Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pasadena it is!

It's official - we've signed a lease in Pasadena! After months of the CRA pulling on our heartstrings regarding timing of a construction loan, our personal bank accounts decided we had to get a move on things and figure out how to get this restaurant off the ground. Always an avid reader of, I sent a flurry of inquiries for existing restaurant spaces that even remotely fitted our criteria (yes, one space was 8k SF, but it was divisible...)

Just days before we left for Spain, I heard from a broker regarding what must be one of the most charming restaurants in Pasadena. The current tenant was a one Michelin-starred Northern Italian restaurant, and the owners had decided not to renew the lease (which expired at the end of October). We scheduled a walk-through, submitted an LOI, and left for Spain in the span of a few days!

In hindsight it was really healthy to have the time off, but not having easy phone access to the broker during those few weeks was painful for my nerves. Right when we got back, however, we were in lease negotiations and signed shortly after the space was available. There were many other details such as the scramble to get our LLC Agreement ironed out, the fact that we started without reaching our fund-raising goal, etc but those stories are for another day. What is important is that RaciĆ³n has a home!

Barcelona and Sitges

The last leg of our Spain trip was supposed to be 5 days in Barcelona. Having spent a full week relaxing in laid-back San Sebastian, however, we could not get into the rhythm of touristy Barcelona. We found some refuge in La Barceloneta and had a couple of good meals (descriptions to follow), but quickly escaped to the beaches of Sitges for the last few days. Sitges had the progressiveness of Barcelona and the bucolic atmosphere of San Sebastian. We would have sent for our things and stayed if we weren't trying to open a restaurant back in Los Angeles!

At a lively locals' bar in La Barceloneta, I think we impressed the bartender by our selection of hearty tapas for breakfast. Deviled eggs with a creamy, fishy filling, anchovies with potatoes, pan con tomate, and marinated white anchovies with a spicy vinegar sauce. We also had tortilla de patatas, but failed to take a photo. Oh and cafe con leche, 2 each, which meant we especially enjoyed our breakfast!

Lunch was just as seafood heavy as breakfast. Fideo with shellfish, hake stewed with a briney tomato and almond sauce (broth?). We really enjoyed both dishes, especially the hake because the broth tasted so robust and relatively complex and the fish was cooked nicely. The fideo had a perfectly crispy crust. We washed it all down with a crisp (unoaked) local Chardonnay from Alella.

We were somewhat surprised to find as good food as we found in Sitges. Prices were reasonable and the selection was abundant. At one of the more upscale restaurants we chose we finally had beans! I couldn't tell if beans were more traditionally made at home (chicken soup and salads were also things we decided were made in homes rather than in restaurants) or if we just didn't gravitate towards dishes that involved beans. The white beans we had on our skate dish were dense and flavorful, and have inspired me to make beans several times since. A lovely touch was a complimentary thimbleful of sherry at the end of our meal.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

San Sebastian, Part II

Given that TM and I spent as much time in our pension's kitchen as we did in the San Sebastian pintxo bars, I thought I would devote the next part of our San Sebastian chronicle to the local farmers' markets, fish markets, bakeries, and supermarkets. First off, I have to say how amazing it was to see real food everywhere. We were hard pressed to find processed junk food and even harder pressed to find fast food restaurants (we came across one, fittingly an American institution). Getting a quick bite never meant compromising nutrition, or money for that matter. You just ducked into the nearest bar for a freshly-prepared snack, spent a few euros, and went on your way in a matter of minutes.

A daily pleasure for us was to partake in the 1 euro baguette tradition. In the mornings, you'd find old men walking with just-baked baguettes tucked under their arms. In the afternoons, teenagers heading home would have baguettes sticking out of their schoolbags. Inevitably, the tops would be missing from them. We found the crumb of the Spanish baguette to be more airy than their French counterpart. The flavor was subtle, the crust was crisp, and they were always only 1 euro.

Another tradition I found fascinating were the fish markets. These markets did brisk business in the mornings, when the catch was super fresh and plentiful: salmonete (red mullet), squid, anchovies, and a variety of shrimp. I'm pretty sure very little was kept to sell the next day. I wish we had cooking apparatus at the pension so that I could have experimented with some of the wonderful seafood. TM had to convince me not to attempt cooking fish in the microwave oven.

We didn't find many supermarkets in San Sebastian, maybe a couple in Gros and one in the Commercial district. Instead we found specialty vendors aplenty, i.e. produce vendors, meat vendors and cheese vendors, wine shops, and bakers. Since many of the produce vendors had super fresh stuff, it was a pretty big surprise to come across the weekly farmers' market. Maybe it was a chance for the farmers (or rather, their wives) to one-up each other in person. Whatever the impetus, it was glorious to see the vegetal bounty of this green region.

At one of the markets we did come across, we found an interesting selection of prepared foods. Look at this beautiful spinach, red pepper, and goat cheese terrine! Or at the variety of ready-to-fry croquettes and fritters!

While in Spain, we ate as the Spanish ate, and drank as they drank (or at least tried to). When choosing wines, Lesley stuck with txacoli at every pintxo bar, TM and I would opt for a rioja red. We found this yummy crianza at a little wine shop in Gros. We remembered the wine key, but forgot the glasses. Not a problem!