Restaurante Sobrino de Botín

When I was in Madrid last month, one of the places I knew I had to visit was the Restaurante Sobrino de Botín (Botín’s Nephew’s Restaurant). This restaurant, which is very close to Plaza Mayor, is featured on Atlas Obscura, which is where I first learned of it. However, it’s in a lot of guidebooks and can be found on many websites because it has been recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world still in operation. A certificate in the front window from Guinness reads, “The oldest restaurant in the world is Restaurante Botín, in Calle Cuchilleros, Madrid, Spain, which opened in 1725 and has been operating ever since; it even retains the original 18th century firewood oven. It is currently run by the González family.”

The restaurant is in what used to be an inn built in the 1500’s; it originally only took up the main floor, but now occupies all four floors. The current exterior dates back to a renovation in the 1800’s, when the large windows were added. Originally they displayed cakes and pastries, but now they showcase photos and articles on the left, and a miniature model of the interior of the restaurant on the right.

The large door to the right of the main entrance is carved with the year 1725, and it was installed at the time of the restoration that transformed the main floor into a restaurant. It would originally have been called an inn, then a tavern, under the name Casa Botín, because at first the proprietors were forbidden by law to sell the food, only to cook it for customers. Eventually the laws changed and they began to provide food as well as prepare it; the restaurant was passed down to Candido Remis, the Botín’s nephew, which is when the name changed (“sobrino” means “nephew”).

The miniatures in the window showcase all four floors, but for some reason I didn’t take a picture of the top one (which was showcased off to one side of the window).

The basement, with its vaulted brick ceilings, used to be the wine cellar.

The ground level is the original restaurant.

The second floor used to be lodgings (I believe the proprietors lived there), but has since been expanded.

On the sidewalk just out front of the building (you can see it roughly at the center bottom of the first photo) is a plaque installed by the City of Madrid. These plaques don’t stand out, but they’re out front of a lot of the city’s culturally important locations.

When my husband and I went for dinner, we were seated on the second floor. It was outside of the main tourist season and we arrived relatively early by Spanish dinner standards, around 8:00pm, so we didn’t end up needing a reservation. Even so, the restaurant was doing a very brisk business and table turnover was steady.

Given the mixed reviews that this place has received for its food (since the recognition by Guinness, a lot of people claim it’s just a tourist trap), I was quite happy with the food. The bread was fresh and tasty, with a crisp, flaky crust, and soft insides.

Since we had to be budget-conscious, we skipped appetizers and went straight for the main meal. It’s probably a good thing we did, because it was really filling! I had the suckling pig roasted in the restaurant’s original wood-fired ovens, served with boiled potatoes. It was plain but delicious, with the crackling skin being the most delectable part. The pork is a traditional regional dish and the pig itself was brought in from Segovia, where we were actually going the next day, and where I also had suckling pig. If I’d realized that these events were going to happen two days in a row I would probably have switched my dinner order in Segovia itself, but we had to decide weeks in advance what we were eating because it was a large group and a tour meal. The restaurant in Segovia was fantastic, and I’d say that the suckling pig at the two locations was comparable.

We declined dessert so that we could take a walk around the area around the main square to find ourselves a separate place for coffee and sweets. I had a lovely meal at the oldest restaurant in the world, and I can see why it has been in business for so long!

St. James Restaurante Juan Bravo

I am very happy to be able to say that I just spent ten days in Madrid, Spain! I prefer to write about trips after the fact because it’s generally not a good idea to announce to the world that your house is empty while you’re out of town. But I returned last night, jet-lagged as all get out, and now it’s time to write all about it.

Due to the jet lag I think I’m going to keep this one fairly short and sweet, and I’ll tell you a bit about the fancy group dinner that we had at Saint James Restaurante Juan Bravo. I believe that our hosts wanted us to get a chance to try some good, traditional Spanish food, which is the specialty of this restaurant. Most of us had paella, which is a slow-cooked, savoury rice dish with many variations. Above is Valencian paella, which includes chicken, rabbit, vegetables and snails.

These Norway lobsters (which are much smaller and more delicate than the American lobsters I’m familiar with from our East Coast) and prawns came on the side of a paella that also included chicken, vegetables, mussels and squid.

The crowning glory, at least for me, was the paella with Galician lobster, which is what my husband and I had. This serving was for at least four people (all of the paellas had to be ordered in portion sizes for two people or more), but I could have eaten all of that delicious lobster all by myself. The rice was also amazing, but it paled in comparison to the seafood. It was obvious to me that all of the dishes were prepared with care and pride, and the depth of flavour is where this showed the most.

This was the one and only time I tried paella in Spain, but it was absolutely delicious, so I hope that it was a good representation of the dish. It definitely makes me want to learn how to make it myself, especially since Spanish restaurants are few and far between around here. I think I’d have to keep the ingredients for homemade versions a little more simple, though; eating like kings while on vacation is definitely different than what we can afford to have every day at home. Maybe I should just keep an eye out for a sale on lobster…

Last Visit to the Cottage for the Summer

(I’ve been sick this past week, so I haven’t been up to writing much. Not only that but we’ve had a bunch of power outages, which has forced me to be away from my computer and even cut me off mid-try! So now I’m trying to fill in the gaps of the past week’s posts. So if you’re wondering why you’re just seeing stuff now from earlier in the week, especially if you follow via email or Facebook, well, that’s why!)

This past week I was lucky enough to spend a last few days of summer vacation at the cottage that my parents are renting. We did take a day trip while we were there (which I will write about at a later date), but the rest of the time was spent relaxing.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 discovered the joys of toaster waffles. I honestly don’t think I’d ever bought them for them before. I tried to make mine just a little more healthy by adding fruit salad (oranges, bananas, grapes, and strawberries). But I may have negated that healthiness by slathering it in maple syrup.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, with only a few fluffy clouds in the sky. Despite the lovely sun, it wasn’t terribly warm, so we didn’t really feel like swimming.

I spent most of my free time relaxing on the Adirondack chairs by the lake.

The kids, on the other hand, buzzed around like mayflies, alternating between crafting in the cottage and fishing with Gramps. Gramps caught a decent-sized perch and a rock bass, while Thing 2 caught two rock bass.

Dinner was baked sausages (bangers, I think), and Mom’s famous potato salad with bacon.

What a lovely way to end this summer’s lazy days at the cottage!

A Rainy Trip to the Cottage

Our last trip to the cottage my parents are renting was cut short by some rainy, stormy days. Not that I’m objecting to the rain! But when you have access to a cottage for the entire summer, you don’t feel the need to stay even when the weather’s not great.

The first night we arrived late, and so had a very simple dinner of hot dogs and sliced watermelon. Yes, I like mayonnaise on my hot dogs, which I know some people find disgusting!

When we got up the next morning, my mother made us all some blueberry pancakes, one of my favourites.

Because the weather was not supposed to be so great (although it turned out to be just fine), we headed into Shawville for ice cream and a trip to one of our absolute favourite stores, Renaissance Variety. This store is in and old house and is stuffed to the rafters with used books, video games, and movies. I could spend hours in there happily although, as usual, the kids have less patience.

Next we went to Mill Damn Park, which has a great playground for the kids to run off some energy. I was most interested in the peace and quiet of the babbling brook…

But the kids were more interested in the splash pad. Thinking the weather was going to be bad, we were woefully unprepared and the kids ended up playing in the water fully clothed… Oh well. No harm done.

After going back to the cottage to get dry clothing, we went to a local gourmet chip truck for dinner, courtesy of my parents. Then, thanks to all the rain that week, we were actually able to have a campfire, toast marshmallows, and make s’mores for the first time all summer! All fires still had to be contained, though, so we built it inside an old washing machine drum and covered it with a grate.

Then we got to go down to the dock and play with sparklers! The kids really liked playing with long exposures on my camera.

Thing 1 even learned how to spell “hi” in the air.

That night and the next day chucked down rain as predicted, so we left by lunch on our last day. We still had a lovely time!

Big Family Cottage Trip: Day 2

Since cooking was off the table the night before, we started Day 2 of the big family trip to the cottage with a hot breakfast even though the temperature and humidity were already starting to get out of hand.

I fried up bacon and eggs over hard while Mom cut up fruit for a salad and toasted up English muffins. The end result was homemade breakfast sandwiches and fruit salad, with whipped cream and/or maple syrup for those who wanted it on the latter.

Then we all jumped — okay, cannonballed — one by one into the lake, being sure to keep away from the dock spider, who was still at her post…

Where, at least until the kids came down and started making the normal kid amount of noise, some of the adults got to swim with the lake’s resident loons.

We stayed in the lake for a good hour, but before we knew it there was thunder in the distance. Not soon after, the storm clouds rolled in…

And then the heavens opened up. This meant that we were cooped up inside for a while (I don’t object to playing in the rain, but I draw the line at thunder and lightning). We played cards and taught the kids the game of “Spoons”. Luckily the downpour also brought down the temperature, or we wouldn’t have had the energy for such a competitive game.

Then there was another cold dinner, which was a combination of cleaning out the fridge before we left and leftovers from the night before. I made myself a spincach, strawberry, and goat cheese salad with sesame dressing…

Followed by more of Mom’s potato salad (sans bacon).

For dessert we absolutely had to finish off the blueberry pie and coconut-based whipped cream substitute that Mom brought. Oh, the hardship.

Here There Be Spiders

I was lucky enough over the last few days to be able to make a family trip to the cottage my parents are renting — all of us this time! My husband, Thing 1 and Thing 2, Mom and Dad, my younger brother, and his friend B. We could only schedule the eight of us for a single overnight trip, which happened to be the hottest, stickiest time I’ve spent at the lake yet. The kids didn’t mind so much, except that they didn’t sleep very well that night.

Other than the heat, the first day’s weather was lovely. Thing 1 and Thing 2 spent a lot of time fishing with her Gramps; Thing 2 is finally mastering the patience required to catch little rock bass. And of course, when the kids weren’t fishing or otherwise playing on shore, they were in the lake itself burning off some energy whilst cooling down.

We all kind of avoided one part of the dock/retaining wall for all of these activities, though, because an enormous dock spider had spun a web there. Female dock spiders can get up to about 9cm long, and I think this particular specimen was a good example. It was fascinating enough to peek at and to take pictures — even the kids wanted to see it! But nobody wanted to get too close. Probably a good thing, actually, because according to a bit of research after the fact, dock spiders don’t spin webs to catch prey: they spin them to protect their egg sacks! My best guess is that her egg sack was down inside the crevice she was protecting. I’m glad we didn’t disturb her! (I mean, it’s also possible that the web was from another spider, but she was very assiduously sticking to one spot.)

Anyway, after all of the swimming and the fishing and the arachnid discovery, we had a cold supper (because who wants to cook on an evening that hot?). We spread out the breads and cheeses and cold cuts and salads at the table, but it definitely wasn’t a formal affair.

In my case, dinner consisted of a bacon, lactose-free Havarti cheese, and avocado sandwich on freshly-baked beer bread. (Okay, I lied, I cooked one thing, but cooking a loaf of bread in the bread machine on the deck didn’t warm up the cottage.) The bread was a new recipe that I’m currently testing, and everyone seemed to like it. I hope to post the recipe soon. I paired it with Mom’s Potato Salad (without the optional bacon, and actually made by my mom the night before), and a hard-boiled egg.

Algonquin Park Camping: Day 3

Day 3 of camping at Achray Campground dawned clear and sunny — the only truly summery day of our trip.

We strung up as many lines as we could to try and get everything to dry before we went home. I think it was a little bit futile, especially since the bottoms of the tents were pretty soaked.

We started the day with bacon and pancakes (Aunt Jemima Complete Buttermilk Pancake Mix) for everyone for breakfast.

I could only make one pancake at a time, but I just kept cooking until everybody was stuffed.

Then Thing 1 and I tool a walk along the lake shore while my husband and Thing 2 cleaned up.

There were a bunch of canoes pulled up on the beach, some of them day rentals, others belonging to people who had come in from the park interior. Some campers had cut their trip short due to the forest fires encroaching on their planned routes.

On our walk, we saw all kinds of small wildlife: frogs, tadpoles, and everything in between, minnows, small fish (but bigger than minnows), and even a water snake no thicker around than a pencil.

When we returned, Thing 1 and Thing 2 got changed into their bathing suits to play in the shallows while my husband and I struck camp. With the water only being knee-deep for at least a hundred feet, it was a perfect playground — and with our campsite being so close to the water, we didn’t have to worry the kids would be unsupervised.

After everyone was thoroughly cooled down in the lake, it was time for some hot chocolate and reading time as we tried to use up our camp fuel (an attempt which proved to be futile in the end).

We packed up the last of our gear and drove away from Achray, but it wasn’t long before we reached the entrance point to the Barron Canyon Trail (which is only 1.5km long, but is at a pretty steep pitch most of the time).

My husband had hiked this trail as a child, and he really really wanted us to see it too. The canyon is 100m (328′) deep at this point, and the top of the trail provides a fantastic view for miles around. It also is a straight drop down with no railings, which is a little bit vertigo-inducing. I kept a death grip on Thing 2’s hand whenever she even remotely neared the edge, since she has a bad habit of not taking safety warnings seriously. Heck, there’s even a sign at the beginning of the trail that reads, “Caution: This trail visits a cliff. Please keep children under control at all times.”

Thing 2 was very happy to sit for this photo, though, since she could see the Barron Canyon expanse without me freaking out (it’s further back than it looks).

I honestly didn’t know that we had terrain like this anywhere near home. It’s difficult to get an accurate impression of scale in photos.

Thing 1 was my husband’s responsibility, but her cautious nature meant that she didn’t tend to walk too close to the edge on her own. Actually, to get the best view she and my husband crawled on their bellies so that they could peek over the edge safely.

The best representation of scale I could get is when a canoe passed us by at the bottom of the canyon. That little line in the water is four people in a big fiberglass canoe.

It was a fantastic way to end a thoroughly enjoyable trip!