Pintxo Roundup: Bocadillo Con Todo

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So one of the greatest aspects of living in San Sebastian is that I have access to so much amazing food. I am surprised I haven’t started this earlier, but I have decided to start writing about random pintxos that I have eaten throughout my trip. My Pintxo Roundups are great because it makes me able to share the great (and bad!) food I have devoured. Also, it’ll be a great filler between my blog posts! So here we go with my first official Pintxo Roundup.

Pintxo: Bocadillo Con Todo

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Where: Nagusia Lau Bar, Donostia-San Sebastian

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So I got to admit, this isn’t the greatest of pintxo bars in Donostia that I have been too. It has a nice variety of pintxos with adequate quality of ingredients. I chose to feature this as my first Pintxo Roundup because it was one of the closest bites of food that reminds me of something I’d get in America.

I’m pretty sure it actually isn’t called Bocadillo con todo, which translates to sandwich with everything,  because it literally had everything that a sandwich should have. Not a puny little sandwich with a slap of cured meat, which i actually find quite delicious. I grabbed this bocadillo on the go on my way back to work because my stomach was growling and it was the most substantial looking thing on the bar. And at only 2 euros, you can’t go wrong! It consisted of a nice slab of ham, bacon, sliced tomatoes, cheese, and slathered in alioli. It was actually rather enjoyable and melded really well together, especially with the garlicky mayonnaise to bind all the flavors together. The bread wasn’t half as bad either.

I apologize now to all of the people who had to watch me mow down on this messy sandwich as I was rushing back to work. Atleast you all got to see me thoroughly enjoy this monster of a bocadillo!

Everything Sounds Prettier In Spanish…..

Well except for when I try to speak it!  But listening to my surroundings could pass off to being a soundtrack to any great movie. The people here are just as beautiful as the language that they speak. One thing I have noticed myself doing here, which is totally the opposite in Seattle, is that I barely listen to my iPod. Even when it’s completely a ghost town out, walking around to complete silence is something that I never would experience in Seattle. It can be quite a beautiful thing. I find that when I listen to music, I tend to block out everything that is going around me because I am in my own world. But that is not where I want to be.

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The view from our front terrace.

All around me is a new world. Everything I have became accustomed too in my past 24 years from the people I associate myself with straight down to the way I live my life, I left all that behind the moment I stepped on the airplane. This is my chance to get out of my comfort zone and indulge in a lifestyle that I will never be able to in the States or anywhere else. I can only grow and learn from these experiences and it’s my time to take advantage of this new world around me.

Living in San Sebastian has been quite something. I’m getting near towards the end of my first month here and I feel like that I’m getting close to figuring out my groove.

Let’s start off by my apartment. I live in this great 2 bedroom/2 bathroom flat provided by Sammic and the Basque Stage with fellow Basque Stage Top Chef, Susy Santos. This apartment has exceeded my expectations for living situation, especially in a different country. We have a nice little living room that has a couch, a dining table, and a door to one of our terraces that overlooks the neighborhood of Lasarte. The kitchen is quite spacious and even though very ill equipped, it does a great job of serving its purposes.  Also, I was surprised to see a washing machine in place of where a dishwasher would be in a normal kitchen. Just a washing machine, so that means that we have to hang up all of our clothes to dry.

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We live no more than 2 minutes away from the train station that gets to Donostia-San Sebastian in a quick 14 minutes and only a 7 minute train ride to the Lugaritz station where my work, Xarma Jatetxea, is located.

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It has been quite easy finding my way around San Sebastian via train and autobus. The only thing that sucks is that they stop running rather early in the night with the latest bus usually being before 11 PM. This has made it pretty difficult for me some nights when we are busy at Xarma, because there is no way I’m leaving until my job is done.  Straight up. Even though this state of mind has resulted in me having to wait for an hour for a taxi in the hail, it wasn’t too bothersome knowing that I put my time in at work.

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Hail at 1 in the morning while waiting for a taxi!!

This has been only one of the many challenges that I have had to face since living here. The biggest challenged for me has definitely been communication. I speak very little, if you can even count it, Spanish. I knew what I was getting myself into from the get go, but to my surprise, it hasn’t been TOO difficult communicating with the people here in San Sebastian. I am very lucky that the people here are really nice and actually are very interested in talking to me whenever it seems like I’m a little lost. I’m just grateful for peoples patience and willingness to help figure out what I’m trying to say to them.

With working at the Harvest Vine for the past 3 years, it has helped me out a lot when it comes to speaking about food. Ordering food at restaurants or pintxo bars has come pretty easy to me, luckily. And it definitely has helped out in the kitchen at Xarma. Just knowing the Spanish words for ingredients is a huge help.

But then comes the change in the small details like the way they measure things and even tell time. Nothing comes in pounds or inches. I have had to get use to the fact that I will be measuring things using the metric system.  After 12 o clock comes 13 o clock, military time. Dates are written with the day of the date first them follows the month, i.e. 23/4. Celsius rather than Fahrenheit.  These are just the small things I had to quickly get accustomed to living here.

So this is what it has been like living in San Sebastian for me so far. I’m glad that I’ve been able to get a little more comfortable in this place that I will be calling my home for the next 2 months. I’m really thankful for all the help and friendliness of everyone here who have made this a whole lot easier on myself. It just makes me really excited for all the challenges and adventures that will come with my time here.

Here are some additional things I have noticed about life here in San Sebastian:

-Asians are pretty rare to find here. I have been called “Gangnam Style” or “Psy” a handful amount of times. Specially from kids.

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A shirt I happen to find at the H&M.

– Justin is an uncommon name here. Whenever people find out my name is Justin, they almost always say, “Like Justin Beiber!”. So I have dawned the name Justin Bieber with a lot of the people I associate with on a day to day basis.

– There are a lot of families here in San Sebastian. I feel like I see more kids here than any other age group. This makes me wish my family was out here because Tegan would love all of the great parks and things to do here!

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– Everyone here skates goofy. Roller blades are still pretty big here. And everyone either bikes or walks around here.

– I have seen some of the coolest graffiti here in the most random places.

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– Everyone from the Vine was right. I have seen so many mullets here it’s been amazing.

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My First Week Pt. 2!

This is a continuation from my ‘My First Week Pt. 1’ blog post right here!

Thursday, I finally got to meet Marti! She is the person that I have been communicating back and forth with ever since I started applying for the Basque Stage. I was really excited to meet her because I have been an avid follower of her blog bout the Basque Country, Blank Palate, and she is just filled with so much information about what’s going on around here. She is definitely one of the most interesting people I’ve got to meet! We met again at Xarma to meet up with one of the chef/owner, Aizpea, to talk about my time staging there. I find out I started work the day after! So soon but I was really anxious to get started and learning.

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I ended up going grocery shopping for the first time the same night and got all the fixings for friend rice and a bottle of red wine. I thought it would be appropriate to treat myself with something familiar before my first day of work.

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Friday and Saturday were my first two days at Xarma. That is all I have to share for now because this deserves a blogpost of its own, fo’ realsies!

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Sunday, Susy and I planned to visit Getaria for Dia Del Txakoli!!! Getaria is a gorgeous town that is a 45 minute bus ride from Donostia. Dia del Txakoli, which translates to Day Of Txakoli, is the day where about 2 dozen wineries in the Designation of Origin Getariako Txakolina take part of a festival to share their latest crops of txakoli. Susy and I had found out about this festival through Viridian Farms. Viridian Farms is a farm based out of Portland that produces a lot of European products, especially from the Basque Country! We get a lot of product in from this farm at the Harvest Vine, so it was a great connection to have when I found out I was coming out here! They have been so great to us as they have given us a lot of great recommendations of what to do and where to go during our stay here in San Sebastian.

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Unfortunately, it seems that Susy and I didn’t really do our research and had gone to the wrong town. We had bussed all the way to Getaria to see no festival in sight. You could only imagine the confused looks on our faces. We later found out that the festival was actually in town of Aia, which isn’t that far from Getaria. But to 2 American kids that didn’t have internet access or have sense of direction, we kind of just gave up on making it to the festival.

But regardless, Susy and I know how to make for a good time! Since Susy has already been to Getaria, she showed me around town. She took me to Anchoas Maisor. This is where fresh anchovies die and go to heaven. Literally. It is here where fresh day-caught anchovies forego a process of being cleaned then packed in a barrel of salt for about 6 months. Then they are taken out of the salt, desalted, then meticulously filleted by the expert hands of the ladies of Anchoas Maisor and then carefully packaged with oil to help preserve them. It is an amazing thing to see how much care and love that these people here have these delectable anchovies. And to think that not at one point in time, that these anchovies are ever mishandled or mistreated since all of this work is done by hand. Bravo to all of you over at Anchoas Maisor.

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We then catch a bus and head to Zumaia, which is a town just 6 km east of Getaria. There was no reason to go to Zumaia other than the fact that its just incredibly gorgeous. It is a very scenic area that has some of the unbelievable views of the Bay of Biscay. We walked around a whole lot and ran into a little fair that was going on. Stopped by a churro stand and got a nice bag of deep fried yumminess. We make our way up to Itzurun, a beach on the most eastern part of the town that has a nice view of the bay that run into some caves off of the beach. We also get to this crazy pier that stretches right into the water and gives an amazing view of Zumaia. And at some point we try to hike around some cliffs to try to get a better view of the water. But all that got us is a couple pairs of really muddy shoes!

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On Monday, Susy and I met up with Marti, Nacho, and Andoni in San Sebastian for a good ol’ Pintxo crawl for my Welcoming to the Basque Country! We start off at Bidea Berri, one, if not, the only pintxo bar that serves grilled fresh piquillos. My god, were these good. Simply charred and then peeled and doused in a good amount of olive oil. Simplicity at its finest.

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The next pintxo bar we go to is Bodega Donostiarra (well, I think. I did not get a picture or remember the bar name!). Here we got a variety of pintxos from Pulpo a la vinagreta, chorizo, Jamon Tortilla, and a potato pintxo that we called montaña de la mayonesa, which translates to mountain of mayonnaise. It was basically that with a slice of jamon and an anchoa olive on top. It may have been a little over the top, but definitely was tasty with some crusty bread to sop up all that alioli up with.

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We thean head towards the old part of San Sebastian and go to Astalena. This was a nice little bar that had some great raciones and pintxos that I haven’t seen on other menus around town. I ordered Solomillo a lo pobre, which is beef tenderloin with fries, sautéed onions, and a fried quail egg. No complaints about this dish. It is a dish that I really could see being on a menu in America. There was a ketchup-like sauce made from piquillos that was good, but every time I ate it, I was always tricking myself into thinking I was eating ketchup. It only made me want ketchup more because it would of really complimented the dish better then the piquillo-ketchup. Marti ordered the Risotto de queso de cabra y tomate, Goat cheese and tomato Risotto. This dish was pretty good and really interesting. It was actually made with a wild rice rather than the normal Arborio or even Bomba rice. The sauce was really creamy and cheesey. Kind of too rich for my liking, but the flavor was right on. Susy had ordered the ravioli e foie y Margret, foie gras ravioli. Rich on Rich on Rich. This dish needed texture and some kind of flavor contrast. The ravioli was huge and was creamy and then it was drenched in another creamy porcini/mushroom cream that just added to the already large amount of richness. If this pintxo was 2 times as small, I can see it making a lot more sense, but this dish just seemed a little too crazy for me! Nacho ordered taco de bonito, seared tuna. The tuna was perfectly seared and still rare in the center. The meat was buttery and super flavorful. As it should be! =]

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Our last spot was Atari. I’ve actually been to this spot a lot on my breaks between services at Xarma. I usually come during the downtime so I just get a couple glasses of txakoli and a café con leche then back to work. Here we wind down and the girls both order dessert, but I order savory because I was still in search for the best croquettes in town. I order just a small portion of croquettes de bacalao. They were tiny in comparison to other croquettes I have gotten, but I’ve got to say that they were extremely creamy and did not have that dense texture that I have seen in majority of the croquettes I have experienced. They were exceptionally delicate and the flavor was delicious! Nacho ordered the foie gras terrine. Its accoutrements were rather interesting as it came with a banana puree, apple, and a red wine reduction. The terrine in itself was perfect. Probably the best foie terrine I’ve had recently. It paired well with the apple and the wine reduction, but the banana puree kind of just throws everything off. Nevertheless, it was a really great dish and I have no room to complain. You get two huge slices of Foie!

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This was an amazing night to really welcome me into this great city. I couldn’t have asked for better company and even better food. I am so grateful and appreciative for this opportunity that these guys at the Basque Stage and Sammic have presented me with. Just like the open arms that these amazing folks welcomed me with, my arms are stretched wider than the biggest seas to welcome whatever adventures and obstacles the next 3 months bring to me here in the Basque Country!

My First Week Pt. 1

My oh my! So its been more than a full week since I’ve been here and there is so much that I want to share! I’ve found that it is pretty difficult to maintain this blog as I am a very busy person, so please bear with me as I try my hardest to keep all of you guys updated with all things Spain! And since I have so much to say, I’m breaking up this post into 2 parts so you all don’t have to feel like you are reading a novel!

So after my first day, I woke up around 4 PM. No surprise here. I woke up feeling like I got hit by a bus, confuse of what time it really was, and had known I slept alright by the amount of drool that was dried on my face. It wasn’t a pretty site, but I didn’t care because I WAS IN SPAIN!!!

What it looks like when I wake up.

What it looks like when I wake up.

I decided to venture out in Lasarte so that I could get more accustomed to where I will be living for the next 3 months. I found Lasarte to be a very cute and small town just about 6 miles from Donostia-San Sebastian. I ended up being able to walk around majority of the town within an hour or so. I stopped real quick at a pintxo bar called, Gure Etxea, to grab a quick bite to eat. Ended up getting 2 gildas, one with salt-cured anchovies and the other with vinegar-cured anchovies, a jamon bocadillo, and a Txakioli to wash it down. It was a pretty perfect snack to fuel me for the rest of the day.

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I decided to go walk around some more and ended up finding this crazy building that overlooked the interstate. It caught my eye because it was tagged from head to toe with really cool looking graffiti. So I ended up walking up the hill to get a closer look.

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As I was exploring the unique building, I happen to hear some music coming from the building. This really surprised me because it had looked as if this building was uninhabited, but I guess I was wrong! I noticed this room that had 2 old Spaniards jamming out on bass and electric guitar. They noticed me and actually invited me in. I was a little hesitant first as I could clearly noticed that they didn’t speak a word of English but we were actually able to communicate pretty well through the use of my awesome hand gestures and my broken-ass Spanish. “Cervesa?” one of the men asked me? Usually I wouldn’t accept alcohol, drinks, or any other kind of food from a stranger, especially in a different country. But the can was sealed and I was parched from walking around town so I had to accept! They eventually asked if played instruments and then they handed me the guitar and I played a couple quick riffs. I could tell by their smiles from ear to ear that they were excited to find someone else who loved playing music. It was then that they unveiled something under a couple blankets, a drum set! They set it up and then handed me drum sticks. We then commenced in a good 2 hours of jamming and rocking until the sun went down and the room started growing darker.  I would add the video of us playing music, but in all reality, we really didn’t sound that great. Haha I proceeded to say my thank yous and good-byes then headed home.

My 'bandmates'!

My ‘bandmates’!Look at that Mullet!

The next day, I decided to figure out my commute to restaurant that I will be staging at, Xarma. I definitely want to be prepared and don’t want to look like an idiot and get lost on my first day! I also got a hold of a friend, Antton, who I met through Juan Carlos and Carolin from the Vine. He Spent a couple summers in Seattle and he resides on a farm here in San Sebastian, so it was nice to already have a connection with someone who lives here. I took a 7 minute train to the Lugaritz station and walked to my work. A whole lot easier than I expected, thank goodness!

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Antton met me in front of Xarma and then we were off to walk towards San Sebastian. San Sebastian is a 3 mile walk from my work and it happened to be a gorgeous day. We walked around La Concha towards Parte Vieja de San Sebastian, which is the old part of San Sebastian where all the pintxo bars are. Antton took me all around San Sebastian and to some of his favorite spots and he treated me to some pintxos! Thanks Antton!

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Out of the bars that he took me too, Bar Txepetxa and La Cuchara were probably my two favorite. Bar Txepetxa is a special little pintxo bar because they specialize in serving anchovies. We ordered Antxoas con creama de centolla, vinegar-cured anchovies with a creamy crab sauce. I could honestly eat 50 of these. This pintxo is still probably one of my favorite bites I’ve had ever since I’ve been in Spain. I’ve been back to Bar Txepetxa 3 times since then, so be ready for a review of this restaurant soon as I plan to eat my way through their whole menu.

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La Cuchara De San Telmo is a little gem that was recommended by many people (thanks Mara!). This is the kind of restaurant that I wish America had. They serve amazing food, have a beautiful space, and crank out food as fast as you can order. We shared the veal cheeks, octopus, fist-sized scallops wrapped in iberico ham, and the foie gras. I have so much to say about their food and plan to return as much as I can so you all can expect a review from this place as well!

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Antton then directs me towards my bus home and we part ways. It was real nice to have someone show me around and tell me so much about this beautiful place. I am grateful for the people at work for connecting us and am excited to hang out with him while I am here! Eventually, I’m hoping to stop by his family farm and see all the great cheese and products that they produce.

To be continued……

There Is A Heaven. Believe Me, I’ve Seen It.

So after 3 connecting flights from Seattle through Chicago, Boston, and Madrid, I finally made it into San Sebastian. Surprising, my flying experience wasn’t as brutal as I thought it was going to be. Thank goodness!

I arrived at San Sebastian Airport and was instantly spotted by Andoni, one of the people who help out with the Basque Stage. I grab my luggage and then we were off to see San Sebastian for my first day as a Basque Stage Rising Star!

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There is a heaven. Believe me I’ve seen it.

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This place is unbelievable. That is basically the best way I can describe San Sebastian. Yeah, it’s been only about a week, but i’m still in disbelieve that I’m actually here. This is the one place I have been wanting to visit ever since I started working at the Vine. And now that i’m actually here, it’s like i’m getting to see this amazing country in High Definition. It’s all so real.

So upon my arrive in the Basque Country, I was ready to just see everything. Without any plan Andoni and I left the airport and made our way to where everything is happening.

I had a real great time with Andoni as he showed me around town. The first place he took me was to one of his favorite pintxo bars called, Borda Berri. He recently just had surgery so he had the pleasure of watching me scarf down couple plates of pintxos and a nice glass of txakoli. I was pretty excited that I was able to understand most of the menu. I surprisingly wasn’t too hungry from being jacked up after a 14 hour flight. So I only started with two pintxos. Andoni recommended the Kebab de Costilla de Cerdo, but they were sold out of the already unfortunately. But that’s alright. It gives me another reason to return and try it later! So I ordered the Pulpo a la plantxa con membrillo (Octopus seared on the plancha with quince paste) and Arroz Bomba con Txipiron-Maiden (Bomba Rice with Calamari). After I put in my order, I order a glass of txakoli while I wait. Andoni fills me in about San Sebastian and I express to him how excited I am to finally be out there. The food then comes and I start indulging into my first bites in Spain.

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Both dishes were really great. Seasoning was pretty spot on. The seafood was cooked perfectly. And a lot of surprises in each and every bite. I have never really seen pulpo paired with quince paste but it was delicious. The flavors were perfectly balanced between the creamy potatoes, pimenton oil, alioli, and ever so tender octopus. And each bite that had membrillo was just so new and refreshing that I really think that it is a matched in heaven. It is definitely the best octopus dish I’ve had so far in San Sebastian. The calamari dish was really delicious as well. After the first couple bites, I really felt like that the dish really could have benefited from a nice squeeze of alioli, but then I reached to the bottom of the bowl and there laid a pool of it! I was so happy because it really turned a good dish into a really amazing one.

We then headed out and walked down more streets of the old part of San Sebastian. We stopped in another pintxo bar for one more bite. This time a pintxo with a hake and monkfish mouse with alioli on top of toasted bread. This was extremely delicious as it had a very mild fishy flavor and had a super light and creamy texture. It was like eating a fish rillette cloud.

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Andoni then proceeded to show me the more of San Sebastian and took me to the docks that overlook all of La Concha. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day. Apparently, it had rain the majority of the past 3 months so it was nice to get to see everyone out and about. The view was gorgeous and it left me speechless.

Later we met up with my new roomie, Susy Santos, who is the Basque Stage Top Chef winner, as well has the previous Basque Stage Rising Star winner, Clifton Su. They have been here in the Basque Country for the last 3 months and I have been able to read their amazing experiences on their blogs. Sadly, Clifton flew back to his home in Cali the next day, but I was really glad to meet the guy behind the keyboard.

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We then headed back to Lasarte-Oria, my new home. We all hung around for a couple hours and then we went out to Lasarte, a bar that is close to our apartment. We all ordered a Calamares con Alioli. This was basically a deep fried calamari sandwhich that is slathered with the famous garlicky alioli. It was huge and so good. Lasarte is definitely a cool place and will be my go to bar whenever I need a quick trip out of my home. We all head home and then it was lights out since Clifton had to head to Bilbao at 4 to catch his flight at 6:30.

This was how my first day went in San Sebastian. It could’t have been more perfect as it was filled with good company, beautiful weather, and some great food and wine. I am ready for the Basque Country and all the adventures that it’ll bring. Til next time…..

-Justin

My Last Days….

I forgot how fast a whole week can fly by. It felt like yesterday that I worked my last shift at the Harvest Vine but it was actually a whole week ago.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better day of service before hanging up my apron and tie for the last time until July. it was a gorgeous day out, it happened to be one of the busiest days of brunch we’ve worked in a while, and best of all, I got to see so many familiar faces to say goodbye and farewell before I left.

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The next day, Monday, marked my last dinner service i’d work in Seattle. it was the last Monday of the month so that means it was time for another Irbille Edibles Pop-Up at Olivar! (Check out my post on Irbille Edibles and the Evolution of Filipino Food Here)

This was a pretty exciting night as it was the 1 year anniversary of Irbille Edibles Pop-Ups and we were fully booked. I’ve had the pleasure of being in the kitchen with Irbille since day 1 and I can’t thank him enough for letting me sit shotgun in this incredible ride we’ve been on as his sous chef. He is the Shawn Kemp to my Gary Payton. The Timbaland to my Justin Timberlake (this is probably the most accurate analogy I’ve made in my life). We just work really well together. I’m so excited for him and the IE crew to tear it up in the kitchen the next 3 months and especially excited for his new venture in Kraken Congee. You are doing some big things my Friend and I’m proud of all that you’ve accomplished.

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On Wednesday, my chef, Joey Serquinia, had told me to come in to eat at the Harvest Vine. It was National Paella Day and he wanted to make sure he sent me off right and cooked a Mega Paella. And with no surprise, the paella was perfect, as is all of his paellas. It was a special night as I got to be around everyone that I have spent the past 3 years of my life with. I had my beautiful family with me, my work family (there’s no such thing as ‘co-workers’ at the Vine), some of my favorite regulars, and some new and old friends that i have made while cooking at the Vine. The amount of love and support that I was surrounded was something can’t even describe. I am so grateful for everything that everyone has done for me. Especially Joey, Carolin Messier, and Jeffrey Watanabe. I couldn’t ask for better managers. Thank you for guiding me and taking care of me and my family. I love you guys and can’t thank you enough!

Photo Taken from Brandon Patoc!

Throughout the week, I also made sure to eat at some of m favorite places since I know i wont be able to enjoy them in Spain. So i was fat kid for the past week!

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Fast forward to Saturday. My last official day in the great North West. I had spent the whole day with he people most important to me, my family. All gazillion of them! it was the day before Easter and we were celebrating the 3rd birthday of my daughter, Tegan! It was another beautiful day that was filled with Easter egg hunting. filling up plates upon plates with food, passing around all the babies to different family members. This is all i wanted before leaving.

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It was a very bittersweet moment for me as everyone congratulated me and expressed their excitement for me, but at the same time, it means that I was leaving one the biggest part of me behind, my family. This is the hardest thing i’ve ever had to do, but I know in the end that the outcome of this will be greater than anything I Can imagine and everything I do is for them.

As of right now, I’m sitting in the apartment that I will be occupying for the next 3 months with the current Basque Stage and my new roomie, Susy Santos, and the most recent Basque Stage Rising Star, Clifton Su, as he packs and leaves tomorrow at 4 in the morning. Good luck on that 17 hour flight home dude! It’s the end of my first day in San Sebastian and am looking forward to sharing all of my experiences in my next blogs!