Thursday, May 28, 2015

Casa Batllo by Gaudi

I had the pleasure to visit Casa Batllo recently.  I have to say it was as magical as I thought it would be.  I'm sure it was weird to the nth degree when it was first done back in 1904.  Today, it just looks like something out of Disneyland.... but of course we know Casa Batllo came before Disney!

This Art Nouveau building is actually a remodel and not a ground up structure by Gaudi.  This house represents Saint George's lance and slaying of the Dragon.  The end of the lance is represented by the cross on the roof and the roof tiles is reminiscent of scale of a dragon.

As anyone who have been to Casa Batllo can tell you, it is packed with people!  The tour starts at 9:00AM and ends at 9:00PM.  The building is open 365 days a year which is amazing!  There is a fast pass at 5 euro which allows you to skip the long line.  I think it really depends on what time you get there.  If you get there 10 minutes before 9AM, it doesn't make much sense to pay that extra 5 euro as there is also a line for the fast pass too!!!

In fact, I was in that fast pass line at 8:45 AM.  The good thing about the fast pass line is that you are the first few to get into the building which allows you to take pictures without zillions of people in it.  I think I was 7th or 8th person in line and I was able to run upstairs and click away without anyone in the photo!  After I took all the pictures I want, I went back down to the tour and listened to the audio guide.  But by that time, there were people everywhere and I was glad that I had the opportunity to take a lot of pictures when there were no one around.  They also give you a video guide which looks like one of those Samsung phone.  It's pretty cool as you can look through the screen and it would show what the place would have looked like back in Art Nouveau time.

The price of 26.50 euro was definitely not cheap to just walk through the house by yourself for maybe an hour at most but it's probably one of the most unique house in Spain that was built in early 20th century so I definitely think it is worthwhile.        

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fantastic meal at #6 restaurant in the world!

I really did not know what to expect when I booked Mugaritz at San Sebastian.  It is rated number 6 on "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" by S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna.  It is only rated as 2 Michelin stars which made me think something is wrong with this rating as how can this restaurant be top 10 in the world and yet only rated with 2 Michelin Stars?  But from past experiences I also know that I don't always agree with Michelin Star ratings.  Case and point, I had dinner at a well known restaurant in Las Vegas couple years ago.  While food was fantastic, service was not even close to other 1 Michelin Star restaurants I've been to.  How in the world they got 3 Michelin Stars with such poor service was mind boggling.  But I digress.... back to Mugaritz.

Mugaritz is actually outside of San Sebastian...but not too far.  It essentially look like a farm house in the countryside.  There are few structures on the property and the decoration for main dining room was minimal and tastefully done.  It was modern and understated.

The service was outstanding.  Maitre D' Joserra Calvo was gracious and friendly.  He made me feel at home instantly when I walked into the restaurant.  The atmosphere is casual and easy; it's not a formal restaurant at all and if I live around there, I would have no problem of going there once a month (vs restaurants like French Laundry that feels more like a special event/ once a year type of thing).

I had Interestingly the first few dishes I had, there were no utensils.  I ate all my food using my fingers.  I like the concept except couple times the dishes were slightly hot to handle (I didn't burn myself if you were wondering).  Each dish was meticulously done and very thoughtful.  There were tons of food that I never had before such as tiger nuts, horse cheeks, hake, etc.  I had the best teardrop shaped peas ever!  It was sweet, crisp, fresh, and everything you want in a pea and then some.  My mouth is watering just thinking about those peas.  One of the dessert anis waffle was just glorious.  The crunchy shell that held yuzu cream turned out to be fish skin that was deep fried.  I love salty and sweet desserts!  Oh and halfway through the dinner, they invited the guests at each table to see their kitchen in action.  Apparently they have chefs from all over the world and the chef that came out and talked to me used to live in NYC.  She was lovely and explained that why half of the dishes I had were different from all the other guests at other tables around me.... I was told each night they come up with 120+ dishes and they sprinkle dishes randomly throughout the dining room.  Thus it's rare that the food you are having are the same ones that your neighbors are having!!  I can't imagine the prep work going into that kind of menu but more power to them!  Lastly the petite fours had a nice wit to it.  It came in a form of 7 wooden compartment.  Each compartment corresponds to a sin.  The pictured one (above) correspond to Envy.... because there are two of us and only one gets the chocolate.

In short, I have no problem of recommending this restaurant to any foodies in the world.  It is absolutely a destination restaurant and when I go back to San Sebastian, I am definitely going back to Mugaritz.