Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best Pizza in Venice: Pizza Ae Oche, Santa Croce

Outside Pizza Ae Oche Venice, Italy
Inside Pizza Ae Oche Venice, Italy
Estiva Pizza at Pizza Ae Oche Venice
Mangiafuoco Pizza at Pizza Ae Oche Venice
I'm a foodie. I love all kinds of foods. But I take a lot of heat for showing so much favor to pizza and burgers. Guess the kid in me still exists. I think many lambaste me because they simply haven't searched out and enjoyed the same types of pizza and burgers I have. This is certainly true in England, where most foodies agree finding a great burger is like trying to find the golden ticket in a bar of chocolate. It simply doesn't happen very often. But I'm not English, I'm American. I was born in a country that worships and idolizes the burger. We've perfected it to an art that has now become a science. But this isn't a blog about burgers. So pray, let us move on.

If you've been to Pizzeria Trianon in Naples, as I have, you know what ultra-stupidly-brilliant pizza tastes like. And now you have another pizza joint to search out and find; Pizza Ae Oche in Santa Croce, Venice.

After four days of searching far and wide for Ae Oche we finally found it on our last day. With several hours to kill until our flight was leaving and an hour before our water bus (Alilaguna Blue Line) was set to depart we decided to give Ae Oche a try. This turned out not to be the best idea as lunch took quite a long time, apparently this is where all the local builders eat, and we had to literally run from Santa Croce to San Marco to catch the water bus.

Although my ribs ached with cramps and my wife nearly fell over from a combination of fullness and a stitch in her side, we do not regret eating at Ae Oche. It's a restaurant that normally would of been completely off my radar and had I seen it without knowing how special it was, thank you New York Times Travel Section, I would of just walked right past it. It screams chain-restaurant! And, as anyone who knows me can attest, I despise chain-restaurants. With the exception of Thomas Keller's growing Bouchon chain and Sullivan's Steakhouse, of course! My Mangiafuoco Pizza with Spicy Salami, Chili Peppers, Paprika, Tabasco Sauce and Rocket, which I added for an additional €1 was painfully delicious. As was my wife's Estiva Pizza with Rocket, Parmesan Cheese, Cherry-Tomatoes and her €1 addition of Onions.

Both pizzas were as good as anything we've ever eaten in a restaurant before. I still prefer our homemade pizza though. Which is basically just variations of this River Cottage recipe. Pizza Ae Oche is certainly worth risking getting lost for a few hours while you try to navigate the 117 islands and about 400 bridges that make up Venice. And it's relatively inexpensive, except for the bloody coperto that awaits you at every table in Italy... Grrrrrr!

Please visit my professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hugh's Fish Fight: The Ethical, Responsible, Healthy Alternative to the Chippy

Waitrose Fish and Chips
Photobucket
Photobucket

Many of you have probably watched, or heard about Hugh's Fish Fight, the recent Channel 4 documentary in which food activist and wholesome, country-chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall shows us the devastation that our insatiable, unstoppable appetite for fish is taking on the world's oceans. I was stunned by the information Hugh discovered on his journey. For instance, half of all fish caught in the North Sea are discarded because of silly European laws, apparently trying to curb over-fishing by creating insane limits on certain fish. When a fishing boat reaches its limit for that species, they must discard them... DEAD!If they don't, they will be fined for going over their limit.

Hugh has made it easy for us foodies to find fish that is truly being sourced ethically and sustainably. With videos and apps it is now easier than ever to eat only those species which are not over-fished, or tossed overboard because of legal limits.

Like most people living in Britain, I love fish and chips. Perhaps no other dish defines the UK more than fish and chips. Yet our love of this quintessentially English dish is causing havoc in the seas. Unfortunately, we eat mostly only three species of fish and two of those are a constant offer at the chippies, Cod and Haddock. As a result, stocks are low, or at least they appear to be, leading to EU laws and regulations on haulage limits.

Rather than giving up on one of my most favorite dishes I have begun to research alternatives. And I've found one that is not only more ethically responsible, but healthier and cheaper as well. That is; Line Caught, Icelandic Breaded Cod Fillets, with Organic Oven Chips from Waitrose. Throw in a good handful of Organic Garden Peas and you have yourself a meal that according to Hugh's iPhone app is completely fine to eat, with less calories than a normal take-away and it's nearly all organic. As well as being delicious.

There are of course more choices available. Marks and Spencer has a sustainable Breaded Cod and Haddock, but it doesn't state on the box whether it's line caught, or not and they don't have organic chips. I have yet to try the other UK supermarkets, but will in due course.

Alternatively, you can go to your local fishmonger and get the fish from him, batter and fry it as well as cut and fry the potatoes yourself to make the chips. This is without question the better method, but this entry makes it easy for anyone to eat fish and chips ethically, regardless of cooking skills.

Unfortunately, this entry is only targeting those in the UK, but I'm sure with a little research you can find ethical, sustainably sourced fish and chips in your local area.

Let's all please get behind this. We only have ONE ocean. Let's protect it!

Please visit my professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Osteria Enoteca San Marco, Venice: One to Search Out and Find

Osteria Enoteca San Marco, Venice Italy
Osteria Enoteca San Marco, Venice Italy
Being Served at Osteria Enoteca San Marco
Aubergine Pudding with Anchovies & Blue Cheese
Scallops with White Truffles
Mixed Fried Seafood with Vegetables
Sesame Seed Baked Cod
It's been almost 10 years since I was last in Venice. My idea of good food has changed markedly since then. So when I heard that Venice had crap food I was more than just a tad scared. This trip was to be a belated anniversary present to my wife and she, even more then me, thrives on fabulous food. The guidebooks didn't help either. There is very little information on which restaurants in Venice are great and normally the descriptions are jam packed with expletives such as, "expensive, tourist trap, not worth it, extortionate." However, in the four days my wife and I spent in Venice we did manage to find one or two little gems that are simply not mentioned enough when looking online, or in the guidebooks for fantastic Venice gastro-fare. One such restaurant is Osteria Enoteca San Marco near, you guessed it, Piazza San Marco.

We were warned numerous times to stay away from any restaurant near the Piazza, but I'm glad we didn't heed that rubbish advice. Osteria San Marco looks and indeed is, quite expensive. So if you're going to Venice on a budget and want to eat on a shoestring, skip this review. If however, you want to try one of the best restaurants in Venice, pray continue.

Mixed amongst the high-roller stores such as Prada, Gucci, Burberry and Versace rests a little, seemingly unassuming wine bar. There are hundreds of them in Venice, but Osteria San Marco is a very special place. We arrived there quite early for Italian standards, 6pm sharp. And except for the two Japanese tourists toting Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags, we were the only ones in the restaurant. We sat at a quaint little table by the window and watched everyone as they walked from Piazza San Marco towards even more high-end shops and ultimately, the Rialto Bridge.

Several glasses of superb local Cabernet and Prosecco later and we were ready to order. And this is where the fun really began. Minutes after ordering, my Aubergine Pudding with Anchovies and Blue Cheese arrived and I dove in head first. The Aubergines were tender and tasted of buttery Filet Steak. The Blue Cheese and Anchovies added a multi-dimentional flavor to the dish that I really appreciated. My wife's Scallops with Creamed Spinach and White Truffles could of been slightly more intense, but she and I usually say that about any dish. It understandably wasn't, due to the delicate flavor of the White Truffles. Still, a gorgeous dish.

We asked to take a momentary break, grabbed our wine and stood outside watching all the tourists look at the menu, glance at each other, shake their heads and then walk away. We suspect it was because they figured they'd find something better. Well, they're wrong, as we were when we did the same thing and wound up in a small, family run restaurant near Piazzale Roma. We have regretted it ever since.

Our mains arrived shortly after we ordered them upon coming back inside and it was more of the same. My Mixed Fried Seafood with Vegetables was exactly what I came to Italy for. Loads of fresh, incredibly tasty seafood. My wife's Sesame Seed Baked Plaice was another story. She was envisioning a delicate piece of fish with only a sprinkling of Sesame Seeds and what she got was a piece of fish drowning in Sesame Seeds that completely overpowered this, one of the most delicate fish of all. So, I got to eat most of it and my belly was happy. However, I agree with my wife, it didn't need to be beat up with Sesame Seeds, it just needed a pinch. They need to learn what I've learned from my wife after many accidents in the kitchen, sometimes... less really is more.

Osteria Enoteca San Marco is a jewel of a restaurant, located in one of the most lovely areas in Venice. I highly recommend it. This is what I think about when I think about brilliant Italian food.

If I have one piece of advice to offer when looking for a really good restaurant in Venice, it's this; be prepared to spend a lot of money on your meals. If you're not, you will go home feeling cheated by all of the sub-par, and downright shitty restaurants on the island. After all, it's Venice, people aren't going to stop coming here because the food sucks. So be careful, do your research and you'll eat some of the finest food available. Start with Osteria San Marco and go from there.

Please visit my professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Marco Pierre White: Wheeler's at the Chequers Inn

Wheeler's at the Chequers Inn Maresfield
Interior of Wheeler's at the Chequers Inn Maresfield
Menu at Wheeler's at the Chequers Inn Maresfield
Panache of Foie Gras with Duck Egg
Potted Shrimp
Parfait of Foie Gras
Scottish Ribeye with l'escargot
Lamb
Oxtail and Kidney Pie

I have said it before and I'll say it again, I am seriously impressed with restaurants and pubs in the South East of England. They continually satisfy my deep down, innate desire to consume awesome food at a good price. Marco Pierre White's Wheeler's at the Chequers Inn in Maresfield is just such a restaurant.

One thing I must note is that, to my total shame, I have never been to a Marco Pierre White restaurant. I don't know why, the hair, the bandana, the 'tude. Something about him just rubbed me the wrong way. But, he's a British institution, so, like black pudding and wellies, I had to give it a try.

The Chequers Inn doesn't look like much from the outside. I had passed it dozens of times on my way to Eastbourne and just thought, "oh, that looks like a nice building." It wasn't until I saw the name Marco Pierre White that I got interested. And my interest stayed high the entire meal. And it had little to do with the drawings of an altogether sexual nature. Note the middle picture in the second image from the top above, a man on top of a woman and a police officer shining his light on his subjects. The restaurant is adorned with all types of artwork. It was like being in a museum.

We had come for the set menu; 2 courses for £16.50. However, the fine print stated that it was only available from 6pm-7pm and our reservation was for 7pm so we couldn't partake. Which was actually a good thing. Because, instead we we served some of the best food I have had in a long time. Not since Paris have I tasted such exquisitely prepared dishes.

First up was my Panache of Foie Gras and Duck Egg, served on Brioche. And oh how glorious it was. The Foie Gras melted in my mouth like it was warm butter and the Duck Egg and Brioche was like a winter duvet that cuddles you in the night. Wrapped around my Foie Gras it took my senses by storm. But so did my wife's and mother-in-law's Parfait of Foie Gras, Raisin Sec en Gelee de Madere. My father-in-law, in true Northern style was having the Morecamb Bay Potted Shrimps with Brown Bread and Butter. And I thought him to be a silly fool. With all the choices why would one choose that? Because it was delicious, that's why.

With our starters slowly being digested and our palates completely ready to accept more, our main courses were served by a woman who had clearly just started that week and wasn't quite clued up on dining protocol. Looking the diner in the eyes and speaking clearly would be useful in the future.

My Scottish Ribeye Steak with l'Escargot and Herbs, served with Bearnaise Sauce and Triple Cooked Chips was something out of a dream. It evaporated in my mouth like water boiling over. The Bearnaise Sauce was done to an exquisite standard with just enough Tarragon. My wife's Roast Rump of Lamb a la Dijonnaise with Dijon and Chives was also a lovely dish, however, after trying the steak my tastebuds were spoiled and nothing would compare. The Dauphinoise Potatoes did let the dish down though. It was quite possibly the saltiest thing I have ever put in my mouth. Upon questioning the chef he said it was slightly over seasoned, but that it was most likely the cheese they use. Fair enough, but you might want to consider changing it to another cheese that doesn't taste like the Atlantic.

The final dish from our exceptional meal was my father-in-law's Braised Oxtail and Kidney Pudding with Swede Puree. Not much to look at, but it delivers on taste. Huge, powerful flavors in a rich, reduction sauce. A nice effort!

I'm not sure how much input Marco Pierre White actually has in his growing chain of Wheeler's restaurants. What I do know, is that if they are all like the Chequers Inn in Maresfield, this food blogger is going to be visiting a few more of these little gems. My prediction is that once people catch onto this restaurant prices will rise and it will be very hard to get into. Grab a table while you can and enjoy the meal. I did.

Please visit my professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography


Monday, August 15, 2011

The Griffin Inn, Fletching: Where to Go When You Know Where to Go

Exterior at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Pub at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
The Menu at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Gorgeous Bread at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Tempura Courgette at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Ham Hock Salad at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Salad at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Lamb at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Pork Belly at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Monkfish at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Dessert at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
Dessert at The Griffin Inn, Fletching England
The Griffin Inn in Fletching rests atop a sweeping, panoramic hilltop village in the heart of East Sussex. This is the place countryfolk come when they want to eat uber-cool, ultra-succlent pub-grub in an environment that is not chockablock with tourists and rabble-rousers. It is a strange place though. One that I have yet to figure out. The bartenders look like they belong in the latest issue of Mens Italian Vogue. They are usually tall and wearing tight pink long sleeve shirts that look like they were tailored on Saville Row. They conform to the bodies of these fit, athletic supermen like a glove and even I find it hard not to forget my drink order when I look at them. And I am a very happily married man.

The women who wait the tables are equally untouchably attractive and they're usually wearing short, thin skirts that look like, with just a spattering of wind in the wrong, or right direction, depending on how you look at it, would blow the skirts up and over their heads. But they never do. These girls dance around the pub and garden like they're walking on water. Never really looking anyone in the eye. They're just that unobtainable. Like I said, this is an odd place. A sort of magical, wildly appealing place, that I just can't seem to get enough of at the moment.

On this occasion, we were celebrating my wife's birthday. England decided to let us have a break and it didn't rain for the first time since the 16th century. So we had the pleasure of eating outside, overlooking the Ouse Valley. This is far more appealing than the inside, which is normally dotted with locals that usually look at me like they know my whole life. And especially that I'm American and can't possibly understand the true intrinsic value of a good 'ole fashioned pint of Harvey's.

After the floating, fairy ballerina waitress took our orders it wasn't long until I was cutting open the ethereal Tempura Courgette Flowers, Stuffed with Goats Cheese, Basil, Chili & Red Pepper Sauce. I know I have a tendency to exaggerate, note the sentence about the fairy ballerina above, but this dish was truly magnificent. It was light, flaky and once I got down to the Goats Cheese, full of flavor. But I wasn't the only one to order a brilliant starter. My wife's Ham Hock with Caramelized Apple & Roquefort was very special as well. So special that everybody else at the table had that, while I was eating the Courgette.

The starters had been impressive, but the mains were nothing short of brilliant. My Molasses Marinated Rump of Romney Lamb with Sweet Potatoes & Pistachio Crumb was perhaps the best piece of Lamb I've had in, I'm not sure how long, a very long time though. The Sweet Potatoes were a perfect accompaniment to the massively intense, concentrated reduction sauce that gently gathered around my Lamb, like the moat that surrounds Bodium Castle.

My sister-in-law's Roasted Monkfish with Peas, Crayfish, Sampshire & Saffron Risotto was equally as impressive and so was my mother-in-law's Slow Roast Belly of Pork, Mashed Potatoes, Black Pudding and Crackling. I could go on and on about each dish, but I will not belabor the point. Which is, this is not a pub to be taken lightly. It is a diamond in the rough and doesn't fit into any category that I can think of. It is like trying to put a label on your best friend. You don't know why you get along so well, you just do.

And despite the fact that every time I come here I am faced with one, or two people that have attitude usually reserved for snooty gallery openings and nightclubs in Manhattan's Meat Packing District, I still enjoy my time here.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography





Friday, July 15, 2011

Zapatas, Tunbridge Wells: Finally, Great Mexican Food in England!

Zapatas Royal Tunbridge Wells
Zapatas Tunbridge Wells
Chips and Salsa at Zapatas Tunbridge Wells
Shredded Chicken Quesadilla
Shredded Chicken Quesadilla
Chicken and Chorizo Burrito
Chicken and Chorizo Burrito
Finding good Mexican food in England is like finding the golden ticket in a bar of chocolate. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fans will like that little similitude. I have eaten Mexican food in numerous towns and cities all across the UK. And I've been disappointed with each. Wahaca in London is perhaps the closest I got to finding truly great Mexican food. But even they let me down with their infernal dining room, tapas style portions and Dutch waiter.

I had almost given up when, by chance, the wife and I decided to take a leisurely Sunday drive to the posh town of Tunbridge Wells, also known as, spoken in a haughty English accent, Royal Tunbridge Wells. This shouldn't of surprised me. I have only on rare occasion been displeased with RTW, as my mother calls it. We Americans like to abbreviate a lot: AT&T, IBM, P. Diddy, L.A., NYC, Mickey D's. It's what we do.

When we entered Zapatas I was expecting the usual; Guacamole from a jar, Salsa that was no better than Old El Paso, Tortilla Chips from a bag, Refried Beans, Orange Cheddar and stale Onions. What I got was so much more pleasing

My Chicken and Chorizo Burrito was delicious. Although, like the town it was made in, it was obscenely posh. The filling was not lovingly wrapped in a large Flour Tortilla, but instead, it was stuffed into a cone shaped Tortilla. There were two on my plate separated by an estuary of Salad and a river of Sour Cream. I balked at it at first, "Blah! Great sweets, we've come to another trendy Mexican restaurant that defies all authentic Mexican recipes and opts instead, for posh, uber-cool, tapas-Mexican." But I was silenced by my wife's boot and the glorious taste of fatty, spicy Chili and Meat.

Humbled and looking for more, I snatched up one of my wife's Shredded Mexican Chicken Quesadillas cooked on a Panini griddle. Interesting way of doing it. And then I ate another... and then another. Each time lapping on the Sour Cream, Guacamole and Chipotle Chili Salsa they had given me with my Tortilla Chips. Which, by the way, we were charged £2.20 for. You see, unlike in the US where Chips and Salsa are free, the English have chosen to charge for that. And not just a little, we paid over £6 for them. Thinking they were free, or inexpensive, I ordered them for some filler. The kind woman asked how hot I liked my Salsa. Naturally, I said, "As hot as they can make it, but the wife likes it mild." To which she responded, "I can bring both if you'd like." And being a naive American, I thought she was being gracious and giving us two for the price of one. Not so. The Chipotle Salsa was £2.20, the Salsa Mexicana another £2.20 and £1.50 for the Tortilla Chips.

Despite my little mistake, I left feeling very good. I had found an exceptionally tasty, affordable Mexican restaurant in England. Zapatas may be posh and they may do things their own way, cone Tortillas were odd, but they have won me over. I may just retire from this tedious work of restaurant blogging. I would be happy to after that achievement. But then my wife would have no more excuses for forcing us to go out and spend obscene amounts of money on food that only makes our stomachs grow and our bank account shrink.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Cat Inn, West Hoathly: Well Earned Bib Gourmand

The Cat Inn, West Hoathly
The Cat Inn, West Hoathly
Roast Beef Sandwich
Rump of Lamb
Mushroom and Ale Pie
Vietnamese Rare Roast Beef Rolls
I've been to The Cat Inn in West Hoathly, many, many times. I consider it my local even though it's miles from my house. I haven't reviewed it before because I normally go at night, when the light isn't ideal for photos. Anyone who has read my blog knows that the images I take of the food are as important, if not more important to me than what I write about it. I know full well that I am a better photographer than writer and so, whenever I can, I try to eat in restaurants I'm reviewing in the day, when the light is best. Actually, I've written an article on the best way to take food photographs when shooting for blogs, Facebook, etc. You can find that here.

With an introduction like that, you've already guessed that The Cat Inn is a great pub. I've spoiled it right from the get go. See, I told you I was a better photographer than writer. But there is more to The Cat than I've captured in the images above. The Cat has recently won a Michelin Bib Gourmand for its stunningly simple, yet intensely delicious fare. And unlike many pubs and restaurants in England who have obtained Michelin Bibs, Stars, etc. The Cat has stayed relatively grounded. Unlike, say, the Dukes Head in Crawley Down, which has reached super-star status in this local area, but has also gotten very sloppy (more to come on that at a later date), The Cat seems to follow a fundamental principle amongst very good restaurants, keep it simple. And they have a superb frequent diner card. For every £200 you spend you get a free two-course meal. With steak costing £18.50 the rewards can be substantial.

For a starter we had Rare Roast Beef Rolls with Coriander and Mint Salad with Vietnamese Dressing. It was fresh, vibrant and original. For my main, I had the Traditional Steak, Mushroom and Ale Pie with Greens and Chips. The pastry was separate from the filling, which I found to be both strange and welcome. I don't eat much gluten and this allowed me to eat mostly filling and only take small bites of the pastry. It was gorgeous! Tip top filling. Big, explosive flavors and loads of meat. My wife's Anchovy Marinated South Downs Rump of Lamb, Minted Crushed New Potatoes, Greens and Jus took top prize for dish of the day. What else is new? The Lamb was tender and succulent and the Minted Crushed New Potatoes added just the right amount of kick to help separate the flavors. And finally, Simple Foodie's Rare Roast Beef and Horseradish Sandwich with Salad and Crisps. An uncomplicated little dish, done to a very high standard.

With its incredible food, its beautiful location, frequent dining card and attentive staff, The Cat Inn is hard to beat. There are plenty of pubs in West Sussex one can go to. But there are few that equal The Cat for pure dining pleasure. I highly recommend it. Maybe I'll see you there.

My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography




Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Casa Alberto: Madrid's Oldest Taberna circa 1827

Outside Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Inside Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Olives at Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Fresh Salad at Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Pork Scratchings at Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Calamares at Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Albondigas at Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
Cod at Casa Alberto Madrid, Spain
When I first moved to England I was surprised by the enthusiasm evoked by the English folk when they spoke about Spain. I quickly learned that Spain to Britons is like Florida to Americans. We use Florida as a dumping ground. We fly down from the North East, or wherever, and bake in the sun all day long, at night we go out and do things we wouldn't dream of doing in our home towns. Getting wildly drunk in the streets of Miami and hurling vulgar language on the natives. But, the English are so polite and reserved, you say. Not in Spain, they're not.

When I visited Madrid in April I regretted not checking the football schedule. I happened to arrive on the same day that Real Madrid was playing Tottenham. And what I witnessed will be seared into my memory forever. Beer soaked, drunken, pasty, Englishmen yelling at their mates from across the Plaza Mayor, singing "England... England..." at the top of their lungs on the Calle Mayor, outside the bars. The Spanish on the other hand, were drinking wine and chain smoking, seemingly unaffected. They were so amused actually, that they were taking photos and videos of the slovenly Englishmen on their phones.

But this is a food and restaurant review, so my commentary on English behavior in Spain shall now come to a close. Now onto the food.

I do now understand why the English speak so highly of Spain. The weather is, when I went in April anyway, perfect. It reminds me of San Diego, California, where I was born. The food is simple, but prepared in a way defies all logic. I found myself stopping mid-bite and saying aloud, "But I don't understand, this is just a piece of meat on a plate. How can it taste so good?" and "Wait, this is nothing more than shrimp in an orange bowl. It looks like piss and throw up, but tastes like little fairies dropped it from heaven." Yes, my best meal in Spain was Gambas Pil Pil, in a little hole in the wall joint that we called, Cardigan's, because the owner wore the same grey cardigan every day we were there and we couldn't remember the restaurant's actual name.

Casa Alberto was no different than anywhere else we ate in Spain. And that is what makes it so brilliant. It is the oldest taberna in Madrid, but isn't any better than Mr. Cardigan's. When we entered Casa Alberto, we were immediately attacked by a fiery Spanish waiter. He clearly recognized us as American and spoke to us in broken English, telling us what we'd like as we clearly had no palate for proper Spanish food. And I'm eternally grateful that he did. He brought us out a selection of tapas that makes my mouth water and my stomach gurgle every time I look at the images from that meal.

Calamares Plancha con Cebolla Confitada (Grilled Squid with Candied Onions), Cod with a gorgeous Red Pepper sauce, Albondigas (Beef Meatballs), yum, yum, drool, drool, Pork Scratchings, a Mixed Salad and swarthy, mysteriously dark Olives. A perfect end to our over 1,000 mile road trip across the South of Spain. The food at Casa Alberto cannot fully be appreciated unless you eat there. The flavors are so simple, yet so fresh. They are so perfect in fact, it feels like a higher power ordained them to be married in that particular dish. There is no other explanation.

Is Spanish food my favorite? No. I still prefer the complex dishes that the French are so good at. But, I have to admit, Spain is a close second. And Casa Alberto is a wonderful introduction to tapas and life in Spain.