Pepe Hillo – Sevilla, Spain

If you find yourself wandering around the Arenal district of Sevilla, near the legendary Plaza de Toros, and are in need of refreshment, there’s only one place to go:  Pepe Hillo.  This traditional tapas tavern has a mid-twentieth century inspired-décor with tons of old bric-a-brac, newspapers, and – yep – mounted noggins of famous fighting bulls that make you feel like Joselito himself is going to tap you on the shoulder any minute.  This is the kind of establishment that Spain’s meteoric rise in the period immediately after joining the Eurozone, and its population’s rush to embrace a future whose glaringly bright promise never quite arrived, placed on the endangered list.  Old men are serving you and old men are sitting nearby nursing their late afternoon or lunch drinks, though quick with that wit topped with feigned arrogance that the Spaniards of Andalucia are so famous for.

If your Spanish is up to the task, you can get a decent amount of banter out of the comically cranky barkeeps.  If not, you’ll still manage to lay your hands on fine examples of Andalucian tapas.  Pulpo (exquisite octopus, grilled or fried), anchoas (anchovies like nothing you’ve tasted), various tortillas (a type of omelet, primarily of egg and potato), gazpacho, cola de toro (succulent stewed bull’s tail), and all manner of lovely jamóns

Salmorejo Pepe
Salmorejooo Cordobeeeees!!

famously cured in the nearby mountains.  But the real star of the show, their virtuoso performance that you can scarcely find anywhere else, and, for my money, one of the most refreshing Summer treats around, is the amazing Salmorejo Cordobés.

Just what is this salmorejo, you might ask?  A shorthand might be gazpacho’s rich cousin.  Whereas a gazpacho might be made primarily of tomatoes and present almost like a refreshing vegetable drink, a salmorejo should be a rich, creamy, emulsified cold soup only capable of being taken via a bowl and spoon.  Boiled egg, Serrano or Ibérico jamón, and only the finest olive oil forms the holy trinity of delicious garnishes on the top.  I’ve had it with olive oil preserved tuna in place of the jamón, but only once.  I will go so far as to suggest that you not only order this rare and delicious beauty, but that you have it before ordering anything else just in case your taste buds drive you to order a second helping before moving to other portions of the menu.

As with many places in Spain, if you’re squeamish about bullfighting or a strict vegetarian, this may not be the place for you.  As with many of my most favorite spots, a friendly local told me about this place and I’m damn glad I engaged the chap.  You don’t have to be a fan of  tauromaquia to enjoy a stop in Pepe Hillo, but a sense of joie de vivre and an adventurous appetite will serve you well.

Pepe Hillo, Calle Adriano 24, 41001 Sevilla, Spain

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Brasserie Georges – Lyon, France

If you’ve ever imagined yourself sitting in a sprawling French café next to the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, and Edith Piaf in a scene torn from the pages of A Moveable Feast, this is your spot.  Originally opened in 1836 by Alsatian transplant Georges Holfherr, this Georges Dininggrande dame sits alongside Lyon’s old train station Perrache and features exquisite décor from the last two centuries.  I found it because it’s a mere five minute stroll from the law faculty of the Catholic University of Lyon, where I teach as a guest professor in an executive course once a year.  It’s a gorgeous space with substantial history, not all of which is readily discussed in polite company.

Unfortunately, I’ve only ever visited for one of the expansive lunches that the French are so well known for.  The daily menu is exquisite and changes regularly.  As to be expected, service is achieved with the crisp efficiency of a thoroughly professional staff who whisk away plates and crumbs, sliding into place the next course with the Georges Stewelegance of a well conducted orchestra.  The food – all courses – are tip-top brasserie fare, with less reliance on the typical local delicacies of organ meat and offal that one encounters in the city’s legendary bouchons.  That is, typically French, but not specifically Lyonnaise.  Regardless, you can’t go wrong by following the chef’s daily suggestions in this bustling open space – perhaps the largest restaurant of its kind in Europe.

Now to the bit of history that Georges doesn’t advertise, with the caveat that this is all still under investigation.  I was first told about this by a local who may or may not have been correct in pointing it out.  With that disclaimer, one cannot help but notice the flooring tiles featuring one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable symbols:  the swastika.  As it was related to me, during the World War II the Germans first took the southern portion of Lyon, with the northern portion continuing to fight on for some time before falling.  During that time, Georges Floorthe German army favored Georges, using it as a beer house and social center.  As with some parts of Europe, some evidence of the occupation survived the death of the “Butcher of Lyon.”  Hence, what you might notice today if you have the misfortune, as I did, of dropping your salad fork.

Consider this a lovely, reliable spot to haul a group for a delicious and lively meal with an exuberant atmosphere – Lyon’s true specialty.

Brasserie Georges, 30 Cours de Verdun Perrache, 69002 Lyon, France

 

 

Casa Guedes, Porto, Portugal

With apologies to my Jewish and Muslim friends, I did not make this rule:  the name of the game in Porto is Pork-o.  Like, for real.  While true for most of the Iberian peninsula, this little rule seems to be magnified in Portugal’s second city . . . much to the disappointment of my travel companion who was excited to break his Yom Kippur fast Casa Guedes outdoorsoon after landing.  Our gracious AirBNB host gave us more great recommendations than we were ever able to hit, but his stories so frequently included roast pork and the local favorite francesinha sandwich (think Portuguese Hot Brown with ham, sausage, roast beef, coated in a cheese and tomato sauce) that we had to do a bit of our own searching.  Casa Guedes, however, had enough options on offer that we made it work.

This little family run spot sits at the corner of the pleasant park Jardim de São Lázaro.  As with most of Porto, the locals that have been going there for years seem fascinated by the trickle of foreigners that seem to be coming in ever growing waves.  (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor.)  Still, it’s a mostly locals spot and the counter service staff gets a kick out of foreigners who can actually manage to order in proper Portuguese.  While the bolinhos de bacalhau (classic Portuguese codfish balls) and fresh country

Casa Guedes Sande de Pernil
The Star of the Show – pernil sande!

cheese are worthy companions to the Super Bock on tap, the real star of the show here is the pernil sande – slow roasted pork sandwich.  I chose the version with fresh cheese and it was to die for.  I say this, mind you, with many years of consuming Cuban lechón straight off the Caja China and 12-hour Kentucky-smoked pork under my belt.  But beware:  you will most likely end up getting two or more and having your friends roll you out of here in a wheelbarrow.  If you’re lucky enough to visit on a warm day, have an espresso or two on the terrace to recover.  Bom apetito!

 

 

Casa Guedes, Praça dos Poveiros 130, 4000-098, Porto, Portugal

 

 

The Marlton Hotel Bar, New York, NY

I was first hauled to this spot by a crazy older man that went by the handle James-Jim-Jimmy.  But that’s a story for another time.  The bar off to the left of the entrance is a great little escape from the cold.  With a huge fireplace and welcoming sofas and chairs, you really can’t beat it on a cold New York winter night.  The bar itself, just a few steps beyond the fireplace, attracts an interesting crowd to its stools and booths.  We’ve meet some characters in just a few visits – enough to keep us coming back for more.  The barkeeps are affable and professional and we had a good time chatting with them on at least one occasion.  If you should find yourself hanging around Washington Square Park, in need of a warm up and possibly a new friend, drop into the Marlton for more than a slim chance at success.

The Marlton Hotel, 5 West 8th St., New York, NY  10011    

New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2016

I’m gonna swoon here.  First, allow me to establish that I’m no ballet expert.  Though I’ve been to more than a few, and generally make a point to take in a performance or two each year, I could scarcely tell you what plie means.  But greatness is something I pride myself on recognizing on sight.  And this production is simply stunning!

The very idea that there were empty seats at the Tuesday night performance is a travesty.  My companion and I spent most of the time wowing, slapping each other’s legs in excitement, and generally (at least in my case) being transported back to those giddy days of Christmas past when my chest could scarcely keep my bursting heart caged.  No, really.  The stunning pageantry of the sets and costumes themselves are a sight to behold.  With gasps, of course.  The dancers’ execution is impeccable, right down to the children executing silent, elegantly playful moves perfectly in character.

A few words on the individual dancers from a neophyte.  The character Coffee that night was simply ravishing (either Megan LeCrone or Claire Kretzschmar, says the playbill).  Her every move an exquisitely sensual expression.  Lithe.  Indelible.  The power and grace of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Sterling Hyltin) and her Prince (Andrew Veyette) made of itself a whole other character – a ballet within a ballet.  Each time Veyette landed a jump, or Hyltin, one got the impression that he possesses the power to negate gravity:  not even the hint of a thump, landing like a feather each time.  In fact, I caught myself leaning forward as if in anticipation of a critical play in a sporting event – straining the ears and eyes in disbelief at the gentleness of each landing.  I could go on, at least if I knew what all the characters and movements were named.  Suffice to say that soon after the curtain rose an elegant older woman slipped into the seats to my right and spent the night whispering comments to herself with each difficult move, punctuated with physical spasms of delight.  I watched for her outbursts out of the corner of my eye and am quite convinced that she knew the dances, dancers, and ballet personally and expertly.  Suffice to say she exploded in emotion at the end.  So, you need not rely only simply on my thumbs up.

koch-theaterA couple of hacks.  The ground floor bars will always have a line.  Go up one flight of stairs where there are many more bars, much more space, and more than a few displays of costumes from performances past worth perusing.  You can ask for an intermission pre-order form at any of the bars and have your champagne and cookies waiting for you.  Sip your champagne, toss your head back in a haughty laugh, and wink at all the poor saps wasting their intermission waiting in line.  If, like they were for us, neither the weather nor clock are cooperating, hop across Columbia and pay Patrick a visit at PJ Clarke’s for a quick, but lovely, serving of prosecco and oysters and to swoon and chatter over the magnificent spectacle you were so lucky to have just attended.  You are welcome.

A small part of me was bummed that no photography of any type is allowed during the performance.  At least until I realized I could rely on the pre-installed recording equipment in the brain.  In our rush to constantly document everything, it was nice to recall that the explosive images the dancers and musicians created; the sense of excitement that made the air nearly vibrate; the lighting and stage-craft (Ronald Bates, Mark Stanley); and, of course, dashing brilliance of the conductor (Andrews Sill) and choreographer (George Balanchine) all married together in a perfect cocktail of memories that only my companion and I have the privilege of ever enjoying.  But you, dear reader, can take this much away:  if it’s remotely of interest, go.  Go and enjoy one of the most gorgeous of holiday celebration activities that money can buy in the finest place on earth to do so . . . New York City Ballet will never fail you.

The Nutcracker, New York City Ballet, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center Plaza, New York City

El Club del Vino, Malaga, Spain

Sometimes you just get lucky.  I happened upon this place with only an hour or so to go in my visit to Malaga, having given up on having any singular food or drink experience to speak of.  (Yes, I tried to go to El Pimpi, Oleo, and several other places that were either closed or just meh.)  I noticed the promising signage and decided to take a swing.

The owner, Bernardo, is quick with conversation and background knowledge on his stock.  As with Nuno and his crew at Castelo in Lisbon, Bernardo communicates a deep-seated passion for the wines he offers, making a point to note that he sells nothing that he doesn’t first enjoy personally.  There’s no script here; Bernardo can riff on any of the wines, giving fascinating background on the vineyards, wine makers, and character of each bottle.  Like most Argentinians I know, Bernardo and his spot have a certain style and aesthetic that I struggle to describe as sleek traditional:  wood, leather, and metal come together in a no-nonsense design with clean lines and, like the menu, reminiscent of a time when simple was good.

If you want a good bottle, a copa of sweet respite from the Andalusian heat, or to fill up on down-home Argentinian bites (and bife!), this is the place to visit.

El Club del Vino, Calle Pedro de Toledo 2 Local B, Malaga, Spain

Restaurante O Murta, Faro, Portugal

This place was a very lucky find and a huge treat.  We dug this one out of an old guidebook and, after much arguing and discussion with the cab driver, who had no idea it existed, we were happy to arrive.  You need one word and one word only to dine magnificently here:  cataplana.  I freely admit to not previously being aware of this transcendent dish:

cataplana-2
Another angle

Cataplana!

O ye of fishy savor

Of all the salt and wind of the sea

Of all the earthy flavor of plant and seed

Of all the dreams I’ve yet to dream

Cataplana, “oh, sim!”

I’ll have the Cataplana, please.

I just made that up, but you should follow the instructions and order Cataplana and be happy to wait for such perfection to be delivered to your table.  It is a traditional dish of assorted seafood and vegetables such as peppers, onions, and potatoes.  And, like many traditional dishes, one that is far too overlooked lately.  As a huge paella fanatic, I must admit that if the Portuguese ever figure it out, they’ll give the Spaniards a run for their saffron-flavored money with Cataplana.

The owners here have been doing this for a long time:  thirty-plus years, as the patriarch of the family told me.  The service is very homey – they only serve dishes that make them proud to smile, and generally eat exactly what you do.  As in, you will see them around the corner chomping away on their own portion, if you, like us, go too late.  For my money, Murta runs like a well-tuned instrument:  each note is perfectly tuned with each inch and you almost cannot go wrong ordering any combination on the menu.

bacalhau-murta
The bacalhau wasn’t bad either!

I already wrote a poem here.  What else do you want to know?  In the last several months the Cataplana is probably the best meal I have had, whether Barcelona, Sevilla, Lisbon, New York, LA, Zurich, Geneva, DC, Chicago, or Miami, this little granny-ran hole in the wall in the south of Portugal beat them all.  So, go!

Rua Infante Dom Henrique 136, 8000-256 Faro, Portugal 

Antic Wine, Lyon, France

I stumbled upon this place a few times, always finding the doors securely locked and the lights out. The French; they hate money. Or at least that’s what I had come to think over the course of a month spent locked out of every service or shop imagineable by the time the class I was teaching at the University let out around 6pm each day.

Antic Pricing.JPG
Georges has a great sense of humor to match his sense of taste.

I finally got lucky one night while meandering around the old town: Georges dos Santos, the owner, happened to be inside, doors open, drinking wine with a friend. Georges was welcoming, engaging, and funny as hell. His pal, the owner of ultra-luxury brand Zilli, was also fun and friendly, poking fun at his own label. Amen. Georges and I had a nice chat, he got a sense of what I was into, and he started pulling wines from his shelves, including the tough-to-get Clos Signadore from Corsica. That bottle came with a nice story of what he had to do to get his hands on a few cases.

I’m sure that with enough time, Georges and I could find plenty to disagree on. Of the things we have discussed, we mostly see eye-to-eye: Washington wine (glad they like it), Empordá (the style keeps on changing), Portuguese table wine (great to explore), Virginia (no thanks). The list goes on. Thus far, Georges has turned me on to six different wines I would not have otherwise encountered. The results, for me, range from “incredible value” to “holy holy!!” The second time I visited Georges he actually remembered me from the prior year. Since I’m not particularly difficult, I’d say he has an eye for his clientele. All told, I highly suggest paying Georges a visit if you find yourself in Lyon.

Antic Wine, 18 Rue du Boeuf, 69005 Lyon, France

Cervejaria Romiro, Lisbon, Portugal

This is the kind of place that causes you to continue giving hyped spots a chance.  Each time you think you’ve had it with what the crowd tells you, there’s a Romiro.

Famous for its seafood, that is what you will eat.  The waiters come around with digitized menus in several languages on iPads.  Items are listed by kilo weight, but you don’t order that way.  You just tell them what you want and for how many humans, and they do the estimating for you.  And don’t worry, they actually estimate perfectly.  Unlike with American spots, which I’ve found tend to constantly over-estimate in an attempt to run up the bill, Europeans (at least Portuguese, Spanish, and French) tend to value your experience over that of the house.  I don’t recall being asked how I wanted things prepared, which is fine because the chef chose “perfectly” as the cooking method.

Will you wait in line to get in here?  Yes.  Even the footballer who thought he could game the system was shuffled back into line.  But that line will move quickly and there is a fine reward at the end of it, rather unlike most lines I’ve tolerated.  You will be pleased.

One final note:  apparently I did it wrong by failing to order a “prego” at the end of the meal.  Don’t fail me.  Make up for my error and get one of these tiny little beef sandwiches that are said to be exquisite.

Cervejaria Ramiro, Avenida Almirante Reis No. 1-H, 1150-007, Lisboa, Portugal

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Lisbon, Portugal

I never would have found this place on my own.  Many thanks to a group of locals that invited my friends and I along to watch the Euro Cup final match, pitting Portugal against France.  And a hell of a time, it was!

This is along the lines of the many food markets you see around the world that mixes fresh items with stalls or bars that cook/prepare food.  Something like Barcelona’s Boqueria or New York’s Chelsea Market.  For the Euro Cup final, they set up several televisions, including a huge projection screen.  We sampled many of the wares – from slow roasted pork reminiscent of Cuban lechón, to sushi, burgers, and a gorgeous Portuguese charcuterie board – everything was on point.  The wine purveyor had a great selection from several regions of Portugal and nifty little vinyl bags he would fill with ice to keep things cool.

Needless to say that after Portugal triumphed, there was much dancing, singing, kissing, and the beer flowed and flowed . . . free of charge of course.  Having had a great experience here during a very hectic, overly-packed moment, I would highly suggest any gastronomy fan to pay it a visit.

Mercado do Campo de Ourique, Rua Coelho da Rocha 104, 1350-074, Lisbon, Portugal