Travel

Eating in Sevilla, Spain: Tapas at Casa Morales

Sevilla plaza de torosPlaza de Toros, Sevilla

At 165 years old, Casa Morales isn't anywhere near the oldest tapas place in Sevilla (that honor goes to El Rinconcillo, est. 1670), but it could be the second oldest. Indeed you will feel swept back in time when you walk into this corner bar, whose back room (a separate entrance) was once used to store sherry in enormous vats. The vats remain. The sherry has been drained.

Sevilla casa morales interior back room Casa morales sevilla interior

Just steps from the Cathedral and a few blocks from Plaza de Toros, you'd think a place like this would be packed with tourists. On the day we were there, it seemed to be more filled with regulars and locals.

We were there only for a snack and to soak in the environment, and had a few glasses of wine and tapas.

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Eating in Sevilla, Spain: El Pinton

Sevilla el pinton exterior

El Pinton caught our eye every time we walked by. I guess we liked the clean lines and the modern look.

One night as we roamed around Sevilla without a plan for dinner, we ended up walking by it for about the 10th time in 3 days. The menu read well, and we figured what-the-heck?

We were seated in a small back room which is very much like a hallway leading to the toilets. I would recommend not sitting back there, but rather get a table in the large, open, airy, absolutely lovely large dining room that you have to walk through in order to get to the hallway.

Sevilla el pinton cocktail

I got the sense that El Pinton appeals to young, cosmopolitan types. Large groups of young selfie-taking women filled the dining room, seated next to people who looked more like art collectors than wine makers. And I can see why. The menu isn't typically Andalusian. There are quite a few notes of Asian flavors here, for example. It was a nice change of pace.

I landed on what I assumed would be a safe cocktail. IIRC, it was a sour of some sort. Maybe tequila. Maybe gin. Can't recall. But the cocktail was executed well, if not a bit on the sweet side. Kids like their sweet stuff.

Let's get on to the food. We didn't order much, but we enjoyed what we had.

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Eating in Sevilla, Spain: La Azotea

Sevilla la azotea interior

Shit got real once we stumbled up La Azotea in Sevilla. While we we enjoyed the croquettes and cured tuna and anchovies and Andalusian cuisine, getting a chance to eat a place serving new Spanish cooking was a real treat. We liked La Azotea so much that we returned for a second meal on the tail-end of the trip. 

La Azotea is a beautiful, casual place, focusing on local, seasonal ingredients. The menu is concise, and everything reads incredibly well. It was very hard indeed to come up with just a few dishes. But we managed.

Sevilla la azotea rice paper triangles

This dish was rice paper triangles stuffed with cheese, prawns, and leeks. Right? When it hit the table we immediately knew we were in the hands of a kitchen that understands cooking, plating, and pleasing.

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Eating in Sevilla, Spain: Bar Pelayo

Sevilla bar pelayo exterior

It was our second night in Sevilla and we still hadn't done much research on restaurants. After enjoying a few cocktails at the excellent The Secondroom (it took me about one day to start trying to track down a proper cocktail bar), we spied a welcoming little place called Bar Pelayo right down the block. At this point we were starving and quite frankly would have eaten anywhere.

The menu is typically Andalusian, with the typical tapas, fried fish, croquettes, etc.

Sevilla bar pelayo croquettes

The oxtail croquettes were pretty fantastic.

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Eating in Sevilla, Spain: Churros at El Bar Comercio

Sevilla bar el comercio

Churros may be traditionally a breakfast snack, but not for me. I think they go well with, say, several glasses of vermut. And there's no better time to enjoy several glasses of vermut than mid-afternoon, while the rest of Spain is enjoying siesta.

We found El Bar Comercio on the internet somewhere, and headed off to take a load off. This place is over 100 years old, and it has retained all of that charm. Black pig legs hanging from the walls. Old dusty bottles in a display case. Pleasant bartender, who could have been the owner.

Sevilla bar comericio interior1 Sevilla bar comericio vermut
It's one of the few places we found where our order of "dos vermuts" wasn't received with a blank stare. Vermouth is more commonly called "martini" in Spain, after the brand Martini and Rossi. So spare yourself the confusion and just order a martini. Unless you want a vodka or gin martini, in which case you're a savage and on your own.

They had to fire up the churro maker. This thing was quite a device. I had no idea one needed such a machine to make long donuts.

Sevilla bar el comercio churros1 Sevilla bar el comercio churros2
The half portion was barely 2 Euro. I think the fabulous chocolate (for dipping...and drinking if you're me) was about 2 Euro.

A pleasant little stop, not far from the Cathedral.

Sevilla bar comericio chocolate

Bar El Comercio : Calle Lineros, 9 : Sevilla, Spain

 


Eating in Rincon, Puerto Rico: Burgers at Kahuna Burger Bar

Kahuna burger bar rincon deck

I have extremely low expectations for a restaurant or bar if any of the following apply:

1) it's close to a beach
2) it's ridiculously popular and crowded at night
3) it has live music
4) it has a kitschy name

Kahuna Burger Bar meets all four conditions. Yet managed to really impress.

It was a real scene, as the kids say, the night we walked past and first noticed the place, on our way back back from a fantastic meal at Pool Bar Sushi (great place). But it piqued my interest, if only for the bar scene, which made me feel like I was missing some action. I hate missing some action. It just seemed "fun," even for someone old and grumpy like me. Research was in order! Some googling of Kahuna Burger, located in the Casa Verde Hotel, led to some dreadful pictures of burgers that didn't look very appetizing. Just as I suspected. I tried to get it out of my head.

Against my better judgement, we headed over for lunch one day. Fully expecting the place to be packed, we got there at noon, sharp. We were the only customers. I think people sleep a bit late in Rincon. Or they're out surfing in the morning and don't think about lunch until much later than me (I start thinking about lunch at about 10 pm the night before).

Kahuna burger bar rincon interior bar

Kahuna has an indoor oval bar and some rail seating, along with some high-tops and picnic tables on the deck, which is where we packed in our crew.

A scan of the cocktail list yielded a margarita that sounded like it was almost on track to being a proper cocktail (I asked and the lime juice was to come from a lime...good start). The inclusion of Jose Cuervo silver was the big problem. And I don't recall if the menu specified Cointreau. I asked the lovely bartender if I could sub in Milagro and ensure Cointreau, stating that I'll pay the up-charge. She said don't worry about it, same price. Nice! A bit sweet, but Milagro and Cointreau and lime juice and some sugar in a plastic cup with ice in Rincon on a sunny 84 degree day is better than what you probably drank last week. You dig?

The food, you say?

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Eating in Philadelphia: a.bar for wonderful cocktails and lunch

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There was nothing about a.bar that I didn't like.

I can typically find a few nitpicks in any restaurant. Crappy cocktail lists. Boring food options. Poorly executed food. Shit service. Uncomfortable bar. My list of complaints goes on. And on. Of this you are assured.

But nothing from my vast list of bitches applied to a.bar. The place is bright and comfortable. Plenty of room under the bar for my legs. The menu was short and concise and everything sounded good. The cocktails were appealing and well-crafted. Hell, two of them showcased amaro with a base, including one with tequila and Montenegro, and another with Mezcal and Meletti. Well done.

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4J5A9266

The bartender was good-natured and more than happy to indulge me when I asked him to just surprise me with a cocktail. He also suffered through my game of "let me guess what's in this one."

The food, also, is no slouch.

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Best dishes: of 2015

  Orvieto

Putting together a year-end wrap-up list like this is sort of a pain-in-the-ass, I've come to realize. I have to figure out what dishes I want to include, find a photo, remember something halfway interesting or at least accurate to say about the dish, type it all in, spellcheck, look up web sites, etc. It takes a lot time, and at the end of the day very few people care what I put into my face. And I'm sure as shit not getting paid for it. But, it's a nice walk down memory lane for me, so once I get going, sifting through the photos and thinking about the experiences, it turns out to be quite a lot of fun, as I ignore the reality that you may not give a toss about any of it.

But then I have to type words and stuff, and I put it off for 3 weeks. It turns into a task. A task that I just recently tackled.

So why isn't this list New Jersey-focused you didn't ask and probably didn't even wonder? Well I'll tell ya. I used to include only New Jersey/NYC restaurants in these lists (I think), but I've been told that there is some value to some people to include stuff from other places. The fact that many of the dishes on this list are from outside of New Jersey shouldn't be a surprise. When I travel, I'm obviously carefully picking restaurants that I think will be outstanding. And let us not ignore the fact that when you're traveling, things just taste better. New experiences put more lead in my pencil than anything. When I'm stuck in New Jersey, conversely, I don't spend enough time eating out, and too often go back to the same places where I know I can get a good meal. But, there are several restaurants on this list within a stone's throw of New Jersey, so even if you don't ever plan on leaving the Garden State, perhaps something on this list will appeal to you.

Enough explaining. On with it.

Here's a list of exceptional dishes that I enjoyed in 2015. In no particular order other than perhaps chronological.

 

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Twisted Olive: Eating in Bethlehem, PA

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I spent a few days in Bethlehem in September (thankfully during tomato-growing season), and did quite a bit of "research" on restaurants. Research typically means reading some articles from traditional media outlets, and then ending up on TripAdvisor, or, God-forbid, Yelp (where I'll only read the really negative reviews, just for amusement). One place that grabbed my attention was Twisted Olive. For some reason I wasn't convinced it would be exceptional, but I kept it in the back of my mind. Eventually, we went for lunch. And boy am I glad we did.

At first glance, the menu seems unexceptional. The lunch menu has a variety of sandwiches and salads and pizza. Boring, right? But look more closely and you'll see the use of house-made corn tortillas for the fish tacos, house-smoked meats for sandwiches, and house-made syrups and infused-booze for the cocktail list. It's these little touches that illustrate to me that someone is paying attention to what they are putting on the plate and in the glass. This, alone, puts Twisted Olive in a rare league.

But first, a cocktail...

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The Franklin Bar: cocktailing in Philly

Franklin bar cocktail flamed orange peel

Are they transitioning the name from "Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co." to "The Franklin Bar?" Let's bloody well hope so. I am into the brevity thing. "The Franklin Bar" suits me just fine.

And The Franklin Bar suits me just fine. A speakeasy-style cocktail bar set in a candle-lit basement, you sure wouldn't know anything of note is behind that nondescript black door unless someone told you (or you read about it). Luckily for me, during a dinner at Village Whiskey, the bartender suggested I give the place a try. For some reason he must have gotten the impression that I like cocktails. And since it was on the way back to the hotel, stumbling distance even, well you just know I had to check it out. A good piece of advice from this bartender to be sure.

Franklin Bar (the downstairs bar, not the new, upstairs bar) lets only a certain number of people in the place at a time. This isn't due to an occupancy limit set by the city, but rather because they don't allow people to stand. You will sit, you will enjoy your cocktails, and you will behave. I think you have to ring the doorbell when you get there, although on a recent visit two gentlemen were minding the door. "Have you been here before?" "Yes" is always the correct response.

Franklin bar cocktail4
Franklin bar cocktail4

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the rigidness of the experience at Franklin Bar.  Compared to some newcomers like Hop Sing Laundromat, which by all reports is known for being a bit over-the-top with its rulebook--No sneakers? No shorts? A "screening process" to get in?--getting into and enjoying Franklin Bar is a relatively relaxed affair.

Don't go in expecting to sit at a proper bar. The bar (downstairs) seats about 4 people IIRC. You'll be at tables or perhaps the bar rail. It turned out I was alone during my first visit, so they were able to seat me at that tiny bar. I bellied up and dug right into the cocktail list.

Franklin bar cocktail1
Franklin bar cocktail1

I was hoping to get into some light discussion on cocktails with the bartenders, given my ideal position at the end of the bar. But, alas, they were way too busy. At least two bartenders that night, making their craft cocktails non-stop. These are not simple cocktails. They're messing with the right ice, flaming peels, splashing bitters and tinctures, garnishing with foods, frothing with egg whites, shaking aggressively, tattoos rendering to nothing more than a fleshy blur.

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