Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cruise to Europe

I'm back from the Mediterranean and before I get back into blogging for the benefit of Vegas diners I'd like to share some of the wonderful foods I ate on the trip.

We started the cruise in Athens, where I had a spanakopita that trumped all others. It had layer upon layer of flaky filo and the filling was made from fresh spinach and authentic feta. (O Platanos Taverna at 4 Diogenes)

Jacque Pepin was responsible for creating the dining experience on our ship, the MS Nautica. Not all the food was amazing, but this perfectly executed consomme was a highlight. It is incredibly difficult to give a broth so much flavor while maintaining its clarity. I also loved the added crunch from the julienne of leeks and carrots, and preferred these to the unneccesary chicken quenelles.

After Greece and Turkey we headed to Italy, a country I had the pleasure of living in and eating throughout during my junior year of college. In Portofino we enjoyed a fantastic sea urchin pasta at Il Guarancino, an open air restuarant on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Though my Italian was rustier than I had hoped, I was still able to communicate enough to land us at the best restaurant of the trip. This was in Livorno, a port town not on the agenda of most tourists. This second meal overlooking the sea was absolutely amazing, which was no surprise since we were the only non-Italians there and every table was full within fifteen minutes of their opening time. We had a tender octopus salad that reminded me exactly of one I had the home of my Italian roommate, which was followed by a baby gnocchi pasta with mussels in a pesto cream sauce. I had to restrain myself from consuming the entirety of the latter to save room for the mixed grill of langostines, squid, and shrimp that perfectly highlighted the inherent flavors of the impossibly fresh seafood. I will go out of my way completely to eat at this restaurant again. L'Ostricaio is unforgettable.

In Livorno we also went to a market where we had a snack of parma prociutto, baguette, and REAL pesto. I loved watching Ian discover why creamy pesto from the Ligurian sea is better than any other. It is said that the breeze that comes in from the sea and the terroir of the land make the basil incomparable to any other. Sadly after consuming it you can't truly enjoy pesto elsewhere.

Though the best pesto and pasta come from Italy, the best desserts come from France. These stewed figs with caramel ice cream at Chez Feraud in Aix in Provence were to die for.

Last stop - Barcelona. This particular plate of pata negra ham had us swooning. It was twice as good and half the price of the plate offered at Juian Serrano in Aria. (Can Majo in Barcelonetta)

The most unique thing we had on the trip was a plate of sea barnacles, which look like mini dragon claws. These are the sexiest things you can pull off a shipwreck, and you pay for the experience. You rip the 'fingers' open to pull out the meat, and then crack the little 'nail' like a crab claw to enjoy the tender part you see my dad holding up. (Botafumeiro on Gran de Gracia)

We couldn't leave Spain without paella, and this version (at the same restaurant we had the barnacles) was exceptional. It had the important crusty layer at the bottom of the pan, the ingredients were of excellent quality, the flavor was rich, and the texture was creamy.

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