Tag Archives: Spain

SAN FRANCISCO AND THE PRESIDIO SOCIAL CLUB

San Francisco is one of the great cities of America with endless things to see and do. Of course, the Golden Gate Bridge is iconic, but the beautiful bay, the wonderful Victorian houses, cable cars, winding Lombard Street, the Marina and Fishermen’s Wharf, the Ferry Building Farmers Market, and Coit Tower are all landmarks on most tourists’ check lists.

Often the Presidio gets overlooked, and that’s too bad because it is one of the real treasures of the Bay Area.

The Spanish established presidios (military garrisons) to protect their territories as they moved further and further into what eventually became the American Southwest. Their advance into California was relatively late, and San Francisco Bay was not discovered until 1774. The Presidio at San Francisco was established in 1776 to protect what was then called La Boca del Puerto de San Francisco – the Mouth of the Port of San Francisco – a name that continued until the 1840s. In 1846, the straits between the Marin Headlands and Land’s End on the San Francisco side were renamed by the famous explorer, John C. Fremont, who said they had the same importance as the Golden Horn in the Bosporus. The renaming occurred two years before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. I guess Fremont knew what he was talking about.

The Spanish also established a small pueblo named Yerba Buena to support the presidio. The little town was in the area now known as the Mission District where the Mission Dolores still stands. These were the beginnings of today’s modern San Francisco.

The garrison was a constantly occupied military base for over 200 years, under the jurisdiction of Spain, Mexico, and then the US, until it was decommissioned in 1995. At that time, the Presidio was turned over to the US National Park Service with the charge to develop the facility as if it were a national park but with the requirement that, unlike a park, it must generate enough revenues to make it self-sustaining.

That charge has been taken seriously. Military housing has been converted into apartments and beautiful residences which are well-maintained, highly desired, and often available only after spending time on a waiting list. Barracks and the world-famous Letterman General Hospital have been converted into office buildings, museums, and workshops for such companies as Disney and George Lucas Productions. There are public golf courses, abundant hiking trails, campgrounds, and beaches open year-around to the public.

Scenery is spectacular. The famous Golden Gate Bridge has its southern access from the headlands in the Presidio. The view to Land’s End, with crashing surf, rugged rock outcroppings, is a gorgeous part of the walk along the ridge leading down to Baker Beach. There are hawks, hummingbirds, many other bird species, coyotes, and smaller mammals. Chances are pretty good that you can catch a glimpse of at least one of these creatures. Flowering plants, towering trees including the beautiful but invasive eucalyptus, and plenty of herbs fill the woods along the trails.

Converted nineteenth century barracks filled with displays and museums

Converted nineteenth century barracks filled with displays and museums

Golden Gate Bridge from the East Battery

Golden Gate Bridge from the East Battery

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from near the Main Post

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from near the Main Post

The Park Service has not ignored the stomach. There are several restaurants and more in the process of development. The Presidio Social Club may be the most popular, because it is close to the Walt Disney and George Lucas facilities and is a popular place for business lunches. Still, it is large enough that you may not need to wait too long for a table.

The restaurant is actually housed in a converted barracks that once served the famous African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” who played such an important role in opening up the American West.

The Social Club  serves both lunch and dinner.  The menu is not large, but you should be able to find something to suit your fancy.

For a recent lunch, I got a grilled meatloaf sandwich with melted Gruyère cheese. The sandwich came perfectly grilled on real pain de mie, not white sandwich bread. The meatloaf was juicy and cut to just the right thickness. Gruyère cheese and Dijon mustard set it off to a T.  The side salad of baby greens was dressed exactly as it should be with enough vinaigrette to flavor the lettuce but not so much as to be cloying. Susan got the Dungeness crab Louie salad which came with mollet eggs in a very large serving with lots of fresh crab. The only downside was that there were several shells that had been missed when the crab was picked over. Sarah says that to avoid that unforgivable restaurant sin, Rich Table uses a black light which causes bits of shell to glow a bright blue – who would have thought!

For dessert we split an order of brioche beignets served with creme anglaise. There are actually four beignets to an order, but they looked so good that we dived in before I took the picture.

The wine list was small but well-chosen, and the prices were reasonable. Service was excellent, and the surroundings were attractive and historic. The restaurant is a keeper, especially if you take my advice and make a day of visiting the Presidio.

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BARCELONA: PATATAS BRAVAS AND CREMA CATALANA

I have been away from my computer for several weeks doing a lot of traveling. Part of that was spent in a cruise around the Mediterranean beginning in Barcelona, Spain.  This post describes our visit along with a couple of recipes for food we enjoyed while we were in this beautiful and exciting city.

Beautiful architecture along Las Ramblas

We arrived on a flight from Philadelphia and were taken to our hotel on La Rambla Catalanya. First on the agenda was a brief nap, and then we explored Las Ramblas and parts of the old city. The street was perfect for walking, with a wide pedestrian walkway shaded by beautiful old plane trees. All along the way, there were open-air cafés offering a wide variety of food and drink. We selected a brightly lit cafe with linen tablecloths not too far from our hotel. The waiters were extremely friendly, and the menu offered a wide choice of tapas, along with paella, sangria, and excellent Spanish and Portuguese wines.

Spanish red wine to enjoy with tapas

We settled on a short list of hot and cold tapas which included octopus, cod-fish croquettes, tomato bread, and other tasty items. One of our favorites was patatas bravas, highly recommended by our daughter, Sarah, who had spent a couple of summers in Spain. It turned out to be a great choice.

Patatas bravas

Another popular and simple tapa- toasted bread with garlic and tomatoes

We finished up with crema catalana for dessert, and as our waiter said, “How can you not have crema catalana? You’re in Barcelona.”

Crema catalana

The next day we toured the city including, of course, La Familia Sagrada. Even for those who have visited many times, no trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to this spectacular church, under construction for 130 years with more construction projected to at least  2026.

The Basilica of La Familia Sagrada

To me, it is hard to call the basilica beautiful – it flies too far outside my concepts of graceful architecture. At the same time, it is impossible not to think of it as an architectural marvel.  The architect, Antonio  Gaudi,  began what would be his life’s ultimate work in 1883. Gaudi was obviously a genius who developed radical theories of construction based upon his observations of suspended strings and other seemingly simple yet profound understandings of geometry. The basilica is under very active construction with several huge cranes arranged around the perimeter, building more towers to bring the final total to thirteen or possibly eighteen, depending upon whether the full plan will be fulfilled.

RECIPES

Patatas bravas with tomato sauce and aioli

This is one of the most famous and popular of all tapas. As a result, there are many recipes for preparing the potatoes. You can choose to roast them, bake them, boil and fry them, deep fry them at two different temperatures, etc., etc. Probably the simples – and perhaps even the most authentic – is to roast them in the oven. There is also variation in what to serve with the potatoes. A tomato sauce is common, but aioli is also common. You may even want to offer both, or your own choice of sauce.

Tomato sauce

ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red (Cayenne) pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the onion, sweat and then saute lightly.
  • Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Cool, strain, and dilute with water if needed to make a moderately thick sauce.

Alioli

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method

  • In a mortar or small dish, mash the garlic and salt together to form a paste. Set aside
  • Using a whisk and a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks until smooth, thickened, and slightly foamy.
  • By drops at first, whisk in the olive oil, until it is fully incorporated into the yolks before adding more. As the process continues, you can speed up the addition of oil. Do not rush the process or the sauce will separate.
  • When the oil has been fully incorporated, whisk in the mustard and garlic-salt mixture. Then stir in the lemon juice to make a smooth sauce.

Patatas

Ingredients

  • 2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons parsley, minced

Method

  • Arrange the potato chunks on a small baking sheet which has been lightly coated with some of the olive oil. Drizzle the remaining oil over the potatoes and ststir just enough to coat the potatoes, keeping them in one layer.
  • Roast in the middle of an oven preheated to 375° F for about 45 minutes. Stir several times during the roasting. Remove from the oven when the potatoes are well-browned and crisped.
  • Sprinkle with the salt, pepper,  red pepper flakes, and parsley.
  • Serve immediately while still warm, along with the tomato sauce and/or alioli for dipping or spooning over the top.

Crema catalana

This is only one in a family of creamy desserts, including baked custard, flan, crème brûlée, and créme anglaise. They all have eggs, sugar, and milk or cream. Sometimes they have corn starch or gelatin as a thickening agent. Some are baked in a water vath while some are cooked on the stove top. The more you read recipes to discern the differences, the more confusing  the relationships. Whatever, crema catalana is traditionally cooked on the stove, allowed to set up in the refrigerator,and  served in a shallow terra-cotta dish, topped with sugar  caramelized with a salamander, under a broiler, or with a blow torch.

Ingredients

  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • zest of 1 lemon (use orange if you prefer)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • additional sugar (about 1 tablespoon for each) for topping individual servings

Method

  • With a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar in a medium saucepan until they form a thick, smooth mixture
  • Add the cinnamon stick and lemon zest to the mixture
  • In a small bowl, dissolve the corn starch in the milk. Then add to the egg mixture and place over low heat
  • Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Work slowly or you will scramble the eggs. When the mixture has thickened enough to lightly coat your stirring spoon, remove immediately from the heat.
  • Remove the cinnamon stick You can strain the custard at this point if you wish. Then ladle into 4 to 6 small ramekins or casuelas.
  • Refrigerate at least 3 hours, and preferably overnight.
  • When you are ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator, sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar over the top of each of the individual servings.
  • Caramelize the sugar topping by (1) using a small metal salamander heated on a stove burner, (2) running under your oven broiler for 5 to 10 minutes, or (3) using a small culinary blow torch.
  • Serve immediately.

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