Finding Balance on the Road

I’m so stuffed from lunch, and I’m in line…to eat again. You’ve gotta love Texas!

Alfredo (my business partner) and I are on a tour de force across America doing research and getting inspired for new concepts for the Mercadito Hospitality group.

Currently we’re eating our way thru Austin, TX and the food scene is booming. We have been to everything from food trucks to BBQ to cocktail bars to taco stands.

But trust me- it looks a lot more fun on Instagram than it really is- especially if you’re trying to stay in shape. We hit at lease 2-3 places for lunch and 3-4 for dinner and always a midnight snack. You can imagine that calories catch up with you fast.

So about a year ago I made a valiant effort to start losing weight and trying to stay healthy. But being a chef I want to taste everything!  Once I asked Steve Dolinsiky how he manages to eat out all the time and stay so fit. His response? Portion control- only taking a bite or two of each dish and moving on.

That may work for him, but if something tastes good I will eat the whole plate. So to combat the eating sprees I decided to hire personal trainer, Chris Grayson of USI in Lincoln square. I work out with him twice a week and do Bikram as often as I can, sprinkled with a Brazilian jiu jitsu training.

In between food research trips I rely on quinoa to keep me full, I make a huge batch and eat small portions during the day. I was turned onto quinoa at Protein Bar and I swear by it.

But just when I think I’ve found a balance that works for me…we hit the road and stumble upon a place like Gourdoughs, the doughnut food truck.  To quote Homer Simpson: “Mmmmmm doughnuts”.

Sorry Chris…it’s my job…I promise to work it off next week man.

http://urbanstrengthinstitute.com

http://bikramcitychicago.com

http://www.chicagojiujitsu.com/gbchicago.html

Taste Of The Nations

I get tapped to do charity events all the time, I wish I could say yes to all of them but we all know that’s not possible. And while I try not to play favorites, I have to admit that there are a few I can’t say “no” to…one of them being Taste of The Nation.

They bring out rockstar Chefs, Mixologists and energy like no other.  Leaving the restaurant during a busy service is always hard, but when I get to hang out with all my friends for a good cause like- stopping child hunger then it’s a bonus.

I usually like to bring a crowd pleaser and something vegetarian so last night we rolled with Escalivada tapas.

The event was packed and I had to hustle to keep our table filled. My friend Christian was back in town from New York so he graciously pitched in.
Even Pintxo came out from behind the bar at Barcio to say hello to all his adoring fans and snag some besos from the ladies.
Cooking, raising money for charity and hanging with my friends is pretty much a perfect night

Barcelona Restaurants
El Quim de la Boqueria (market)
Boqueria Market: www.elquimdelaboqueria.cat
Get the cuttlefish with the fried egg. It’s a little place so you have to stand and wait for a table, but it goes fast worth it!
Also in the Boqueria Market check out Pinotxo Bar and Kiosko Universal
Bar Canete
Carrer de la Unio 17 #930 029 425 www.antiguobarorgia.com
This is a fun spot for tapas off Las Rambles.
Tapac C24
Diputacio, 269 #934-880-977 www.projectes24.com/
MY FAVORITE PLACE IN BARCELONA!

Everything is amazing, but I really loved the MC foie burger and potatoes with egg and chorizo.

 
Lolita Taperia
Tamarit, 104 # 924315231 www.lolitataperia.com/
This used to be Albert Adria’s tapas bar- and it’s still very good but it’s always packed.
TICKETS
www.ticketsbar.es/web/en/#
Avenida del Paralel’ in Barceona where the 41º22’34” parallel north line passes through.

Very difficult to get a reservation, but a must see if your traveling to BCN!

It is the latest restaurant from Albert Adria, so you know its going to be something special.

Three People and Music
Corsega 231-233 #677887565  www.3fpm.com
This is my friend Mateo’s restaurant- we cooked together in Spain. His patatas bravas put anyone else’s to shame and his tuna tartar is off the charts. Total hidden gem.



Moo Restaurant in the Hotel Omm
Rosselló 265 # 93 445 40 00 www.hotelomm.es/moo/
This is an extension of the Roca Brothers, whom I worked for at their 3 star restaurant in Girnoa.It’s really awesome food and gives a insight into their creativity.
Alkimia
Industria, 79 #93 207 61 15

I used to work here with Chef Jordi. This is a pricey 1 Michelin Star spot- but it’s well worth it. Make a reso.

 
Dining In Madrid

 Everyone always asks me to recommend restaurants in Spain for their trips. I finally decided to put a list of my favorites and some cant miss spots! Here is Madrid, Enjoy!

Madrid

Gastromaque 

C/ Pelayo, Madrid 915 226 413 
good tapas nothing fancy or crazy 

Good for a quick lunch or a beer and some bites

Le Cabrera 

C/ Bárbara de Braganza, 2 Madrid 913 199 457
awesome cocktail bar with great tapas,

cool scene make a reservation

Estado Puro 

Plaza de Canovas del Castillo, 4, Madrid913 302 400 

(its in the NH Hotel in the Paseo del Prado)

Chef Paco Roncero’s new tapas restaurant. sit out side if you can, he is a El Bulli guy so some 
tapas are creative and some traditional.

try the patatas bravas here! and cod fritters. make a reservation


Orio Restaurant

 C/ Fuencarral, 49 Madrid902 520 522
good place for lunch, tapas are ready on the bar,

help your self, ask server for plates


Fuencarral Street

great for shopping, cool stores, funky boutiques! The street then spills
on to Gran Via and then over to Sol (the center of Madrid) in Sol watch for pick pockets
i have never had a problem but just be aware

La Latina Neighborhood
The Best Of Madrid
The whole idea in this neighborhood is to bounce around
go from place to place, have a few bites and on to the next one
here are some cant miss spots!

Casa Lucio

 C/ CAVA BAJA, 35 Madrid, Spain 913 653 252
One of the most famous restaurants in Madrid. MUST MAKE A RESO!!
try the potatoes with the fried egg, everything is good here

Casa Lucas

 C/ Cava Baja 30, 28005Madrid, 91365 0804
Tapas bar, good wines great food
Best Foie Gras mousse i have ever had, also try the chicken with corn mousse tapas


San Miguel Market 

Plaza San Miguel 1 Madrid, 915 427 364
Huge market, great stalls to eat at, just walk around and eat
opens at 530am and closes at 8pm


Fine Dining Restaurants

Sergi Arola Gastro

 C/ Zurbano, 3 Madrid,913 102 169
$$$$ but very good, I worked for Sergi for a year when he was at La Broche.
May be a lunch spot , check out the web site must make a reso www.sergiarloa.es

La Broche 

C/ MIGUEL ÁNGEL, 29-31Madrid,913 993 437
Tasting menu restaurant, $$$$ I used to work here! the chef is a great guy
he lived in the states and speaks english.  www.labroche.com

Barcelona & San Sebastian coming soon!

I Want My LCD

As I get older, my passions in life have become fewer and stronger. Those who know me are aware that music is right up there with food and cooking. I’ve traveled countless miles to see shows and getting lost in the music is my way of decompressing.  One of the great regrets I have is not going to LCD Soundsystem’s final show at MSG. 

Wednesday night my brother Matthew and I went to the next best thing- their documentary “Shut Up and Play The Hits”.  The fact that James Murphy decided to just pull the plug on the band is something I’ve never really understood when the music is so awesome. I dare you to turn on an LCD song and not start dancing or tapping your foot, or sing along to the awesome beats with deep lyrics. They’re such a diverse band- a mix of; hard to categorize them. They’re a little dance, punk, rock, blues and soul.

 I was looking forward to James explaining his decision, but I wasn’t prepared for the way the film made me feel. It was interesting to me to feel the range of emotions I experienced throughout the show. The music had such energy, and feeling to it… then it would cut to an interview with James Murphy. It was the first in depth interview he had done since the band broke up and thru the interviewers questions, it showed him after the show picking up the pieces and starting a new life a life without LCD. It was both sad and powerful. 

 I identified with the moment when James questioned his decision of quitting too soon. That moment you doubt yourself, I’ve been there. Another point that struck home to me was when James talked about making music for the people who wanted to hear it, and enjoyed it. He talked about a time when he was playing in a punk band at bars and clubs and everyone would just stand there rather than dance like he prefers. This made me think of my life and how sometimes I also feel like I’m in that same “punk band” cooking for people who are not enjoying. I would rather cook at dance clubs with the party people.

 The movie took the audience through the highs and lows. The highs- were during the final show at MSG when the band was playing their hearts out and laughing. The lows were the scenes of James tying up the loose ends to end the band.  The emotional high/low moment took place with James in the band’s storage space the day after the final show. He was looking at old pics of the band and all the equipment.  He was alone, it was queit and he started to break down in tears.  It was also a sad scene for all of us knowing it was the end of an era, the LCD era. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYO0h2QhkZA

My Review of Applebees

Walking into Applebee’s was an experience in itself.

Having no idea we would wind up at such a dining establishment took me and many many others by surprise. But when in Rome (I’m not in Rome BTW) we went.

We were greeted by the matrie’d  ( girl at host stand)and sat immediately at what we’ve come to refer to fondly as “the chefs table” (it was just a regular table).  We knew we were in for a treat when Jen our server, stopped by to greet us .  Judging from her faded REO Speedwagon tattoo we knew she liked to have a good time, but more importantly deliver five-star service.

Dunno if it was the many, oh so many choices on the menu (with pictures!) or the dancing in 105 degree heat at last night’s Phish show, but my head was spinning! (still hung over)
My dining companions and I settled on the 2 for 20, which I guess is there version of “Restaurant Week”.(it’s nothing like restaurant week) We were treated to a “pre fix”  menu, but for a MUCH cheaper price.

I opted for the “Summer Squeeze Slushy” spiked with some kind of local vodka ( it was in a Plastic unmarked bottle in the bar well)  and the chicken and bacon quesadillas. My dining mates ordered the mozzarella sticks and the buffalo chicken wings.
   
Course #1 arrived in a timely manner( 45 seconds after we ordered) and the presentation was beautiful- the way they stacked up the chicken wings and drizzled the sauce over (thrown into a basket with parchment paper liner) well..it was the work of a craftsman.  The chicken must have been local and organic ( frozen from china) and the buffalo sauce homemade ( if you consider a factory home, then yes).   My quesadillas came next, crispy flour tortillas with melted cheese that must have been from a small dairy farm nearby (government cheese came to mind). The bacon could have been crispier but I was happy with the dish overall. (That was bacon)

Next came Matthew’s; double crispy shrimp ( fried bread crumbs around a shrimp tail) with a spicy cocktail sauce, (ketchup with lemon juice) the shrimp were crispy and so fresh tasting of the sea ( a sea of oil spill)

We decided not to get deserts.. we were so full ( I can get GMO ice cream anywhere) and asked for the check. The place was busy when we left so good thing we got there early (they have AC that’s why everyone is there).

Over all I liked my experience ( I guess if I hadn’t eaten in a month the food was edible.. then again I have not slept yet)   We are excited for our brunch ( eggs over easy) at Perkins tomorrow (more diarrhea) it was a tough reso to get but I put in a call to the chef. ( I don’t know the chef, or anyone for that matter but we’re hoping that Tiger Wood’s Perkins friend is our server).
********** 10 star, forks and diamonds rating

Chicago Via Aspen

The Mercadito Hospitality team hopped a plane to the Aspen Food and Wine Classic Alfredo Sandoval, Natalie Kalb, Tad Carducci and I all decided to enjoy ourselves at the festival instead of working like we did last year.

 I highlighted my top 10 favorites from last year here http://tinyurl.com/82awe4o
 but it seemed like this year was more about spending time with culinary comrades from Chicago.

The first night kicked off with an AMEX party at Matsuhisa where we ran into ABC 7’s “Hungry Hound” Steve Dolinsky and his wife Amy. We talked about plans for the week, and about the seminars Steve was moderating; they are such nice people!

I then met up with my boy Mike Sherrin and Carrie Leung; they are so much fun. They were our partners in crime most of the weekend.

I also saw Danny Grant and crew hanging out at the Casa Dragones Tequila Party. Danny won Best New Chef this year, we were all so excited for him.

On to the food. Some of the best food we had was at the Greek House (Diamond Imports) with Sarah Gruenberg from Spiaggia. She had and array of Italian food from salt-crusted fish to handmade pastas, Colorado lamb loin, and shrimp skewers. The food was so good we canceled out reservations for that night and stayed to eat more with Sarah.

I caught a few minutes of Grant Achatz’s panel about “Small Changes, Big Results.” He touched on the ticketing system at Next and how it came about. It was very interesting to hear.

I got meet to meet Jason Vincent from Nightwood and was stoked to find out we both share the same obsession, Phish! That was awesome, but even more so was being there when he won Cochon 555.

I got to have some wine with my friends Maggie & Michael Murzanski who I never get to see or hang out with. It was a perfect ending to a long adult summer camp.

I’m glad to be back, but even more glad I to hang with friends from Chicago outside Chicago.

My Next Post


I went to dinner with my brother Matthew at Next Sunday night. You can imagine my excitement for the ElBulli menu as I have lived and worked in spain for a few years. I was anxious to see what dishes Chef Dave Beran and Chef Grant chose for the menu and why, but I think my brother was more anxious to get his first taste of Spanish molecular gastronomy.


As soon as we were seated our server, John Schafer, made us feel relaxed and comfortable. Not only was he and the entire staff extremely knowledgeable, but he also brought an element of comedy to the table. It was refreshing and made the experience that much more enjoyable. He had us laughing the whole night kind of fucked with us at points, but in a good way. Seeing the chefs run food to the tables and explain the dish also heightened the level of our experience. It was good to see Chef Renee so excited about the plates he was serving and telling the stories behind the dishes.


With twenty-nine courses and a pairing for nearly each course, we cruised through the meal in just under 4 hours. My favorites were: spherical olives, very fun to eat; suquet of prawns, very clean traditional flavors;

potato tortilla foam, so light; chicken liquid croquettes, explode on the palate; chocolate in textures dessert, another famous dish I would see all the time when I was a young cook. We even got a little taste of the Sicily menu from Chef Dave at the end.


 


We had a such a good time, it was worth every penny.


 From the last course “Goodbye Hands with passionfruit marshmallows”)

playing with my food

NRArmageddon

The National Restaurant Associations annual convention visited Chicago last week. Hundreds of chefs, restaurant owners, managers and bartenders flocked to the city to see and talk about the latest products happening in the industry.

Tavernita was crazy busy filled with people in the industry, while our whole staff worked their fingers to the (veal) bone. It’s great seeing our diners response to our server Rachel talk about the beverage program, or Joe getting so emotional when he suggests the pork belly bocadillo.

Jordan, Erin, Stephanie, and JC all worked doubles the entire week, flipping the dining room from lunch to dinner flawlessly, not to mention the whole management team who practically slept here! Juan and I almost engaged in fisticuffs with each other one night, then laughed about it an hour later. Miguel had Barcito on lock down making sure everyone left happy, and full of pintxos.

It was a lot of work but we pulled it of somehow. Thanks to the entire Tavernita Team, you all really are an extended part of my family.

I said James Murphy, not Charlie Murphy

My brother Matthew and I have bonded for years over our love of music.
So for his birthday Friday- a group of us went to The Mid to hear
James Murphy’s dj set. Our crew was made up of Matthew’s buddies and a
few of the waitstaff from Tavernita; Colby, Erin, Rachel, Dustin and
Linzi- just the right amount for a perfect dance party.

If you’re not familiar with James- you may know him as one of the
front men of LCD Soundsystem. We had a table with an amazing vantage
point of the stage and didn’t stop dancing from the time he went on at
1:30am.

The hilite was his remix of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”…the entire
place went insane when he played it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71Z3Ikwj1xk
 
It was the most fun I have had in a long time. Just listening to great
music and being able to unwind.

I think Matthew said it the best “great times with greater people!