Thursday November 22, 2012
As with Madrid, our Seville portion of the vacation started with a side trip. We planned to go sherry tasting in Jerez and after doing some research, realized we could swing by the gorge of Ronda, pay a quick visit to the white villages of Arcos de la Frontera and then head to Jerez.
We left the hotel at 6 AM to get a quick order of churros at Kiosco de Calentitos Macarena. Like Chocolatería San Ginés, we were given a freshly fried order. These were a little crispier and absorbed more of the frying oil than San Ginés, which gave them a better flavor and made them our favorite of the trip. The hot chocolate was the usual rich example served nationally.
Ronda is a two hour drive southwest of Seville. The drive allowed us to take in the countryside. The landscape was lined with endless olive trees and it quickly became obvious why Spain is the largest olive oil producer. The city of Ronda is separated into two sections with a massive gorge right in the middle. It’s wise to head straight to the bridge, park and take some photos from the height of the city. Nearby is a tourist office where we grabbed a map of the city to help us navigate to the bottom of the hill to take some additional photos. This is where the best views of the gorge are. Even with their help, we still had trouble finding our way. Our first attempt got us stuck making a left turn down a corridor that was too narrow for the rental car. I had to reverse 50 yards, up an already narrow street, to get us out of that mess. After another seven or so circles around the area, we finally found the street for full size cars that lead to the promise land.
(Driving to Ronda, Spain)
Another 90 minutes back west was Jerez with the famous white villages of Arcos De La Frontera mid-way from Ronda.
Jerez, along with Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María make up the sherry triangle. For our sherry tasting we wanted to stay central, so we chose a bodega in Jerez. But, first we had some ponies to see. Also famous for its Andalusian horses, Jerez is home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art and they had a show at noon. They don’t allow any photos of the equestrian show, which is always a bummer as you’d like some souvenir from each experience. The show lasts 90 minutes and appeals to tourists and horse aficionados alike. It’s half impressive, half corny and filled with the obligatory applause. We watched two acts and left during the intermission. If you have the time, I would squeeze in a show, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see one unless you really are a horse aficionado. We found it a little overrated.
Now it was time for lunch, which led us down to El Puerto de Santa María and chef Angel Leon’s inventive seafood playhouse Aponiente. His preparations of unique seafood ingredients using “ocean offal” have earned him a national reputation and a Michelin star. There are two menus offered at lunch. The Warm Waters of the Atlantic Tasting 2012 for 105€ and the Selection menu where the kitchen selects a first, second and third course for 75€. We opted for the tasting and both menus are served for the entire table. Leon was absent from the kitchen due to a catering event, but the food and experience far exceeded our expectations. Definitely one of the food highlights of the trip. A lot of dishes stood out, only a few didn’t work for us. A personal favorite of mine was the side that accompanied the “oxtail” dish; it was a simple fried potato, but it was one of the best fries I’ve ever had. The highlights for Jen were the fresh burrata balloon, the Mediterranean red shrimp with ajo blanco and plankton and the Secret surimi of a hidden fish with beet root and sheep cheese.
Calle Puerto Escondido, 6
11500 El Puerto de Santa María, Spain
(Fresh burrata balloon, filled with sea urchin and Atlantic nutrients at Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa María, Spain)
After lunch, we drove 20 minutes back to Jerez for our sherry tasting and tour. Everybody spoke of the money in Jerez as though it was the Beverly Hills of Spain. We had a much different experience. The streets were filled with trash and the bodega we chose, Tradición, was plastered with graffiti. If you placed this bodega on Highway 29 in Napa, it would be an eyesore. We were joined on our tour by a small group of ladies from England. Our tour guide described sherry as fashionable and the group mentioned it was making a re-emergence in their country. I hope not, the taste was reminiscent of whiskey. I think the issue is a marketing one; I would promote sherry, not as a wine, but as liquor. Our tour guide was very informative; as we made our way through the mildew stained cellar, she walked us through the fermentation and fortification process, explained how the barrels are stored above the ground and that windows are left open to obtain optimum humidity. The bodega also had an art gallery showcasing pieces amassed by the owners, complete with original Picasso pieces from his childhood. Unfortunately, sherry is a hard type of wine to swallow. Prior to our vacation, we tried several varieties of sherry, all of them from large production brands like Tio Pepe and Sandeman. In our opinion, they were all bad with only a couple being mildly palatable. We were hoping for better at Tradición since it had a good reputation. We tried an amontillado, an oloroso, a palo cortado, a brandy and a Pedro Ximénez, most aged at least 20 years. Sherry just isn’t my cup of tea. Only the Pedro Ximénez was decent and we grabbed a bottle for $100.
On the drive back to Seville, I could feel a small grumbling in my stomach and a slight fever emerging. We had a tapas tours scheduled for 8 PM and I had no time for a stomach flu. We dropped off the rental car and swung by the hotel so I could wash my face. As we walked to La Modena, I thought I could make it through the night, but I was dead wrong. I wasn’t sure whether it was the seafood at Aponiente or the sherry at Tradición, but whatever it was it was planning a destructive path through my intestines. The last thing I was craving was anything from the bar or the ocean. Lucky me, I wasn’t choosing the dishes tonight and our tour guide, Shawn Hennessey of Azahar Sevilla, had a surprise for me. She found a place serving percebes followed by a stew filled with cigalas. Dinner was off to horrible start, but I was able to soften (no pun intended) the blow with a Coke.
41001 Seville, Spain
Another short walk to Bodeguita Romero and we switched to red meat. A starter of potatoes cooked with sherry vinegar and on to a meat sandwich filled with chorizo, morcilla, and stewed pork. I thought it would help things, but I knew at this point the inevitable was bound to happen.
c/ Harinas 10
41001 Seville, Spain
I was able to hang on for a trip to Enrique Becerra. We started off with an appetizer of jamón ibérico de bellota. I had trouble just chewing it, let alone getting it down. Jen found it generic and still not worthy of the reputation it had garnered. At this point I had to excuse myself and I walked outside hoping to throw up so I could enjoy the rest of the night. I couldn’t find a quiet street and felt uncomfortable vomiting in a foreign country. I didn’t know what was socially acceptable and the answer wasn’t in my Frommer’s guide. I eventually went back to the restaurant and saw they had ordered some asparagus flamenquín and salt cod in filo pastry. Jen thought the salt cod was the better of the two. There was no way I was putting anything else in my mouth for the night so I had to take her word for it.
41001 Seville, Spain
It’s unfortunate because we were also joined by Annie Bennett, a travel writer for England’s Telegraph, among other publications, whose focus is on Spain. Between Shawn and Annie, they had a wealth of knowledge about the region and I would of liked to pick their brains for info. Jen was able to enjoy their company a lot more. By the end of the night, the three women were chatting up a storm and I was ready for a higher calling. I was hoping they could just exchange twitter accounts or poke each other on Facebook, but they remained immune to the fact that my face was changing shades. I gave a subtle, yet effective death stare and we called the night short. We headed back to the hotel and I just fell asleep.