, & bread while drinking the local Mencia and basking in the setting sun and stunning vistas. The colors of the vineyards turning in the Autumn weather were ridiculously stunning. This place is truly magical, if you ever get a chance, don't pass it up and be sure to book a river trip with Luisa!

It was dark when we returned to the boat launch and we still had a short drive to our home for the next two nights, the Parador of Montforte de Lemos; perched on top of the hill looking down on the town. Judy and I loved our big stone room with it's sweeping views. The parador was a convent in the past and had that very castle-like feeling that many of these Spanish paradors do.

That night we had dinner at Manuel, just down the road in town. The ambiance was a bit soulless, and the food was just ok, but the table-side gintonics served in "fishbowls" were awesome!

The next morning we boarded our comfy van and took a day trip in the region La Ribeira Sacra. Our first stop was the wonderful walled town of Lugo where we were able to walk the entire circumference of the old town on top of the ancient Roman walls. My friends know I love a good walk and ancient shit so it was obvious that I loved this!

It was quickly approaching wine-thirty so Antonio drove us into the surrounding hills of the Ribeira Sacra to winemaker Roberto Regal's co-op for a private tour of the facilities as well as some barrel tastes. From here we were driven to the most quaint stone agrotourism, Casa Romualdo. There we enjoyed a long lunch with some of the winemakers from the area, courses and courses of traditional Spanish cuisine made with a bit of a modern touch, and of course wine- lots and lots of wine!

We had so much fun even though only a few of us in the group spoke Spanish and the winemakers spoke very little English. It was a case of knowing that everyone was happy, interested, and enjoying the meal and the company.

The meal finished in a separate room with a fire, local brandy, and live music. All this and here it was just past lunch time!

On the way home we made a pit stop at a look-out to take in the absolutely amazing views of the Sil River Canyon. These vineyards are so steep that there are rails in place so loaded boxes of grapes can be slid down to the river for transport. The leaves on the terraced vineyards were turning blazing colors of yellow and red; it was incredibly beautiful and a really nice finish to our afternoon.

Once back at our Parador, rested and cleaned up, I had a little "me" time with a gintonic at the bar, which was quite a cute & cozy space. We then walked the short way down hill to the restaurant O'Grelo where we were joined by the winemakers again for dinner. Most of the food was just ok but we had a "deconstructed stew" which was really tasty! And of course there was wine :)

In the morning we checked out of the lovely Parador of Montforte de Lemos. This was such a great place to stay, I'd highly recommend it if you are in the area!

We were on our way to Corgomo for a wine tasting at the beautiful winery and vineyards d'Berna. The husband and wife duo treated us to artisan chorizo and cheese while we tasted through their line up of Godello and Mencia before some of us took a stroll through the vineyards, again gorgeous with fall colors.

We were just down the road a bit from the town of O Barco and its very well known Pulperia el Dorado so of course we stopped in for a few platters of the incredible octopus. The woman's sons who help run it were super friendly in serving us and telling us about their mom's history with the restaurant. This family also has their own wine label so of course we tasted through that as well!

Our van hit the road again. I was happy to have someone else driving as it was so relaxing to listen to podcasts while gazing out the window at the beautiful hilly scenery. And of course I wouldn't have had a chance to taste all this delicious grape juice!

As we arrived in Cacabelos, we saw a few pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, both in small groups and alone. Wow, we'd been driving for two days and these folks were heading to where we had come from. Amazing.

We stopped, as many travelers do, at Moncloa de San Lazaro. Part hotel, part gift shop, part bar, part restaurant. After a bit of shopping where I picked up some delicious cured beef and local jams, we headed to the bar and had some absolutely fantastic red vermouth. The Spanish vermouth was served on the rocks with a dried orange wheel and was so delicious I bought a bottle to take home. Sadly it is long gone but I'm on a quest to find distribution in the states.

We moved from the bar to Bierzo restaurant for a very fun lunch, great shared dishes and, you guessed it, lots of wine! Gonzalo Amigo, one of the owners of Madai winery in Bierzo, joined us with more than a few bottles of his Godello and Mencia. After all that it was back to the van!

It was dark when we quietly passed through the Picos de Europa on our way east, so there were no views. I was a bit disappointed about this as I had been on an amazing drive through these mountains years ago and I know they are stunning. I had my memories of that, but if in the area you should plan a drive of your own.

And with that we bid adios to Galicia and entered Asturias. This was an area I had known next to nothing about five days prior and now I had seen and tasted a lot of it. I came away with a deeper appreciation of the tradespeople who produce such amazing food and wine, as well as a love of the natural and manmade beauty of the region. I'd happily go back to Galicia!

All photos of Galicia here.
Other posts in this trip:
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour
Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia

Northern Spain Trip Day 2, October 2015:

After a good night's sleep we started day 2 with a simple breakfast in the hotel; yogurt, churros and coffee con leche for me. We then drove to Cambados, skipping the town center and making our way to the shore.  It's obvious that seafood is the main industry here, the shoreline scattered with boats while many of the houses are sided with local scallop shells. It was a gorgeous morning to explore the area and we seemed to be the only ones out and about at 9:30am.

Soon the sleepy town was awake with mostly ladies it seemed, heading out onto the low tide flats to collect shellfish. There were a few men here and there but this is obviously women's work in this part of Galicia.

They seemed amused that we were so interested; this tiny town doesn't see a lot of tourists I could tell. It was such a unique experience to watch them with their wheeled carts & buckets, long tined rakes, and knee high rubber boots, digging up the assorted bivalves.

Back in the van, we made a quick stop to the winery Adega Cabaleiro do Val to pick up winemaker Francisco “Paco” Dovalo and some wine (I think we surprised Gerry by being such enthusiastic tasters the day before!) and then continuing with the shellfish theme we drove to O Grove. This peninsula faces the cold Atlantic and is in the heart of the Rías Baixas.  We boarded a boat which took us out to the shellfish rafts where farmers grow mussels, clams, and scallops. We were shown how they harvest the shellfish and then we were served huge platters of steamed mussels fresh from the sea. Alongside Albariño of course; the minerally flavors of the wine and the mussels a perfect compliment!

Gerry showed us how to hold a shucked mussel in the shell up for the seagulls to take. Judy had a great time having them swoop down to her outreached arm and pluck them from the shell. It was a super fun morning.

Happy with our snack it was time for a proper lunch and we had reservations at d'Berto back in town. We were seated in the banquet area and were presented with an amazing array of seafood, many items I had never had before such as baby black scallops! It was an incredible lunch served with more of Gerry's wines.

There was another group in the banquet room as well, a men's gastronomy club each outfitted with their own personalized bib. They were also having an incredible lunch and a pretty raucous good time! For whatever reason, one of the men decided he was very taken with me and declared his interest by writing me a sweet note and his phone number on his bib. I was flattered and more than a bit embarrassed!

We drove back to Cambados and caught the very tail end of the fish market. Next up, a visit to the beautiful Palacio de Fefinanes for a wine tasting. Because it was 5pm and we clearly had not had enough wine yet! Throughout this region the vineyards trellis the vines on granite posts, something I've never seen anywhere else in the world.

That evening we met up with six of the winemakers that Gerry was working with, back at the winery Adega Cabaleiro Do Val for a very casual, delicious, and boozy dinner. There was an insane amount of wine, empanadas (this is a Galician specialty which I came to absolutely love!), clams, Spanish tortillas, some truly incredible steaks (all food cooked by the winemakers), lots of singing, and the piece de la resistance, queimada- a pumpkin filled with a concoction of booze, lit on fire, while a spell was recited before we all drank it. Seemed fitting as this was Halloween eve!

Ooohlala, my head the next morning! But it was soooo fun and a truly unique experience! Additionally we had all gotten a preview of how much each day would have crammed (in a good way) in it.

All Galicia photos here.
Other posts from this trip:
Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Northern Spain Food & Wine Tour

Sometimes it takes me a really long time to write about one of my adventures, not because I don't have much to say about a place, but in fact the opposite. I've had so much to say about the amazing Northern Spain trip I took in the fall of 2015, I haven't known where to start. How time flies!

Judy, a friend who I met many years ago on eGullet.com told me about a 10-day tour of Northern Spain that another eGullet online friend John Sconzo was organizing with Gerry Dawes, a Spanish wine importer. The trip would start on the far west coast in Galicia and travel east to the Basque region before ending in Madrid. I absolutely loved the parts of Northern Spain I'd been to in the past and was eager to experience more of the food and wine of the area, so Judy and I decided to join and be roommates.

I flew from Seattle to Atlanta where I met Judy in the airport before we boarded our flight to Madrid. We got very lucky and had the center 3 seats with the middle one free so we got to spread out and get a little sleep on the way over. We landed as the sun was rising, went through customs, rechecked our bags and waited to meet John. We met another of our tour mates, Beth, at the gate and the four of us flew on to Vigo.

From here we were met at the airport by Gerry and our minivan driver Antonio who from that day forward was always there to load up our luggage and other souvenirs we would buy along the way. The van could sit at least 20 and there were just 9 of us so we had plenty of space to stretch out as we made our way across the country.

From Vigo we drove to our first destination of Pontevedra, a charming town with a wonderful fish market. We wandered the market, checking out foreign fish, meats, pig face skins (!), and cheeses before walking a short distance to the restaurant Eirado da Lenã for lunch.

I'm always taking pictures of my food and drink and asking a hundred questions to people in markets, restaurants, and shops about the local food, but now I was just one of a small group doing all this. It was great! I was in my element!

Gerry opened up a selection of Godellos and Albariños from the local Rias Baixas area and we enjoyed them with an absolutely delicious lunch. We would be drinking these wines throughout our trip to see how they matched with various food of the region. We'd also get a chance to meet some of the winemakers and drink with them.

After lunch we were full, tipsy, and more than a little tired with jet lag. We loaded in the bus and had a 30-minute ride to Cambados and the hotel Casa Rosita. Judy and I were very happy when we made our way to our big corner room and took a much needed siesta.

That night the other members of our tour, joined us; George, Anne, Robin, and Sheldon.  We had our first dinner together in the hotel as everyone was pretty tuckered from traveling. There was a fantastic spread of gambas (prawns), fresh fish, percebes (my first barnacles!), pulpo (octopus), seafood salad, clams, and of course the Albariños. Lots and lots of Albariños.

The trip was off to a great start and we were all looking forward to getting to know each other as well as learning about the cuisine and wine culture of this delicious region!

Much, much more to come!

Galicia photos here.
Next up: Shellfish & Grapes in Galicia