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Friendly fire in Leña, Dani García’s new restaurant in Madrid

The steep stairs that lead to Leña, the new restaurant of the Dani García group, could well resemble Dante’s descent into hell. Basically, because what you do not expect is a dark place dedicated to the cult of the grill and the smoke. However, this story ends well, because the experience of enjoying this innovative concept is closer to paradise than eternal punishment.

I wanted to know this daring concept of steakhouse, whose mother house is in Marbella, García’s hometown, even though it is not what you could most want on a summer day. Even opening around this time has been a brave and unexpected move. And the truth is that I must admit that any time of the year is good for grilled food.

The fusion concept of Leña is to show and share the mark that international travels have left on the Marbella chef, especially the US and Japan. Garcia add to the mix his Andalusian essence and his total respect for the integrity of the product. And this is something that is sensed from the first moment. From luxurious American décor to Japanese-style tableware. Curiously, I immediately found myself at home, because the experience of the years I lived in Seattle recognized this combination as very familiar.

baba ghanoush

His effort to “democratize” haute cuisine is well shown here. Garcia abandoned the trap of a 3 Michelin star restaurant a few years ago to feel yourself freer and enjoy family and work balance. This is how he describes Leña concept: “a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros” if you are careful with the wine you choose, of course.

If you’re Spanish, you come to a restaurant like Leña for meat. And if it’s red, the better. But I also came for the vegetables. Because if you can make a humble eggplant unforgettable, baba ghanoush is the best I’ve ever eaten, you can get it all. Also, the bimi with romesco was very tasty, al dente as I like it. I decided to save the grilled Malaga avocado and the smoked burrata caprese for the next time.

“Leña is a more informal and affordable restaurant where, however, you have an experience close to haute cuisine for the dishes, the cellar, the attention in the room and special details paying 60 euros”

The ribeye does not disappoint, but I fell in love with the pluma iberica, a piece less cooked than usual for me, but exquisite. The portions are more generous than I expected, and the restaurant gives you bread and butter that are delicious, so in the end we had no room for dessert. We will need to return to enjoy it, as well as the grilled fish like that you can find on the menu if your table companions took you to Leña a bit tricked and you are more “pescatarian” than carnivore.

Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager

On the day of my lunch, I had the opportunity to meet Laura Machado, Guest Experience manager of the restaurant, who was kind enough to spend a few minutes when the restaurant has their doors closes to the public to show me the backstage of it.

I had the chance to visit Smoked room, a very special place that arose unexpectedly when Dani García found the perfect space to prepare a tasting menu at a fixed price of 135 euros called Fire Omakase and whose dishes are chosen by the chefs with seasonal products. The food is prepared in front of the customers, who are sat at a “fake” bar. And I say fake because instead on high stools you will enjoy the meal in several comfortable armchairs raised at a decent height, so you won´t miss a movement of the chefs. In an attached room there are two other small tables.

Laura’s job is to make clients feel at home and at the same time to make them enjoy an unforgettable experience. “They take the effort to reserve and get groomed and, on many occasions, they come to celebrate special moments. It´s my job to make everything perfect,” she explains to me. In fact, many of her customers have become friends over time. They are regulars at all the group’s restaurants in Madrid: Bibo, Lobito de Mar and Dani Brasserie and they come to one or the other practically every week.

She tries to be more a clairvoyant than a psychologist. “The funniest thing about this job that I love, is learning to know what people want without knowing them.” To do this, she tries to be coordinated as much as possible with the rest of the team, especially on an always sensitive issue such as allergies and intolerances.

Laura has job experience in other restaurants in the group. In fact, she trained several months at Leña Marbella before she opened Leña Madrid. Comparing the clients of the two cities, she qualifies the Madrilenian as “demanding, but very faithful if you earn their trust” and considers that another of the elements that make Leña special is that it is a place where everyone feels welcome, and no special dress code is necessary. “There may be a table with a final bill of 70 euros and another with a bill that is close to 1,000. We treat both types of clients with the same love”, he concludes.

In short, Leña is a very special place in Madrid, a buzzling city now, as chef Quique Dacosta commented a few weeks ago, following the recent and upcoming opening of several luxury hotels. Leña restaurant itself is on fire, but it is worth being patient and insisting to get a reservation to enjoy this unique experience.

Laura Machado

Make your reservation here

Eateries and restaurants The yummy chronicles

My eggs Benedict crusade, chapter III: the Barking frog

Eggs Benedict The Barking Frog

Elena Fernandez

A disgraceful row of events, a torn ACL in a ski accident that doctors can´t fix yet because they have found two blood clots in the injury leg, are taking me off for a while of two of my passions: doing exercise and… drinking wine. But as I´m a really optimistic girl, I decided that time for a little indulgence had come. And when I indulge, eggs Benedict are on the top of my list. After having tasted Maltby Cafe ones, huge tasty plate, and Hotel Davenport in Seattle last Christmas, a bit disappointing, I decided to follow 425 Magazine suggestion and visiting The Barking Frog yesterday.

This is the restaurant of The Willows Lodge in Woodinville, one of my favorites cities in town. In fact I´ve decided to try for the first time Huevos Rancheros, but I couldn´t help ordering the Dungeness crab cakes eggs Benedict… again. And oh! perfection! I finally found a comforting and delicious dish not too salty, not too greasy, not spicy at all, perfect seasoning not to hide but to enjoy the quality of the crab and the amazing Yukon potatoes roasted with herbs. They rank 1st in my particular Washington eggs Benedict crusade since now.

Beautiful place, nice ambience and service too, really friendly with my 6 year old that went tradicional and chose burger slides with fries. Perfectly grilled. The tomato in my plate came from my son´s burger, but I have to say It fits perfectly with the eggs and the potatoes, giving a lighty touch to the plate. Little personal suggestion for the chef… Unluckily I couldn´t enjoy none of the cocktails and wines due to my Health condition, but I promise I´ll go back to enjoy dinner later on when I recover 100%. The Barking Frog and the Willows Lodge, a perfect place to find this sense of pretended isolation and relaxation in a beautiful spring Sunday.

Chefs Eateries and restaurants Healthy life

Jason Stratton, chef from Aragona. Echoes from my homeland in the Seattle Waterfront

Jason Stratton Aragona

Elena Fernandez

It could sound bizarre to interview a chef about his new project without having tasted his food. Well, not exactly. My most rewarding culinary experience since I came to Seattle a year and a half ago was my visit to Spinasse to enjoy their amazing squash ravioli.

I´ve made two reservations in Aragona that I had to cancel in the last minute, every mom should understand me, and you need to book so in advance that It´s been impossible for me to come. But I contacted Jason Stratton, Aragona´s chef before Christmas and I didn´t want to lost the opportunity to interview him. So let´s think in this post as a previous intro to Stratton´s culinary universe that more sooner than later will be tested in the field.

The love relationship between Stratton and my country began a long time ago in Granada. “I wanted to be a writer and I lived Granada, Lorca´s homeland for a few months. It was there when I feel deeply in love with the Spanish cuisine”, explain. In fact, he still keeps his scrapbook from that time full of ideas and thoughts.

But he needed two previous business, Piedmontese cuisine Spinasse and Artusi Bar, to come to his final dream of having a “not authentic but fully Iberian in spirit” Spanish restaurant.

The election of the name Aragona, coming from my homeland region, has a reason of being too. “I´ve read a lot about the Crown of Aragon and I´m fascinated about how they conquered the West Mediterranean and about this powerful influence in the cooking of the East of Spain”, says. “Visiting some different areas from Spain I realized this particular style could fit perfectly in the Pacific Northwest, where you can find many ingredients like veggies, seafood, fish and truffles too”.

Spanish cuisine is all about few but high quality ingredients, flavors and simplicity.  But as Steve Jobs said: “Simple can be harder than complex”. So for Jason Stratton looking for the best fresh ingredients has been a priority since the beginning. “We work with local producers and artisans to assure the best ingredients for our dishes, like Viridian Farms in Portland”. In this farm Spanish varieties like Padrón peppers, cardoon an borraja grow from spring to late fall.

But simplicity is not always easy to be embraced. When I ask Jason about which of the dishes in the menu is most misunderstood for the customers he tells me that the Black Cod in Adobo. “It´s fish marinated in vinegar and deep fried, so people think is a kind of fish and chips, low stuff”. I smile, because every andalusian would get offended to see his revered “pescaíto en adobo” treated as fast food.

In my opinion, this is the main challenge Aragon will have to face in his first year of life. The idea that an upscale dish needs bells and whistles to impress. And that you need to pay an extra for the best ingredients, although the technique, looks, maybe is not, so easy.

But Jason Stratton trusts Pacific Nortwest foodies. “Seattlelites are more interested than ever in healthy, local high quality food. I think the Spanish cuisine time is arriving”.

I agree. And I´m looking forward to come back to this airy, bright, simple but stunning place to try Aragona menu. Anyway, the wine list is so huge  overwhelming and well curated, Chris Tange is Aragona´s sommelier, that I will need to follow the experts advice and studying it in advance.

Because you don´t need to be Spanish to be a great Spanish food chef. You only need passion, talent and honesty. And Jason Stratton, this shy, kind and thoughtful chef that was elected as one of the best 10 young promises in the US in 2010, has all this attributes so far.

Aragona Seattle

 

 

 

 

Eateries Eateries and restaurants

Etta´s seafood: a friendly spot in the heart of Pike Place

Elena Fernandez 

Altought I´m happy Eastsider I periodically feel the need to cross 520 bridge to keep warm my urbanite side. Last Monday I decided to meet my friend Mary with the idea of having a quick bite at Etta´s seafood and visiting after the brand new SAM exhibit Peru: kingdoms of the sun and the moon. 

I know everybody is happy enjoying a sunny day, but I love driving to the Waterfront when is cloudy and foggy because is in these days when you can nearly “touch” the real Seattle spirit. For me Etta´s seafood belongs to this real seattlelite experience nobody has to miss visiting our city.

Squash soup at Etta´sAnyway It was my first visit, so I look dissappointely to the menu looking in vain for the famous Eggs Benedict with Dungeness crab, another authentic Seattle dish. Everything 100% authentic, oh my lord.

But I rediscovered a better alternative. The $15 Seattle Week Restaurant*, menu, a real bargain! I opted for the squash soup and the salad with pasta, and mushrooms, but I didn´t want to miss the opportunity to taste the local oysters so I chose the Vancouver variety, suggested by the waitress.

Eveybody knows that we Spaniards are seafood lovers, so I was transported for a moment to Galicia, but with the local touch of Tabasco and a little fork. In Spain you eat oysters with your hands, only with a touch of lemon. I´m happy to live in a aplace with such an amazing sea creatures.

Coming back to the menu, the squash soup was really good. A bit spicy for me, but I have to say my taste is super austere, I love foods with few spices, dressings and sauces. Following the Spanish term, I´m a food purista.

That´s precisely why I enjoyed so much the pasta, arugula and mushrooms salad. It´s been tossed only with olive oil, so the aromatic flavors of green and fungi were sublimated instead of camuflated.

Mushrooms pasta con arugulaBy that time I had forgot to check my watch and Mary was giving me all the details about her new fascinating new role as Program Coordinator of Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, that provides college education inside the Washington Correction Center for Women.

FEPP  offers courses in English, Math and Spanish to more than 60 students. In addition to these classes, FEPPS sponsors a monthly lecture series. I´ve always believed that everybody deserves a second chance to give a meaning to his life, so I find this project and its mission really fascinating.

When the dessert came, panacotta for both of us, we decided to loose our maybe too ambitious schedule and to go back to the SAM exhibition in a few weeks. Sometimes is better to enjoy pleasures bite by bite.

“But next time we´ll visit first the exhibition, OK?,” I said. “Done,” answered Mary with a big smile.

*the Seattle Week restaurant ends today, October Thursday 24th

Cartel Pike Place II