Espana Part II: Toledo

by janet on June 30th, 2010

“Holy Toledo” is what R2′s FB status was when we went here. Toledo was a relatively spur-of-the-moment stop for us – we wanted to stay in a parador (a state-run converted castle) and this one was the closest one to an AVE (high speed train) stop. Just thirty minutes south of Madrid, the Parador de Toledo is on a hill outside of the main city with fucking KILLER views. The picture above, taken with the panorama function on The Kraken, barely got taken because both R2 and I were subject to a sudden spider cloud ambush. Horror and squeals. Except R2 was taking a photo of some English tourists for them at the time, one of whom said “You’re one hundred times bigger than that spider!” so he couldn’t squeal at the monstrous arachnid dangling from his elbow. [He kind of just stopped breathing and trembled until I rescued him and killt it.]

This was the view from our balcony. Our room was clean and bright and atmospheric and had a canopy and warm tile floors and I loved it.

The city proper (the entire city has been declared a national monument) is two winding miles away and everything you want in a vacation spot. Tiny streets barely the wider than most of your flat screen TVs, all cobblestoned and meandering down and up and down and up with charming doorways and stores and – SMACK! Right into the most gorgeous cathedral I’ve ever, ever, ever been in. The Toledo Cathedral does not allow photographs, unfortunately, but even compared to later cathedrals (Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Catedral) that are bigger and more famouser, this one was just breathtaking. It was all I could do to not burst into flames, it was so beautiful and spiritual.

Plaza de Zocodover is the main square in tiny Toledo, and all roads lead back to it. We stopped at a cafe on the square and I had my first experience with churros.

We did it wrong, totally. ¬†They had clearly been sitting out forever, and were cold and salty (?) and I didn’t get a hot chocolate as one was supposed to so I was dunking them in cafe solo (black). I huffed a little and wished I was at Disneyland but then realized I was in fucking SPAIN so I snapped out of it.

Across the street to Santo Tome, purveyor of Toledo’s specialty, mazapan (marzipan). All these online reviews say their website is great, and it should be, since they’ve snagged mazapan.com.

I adore almond flavoring. I also adore nondescript globs of things. From soft (flan) to hard (Lemonheads). As I type this now, I’ve had to text “I WANT MAZAPAN” to R2. Twice.

We then went, based on Rick Steves’ recommendation, to Cafeteria Cason Lopez de Toledo. It’s the cheaper version of the fancy restaurant “located upstairs in an old noble palace,” specializing in “Castilian food, particularly venison and partridge.” The cafeteria version, “…while called a ‘cafeteria,’ is actually a quality restaurant in its own right…where the locals dine, enjoying the fancy restaurant’s kitchen at half the price.” Sounds great!

We showed up at eight, apparently too early for them, for the restaurant was empty and the waitstaff kept rolling in for work after we were practically done. But methinks the restaurant was empty for other reasons…

They had a 11 euro prix fixe deal, and our amuse (?) was the mussel … ceviche? Shown above. Ceviche doesn’t technically contain raw fish, since the acid from the lemon/citrus “cooks” it. These looked pretty raw, however.

R2 picked one up and noticed a bunch of hairy … things coming out of the blowhole of one of them. He (with effort – shudderrr) yanked them out, and not knowing what to do, threw the hairy bundle onto the ground. I didn’t tell him at the time for reasons that will become apparent, but it reminded me of a particularly horrific wart I got on my toe in middle school in moist and humid Tokyo. The Japanese name for that type of wart is uwonome, which in English means fish eye. My specific wart, though, looked just like the thing in the mussel – a circular ring with skin formations that looked like tiny hairs poking out the center. I just vommed a little thinking about it.

Anyway, I ate one and thought “FISHAY!” R2 went for the now-de-haired one but I stopped him. He put that one aside and picked up another one and popped it into his mouth.

“I still can’t get over how beautiful that cathedral was. And it’s crazy to think that it’s tucked away here in this random cit–”

I looked over to R2 at that moment and stopped talking, because R2′s face had gone from his usual Jew-pale to an ashen, translucent putty color, streaked through with green.

“ARE YOU OK?”

“GULP.”

“NOOO DON’T SWALLOW EET!”

He swallowed it. And proceeded to look shaken for the rest of the meal (I think he was actually shaking), with perspiration at his hairline. Poor thing.

He also had the bad luck to have ordered gazpacho, which in this case apparently meant salmon gazpacho. Cold soup when you feel like you want to mon (the opposite of nom get it?) is not great, but an intensely fishy cold soup with cheese on top…R2 is only a man, after all.

I told him he didn’t have to finish it and offered him some of my salad, which came with white asparagus, which I love (this is the nicest thing I can say about this place – that they happened to serve something out of a can that I like) but also with tuna mixed throughout the lettuce. This resto really loves their fishy meme.

The server, noticing that R2 had barely touched his soup, grew concerned. She asked if he wanted a salad like mine? Did he not like his soup? What else would he like instead? and R2, in a trembling voice, insisted “…me…me gusta!”

I had to give it to him – he delivered this lie without crying.

Bad luck upon bad luck, R2 had ordered a fish dish as his entree. I stole it quickly away from him. The fish wasn’t bad – it was just normal.

In return, I gave him my scalloped beef with potatoes. Again, it wasn’t fabulous, but the potatoes settled his tum I think. After this was flan and bread pudding, which R2 tore into to wash the whole tragedy of a meal down.

As we walked (he, shakily) out of the restaurant, we decided we could not end our night on that note (they didn’t even have the promised venison OR partridge, jyerks!), so we decided to go to a wine bar, once again recommended by Rick Steves.

Adolfo Vinoteca is the wine bar of the highly respected local chef Adolfo, who runs a famous gourmet restaurant across the street. His hope: to introduce the younger generation to the culture of fine food and wine. The bar offers up a pricey but always top-notch list of gourmet plates and fine local wines per glass – don’t economize here. Adolfo’s son, Javier, proved to me the importance of matching each plate with the right wine. I like to sit next to the kitchen to be near the creative action. If the Starship Enterprise had a Spanish wine-and-tapas bar on its holodeck, this would be it.”

Guess, just GUESS which part of that description sang to R2.

We went, and had to double check that it was still open, since it, too was empty. But they had both partridge AND venison on their menu, so we ordered both (both came as stews; the partridge dish was described as partridge with discolored beans lol). We asked, in accordance with Rick, for them to pair a wine with it, and our server was like, “???” and we said, you know, what wine would go well with the dishes we’ve ordered? and he was like, “?? Well, we have red wine and white wine.” And we said no, like, what specific wine would go with the partridge and the venison? and he finally, seemingly haphazardly, said, “this wine is very good.”

They first brought out what we encountered often in Toledo – a potato salad sandwich. Just the thought churns the stomach, and this one had cooked soft carrots which I found highly displeasing, and it was all on one of those airplane-esque yucky rolls. Particularly on the heels of our prior meal and on a full stomach on top of that, I couldn’t enjoy it (but you better fucking believe I ate it).

Who knew discoloration was so delicious? I heard from my friend Saxy that beans help cure nausea (this came up at a chili cook-off when she was in that particularly pukey stage of pregnancy) and perhaps this was why I fished out and ate most of the beans. The partridge tasted like any other bird, though tender and flavorful.

I knew even before I ate it what word was going to come out of my mouth after I ate the venison: gamey. Of the two, I liked the partridge better than the venison.

But I realize as of Saturday that I had no inkling what gamey meant until I had a slice of ostrich at the Bellagio buffet. Holy shit that’s like the Cranium of meats right there.

Anyhoo, it really was a shame that we didn’t just come here, as we didn’t have the stomach space or fortitude to truly enjoy their offerings.

We walked out, back to the Plaza, a little bit scared now that it was very dark and the tiny streets were so confusing. Rick Steves said Toledo’s “medieval atmosphere” was vibrant and “wonderful after dark.” I am looking down at my iPhone notes and I believe right about then is when I typed “Rick Steves needs to check his shit.”

The following day we decided to take full advantage of our parador and swim, laze around, sun, read, and lunch at the parador’s own restaurant before taking the AVE to Barcelona. We were seated in the midst of three Japanese dantai tours – each with over 20 middle-aged, chatty, beer-drinking Japaneezy tourists. I love how my people booze it up at every meal – lunchtime and even the tiniest of little ladies was three-drinks deep.

OMG not here too! High brow though the little tart cups may have been, it was still the same god-awful potato salad shit.

I mean, I confess I’ve dipped my KFC biscuits into my KFC mashed potatoes before (hasn’t everyone?) but starch on starch does not a pleasing bite make!

My app was roasted red pepper cradled around fish mousse. R2 the amnesiac scarfed it up, while I was a little bit turned off by the fishiness (why the hell were we eating so much seafood in land-locked Toledo anyway? God we suck.)

R2′s app was a salad of some sort; overdressed and with canned (?!) mushrooms at the bottom; not my favorite and until I figured out they were mushrooms, I paranoid-ly thought that it was a squeaky, chewy, sour fish of some sort.

I just kept working through the half-bottle of white wine that I ordered.

His entree was something I want to eat when I’m drunk, with beer. It was their special – the Don Quixote, with over-easy egg, chorizo, and fried bread crumbs. R2 loves eggs, LOVES chorizo, and LOVE LOVE LOVES Don Quixote (for his thirteenth birthday he asked only for a copy of Don Quixote, which his dad got him – used – for $6.95).

Against ALL common sense, I had ordered pulpo a la plancha (that’s grilled octopus) for my entree.

My reasoning was this – octopus isn’t fishy. If anything, it’s reminiscent more of chicken, or even pork. Plus – can you say blogworthyyyy?

Something I learned in Spain – octopus needs to be grilled for a long time to render out the very very thick layer of fat between the skin and the meat. I started at the tip, which was salty and crunchy and the tiny suction cups popped in my mouth like crispy caviar. Awesome and tasty. As I ate my way up the tentacle, however, I encountered said fat and the shiver started from my toes and took a full 10 seconds to work its way up into my eyebrows. I mean, unrendered fat is gross. Fishy unrendered fat – even grosser. Packaged in a very raw-looking, giant slab of slime – it was very hard not to faint on the spot.

Am I losing my foodie mojo? I wondered.

I refuse to think that. I think Toledo is just a food wasteland. Definitely, definitely go, but stick to bocadillos and for the love of god avoid anything with tendrils coming out of it.

Up next…Barcelona!

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2 Responses to “Espana Part II: Toledo”

  1. [...] pastry filled with tuna. It was not spectacular or innovative, and a bit reminiscent visually of Toledo scariness, but I popped it in my mouth and chirped a surprised [...]

  2. [...] Espana Part II: Toledo: Between the two of them, R2 and Janet nominated almost all the parts of the Spain series for top [...]

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