(23) Catalonia and the Basque Country
The food world's new frontier
Spain has emerged recently as the absolute center of the culinary cutting edge in Europe, if not the world. These days, every young chef is making a pilgrimage. Even the French heavyweights are heading south. Mandatory stop in Catalonia: the rocky hillside two hours north of Barcelona that is home to El Bulli(Cala Montjoi, Rosas; 34-972/150-457; dinner for two $186), the planet's most outrageously creative kitchen (see T&L, July 1998). Wind your way back to Barcelona with sensuously conceptual meals at Sant Pau (10 Carrer Nou, St. Pol de Mar; 34-93/760-0662; dinner for two $62), the outpost of Carme Ruscalleda, Spain's leading woman chef; and L'Esquard (16 Passatge Alsines, St. Andreu de Llavaneres; 34-93/792-7767; dinner for two $99), the region's latest sensation.
In Basque Country, Arzak (21 Alto de Miracruz, San Sebastián; 34-943/285-593; dinner for two $110), the birthplace of nueva cocina, is still numero uno. Aloña Berri (24 Bermingham Kalea, San Sebastián; 34-943/290-818) is the tapas bar where the canapé died and went to heaven. Martín Berasategui (4 Loidi Kalea, Lasarte; 34-943/366-471; dinner for two $118) has become the clubhouse of the Basque vanguard. And when in Bilbao, make a day trip to rising star Gaminiz (38 Areatza Kalea, Plentzia; 34-94/677-3093; dinner for two $80), known for its El Bullischool gelées, foams, savory ice creams, and other edible ephemera.
—Anya von Bremzen
Wining and dining up Route 101
The food—especially if you like steak—and wine in the unheralded Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys is some of the best in America.
Day 1: Santa Barbara
Lunch at La Super Rica(622 N. Milpas St.; 805/963-2840; $40 for two), a Mexican restaurant that counts Julia Child among its devotees.Stop at the small, delightful Santa Barbara zoo before heading up the coast to the beach at Gaviota State Park (Hwy. 101; 800/444-7275). Dinner is steak grilled over an oak fire at the Hitching Post (406 Hwy. 246 E., Buellton; 805/688-0676; $50 for two). Stay at Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn & Spa (2860 Grand Ave.; 805/688-7788, fax 805/688-1942; doubles $175; dinner for two $80) in Los Olivos, which served as the outdoor set for the TV movie Return to Mayberry—it really does look like Mayberry.
Day 2: Santa Ynez Wineries
Picnic on the grounds of the Brander Vineyard (Hwy. 154 at Roblar, Los Olivos; 805/688-2455).Also visit the Sanford Winery (7250 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton; 805/688-3300) and Zaca Mesa Winery (6905 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos; 805/688-0330). Have dinner at Jockos (125 N. Thompson St., Nipomo; 805/929-3686; $40 for two), where long-neck Bud is the house wine, and the grilled steaks don't come any better. End the day at the Historic Santa Maria Inn (801 S. Broadway, Santa Maria; 805/928-7777, fax 805/928-5690; doubles from $89).
Day 3: Back to Santa Barbara
For exquisite scenery, veer onto Highway 154 at Los Olivos. Lake Cachuma is worth a stop, before 154 winds down to Santa Barbara. Hit La Super Rica again. Nobody will mind.
The Spanish Culinary Revolution
Take A Food Tour:
Celebrated cookbook author Penelope Casas and her husband, Luis, lead 15-day spring and fall Spanish culinary tours, through her company, Discovering Spain (800-772-4620). Each is devoted to market and museum visits, and long meals. The next takes place April 26-May 10 in Galicia. There will also be a Catalonia tour in october. For fee information and a very detailed itinerary, contact Discovering Spain.
Jonathan Gold's California Food Drive:
A few additional words of advice:
Santa Maria area restaurants tend to fire up their oak grills only at supper and on Sunday afternoons. What you get for lunch is passable, but it ain't what you came for. By the way, the steak is served with garlic bread, juicy tomato salsa, and stewed pinquito beans, a small pink legume found only in this area.
The region's best winery, if you ask me, is the combined operation of Au Bon Climat and Qupe. It isn't open to visitors, but be on the lookout for Au Bon Climat's spectacular Burgundian Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, and Qupe's profound Syrahs.