Started working on hotels, and made a small change to the itinerary. We will pick up a rental car at Madrid airport and visit Leon, Burgos, Santiago de Compostela, Salamanca, Cadiz, Malaga, and Granada before returning from Madrid. I have chosen the following hotels, based on Tripadvisor reviews, and am confident these are great choices, and great bargains (average of $67 per night):
Leon – La Posada Regia
Santiago de Compostela – Hotel Avenida
Salamanca – Condal
Cadiz – Las Cortes de Cadiz
Granada – Plaza Nueva
Madrid – Vita Ingles
We’ve been to Malaga, Granada and Madrid before, but the rest of the cities, particularly in the Northwest, will be new to us.
Now to start working on restaurant plans!
When we have a yen for Szechuan food, we go to Legend, which is in our neighborhood and is quite good. I’ve been reading all the praise for Szechuan Gourmet for quite some time, and finally decided to give it a try. Judging by the dishes we had, the food here beats Legend, though service and ambience are a notch below. The decor is pretty basic. We started with dan dan noodles and pork wontons in red sesame oil, both excellent. The main courses really stood out. Lamb with cumin, which was dry and overdone when we had it at Legend, was tender, moist and well-spiced here. The Chengdu prawns, with asparagus, garlic, and pickled peppers, were plump and delicious. Legend will still be our local fallback, but SG is our new favorite.
Revisited The Gander last night. We had been there last month for a friends and family preview dinner and were favorably impressed. This is the new venture of Jesse Schenker, chef-owner of Recette in the West Village, which has been a favorite of ours for several years.
The Gander is a large, comfortable space, the staff is very conscientious, and the food is quite good. We were seated in the corner table as you enter the main dining room, seen directly above in the picture.
We started with the buffalo sweetbreads, a dish that is also served at Recette, and it was wonderful. We are great fans of sweetbreads, and this is a preparation we will definitely want to copy, even as a summer dish. We also shared the calamari salad, which was nice except the calamari spent just a bit too much time in the fryer. Next we were given an extra dish, spaghetti with clams, and though the clams could have been just a little less cooked, this was an exceptionally tasty dish with great flavor combinations. For mains we had the pork chop and the suckling pig. When they arrived, however, the halibut was offered instead of the pork chop. We pointed this out, and they very quickly produced a perfectly done pork chop, but the abject apologies were such that, had Francois Vatel been in the kitchen, he certainly would not have been long for this world! Despite being very filled, we could not resist sharing a chocolate custard for dessert, and it was just right, rich-tasting but very light.
The wine list is generally pricey but I found a great 2011 Minervois for $40. I always appreciate when the lower end of the list is well-chosen. On our first visit, for the preview before opening, there were obviously a great many oenophiles present, which we deduced from strategic eavesdropping. The wine cellar here is a point of pride, but is wisely stocked to be accessible at different price levels.
Thursday night we had dinner with our friend Dean, who had not been to Andanada before, so we thought it would be a nice experience for him. We’ve been a number of times, and always have a great meal. This time was no exception. We had a short wait for our table, and were given a round of drinks on the house. I had a cucumber mojo, which was delicious and refreshing. There is a huge selection of tapas, which can be appetizers or ordered in multiples in place of main courses. They are of generous size so are suitable for sharing. We started with scallop tartar, razor clams, and scorpion fish flan with eggplant caviar. The flan preparation (a pate really) was different from when I’ve had it before, and unfortunately a bit one-dimensional, good but not wonderful. For main courses, Stanley and I had paella with chicken, rabbit, pork belly and chorizo, and Dean had red snapper with saffron and fennel. We shared a dessert of chocolate mousse with citrus ice cream that was very delicious. A bottle of La Casilla 2008 was very good value.
There are a huge number of restaurants on the Upper West Side, but few are outstanding. Andanada is a gem.
We hadn’t been to Spina in several months, so decided to go last night and had a very enjoyable meal. Started with meatballs and a beet salad, then chestnut pappardelle with duck confit and goat cheese gnocchi with wild mushrooms and a truffle-flavored cream sauce. All pastas are made in-house, and while there is a limited selection of other main courses, pasta is really what they specialize in. They have a nice selection of beers on tap, our favorite being Breckenridge vanilla porter. A lovely dinner, reasonably priced, in a nice setting with excellent service.
Thursday night we had dinner at Kin Shop, chef/owner Harold Dieterle’s take on Thai food, and a long-time favorite of ours. As always, the food was delicious. There were several interesting specials, including steamed clams with sour sausage and grilled octopus, which we had for appetizers. They were really well spiced and perfectly cooked. For the main course, we had the goat massaman curry and a khao soi of guinea hen, along with a side of sticky rice. The khao soi was a very welcome addition to the regular menu. It is done in the Northern Thai style, with fried noodles and a coconut curry sauce.
They did not have Beer Lao, which is what we like best with Thai food, so we tried Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale, which was quite good. The sourness offset the spiciness of the food very nicely.
Last night we attended the 127th Annual Dinner of The Church Club of New York, a venerable lay organization in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. My partner Stanley is finishing up his third year as President. The dinner was held at The Yale Club, and the honored guest and speaker was the Very Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral.
The cocktail hour afforded an opportunity to schmooze with many friends, acquaintances and Episcopal luminaries. Even in church circles, Manhattan real estate is an unavoidable topic, and everyone was bombarding me with questions. We were seated at the head table with Dean Willis, the Rt. Rev. Andrew Dietsche, Bishop of New York, and his wife Margaret, and the soon-to-be consecrated Suffragan Bishop of New York, the Rev. Allen Shinn. We also had our neighbor from the Country, Mary Kate Wold, who runs the Church Pension Fund, and Jean Savage, one of the Chairs of the dinner committee. I always enjoy the food at The Yale Club. Dinner choices were mustard-rubbed rack of lamb or branzino. I had the lamb, which was excellent, and the branzino looked very appealing. The appetizer was a “BLT salad,” basically a BLT without the bread, which was a clever and very tasty idea that worked. Desserts were an assortment of tartlets, which was also a smart idea, as you could have as much or as little as you wanted. After the talk and formalities concluded, post prandial glasses of port were passed around, and people gathered in little groups to share parting thoughts and glances. A jolly time was had by all.
We spent a long weekend in The Pines, opening our beach house for the season. The new roof (courtesy of “Sandy”) guaranteed that the house remained dry and free of the sort of pressure leaks that happen when snow accumulates on an aging flat roof. In keeping with an ancient and honorable custom, all the workmen showed up on Opening Day to do the chores they had been promising to do for the last six months. There is a “Downton Abbey” side to The Pines, and we are plainly at the mercy of the ghillies that run the place! Here is our house, in prime season a few years ago:
We also have a rental property, which thankfully is fully rented for this season and which opened officially last weekend. There is also a “Mapp and Lucia” aspect to The Pines, and we are very thankful that the rental market here seems to be quite strong this year, a big improvement over last year when the remnants of storm damage made some potential renters hesitant to commit. I spent hours assembling a new gas grill for the rental house and brought them a new Cuisinart, as I am very conscious of the need to keep my tenants happy and keep the house in perfect condition. Being a member of the landed gentry carries with it certain duties and obligations.
Meanwhile, at our place, I’ve been cleaning and preparing the deck planters for the exuberant flora that will arrive in two weeks. Our deck is a fully enclosed compound, so the exuberant fauna (a.k.a deer) cannot munch on the exuberant flora. With all this I still managed to get in a few hours of sunbathing and cook some delicious meals; it’s too early in the Season for one of my famous candlelight suppers. Today has been absolutely beautiful and warm, with bright blue skies and full sunshine.
We are also adding to our collection of paintings by a noted Brazilian artist who haunts the Hippie Market in Rio. Walter Lima is a deaf artist who paints genre scenes of Brazilian life. Our latest acquisition, snagged by my good friend Rick on his recent visit to Rio, is a street scene from Bahia:
I mounted it on a stretcher and have ordered the frame. We also began to hang some charming prints and watercolors we got from the estate of a very dear friend who used to be our next-door neighbor here. During breaks in all our chores we took in episodes of – what else – “House Hunters.” We only have The Television here on the Island, so summer is when we begin to catch up on all the things everyone else is sick and tired of watching. Next: new episodes of American Nose Pickers. What a treat!
Went to the NoMad this past Thursday, our second time there. We had such a spectacular dinner the first time that perhaps my expectations were too high. This time the food was good but not as exciting. The wonderful chicken liver mousse is not on the menu now. I started with a marinated hamachi appetizer with beets, which was good but didn’t wow me. The halibut was also fine, with fava beans, which I love, but this was something I could do at home. The gnocchi and roast beef that Stanley had were really great. I wish I had ordered those dishes. We shared an orange dessert that was good but I can’t even describe it in detail so I guess it was not very memorable. Overall a very nice meal, but awfully pricey for what it is. I could be wrong but it seemed like the prices were higher than a couple of months ago.
My partner, Stanley, is the Secretary of the Council for Canadian-American Relations, so last night we attended the 40th anniversary gala at the Metropolitan Club honoring Jacqueline Desmarais and Frank Gehry. CCAR is an organization whose purpose is to foster and encourage awareness, understanding and appreciation between the peoples of Canada and the United States through the arts.
The Metropolitan Club is a magnificent building. Food was good but not exceptional. We were seated with a Scottish couple who had recently moved to New York and are renting an apartment in Central Harlem, which they have humorously dubbed Scottish Harlem. They are quite excited about their neighborhood, its restaurants, convenient transportation, and wonderful views from their glass walls. It was interesting to hear this confirmation of Harlem’s recent popularity. I also spoke with several people from Toronto and Ottawa, including a major real estate broker, who were surprised to hear about the extremely low inventory of property for sale in Manhattan. We had a fun evening with many fascinating people.
More photos at Patrick McMullan.com: