Barcelona | Tea with Tiffany & Co. and Mandarin Oriental

Let’s fly to Barcelona…

…so we can stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona and go for afternoon tea.

Did you hear about their new afternoon tea? It’s a collaboration with Tiffany & Co., dainty sweets and savories reinvented in hues of Tiffany blue. What’s not to love ^_^

P.S. Variations on afternoon tea from Mandarin Oriental, New York


Fashion afternoon tea


Mandarin Oriental


Madrid, Seville, and London | A Birthday Vacation

Every November, my friend D treats herself to a birthday vacation.

A trip just for herself, anywhere she wants. How’s that for inspiring?

This year she did tour of three cities starting in…


(I would have joined her just for this dish of navajas ^-^)

From there she went to Seville.

Seville in the day…

…and in the night.

She then headed back to Madrid before…

…spending the last few days in London.

I travel often but so far never: 1) alone, or 2) with friends (boyfriends don’t count). Surprising right? My ideal travel-with-friends vacation would involve three close friends. We’d fly from the same city and stay in the same hotel. But we would have the day to ourselves and then meet for glorious dinners in the evening. That way you could be alone, but not alone. Let’s put that on the 2013 calendar ^_^

[All photographs by D]

San Sebastián | Hotel María Cristina

This is one of the main reasons I want to go back to San Sebastián.

I went for a walk along Playa de La Concha our first day in San Sebastián, and there’s a point along the bay where you get the most amazing view of Hotel María Cristina. It’s beautiful in the day…

…but I like better at night when the sky is pitch black and the hotel is all lit up.

They named it after the queen of Spain and the hotel opened in 1912 during the Belle Époque. It’s opulent, but in an understated, elegant style. Currently it’s part of the Starwood-owned Luxury Collection Hotels (like

The original architect was Charles Mewès…he’s also the guy behind other Ritz hotels in Europe including the ones in Paris and Madrid.

For their 100th anniversary, the hotel received a $25M renovation (the strategy behind the Luxury Collection brand is to restore iconic hotels). And with the María Cristina they focused on enhancing all the feminine aspects of the property. Think curves, silk curtains, and marble floors.

The colors remind me of one perfect box of via]

Rioja | Hotel Marques De Riscal

Deep in Rioja, in the village of Elciego, is Hotel Marques De Riscal.

It sits on a piece of land owned by the Marques De Riscal winery. The owners commissioned Frank Gehry to design a hotel on the property and this is what they got.

We came to visit the winery, but I was far more interested in the hotel.

It’s such a stark contrast to rest of the Rioja and is even more stunning in person. The cascade of metallic ribbons were created to evoke the flow and colors of wine. There are only 15 rooms in the main building. They have an annex with 28 rooms, but the main building is where you’d want to stay.

It’s part of The Luxury Collection of hotels which is owned by Starwood. We could go into so much more detail on hotel groups and who owns what (did you know Hilton owns Waldorf Astoria and that Radisson owns the Missoni hotels?) I find all that stuff fascinating, but we’ll save it for another day.

Meanwhile, take a look inside the hotel’s dining room.

We stayed for a lunch of striped bass and clams…

…idiazabal cheese cake…

…and torreja, the Spanish french toast that tastes like the fluffiest bread pudding in the world with a crisp, caramelized exterior. Heaven. This one came with bananas, caramel ice cream, and a cacao sauce. In NYC, Degustation does an excellent version (even better than this one!). I’ve been meaning to try the torreja from Tertulia which they serve with hazelnut ice cream.

A post-lunch tasting of the Marques De Riscal wines.

Here’s a peek inside the “wine graveyard” where the bottles date back to 1860!

We got to wander in for a few minutes, it was simultaneously spooky and fascinating.

I found this handwritten log towards the back of the graveyard.

Here’s where the wine production takes place. Everyone was busy taking notes…

….but all I could think was ahh, let’s go back to the restaurant for a glass of wine…

…and then maybe a massage? Hehehe ^_^

[photos 2, 3, 4, 14, 15 via]

One Night in Bilbao

We spent our last night in Bilbao, pinxto-ing till 1am and drinking till our 7am flights. It was my first time pulling an all-nighter in years and I’ve never slept that well on a plane. This is how I should prep for flights going forward. Didn’t even wake once on the nine hour flight from Munich to NYC.

In Bilbao there’s a place called Cafe Iruna. The food is good (think melty ham and lard sandwiches)…

…but what you really want are lamb brochettes from this vendor with a permanent shop inside the cafe.

They’re fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender, and juicy with flavors of cumin and coriander. The bread on the side? They give you that to soak up all the spices and savory lamb drippings. Some people split the bread down the middle and sandwich the brochette in the there. Others use the bread to soak up all the drippings on the plate. Your pick. One is definitely not enough.

There’s also a separate take-out counter so you don’t have to step into the restaurant to order lamb brochettes.

We also checked out a few other pinxto bars in the area…

….including the kooky Irrintzi.

Little sausage buns…

…and a layered pinxtos of zucchini, mushrooms, lard, and red and green peppers.

And then a final stop for a mishmash of bites.

Jamon croquettas, potato tortillas…

…and mayo-topped shrimp with grated egg yolks. What did we drink with all this? , of course!