Saturday, April 08, 2006

Granada: Blackfooted Jamon!


April 8, 2006

It just wouldn’t be our kind of trip if we didn’t get up at ungodly hours to get to interesting sights. This is how our vacations go, but I won’t entirely blame our poor habits. After all, places like the Alhambra are overrun by literally thousands of people every day.

We had a reservation for the Alhambra already, (for 8:30 am as we wanted to have as few crowds as possible) but by 8 am, the lines were already snaking around the ticket area for those unfortunate souls who had not tickets.

Counting ourselves among the fortunately forewarned, we made our way up the cypress walk in the frigid morning air on our way to the Nasrid Palace. It’s a fact in guidebooks, I suppose, but not emphasized that you can just come up to the grounds of the Alhambra and even visit the towers and palace of Carlos V without any kind of ticket any time you like. So we bypassed all those other parts in favor of getting to the famously ornate Moorish jewel as quickly as possible. Although I did stop to pet the apparent ruler of the Palace of Carlos V.

I won’t dwell on the details, since so many others write euphorically and with more skill about it, but if you’re interested in more pictures, check out this link.

The place is unbelievable though, and even though the palace might be a mere shadow of its former self, the decorations are spectacular.

We spent the whole morning there, wandering the rooms, and then strolling along the gardens to the Generalife, where any number of fountains, piped from the runoff of the Sierra Nevada mountains cool the air. Again more pictures on flickr.

Exhausted by all this beauty, we took a rest, and then pressed on to venture through the color drenched Alcaceria market and also hit the Bodegas Castaneda for some tapas. More food!

The place is recommended by just about every guidebook you can think of, but justifiably so. It’s an atmospheric dream, with a stuffed bull over on side of the bar, aging hams over the other side, and tons of people bellying up to the bar.

On seeing us mill about confusedly, a kind-hearted waiter snagged us one of the precious tables and bore with my inefficient use of gesticulating Spanish to bring us the following: A small plate of paella style rice, some bocalao (fried cod), some smoked salmon with avocado and caviar, and (ta-da!) some jamon iberico bellota reserve, along with two glasses of fino of course.

Everything was enormously tasty and though supposedly this was tapas, we were stuffed with all this food. But the real thing was that jamon – my current obsession. Yes, it does taste spectacular, and yes, you can even get the nuttiness of the acorns, but mainly it’s just purely, richly satisfying to the tongue. The bacalao was a revelation too, as I’m sure that the sauce was thickened with flour. Whenever I’ve made these kids of tomato sauce, I’ve been afraid to add thickeners that aren’t in the recipe, but obviously, Bodegas Castaneda suffers no such apprehension. And you can’t beat the prices. An extra glass of sherry brought la cuenta to a total of 20 euros.

After lunch we headed up to the Albayzin to see the view and then also the mosque, which was closed. Silly us, siesta means siesta.

Adhering to the local custom, we went back for some naptime. It was interrupted by the sounds of the band marching up the street in what looked like practice for the Holy Week processions. A slow dirge up the side street woke us up and from our window, high above the quarter, we watched a procession snake through in what seemed to be a practice run for Semana Santa.

I love the screaming loud trumpet playing and the enthusiastic drumming from the mainly young people in the band that marches behind the palanque.

Dusk at the Mirador San Nicolas is a bit of a three ring circus, but we ventured into the garden of the newly constructed Great Mosque which was open to the public and had the same view, but quieter. Who needs to sit with the hippies in the mirador?

Dinner was at El Huerto de Juan Ranas, a lovely little unpretentious, though CA-cuisine style Granada restaurant. I’d heard only good things about it, and indeed, the view (across to the Alhambra ) was magnificent, and the service impeccable.

If the venison was a shade tough, and the Iberian pork loin a bit dry, still, the flavors were wonderful and certainly not more expensive than the average upper end San Francisco place.

And the dessert – a crème caramel that was finely executed, chilled and served over frozen cream -- was positively decadent. A pot of peppermint tea finished off a perfect evening.

P.S. If you're wondering if I can keep this blogging up all the way through Europe, the answer is probably not, but stay tuned, as more food comes my way, new pictures, though maybe shorter posts will ensue!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you guys! jimo and eat in italian cafeterias! which aren't bad but your trips are dreamy. after class last friday, going home before going on to eric's show,waiting for the cable car, i got drenched at powell and market-umbrella and all.