Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 8

April 8, 2011
Leaving the country side, and saying good bye to this Hotel is not easy. We are sad to leave. We enjoyed one last amazing breakfast and view.

Today we are heading back to the city of Bilbao, with a small detour to a mountain town called Axpe, Spain. For lunch we are going to Etxebarri. The grill master. Finding this place was no easy task. This was the first and only time we got lost the whole trip. The restaurant is tucked back in a mountain town, so small it seems even the locals don’t know it exists.

Ryan absolutely LOVED this place! He ordered the tasting menu, and fortunately I didn’t have to they split some dishes so I could sample too. I watched him indulge in course after course of grilled deliciousness. We ate fresh, grilled sardines, bone in beef, octopus, homemade goat milk butter on grilled bread, whole prawns, cod, sea cucumber, house made chorizo on polenta. Every dish had a perfect combination of char, oil and salt with a subtle, spot on accompaniment.

The bone-in beef is the highlight here and was sweet and charred on the outside and decadent on the inside. It was almost like a desert. The actual desert was cheese ice cream with a fresh berry sauce, flawless. Ryan felt this was the most impressive meal we had. I had a huge filet that was grilled on an open flame and sampled many of Ryan’s dishes.

After our meal we continued on, to make it to the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Disappointingly, a good majority of the exhibits were closed for new installs. The grounds and the building itself were worth every penny. Our hotel Gran Hotel Domine was a rock throw away from the museum. It made it really convenient for the short time we were there to take in as much of the museum as we could. Some of the installations were very impressive. The permanent exhibits complimented the architecture and abundance of modern designs.

When we checked into our hotel for the evening the bell man taking us to our room, asked if “we like football?” “Yeah, we like football” He let us in on a little secret that the Real Madrid soccer team was staying at our hotel and will be arriving shortly. The anticipation of the most famous soccer team arrival had everyone excited. The hotel closed down the lobby and had everything roped off. Police and security lined the streets and all the entrances to the hotel. Since we were staying at the hotel we and a few others were the only ones in the lobby. It was so fun to join in the fans cheering on the team when they arrived.

Day 7

April 7, 2011
Morning, we had the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast was an impressive spread of fruit, Iberian cold cuts, pastries, variety of cheeses, fresh squeezed orange juice to drink, and local bread. This wasn’t your Holiday Inn continental breakfast by any stretch of the imagination.

Long before our hotel existed it was one of the oldest wineries in Spain. The family winery still exist, underneath the hotel lies the catacombs of the original wine collections.

These are priceless 100 year old wines. Included in this collection, the very first vintage bottle ever produced. The winery tour, part of the Marques De Riscal experience, is not to be missed.

The next town over is the small town of Laguardia, Spain. Laguardia is a small sleepy fortress town that you can walk from one end to other in ten minutes. The town is completely surrounded by a big wall and built on top of a hill with moldy catacombs used for wine underneath.

When we got there everything was shut down for their afternoon siesta, “when in Rome.”

On the out skirts of town along the foothills, lies Bodegas Ysios designed by architect Santiago Calatrava. The project was completed in 2000 and was named after the Egyptian goddess of magic, who oversaw the conversion of grapes into wine. The building mimicked the landscape in the background.

For dinner that night we ate at Posada Mayor de Migueloa. It was so delicious; it tasted like what I imagined as a home cooked meal in a Spanish household. The flavors were so refreshing from all the heavy buttery dishes we have had.

I didn’t take any photos of our food, picture via this blog.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 6

April 6, 2011
On the move again. It is our last day in San Sebastian and then we are on the road to the country side, but not before our lunch reservation at Restaurante Akelaŕe. We had a few hours to "waste" before lunch and took advantage of some sites.

We made our way up a windy road to the restaurant. The views were incredible. The restaurant sits high on a cliff side with expansive ocean views below.

We began yet another feast. I am still full from the previous day! There was no way I could sit through another 10+ courses. So I begged Ryan if we could order À la carte (usually for the courses the whole table has to order the tasting menu.) He agreed. First the chef sent out an Amuse-bouche. This was an interesting take on your daily regiment, let me explain.

Most everything on this plate is edible, everything down to the plastic bag. The sponge was a buttery cracker that you pump out tomato basil spread. The jar of cream is actually a cheese sauce that you eat with the bag of bread crumbs, and lastly the mouth wash, was juice. Interesting. We ordered an appetizer of Iberian ham with flat bread.

For my main course I ordered steak. I have favorites spread out all over this trip, favorite overall restaurant, favorite specific dish, and this was the BEST dish of the trip!

This buttery steak was wrapped in a crispy potato soaking in brown gravy with lentils purée. The yellow sponge is butter that quickly melted into the sauce. So incredibly delicious. Ryan ordered roasted baby pig with tomato “Bolao” and Iberian emulsion.

For dessert we ordered an apple tart and chocolate box with banana ice cream.

Artisan Chocolates

After our meal was complete the Chef, Pedro Sublijana, made his way through the restaurant and introduced himself to each table.

When we were finished with lunch we hit the road to the Rioja region. We arrived at our Hotel, Hotel Marques de Riscal, in the small town of Elciego.

The hotel is designed by one of our favorite architects, Frank Gehry. [remember the wiggle chair I got to sit in] Our room.

We explored the hotel for the remainder of the evening. This is easily the best hotel experience we have ever had. The architecture, service and room are impeccable. The weather has also remained perfect thus far so we had a very nice time enjoying the ambiance and luxury on the patio of the hotel. There is a great blend of new architecture with the contrasting cityscape of old gothic and stone of Elciego.