Spain for Chocolate?

When asked about the best chocolatiers in the world, many people think of northern Europe: France, Switzerland, and Belgium. But enter Spain, whose Cacao Sampaka has redefined the traditional gastronomic experience of cacao. Owned by Albert Adrià, the former pastry chef at El Bulli and brother of Ferran of Tickets & 4 fame, its whimsical chocolatiers have made traditional, handcrafted chocolates cosmopolitan. They have redesigned ingredient pairings to create unique flavor experiences; gone are the ganaches and nougats in place of unorthodox, almost schismatic, ingredients. From curry to parmesan to wasabi to balsamic vinegar, these Spanish chocolates exhibit the infinite creativity in the art of chocolate making. Creations of single bean origin – Tanzania, Ecuador, and Madagascar – sit aside those with ingredients of Indonesian origin – clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg – in a display of chocolates that would please the exquisite palate of even the most discerning of chocolate lovers. While many would call this a gourmet chocolate shop, gourmet is too mediocre. It is simply sublime.

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The Best Bacalao in Madrid

Casa Labra

The best bacalao in Madrid – since 1860 – can be had at Casa Labra, tucked down a side street just off the Puerta del Sol in the center of Madrid. Order your cod just inside the door and then pop over to the bar for a beer to go with it.  Be prepared to stand in line, but you won’t be disappointed!!

You Had Me at Gastro Lounge…

Only You Hotel

“A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.”  ~ Noël Coward

When I’m traveling, I’m always looking for boozy little joints with character – in this case, it’s seriously upscale. As far as gin joints go, the bar & lounge at the boutique Only You Hotel in the hip Chueca district in Madrid is on par with the best.  37 gins.  Yep, count them.  37 brands of gin.  Go old school and order a Gimlet or a Sloe Gin Fizz…or three.  After cocktails, be sure to order order some tapas prepared by some of top chefs in Madrid.  If you can still walk afterward, mosey around the Chueca and check out the hip shops dotting the neighborhood. Drink. Eat. Mosey. In that order.

The Hippest Tees in Spain

The Hip Tee

Funky, vintage tees? Absolutely!  I love discovering clothing that jives with my personality, and Hip Tee is the perfect example. Created by Spanish designers, Claudia Hernández & Claudia Fabra, these tees rock a retro 70s look. Hip & eco-friendly, they reflect an urban, yet feminine, street style that makes you want to listen to a little Black Sabbath when you put one on. Trust me on this one…

A Tapas Bar with a Michelin Star

El Bulli

All you need to say is El Bulli.  Yes, sadly, it closed in 2011, but its legacy lives on in Tickets & 4 in Barcelona. Ferran Adrià, the genius behind El Bulli, has partnered with his brother, Albert, to bring his innovative food creations to two new restaurants in Barcelona.  At Tickets, there are six mini spaces flanked by a bar at which the tapas are prepared.  Favorites include razor clams with with ginger, cayenne, and lemon, Xuxi of cod with tomato nectar and black olive, artichokes with crispy ham dust, and candied potatoes in olive oil with juice of pork chops and cooked Iberian ham. If it’s a multi-course meal that you seek, next door is 41º.  With seats for just 16 people, 41º offers a prix fixe menu that evokes the classic fare of El Bulli.  Plan early to dine at either Tickets or 41º as reservations, which are made online, are very difficult to get…but oh so worth the 3-6 month wait!