Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ribera del Duero, Rioja, and Madrid

Ribera del Duero and Rioja

We stayed at Burgos and used it as a base to explore the wine regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Although in the end it worked well, it may be a better idea to split this into two different trips, since the distance between Burgos and the closest point of either destination is at least 1 hour. In addition, and to really enjoy each destination, it is necessary to stay at least one week on each location.

Hotel Landa. The Hotel Landa, just outside Burgos, is exceptional. It is a Castle that has been renovated with the best possible taste, combining Gothic architecture with the most modern amenities. Rooms are very spacious and service is incomparable. Breakfast is wonderful and fresh, and the wine list is very good. Very highly recommended as a destination in itself.

Abadia Retuerta Le Domaine (Sardon del Duero). The winery at Abadia Retuerta Le Domaine is now part of Relais et Chateaux, and includes a boutique hotel, a formal restaurant, a bistrot, and of course the winery itself. We visited the vineyards and winery, an exceptional combination of old fashion methods with the most modern technology to enhance efficiencies. We had lunch at the bistrot, and enjoyed the excellent wine, the fantastic menu with local fresh fare (Castillian specialties), and exquisite service. The abbey has been renovated wonderfully! Throughout the service is as good as it gets. Very highly recommended.

Tinto Pesquera. The wines built by Alejandro Fernandez are among the best in the world. Touring the winery is a unique experience that helps understand what true love for both wine and perfection is. The story itself is magnificent, from humble starts with only one goal in sight: to make the best possible wine. Today, the lines of Alejandro Fernandez (Pesquera, Condado de Haza, Dehesa La Granja, and El Vínculo) are among the best in the world, and for the price, the best possible values. The tour of the winery is strongly recommended.

Vega Sicilia. Obviously among the 5 best wines of the world, legendary, almost mythological! Do anything you can to get in. Once there, kiss the soil.

Restaurante Marqués de Riscal (El Ciego). We visited the winery and had lunch at the One Michelin Star restaurant. The red wine is of course quite good, although the white is undrinkable because of its metallic taste. The visit to the winery is yet another mass tourism experience, with buses and hordes of people asking really stupid questions….

The restaurant is good although they are going to have to work very hard to keep the Star. The tasting menu is delightful, with a sequence of twelve dishes honoring the region. Nothing out of the ordinary for this type of experience, however, in which “fusion” dominates and becomes commonplace. Service was attentive and correct, but there were too many details out of place… dirty menus… nervous waiters watching over you… people cleaning around the corner…. etc. Not sure if we would recommend it.

Asador Restaurante El Molino de Palacios (Peñafiel). This was quite a find! It is an old mill, transformed into a family restaurant with a lot of charm and a bit on the kitsch side, to be expected into such provincial and out of the way setting. Nevertheless, service was very correct and the food was extraordinary. This is real food, honest, unpretentious! Gambas al Ajillo the way they should be, amazing cuts of meat cooked just right, and a wine list with dozens of local “Riberas” that can be the envy of the best restaurants in Paris. Lots of energy and full of locals at lunch. Highly recommended, look for it.


Hotel Ritz de Madrid. It continues to be the old fashioned, grand establishment in which you basically move into heaven as soon as you check in. Of course it can benefit from a renovation, but frankly we prefer it the way it is. Perhaps there are places with more modern bathrooms… but there is absolutely nowhere in Madrid with this address, level of service, or taste. Do yourself a favor and stay there at least once in your lifetime. And don’t be intimidated by the stuffy attitude of the concierges, they are there at your service so use them and just remember that you are their boss!

Restaurante de la Terraza (Hotel Ritz). The Ritz Terrace has what is probably the best setting in Madrid. Every detail adds to a magic experience: the lighting, white cloth on the tables properly starched, table settings, service, wine list, and of course the food itself. Make sure to get a reservation, and dress formally (jacket and tie). Enjoy one of the most enchanted places on earth.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

La Gorda - Highly Recommended

La Gorda (General Borgono 286, Miraflores - 447 4941). New!

Excellent alternative to enjoy fresh and sophisticated Mediterranean food at reasonable prices. The restaurant is small and not luxurious but everything is clean and nicely decorated. The services is superb. The owners are around, making sure that everything is OK, but not in an obtrusive way. The Gazpacho de Mango is amazing, fresh, and unique. The Ravioles de Lucuma was also quite unique and highly recommended.

This is a wonderful and honest alternative where you will feel well treated, with great attention to detail and quality. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Goodstone Inn (April 2014)

Another good lunch at the Goodstone Inn. The location is superb, in the middle of Virginia’s horse country, surrounded by beautiful grounds. The food is excellent Modern American, with emphasis on local fresh produce and the wine list is excellent and continues to improve.

We have eaten and stayed there over the years and unfortunately the quality seems to be going down slowly…. For over US$300 for 2, you would expect a bit more attention to detail. Some of the dishes had spots of the sauce on the rims (when that happens, they need to be wiped in the kitchen before going out); a fork fell to the floor and of course it was picked up, but the replacement was bought to us by hand as opposed to on a plate… the reception was confusing (two people simultaneously, neither one of whom seemed to know what to do), and upon leaving, several staff were doing the day’s accounts over the bar..... these are small details but they detract from what could be a world-class destination in its own right.

Still recommendable, but careful with those details!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Astrid y Gaston Casa Moreyra - A Culinary Voyage to Another Planet!

The best Restaurant in the world, a culinary voyage to another planet!

We were lucky  to get a reservation at the new Astrid y Gaston in Casa Moreyra (Avenida Paz Soldan 290, San Isidro, Lima). It has been open only 8 days at this location when we went for lunch.
In a new beautiful setting, Astrid y Gaston occupies the Casa Moreyra, an old “Casa Hacienda,” that has been renovated in minimalistic style after an investment said to have cost upwards of US$1 million. Every single detail has been considered and taken care to perfection.

Unless you sit at a the bar, the restaurant only serves the fix menu (“Viru”) which is a trip of 21 flights starting with a drink at the terrace; the menu is a tribute to the products of Peru, and takes you through the sea, desert, Andes, Altiplano, and Amazon jungle, offering the typical products taken to their maximum expression. Each course is very tiny (one or two bites at the most), but thriving with flavors and care. There is an abundance of molecular gastronomy so very often you don’t recognize the ingredients. Each course is served on a different plate specifically designed for it by recognized Peruvian artists.

After a few courses, the lack of decoration within the walls painted with soft colors becomes evident: you focus on the plate, and anticipate the colors, aromas, and flavors. Food is at the epicenter of the experience.

There is a wine pairing (which we didn’t choose); instead, we brought our own wines (including desert) and there is no charge for decorking, even though the wine is served perfectly by one of the two sommeliers.
Service was impeccable, and you get to keep the menu which is really a small book explaining the dishes.

The entire trip lasts between 3 and 4 hours.

Price? Amazing, about US$150 per person, less than a third of what you would pay for a 3-star Michelin experience.

Without exaggeration, the best restaurant in the world. 3 Stars Michelin, no questions asked.

A new round in Lima

A new round in Lima, same places, not much exciting....

Costanera 700. Calle Manuel Tovar 179 (a la espalda de la Av. Del Ejercito 421, Miralfores. , Lima. Excellent food and service, clean and upbeat. This is a great restaurant although a bit expensive for Lima. The food (seafood with Japanese and Peruvian influences) is fantastic so you should try several different things. Service was OK. Wine by the glass at 30 soles (US$=$11) is absurd for Lima. The restaurant is clean and well decorated. Recommended.

(Visited February 2014)

Costazul Seafood. Berlin 899, Miraflores, Lima. Extraordinary Experience. Very surprised by the "Number 1" for Lima in Trip Advisor so we visited last August. At first we thought we were in the wrong place. The restaurant is extremely basic, lacking proper table settings. Napkins are paper, for example.... but the food and service are without comparison. Is this number 1 in Lima? Of course not, no matter how good the food is, a restaurant is more than its food. We highly recommend a visit and will go there next time in Lima. It is probably among the best seafood you will have anywhere in the world. The owner is extraordinarily warm. But don't expect even the most basic luxuries. So if you just want to "eat" (as opposed to going to a restaurant), this is as good as it can get.

(Visited August 2013)

Deli France. Avenida Santa Cruz 982, Miraflores, Lima. Continues to be one of the best! This restaurant never disappoints. The decor is classic french bistro, the service is the best in Lima, and the food a combination of home-made with fresh ingredients and without any false pretensions. You don't get the minuscule carrots or the often abused "fusion" of andean and european dishes. This is straightforward and honest french food as it should be. One of our favorites in Lima.

(Visited February 2014)

Pescados Capitales. La Mar 1337, Miraflores, Lima. Excellent food, service OK. We have been eating here on and off for the last 10 years. It has its ups and downs. This time (March 2014) the food was extraordinary, including the ceviche, octopus, tuna, etc. The drinks were also exceptional. But the service.... continues to be below average. This is a tip: ask for cloth napkins. They don't provide them but they have them, just ask (unless of course you prefer paper....).

(Visited March 2014)

Lima 27. Calle Santa Luisa 295, San Isidro, Lima. Extraordinary and finally Great Service in Lima! This restaurant is trendy, well decorated, and full of energy. The food is as in most good restaurants in Lima, exceptional. But finally this is a place with world-class service. The wine list is lacking, however, as most offerings are too expensive. But overall, highly recommended.

(Visited March 2014)

Morgan Court Cafe, Morgan Library, New York

Morgan Court Cafe. 225 Madison Ave, New York City, NY 10016. Unexpected value! This is not your standard Museum Cafeteria. There are two options (a white tablecloth and a more informal one). We ate at the informal for US$25 per person, and it was fantastic for the price. Service is attentive and polite. The food was classy with a lot of attention to detail. The surroundings are of course fantastic. Don’t think it twice if you are nearby and want an excellent lunch for almost nothing - a great value.

(Visited February 2014)

Peking Gourmet Inn - Falls Church - Best Peking Duck Anywhere!

Peking Gourmet Inn. 6029 Leesburg Pike (Glen Carlyn Rd.), Culmore Shopping Center, Falls Church, VA 22041, USA. Best Chinese almost anywhere - especially the Duck! On a Saturday evening and even with a reservation, you can wait 1 hour.... but, once you are seated, everything is spectacular. The service is exquisite (of course with the rough touch and sharp edges characteristic of this part of the world), but friendly and correct. The food is exquisite. The Duck is the best I ever had, competing with the glorious Duck at La Tour d'Argent in Paris. This place is a destination in itself.

(Visited February 2014)

Casa Belga, Cercado de Lima

Casa Belga Restaurante. Jr Azangaro 260 | Cercado de Lima, Lima. Nice try but still too many loose ends. They have renovated a nice historic property in Old Lima but there are too many loose ends. Service is cordial but uncoordinated, the dishes are not properly described in the menu, and the "Belgian Beer" costs 35 soles which is 4 times a regular beer and more than most dishes, although this is not told to you when ordering.

Still, the food was delicious and it is an alternative given the poor gastronomic options in old down-town Lima.