Monday, July 5, 2010

Giant Pintxos, Spanish Wines and Alka-Seltzer

Unless you’re denser than metal, you have probably noticed that I love food. That’s all kinds of food, actually, from the lowly arroz caldo to haute cuisine. As long as it is cooked right, seasoned properly and served at the proper temperature, all these factors are well-appreciated and most probably it would be a meal I would enjoy. In other words, unless it is downright nasty or just too outlandish (um, monkey brain?), I would be happy to consume it.

That is why I am grateful for having friends that love food as much as I do. There are friends I eat junk food with, those that I do potluck dinners with, and also those that I wine and dine with. I do have acquaintances which are perpetually dieting or vegan or (gasp!) not interested in food at all, but I cannot imagine having a deep and lasting friendship with those types. They’re good people, but just not MY people.

So, aside from my usual posse of food junkies, I also enjoy sharing food and wine with two of my favorite bloggers- Noel and Miguel- whom, over the past couple of years of knowing them, have become my friends as well. Meals with them, so far, have always been great fun. And the wines, well, let’s just say they know their wines, to say the least. So, whenever Matt and I get the chance to have lunch or dinner with them, we are more than happy to attend.

After what felt like ten years, our plans of having pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) and chuleton at La Tienda finally pushed through. When Matt and I arrived, Noel, his wife Catha, and Miguel were already there. As we waited for Miguel’s better-half, Ria, to arrive, we spotted dishes of Boquerones and Chistorra which they were snacking on while waiting. Noel quickly replenished the supply and ordered more for us. Catha remembered, though, that Matt does not eat pork, so she said, “Chinks, I guess we’ll have to finish the chistorra on our own.” I sigh in fake remorse and say, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Finally, Ria arrives and the group is complete. Miguel, who is good friends with Chef Javi and has taken care of the menu for that evening, signals to the staff to begin serving the pintxos. Before those arrived, though, we were served a very refreshing gazpacho called Salmorejo, which is from the Southern part of Spain. The shrimp was visibly just barely cooked and then chilled, going wonderfully with the tomatoes and vinegar in the soup. Like the boquerones and chistorra, this was delicious with Noel’s bottle of Freixinet Elyssia Gran Cuvee Brut. We love this Spanish sparkling wine, with its crispness, refined bubbles and pleasant citrus and apple notes.

The first pintxo that arrived was the Boquerones with Olive Pate. I liked its simple flavors- just very clean, with the sour zip from the marinated anchovies, olive oil and tapenade. At this point I think we already opened my bottle of Laxas Albarino 2008, a dry white wine with pleasant fruitiness just the right amount of mineral that makes it perfect with tapas and seafood. We drank this with the other pintxos as well.

Next up was the Salmon Confit with Pisto (sauteed vegetable typically eggplant, tomato and anything that is of season- Miguel). We started noticing the trend of huge portions with the pintxos, so Noel advised us to skip the bread underneath. Carb-whore that I am, I opted to eat half of the entire pintxo and then pass on the remaining half to Matt. This would have disastrous results later on.

Quickly following this is the Bacalao al Ajoarriero con Gambas- it was a mixture of roasted vegetables with bits of the salted cod and topped by a plump and juicy shrimp. The smokiness of the eggplants combined with the saltiness of the fish was a hit with me, and since this was one of the smaller pintxos, I easily finished it, along with Matt’s shrimp which somehow found its way to my plate.

Everyone’s favorite pintxo- Escalivadas with Anchovies- came up next, and it was delicious, as usual. Even Matt, who is not that fond of eggplants, loves this dish, and always asks for it when we eat at La Tienda. If you visit Noel and Miguel’s respective blogs, you will notice that this is one dish they always order during their meals there as well.

At this point, Matt is already starting to rub his stomach with a look of concern in his eyes. You can imagine our shock when they brought out the last pintxo, the Brocheta of Beef Tenderloin and Bacon with Creamy Rice, Foie Gras and Port Sauce. I had dreams about this dish for days after that dinner. Despite being completely stuffed at this point, I could not stop myself from taking bites of the juicy bacon, that rich foie gras and the tasty arroz. This is something that I could add to my list of favorite La Tienda dishes and I will surely request for this on my next visit. Amazing, amazing dish.

With this dish, we dove into the fabulous red wines Noel and Miguel brought to dinner, starting with Noel’s Berberana Gran Reserva 1973. This is probably the oldest wine I have ever tasted and was quite the educational experience for me. From the deep, rusty hue to the soft, medium-bodied palate, it was definitely matured, dignified even. I noiced the balsamico notes, which Noel also pointed out, and I wonder if this is characteristic of aged rioja or aged wine in general.

We step out for a cigarette break, and the men start to ponder if we should cancel our chuleton at this point. Feeling bold, I reassure them that I would “take care” of the steak and we should go ahead with it. Miguel told Chef Javi to give us a few minutes before bringing out our main course.

As we tried to let our pintxos settle in our stomachs, we continued sipping on the rest of the red wines: Noel’s Bodegas Prado Muga Enea Gran Reserva 2001 and Miguel’s Bodegas Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 2001. (Matt, already suffering from indigestion at this point, sipped on some Alka-Seltzer.) Both, being relatively young wines, are both much bolder with rich, dense fruit. They went really well with our main course, the chuleton (which was perfectly grilled medium-rare and mildly-seasoned with sea salt) and a side dish of Pimientos. Although bursting at the seams, I stay true to my word and finish off one and a half slices. I look sadly at the untouched portion of the steak, wanting badly to eat more of it, but I soon accept defeat and raise the white flag.

After another much needed cigarette break, we were served a dessert dish I have never tried before- Torejas with Arroz con Leche Ice Cream. The flavors were very subtle, the texture of the torejas was similar to that of our local kakanin (sticky rice pastries), but lighter. The ice cream had a very delicate milky flavor that was perfect after that heavy and decadent meal.

We stayed a bit longer and chatted more about the World Cup, common friends (and foes) and our respective lives. I check if the waitresses were giving us dagger looks, but they were just calmly chatting amongst themselves. After a while, though, the others had to begin their journey home to the south, while Matt and I had to move to a sports bar nearby and meet up with my sister and some friends. It was another good dinner with some of our favorite food buddies, and we look forward to the next one. Not even a surefire bout with indigestion can keep us away.

La Tienda
Polalris St.
Brgy. Bel-Air, Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 8904123