Out to fancytown, my Michelin experience

Today I spent the day exploring Ronda but tonight I have fancy dinner plans. I am dining at Bardal, a two-star Michelin restaurant.

I return to my hotel to prepare for the evening. Not important but it is a chance to display the cool hallway.

hallway in my hotel
Puento Nuevo again

Bardal is close to my hotel. I arrive early so I walk the surrounding area and look at the bullfighting ring. I take a picture from the outside but that is the extent of my visit. I am not a big fan of using animals for sport anymore in fact I’m not sure why I am not a vegetarian….perhaps because I like the taste of meat too much to give it up totally. Maybe someday I’ll evolve.

Plaza de Toros (bullring) near restaurant
bardal restaurant

I still arrive a little early for my reservation that was made well in advance. I am a solo diner but they don’t make me feel like I am a freak as some places often do. The staff defaults to speaking English, I assume because it is a high end restaurant and most of the guests around me are English speaking. I usually take opportunities like dining out to practice my Spanish vocabulary but this meal will be too complicated for me to understand every item and I really want to know what I am eating.

I have been to only a couple Michelin starred restaurants and those were in NYC. What I am experiencing tonight is a bit different from those experiences. Dining here is expensive and I expect that but this is a once (or rare) in a lifetime experience; I am willing to pay the money for it.

Chef Benito Gomez specializes in small dishes concentrating on ingredients found regionally. There are two menu choices and I order the smaller menu with the accompanied wine pairings. The smaller menu is a good choice; even though the dishes are small in size, the sheer number of them still leave me quite satisfied at the end of the evening.

The dishes and style of serving are very unique. It is like I am looking at individual works of art as each one arrives at my table.

We begin with a long line of starters and their wine pairings.

The first course came out with 3 items…..The mushroom course

I am instructed how to eat each each item. I don’t pay attention enough to the instructions so when I try to bite down on the mushroom bun the insides explode all over the place. I’ve made a mess and it is only the first course. I like this course very much and enjoy the different ways the mushrooms are prepared.

Starting top going clockwise: Pine nuts pudding and sour juice of mushrooms, creamy mushroom and cadiz blue cheese bun, mushrooms and pine nuts infusion

There are three more courses of appetizers. Many are served on top of interesting platters that are not meant to be consumed along with the item. Fortunately I am told what I can eat and what is decoration only. This meal needs an instruction manual! For the Rossini picanha I eat in what I later learn is caveman style: I grab the bone with both hands and eat the meat out of the middle. Also in this course a tuna is served on a bed of rocks surrounded by non-edible seaweed and a sea urchin is served in stone bowl to be scooped by a wooden spoon.

From the bottom left going clockwise: tuna and seaweed, rossini picanha, sea urchin and raifort

The next starter is another type of meat I have never tried, a cock crest. I had to do some research on this afterwards; the cock crest, or comb, is the fleshy part on top of a chicken (or turkey’s) head. I read it is hard to prepare because is both a hard to clean and rare to find. In this case it served over a bowl of dried corn (not edible). No complaints with this unique course.

cock’s crest with bernaise sauce

The last starter is the “salad”. It is a tasty inner piece of lettuce with a creamy beef sauce.

Grilled lettuce hearth and beef emulsion

Soon the main courses begin. We start with a lobster with split peas and caviar. A piece of bread accompanies the dish with a spicy Spanish salad spread.

Next is the sea anemone with green sauce. It is my first time trying a sea anemone and I am quite pleased. Look at how gorgeous this plating is?!?

sea anemone with green sauce

Next is the calçot with payoyo cheese (a local cheese). A calçot is a type of green onion (also similar to a leek) that is grilled. It is a simple and small but very enjoyable course.

The next course is the bread course. I normally don’t get excited about restaurant bread but the two different types of breads with the accompanied olive oil and butter are amazing. I forget the story behind the butter but I love butter with a story. The calories and fat don’t count as much when the butter has a good origin story, right?

For the next four courses, the two standouts are the aubergine fricando and the baby goat. I am not a fan of the consistency and accompanying sauce for the hake cheek with corn, coriander and vanilla. I find it strange this course doesn’t work for me because I normally like fish cheeks and the flavor of coriander; perhaps the corn and vanilla combination is a turn off for me. The monkfish a la espalda is good but not one of my favorites from all the courses. The final savory course is a baby goat with spinach and a kidney with perigordine sauce. They were both very good. I’ve had goat before but never this way and this is my first time trying kidney. I’ve read it is healthy to eat organ meat. This is a good alternative since I do not care for liver.

Finally we reach the dessert courses and the first item is a celeriac cake with fennel. I am not a fan of fennel but I don’t mind this dish. Celeriac is a turnip like root vegetable sort of related to celery. I am not sure I’ve ever noticed it in supermarkets in the USA. The cake has a nutty flavor and the fennel compliments it. Also it isn’t too sweet. I don’t care for desserts that are overpowered with sweetness.

The next course of chocolate and almond is not overly sweet as well.

The final course it is a collection of petit-fours or smaller items. Being very full from all the food and wine I take a bite out of each one but I don’t completely finish this course.

At this point in the evening the generous wine pours kick in and the conversation volume levels get louder in the room. One of the servers brings out another piece of art, but no it is the bill only. I am also given a list of all the dishes served this evening. This is a nice touch because there is no way I can remember all that is served. I do really wish I had the wine list though because I loved most of the pairings and would have liked to share them with others. Probably the only improvement on my experience would be including the wine list at the end.

I am very glad I booked dinner at Bardal. It was worth every EURO.

Spain: Into the gorge of Ronda

Peacock at La Casa del Rey Moro

I don’t have much sightseeing planned in Ronda but one thing on my agenda is to hike down to an old mine to get a view of the gorge from down below. The access to this is through La Casa del Rey Moro. But first breakfast.

I’m taking many stairs today so the goal is make sure I have a large enough breakfast to hold me over a few hours. In addition, I have a fancy dinner scheduled this evening; I want to skip lunch so I have the appetite to enjoy all the courses tonight. More on that later.

Not many things open early in this town but I do find a restaurant a nearby that serves breakfast early enough. The breakfast is perfect. I order coffee and one of the biggest dishes on the menu. I am excited when plates of things are brought out to me. Many Spanish breakfasts consist of toasted bread with a spread on it such as crushed tomatoes. This morning I am given a number of choices to spread all over my toast: crushed tomatoes, olive oil, butter, jam, sobrasada pate (ground pork sausage, paprika and spices), zurrapa de lomo (another pork pate), and zurrapa de hígado (liver pate). I had fun making all kinds of combinations with all the toppings. The only one I didn’t care for is the liver pate but I am not a fan of liver normally. My order also includes a side of eggs and ham. In retrospect I didn’t really need the eggs and ham since the toast is more than enough. I am now well nourished for my day.

I head over to La Casa del Rey Moro to check out the water mine. La Casa del Rey Moro is palace is from the Nasrid period that has never actually housed a moorish king (the translation of Rey Moro). The appeal of this property is its gardens and water mine. Currently you can not visit the house but you can take about 300 steps down to the gorge below to see the remnants of a water mine and the clear water below.

I pass the gardens and head directly to the mine. I am expecting it to be busy because it is one of the few things to do in town but surprisingly I only see a couple people attempting the stairs. I head down the wet, cavernous stone staircase. I should have downloaded the audio guide in advance because there is no WIFI available. I feel like I am missing out on some important commentary on the way down. (Note: I am always forgetting to pre-download audio guides this trip).

With things like these I always get a set of stairs that are very tall which are always challenging for my short legs, this place was no exception.

I reach the bottom and get a great view of the water. It is very clear. I have the urge to jump in and swim. There is no sign prohibiting it nor is there any security or persons around to see me, but I don’t attempt it. Perhaps on a warmer day I might have taken the chance.

I stay a while and observe the birds flying above. I am by myself for at least 20 minutes, probably more. Another couple comes down the stairs onto the deck area, I chat with them a bit then start my ascent, giving them the same privacy I was given.

I stop a couple stories up to what looks like a storage area that might have been used during battle times.

I return to the top and explore the gardens and the view from the gardens.

There is an adorable peacock chick in the garden. I watch it carefully following its mother around.

After my visit I head towards the Baños Árabes or arab baths. It isn’t too far from here.

church near Baños Árabes

Baños Árabes Yacimiento Arqueológico is positioned at the beginning one of the old town entrances. During the days of Muslim rule a person had to enter the baths in order to enter the town. I watch a movie that describes how the baths work and how steam is used instead of warm pools. There is also a garden outside that is recreated as it would have been in the past for aid in the purification of the body and the soul.

I continue my day by following around the edge of town to look at the muralles or old stone walls. There are beautiful patches of wildflowers along the sides of the city.

I circle around to the south end of Ronda. A bride and groom pass me of the road in an old timey car.

There are a couple more things I can see in town but I done with sightseeing for the day. I find an outdoor cafe and have a beer.

Soon I’ll be heading to my fancy dinner. More on that later.

Spain: Sweet Ronda

I am leaving Madrid and heading to Ronda this morning. Today is an early morning start since my train leaves at 7:30 am from Atocha. I take the subway to the train station. The ride from Madrid to Ronda is anywhere from 3 1/2 hours to 4 1/2 hours. I choose the 3.5 hour trip but it includes a stop and a train change. On this train ride is where I start to notice that train cars will occasionally not have the coach number on the outside making it especially challenging when trying to find your correct car (Spain has assigned seating for all its long distance trains). I eventually find what I believe is the correct car by process of elimination. Travel by train in Spain is mostly pleasant: trains are clean, they are roomy even in economy class, temperature is comfortable, and noise level is low. I do occasionally treat myself to an upgrade while I travel if the price is right. For some reason (perhaps it was lack of sleep) I thought that this particular route was one I upgraded myself for. When trying to find my coach this train of thought combined with the lack of numbers outside led me to sitting in the incorrect car in someone else’s seat (the seat number matched though). There is an awkward situation of me getting kicked out of the business class. So here I am with my bulky backpacks, trying to quickly pack up; I already spread all my junk out for my trip….breakfast sandwich, ipad, coffee, etc. I am pretty sure I was a disturbance to all the business travelers that morning. Once packed up I pass through a couple of coaches and find what I believe is my seat, and confirm it with the train employee this time. My correct seat isn’t terrible. I can relax again.

We arrive late for our train stop in Antequera. I have some anxiety for this since there is only ten minutes allocated for my connection. Luckily the train to Ronda is held because a majority on my train are heading there as well.

We arrive to Ronda little after 11:00 AM. The hotel is about a 15 minute walk from the train station. I still have many hours before check in but I am heading to the hotel to drop off my bags. I walk down a busy shopping pedestrian street. There are many shops and cafes. A person eating at one of the cafes notices my college t-shirt and stops me to chat a bit since he is also an alumni. It is fun to see my commuter school grow to the popularity it has now over the years. When I first started traveling internationally I would have never met someone from my college.

Main Ronda shopping district

I drop my bags off at my hotel and wander around a quiet part of Ronda.

There are some day-trippers and tour groups but overall the town is not ruined by over tourism. The pandemic seemed to hit this town like everywhere else (closed businesses, etc) but for the most part it seems to do well. They don’t have many “must-sees” so it doesn’t get crowded and has maintained it charm somewhat. I love staying in slower paced towns like this. It is like a vacation from my vacation.

I spend some time at one overlook area where a guy is playing contemporary songs on the Spanish guitar.

I find a park and admire the flowering trees.

Bring on all the flowers…..

I feel the need for a snack or even lunch. I search restaurant menus for the special gazpacho of the region (ojo blanco -Spanish White Garlic Soup) but I can’t find it. I settle for a café that has the local cheese payoyo that I want to try (goat cheese). I order cheese and a normal gazpacho. The cheese plate is very large for one person; getting too much cheese is a common theme for my travels. It is in Ronda where the idea occurs to use the Ziplock bags to carry my cheese, and sometimes croquettes, to go. Yes, I’m the person squirreling away food in my purse… thank goodness I carry Ziplock bags with me when I travel.

After I eat I finally check into my hotel and clean up. The hotel, Hotel Don Miguel, is not fancy but it is clean and has a million dollar view.

Later on I go for a walk around town and find a park with curvy paths and a view of the cliffsides and bridge. I see olive trees that make me want to reach out and grab the olives with my fingers.


I take a smaller stone bridge across the crevice.

I start walking back toward the main street that crosses the crevice. I hear peacock noises. I know them well because we have random peacocks in the neighborhoods I used to do my training runs in Florida. There is one sitting on the fence of the place I plan to visit tomorrow.

Tonight the goal is to try some local wines. I find the perfect tapas bar close to the hotel to do this. I have a view of the iconic bridge and a nice breeze from a cool late afternoon. I try the white asparagus, another regional item, and some other tapas such as ham and salmon. I also get to try a couple local wines.

It’s still early and I want to enjoy my view from my hotel so I buy a bottle of wine and some chocolates for dessert to enjoy on my balcony. Have I mentioned how I love the temperatures here? It is hot during the day due to the humidity and sun but the temperatures are not unbearable. The evenings are gloriously cool. It is almost like it is still spring in this town. I love it!

golden hour

While I sit on my patio Spanish guitar player plays Stairway to Heaven across the way.

I enjoy the view from my hotel room until after dark. Loving the Andalucía life.