15 – Saveur Ibiza Restaurant Guide

This feature was for Saveur magazine in 2011. You can read the full article here.

Ibiza Town. Photo: Cila Warncke

Ibiza may be best known as a party hot spot for all-night clubbing, but its rich history belies its boozy reputation. First settled around 4500 BC, Ibiza (‘Eivissa’ in Catalan) was ruled by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors and, since 1235, Catalans. The key to its desirability is ses Salinas – the salt flats which have provided seasoning to surrounding countries for three millennia. (Don’t leave without picking up a sachet of Sal de Ibiza, the source of the nickname “the White Island.”)

But salt isn’t Ibiza’s only gustatory delight. Its hilly, pine-scented interior boasts brick-red soil where citrus, carob, figs, olives, peppers, squash, tomatoes, melons and herbs thrive, and the turquoise sea yields exquisite fish – get up early one day and go to the port to watch the fishermen offload the night’s catch. Dining in Ibiza is relaxed; don’t mistake the leisurely pace of service for indolence, since the concept of ‘turning a table’ has yet to take hold, and wait staff expect you to linger. You can eat wonderfully well in Ibiza Town alone, but to appreciate the diversity of Ibicenco cuisine, hire a car to explore the seaside chiringuitos and country restaurants. A final tip: be sure to say si when offered a chupito de hierbas – a shot of the strangely addictive local liqueur is the perfect way to finish your meal.

La Paloma
Run by two generations of an Italian family, La Paloma is almost unbearably charming. Set in a citrus-fringed corner of the village of Sant Lorenc it is also one of the island’s few vegetarian-friendly spots. The birds and flowers that dance across the walls were hand-painted by local doyenne Orietta, and the food is created with equal love and attention. Lunches are simple affairs: salads bursting with tomatoes, lettuce and herbs from their organic garden; sandwiches on freshly baked focaccia; and crudites served with the sublime hummus. Dinner is simple and robust: steak; risotto; an organic, vegan option that changes daily; fresh fish; and sumptuous desserts.

Es Boldado
One absolute must-see is Es Vedra, a limestone islet just off the southwest coast. Reputedly the third most magnetic place on earth, semi-spooky stories abound featuring underwater lights, hovering aircraft, and converging ley lines. Even skeptics admit there is something otherworldly about Es Vedra’s imposing white flanks and one of the best views is from Es Boldado, above the beach of Cala d’Hort. A no-frills fish restaurant, Es Boldado serves up the fattest mussels I’ve ever eaten, paella, its own-recipe seafood stew, and impeccably fresh fish. The cliff-top perch makes it an ideal place to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sunset.

El Olivo
Meals at El Olivo have a delightfully playful sense of occasion, thanks to its prime people-watching location in Dalt Vila’s bustling Plaza de Vila—though once you’re seated, you may have a hard time tearing your eyes away from the feast before you. Chef Frederic uses local produce to create unforgettable dishes like fresh-caught skate with capers and butter sauce, rabbit stew with pickled lemons, and a goat’s cheese stuffed fillet of pork. Like many Ibicenco restaurants it is oblivious to vegetarianism: If you don’t eat meat or fish, you’ll have to make do with just bread, salad, and dessert.

Comidas San Juan
It doesn’t take reservations, doesn’t make substitutions, and the staff could care less if you’re surprised to find chunks of sausage in your vegetable stew, but to know Comidas San Juan is to love it. For one thing, it’s ridiculously cheap: a three course meal, with wine, is under €15. For another, everyone is crammed together at communal tables, turning dinner into a polyglot social adventure. Rounding out its rustic charm is the fact the hand-scrawled menu is only in Catalan. Fortunately there is no such thing as a bad dish – even if you don’t know exactly what you’re eating, you’re bound to enjoy it.

Photo: Cila Warncke

My Marriage in 10 Restaurants

Three years ago, on a bright blue morning, Chris and I walked to the Shelby County Courthouse in downtown Memphis and got married. He wore a charcoal grey jumper and Doc Martin Chelsea boots. I wore a black silk mini-dress and the gold leather pumps I wore for my first wedding, more than a decade earlier.

After the judge pronounced us legally wed, we went to our favorite restaurant and celebrated with black-eyed pea hummus and prosecco.

Food has always been central to our relationship. Our first date was in at a Mexican restaurant – vegan mole topped with pickled purple onions, one too many margaritas. Since then, we’ve eaten (and drunk) our way around Europe and the States, finding favorites that, while we may never see them again, are touchstones. We move and travel a lot. The restaurants and bars stay, reassuringly, in place. It is a comfort to know we can go to London or Barcelona, Denver or Memphis, and rediscover our memories in flavors.

Here are a few of the places we love:

Babalu, Memphis

This was the black-eyed pea hummus wedding lunch joint, but Babalu was more than that. It was where we went for happy hour when I finished work, taking advantage of $2-off glasses of wine, chatting with the servers while we wolfed down tacos made with handmade corn tortillas.

Pyro’s, Memphis

A few minutes drive from the house, Pyro’s was can’t-be-bothered-to-cook evenings, and let’s-have-a-treat (for under a tenner) occasions. It is one of those build your own pizza places and, because or despite being a chain, has a credible gluten free base. The staff were always sweet – high school kids, early-20-somethings, smiling in the face of latex gloves and polyester uniforms. Another draw: the hot sauce collection arrayed on the condiments table. As much habanero, jalepeno and ghost chilli as we could stand.

Tostado, London

Our first trip to London together, part of our week-long second date. Of course, I wanted to go to Soho, a few blocks of cramped, crowded streets woven into more than 15 years of memories. We cut through St Anne’s Court and spotted Tostado, a single line of tables along the wall – the whole joint hardly wider than the door. It served Ecuadorian food, comfort in glazed pottery bowls: corn and potato soup thick with cheese and topped with sliced avocados, steaming plantain-leaf wrapped humitas topped with spiky green chilli and coriander sauce, fried plantains. It became our home-cooking away from home.

Siam Central, London

On the other side of Oxford Street lies Fitzrovia, where I worked during my London years. Set on a corner with a handful of tables outside, this Thai place looks unremarkable and vanishingly small. Step inside and it mysteriously expands, finding space for however many friends you happen to bring along. As creatures forced to make habit out of minimal material, food is a ritual. Here, we ordered green curry with tofu, and drunken noodles – a heap of seared, spicy, basil-laced rice stick fresh from the pan – accompanied by flinty chenin blanc.

City O’City, Denver, CO,

The few months immediately after our wedding went like this: Chris goes back to work, I stay in our rented room with the strange room-mate and needy cat finishing my own contract, then cram everything moveable into a couple of suitcases, put the cat in a carrier, fly to Oregon, and spend a few weeks camped in my sister’s basement – breaking up the time with weekend trips to meet Chris. Salt Lake and Denver were excursion, my first trip to the mile high city. While they loaded in, I ran through the thin sunshine, stopping to do a headstand in the park. Later, when work was done, we sat at the bar of this vegetarian restaurant eating arepas and drinking cocktails.

tacos

Photo by Chad Montano on Unsplash

Mi Mero Mole, Portland, OR

It was a few days before Christmas and almost everyone else in tiny taco joint was drunk and in costume – elves, Santa, fairies strung with flashing lights. A courtesy drink, I told myself. Knees close under the table, I found myself staring into his coruscating blue eyes and thinking: this is something. One of the Santas upended a chair and fell cartoon-style, legs sticking straight into the air. Chris and I tried each other’s food, deciding we’d made the right decision in trying both moles. Our hands met and laced together on the tabletop. When we rose to leave we kissed instead. Walking to my car I thought: I could marry him.

Try Thai, Manchester

Because the boys are, nominally, from Manchester, we wound up spending a lot of time there. Our first week in a comically awful hotel where we could hear fighting most nights, and had to navigate a cluster of unimpressed junkies to get in the main door. Naturally, we spent most of our time out – especially after discovering this Thai restaurant. The décor boded ill, but the food turned out to be spectacular. We ate green curry rice, complete with fat fresh green peppercorns, for lunch and returned for dinner.

Alcaravan, Arcos de la Frontera

Arcos was our longest-lived home to date, a pueblo in the foothills of the Serrania de Cadiz. We walked down one steep hill and up another to reach the centre of town where this restaurant was built into the hill beneath the old fortress. The interior was long and low, like the Arches in London, with an incongruous yet charming water fountain tucked into a nook. We ordered, without fail, the warm goats cheese with pepper jam and a plate of fried potatoes. The cheese unctuous yet sharp, and paired perfectly with a local Chardonnay called Gadir.

Teresa Carles, Barcelona

Chris spent a lot of time doing flight training near Barcelona, and I would go up to visit. Teresa Carles was a lucky Google Map find. We went, the first time, quite early in the evening so actually managed a table – the aubergine rolls and tempeh salad were enough to keep us coming back, again and again.

Tamarindo, A Coruña

A few steps away from the Atlantic, we found the best Mexican food we’ve eaten outside of Mexico and likely the best margaritas in Europe. Run by a mother-son team, it is a testimony to the Coruñés proclivity for doing things properly. Everything is handmade, from the corn tortillas to the thick smoky-spicy chipotle sauce to the salbutes – a fat lightly-fried corn cake that melts in your mouth. Like the other places we’ve dined, drunk and laughed, we’ll miss it when we’re gone.

thai

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash