L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon + e by Jose Andres

La Meringue - nougat semifreddo in toasted meringue with lemon sorbet

La Meringue – nougat semifreddo in toasted meringue with lemon sorbet

Not to start off by dissing Las Vegas, but it is an unlikely destination for Craig and me. The crowds, the gambling, the faux architecture, the over-sized alcoholic slushy drinks in neon colors – it’s just not our thing. That being said, when Craig was given the opportunity to attend the annual Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, I decided to tag along. It’s been one of the wettest, dreariest winters on record in the Pacific Northwest, and a dose of desert sunshine was sounding pretty good to me. It also has not escaped my notice that many of the world’s best chefs have opened outposts in Sin City, so there would plenty of options for culinary adventures. With plane tickets purchased and our hotel booked, all that was left for me to do was to decide where to eat and see if my swimsuit still fit.

French born Joël Robuchon has more Michelin stars than any chef in the world. He was named not just Chef of the Year, but Chef of the Century in 1989 by Gault Millau, an important French restaurant guide. He has restaurants bearing his name on three continents, and he has multiple locations of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, his restaurant designed as a culinary workshop, including at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. The MGM is also the home to the more formal Joël Robuchon, but while we love fine dining, we like to be in a relaxed, informal environment. At L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon the majority of the seating is at a bar that overlooks the open kitchen, giving the diners the opportunity to observe and interact with staff. That sounded just perfect for us.

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Adam Ant – Live at Neptune Theatre (03.02.2017)

The dead man eyes a giveaway
His baby blues a thousand miles away
A cool zombie

-Adam Ant, “Cool Zombie”

Adam Ant - Live at Neptune Theatre (03.02.2017)

Adam Ant – Live at Neptune Theatre (03.02.2017)

I have a confession. Up until the past month I hadn’t listened to Adam Ant for decades, and for that I am now deeply sorry. Maybe it was meant to be, because I would not have had this exquisite period of rediscovery that I am currently in the midst of; caught between feeling the giddiness of the 16 year old version of me that was head-over-heels enamored with the sexy, beautifully adorned dandy highwayman, and the current version of me that is completely stunned by how beautiful he still is decades later but has, much more importantly, rediscovered his music and can hear it with a new level of appreciation that perhaps only age, time, and maybe even distance, can bring.

When I was in high school I would watch the videos with rapture and dance to the songs with abandon. I even got to see the band play live at least once, if not twice. (Who can remember after all these years?) As a teenage girl living in the suburbs all I cared about was music, and I dreamed of a life beyond the tract houses and strip malls. I fantasized about living in the beautiful, debauched world the Ants created. One punctuated with that aboriginal Burundi beat the band became so well known for, with its glorious mixture of visual imagery, sensual tribal sounds, quirky lyrics about pirates, Indians, princes, and sex. Ultimately, it was a call to arms. In this case, a gathering of proud ant warriors who didn’t care about the status quo and were preparing for the coming new world order. It was the early 1980s – a time of decadence and experimentation on so many levels. It was also a period rife with original new music and new fashion to go along with it, the likes of which we may never see again. Boundaries were being pushed and you either embraced it or rejected it. I embraced it, but even among so much fresh creativity during that time, nothing remotely resembled what Adam and the Ants brought to my generation.

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Adria + Hoja Santa (Photos)

More photos from our dinner at Hoja Santa.

(Click on a pic to embiggen and view the full gallery. You can also view these photos on our Flickr Photostream.)

Adria + Pakta (Photos)

More photos from our dinner at Pakta.

(Click on a pic to embiggen and view the full gallery. You can also view these photos on our Flickr Photostream.)

Barcelona + Adria

Seats at the bar with a pisco sour to start (Pakta)

Seats at the bar with a pisco sour to start (Pakta)

I‘m lying in bed, having woken up after just a couple hours of sleep, and my stomach is beginning a protest. It’s not too bad yet, and as I’m lying there I hope that it will pass, but I can’t stop thinking about how this may just be the beginning of something bad. I lie there waiting, thinking about how good last night’s meal at Pakta was and wondering why it’s causing me so much distress. There was a lot of raw fish, but this is a Michelin-starred restaurant and stomach troubles are not supposed to happen. I keep going back to the shrimp: it was the only thing in the 2-1/2 hour tasting menu that didn’t wow me – not that that fact should imply it’s the culprit, but I have to put blame somewhere. In fact, Craig gave me his last shrimp, which I didn’t really want, but I ate it anyway. What did he know that I didn’t? As these thoughts are swirling through my head, after what feels like maybe another couple of hours but could have been ten minutes, I’m off to the bathroom – and that is how I spend the final thirty-six hours of our time in Barcelona.

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Dali + Girona

I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.

-Salvador Dali

Exterior of the Dali Theatre-Museum

Exterior of the Dali Theatre-Museum

We met up again with our guide, Alex, for our second tour with Spanish Trails. The day’s adventure included driving to Figueres to visit the Dali Theatre-Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of surrealist artist Salvador Dali’s works, followed by a walking tour in the medieval city of Girona. I’d previously been to the Dali Museum back in 1990. I couldn’t remember all the details, but they came flooding back to me once I entered. I also realized that I had some of the pieces confused with a Dali exhibit I saw that same summer in Rome. The unique thing about the museum in Figueres – the city that Dali was born in – is that the museum is built around the remains of the Municipal Theater, which was destroyed in a fire during the Spanish Civil War, and everything in it was conceived of, designed, and curated by Dali himself, making this his largest artistic project. It all began in the early 1960s when Dali was asked by the mayor of Figueres to donate a piece of art to the town’s museum. Dali replied he would donate an entire museum of his work:

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Disfrutar + Spoonik

Laksa (Disfrutar)

Laksa (Disfrutar)

Disfrutar – which means “to enjoy” in Catalan – is co-owned by Mateu Casanas, Oriol Castro, and Eduard Xaturch. The three were Ferran Adria’s right-hand men at elBulli, a restaurant considered the best in the world before it closed in 2011. These are the guys who created the dishes, cooked the dishes, and taught others to prepare the dishes. They have the most intimate knowledge of the restaurant after Adria himself. And so it was with much excitement that we had the opportunity to try their new venture in a beautifully designed space in the Eixample neighborhood. The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 2015, just one year after opening, and in 2016 was named Best New Restaurant in Europe and ranked number 38 of all European restaurants. Adria has said that he considers Oriol Castro to be one of the top five chefs in the world. We don’t know who he thinks the other four are although we can only assume he is counting himself in that number which would not be unfounded. Either way, it is high praise indeed.

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Barcelona Cooking

Hunger is the best spice.

Butternut squash and pear soup

Butternut squash and pear soup

Craig came up with the idea to find a cooking class to attend while we were in Barcelona, and my job was to do the research. While in my mind I had visions of avant-garde cooking – à la Ferran and Albert Adria, with foams, spherification, and other culinary magic tricks – the only classes I could find focused on more traditional fare. Once I accepted the fact that I was going to make paella and not spherified olives, I set about to find the best company to take the class from and I finally decided on Barcelona Cooking.

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The Cure – Live at Palau Sant Jordi (26.11.2016)

“It doesn’t matter if we all die.”

-Robert Smith

The Cure in concert at Palau Sant Jordi (26.11.2016)

The Cure in concert at Palau Sant Jordi (26.11.2016)

I go way back with The Cure, all the way to 1979 when I heard my first tracks from Three Imaginary Boys on my favorite Sunday night radio show, Rodney on the Roq. My first live experience with The Cure was a few years later in 1984 when they were touring to promote The Top. I skipped classes that day and drove down to Hollywood from college in Santa Barbara to meet a friend at the Hollywood Palladium. It was a general admission show and we were determined to be at the front so we spent the whole day waiting in line with several other black-clad, black-haired fans. My friend had brought a bouquet of black spray-painted roses to give to Robert that night, which we took turns holding onto throughout the warm southern California day.

I couldn’t tell you today what songs they played that night although thanks to the magic of the internet, I can look up the set list from that show. And what a set list it was! It was short compared to more recent shows, but still a great collection of songs. What I most clearly remember about the show was that we did make it to the front row, and people were pushing and crowding us so much that the security guards would put their strong hands on our shoulders every so often to push us back from the guard rail allowing us to literally catch our breath. I also remember at the end of the evening limping out to the parking lot and realizing we were covered in bruises from the sheer crush of the crowd – it was an incredible night!

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Montserrat + Wine Tasting

Fog envelopes the mountains below Montserrat

Fog envelopes the mountains below Montserrat

Because we planned an extended stay in Barcelona, we were afforded some extra time to schedule a couple of day trips while still having time to hit all of our must-see sights in the city. I contemplated a wide variety of options and finally narrowed down the places to visit, deciding on doing small group tours instead of traveling on our own. What this allowed us was to cover more ground in a single day than we could do if we were on a train or a bus, and also gave us a larger overview and some history we might otherwise have missed out on. After exhaustively researching companies, we settled on Spanish Trails. All the tours they offer are small groups with eight people maximum, and that seemed much more civilized than a huge tour bus. As it turned out, since we were visiting in the off-season both of our tours ended up being private tours, and both times they were led by the awesome Alex Ferreiro, who was so personable and fun it felt like we were hanging out with a good friend. Alex is a Barcelona native so we had the opportunity to get to know her and ask about life in Barcelona beyond the script of a tour. Of course, that’s one of the benefits of the small tour: it leaves some room for improvisation.

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