Saturday, July 2, 2011


I’m home! After several weeks visiting friends and family in the United States, I am back in my kitchen in Spain. Picking lemons, inspecting the ripening tomatoes, gloating over the onion harvest, pouring out my own olive oil, I am glad to be here.

But I am remembering some wonderful food that I ate in the US, from New York to Atlanta to New Orleans. Let me share some of the flavors of my travels.

Coming in to New York from the airport, I was amazed at how many trailer-trucks we passed hauling fresh eggs, milk, produce, meat. Caused me to think about what’s involved—growing, harvesting, packing, transporting, selling, cooking—in provisioning a city like New York.  What a lot of food, day in and day out!

My first New York taste (after friend Donna Gelb’s fregola and tuna salad) was of wood-fired, crisp crust pizza with grilled escarole salad at a neighborhood osteria. Satisfied, I took my jet-lagged self to bed.

New herring, Grand Central Oyster Bar.
 The following day we walked, more than I have ever walked on pavement, I in thin-soled shoes. By evening, I had blisters on the bottoms of my feet. The lunch destination was Grand Central Oyster Bar (in Grand Central Station) for the June herring festival. We ate new herring, shipped in daily from the North Sea port in the Netherlands, simply served with a garnish of chopped egg and onion.

Parsnips at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Shopping for food in New York was a delight. Such variety! One day we trekked to the Union Square Greenmarket, an open-air farmers’ market right in the bustling city. Farmers, bakers and artisan food producers show their wares in 140 stalls.

Shopping for ingredients to make paella (see that story here), we stopped in Citarella, a store that started as a small neighborhood seafood market and became a top food destination. We got peeled shrimp plus some with heads-on, mussels and squid for the paella, then were tempted by soft-shell crabs, which I had never eaten before, and bluefish, fished from local waters. 

At home, Donna dusted the soft-shell crabs, a seasonal delicacy, with flour and pan-fried them. We ate them in their entirety, the shells a delicious crunch, with a sauce of roasted tomatoes. I could have eaten a few more! Bluefish, which Donna admitted to having ignored, she broiled with a little mustard. It was succulent, tasty. Loved it.

In Donna’s neighborhood is another famous food shop, Zabar’s, a deli plus everything. We picked up nova smoked salmon and freshly-baked bagels for breakfast. What a treat! These New York bagels with a poppy-seed topping are nothing like the sweet bagels you buy in supermarkets. Like Proust, I nearly swooned with food memories from long ago.

The New York meal I never got (we cancelled a dinner reservation) was sushi. I did get a private screening of a sushi movie directed and produced by Donna’s son, David Gelb ( for a trailer). “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a documentary and biopic of Tokyo’s legendary Jiro Ono depicting the artistry, character and family drama of a modest (3-star) restaurant. The film will show at September’s San Sebastian (Spain) film festival.

From cosmopolitan New York I flew to Atlanta to visit my son Daniel Searl, his wife Eli and my grandsons, Lucas 6, and Nico, 3.  Daniel, who grew up in Spain and is bilingual, is director of Hispanic Student Development at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. Eli (a tennis coach who works at an insurance company) is Venezuelan. At home they speak Spanish with the kids, who learn English at school. So, these kids, too, are growing up bilingual. The kids eat pizza and chicken nuggets, but also arepas (corn meal buns filled with cheese and meat) cooked at home by Eli. Lucas orders chicken-broccoli from Chinese take-out.

Atlanta has a great place to shop, maybe the greatest I’ve seen anywhere in the US, because you can find just about anything you want there. It’s the Dekalb Farmers Market, just outside Atlanta. It’s not really a farmers’ market, in that by no means all is locally grown. It’s a huge warehouse building, chock-full of fresh produce, fresh fish and shellfish, meat, wine, cheese and dry staples. What’s impressive is the range of imported items. Here’s where we go to get real Spanish rice for paella, several brands of OLIVE OIL FROM SPAIN, wines from Spain. Or six types of rice from India; coffees from Guatemala; quinoa from wherever, amazing selection of spices and herbs. I love to chat with ethnic cooks, chefs, tourists, who throng the market. I buy stuff to bring back to Spain!  

My favorite meal while in Atlanta was steak grilled in the backyard (with a supermarket teriyaki marinade) with corn on the cob. Love the corn! I drizzle extra virgin olive oil on it.

Daniel and Eli enjoy barbecued ribs at Fat Matt's.

One lunchtime we all went to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, for Atlanta-style barbecue. Delicious ribs, chicken and pulled pork with a sauce in perfect balance, a little hot, a little tangy, a little sweet. One of the side dishes was Brunswick stew, a Georgia favorite. I looked up the recipe and made this summer stew at home a few days later—chicken pieces dusted in flour and fried, then braised with tomatoes, corn and peppers.

Oysters at Drago's.

On to New Orleans. My sister, Elaine John, met me at the airport and we went straight to Drago’s in Metairie for a late-afternoon snack of fire-grilled oysters dusted with Parmesan. So good.

Later, husband VJ took us out to a local joint, The Boiling Pot, where three of us consumed 8 pounds of crawdads. You peel the crustaceans and eat the sweet-fleshed tails. Elaine and VJ outpaced me, but I must have consumed a couple pounds.

Another evening, at a local joint, we started with a couple dozen oysters on the half-shell. We were told that Gulf oyster beds have gradually recuperated after, first Katrina, then the oil spill. For a long time, Elaine said, New Orleans restaurants served oysters from elsewhere. Anybody can tell the difference, she said. The Gulf oysters are less briny than, for instance, those from the Pacific Northwest.

I followed with “down-home” catfish, a freshwater fish, now farmed. Fried in a crunchy batter, it was juicy and served with the typical New Orleans “cocktail sauce,” tomato ketchup with a sinus-clearing dollop of horseradish. I laughed with pleasure as my eyes teared up. The side? hush puppies, nuggets of corn meal mush, deep-fried until crunchy.
Morning Coffee,  New Orleans Institution.

On a day-trip into New Orleans (Elaine lives about 45 minutes away), we stopped for coffee at Morning Call, a New Orleans institution in Metairie and the French Quarter, for coffee with foamy milk and fried beignets. And, with all the restaurant options in New Orleans, where did we go for lunch? To a Spanish tapas bar, Rio Mar (800 South Peters), for fish in escabeche, really good mussels with chorizo and a couple glasses of Albariño wine.

Mussels with chorizo, a Spanish dish.

I had a long haul back to Spain—New Orleans to Atlanta to JFK, then a direct flight (Delta Airlines) to Málaga. On a two-hour layover in Atlanta, in order to avoid the food court, I wandered into a so-called sushi restaurant, One Flew South, and ordered, of all things, a hamburger! Grilled medium rare, with 5-spice fries, accompanied by a Spanish garnacha red wine, it was another great meal in America!

1 comment:

  1. Ah, food. Just reading your article made me hungry. You mentioned so many food that are so delicious. But I can tell you that oyster and hamburger are my favorite food out of all the ones you mentioned. I hope your flights to Malaga Spain are great.