Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lunch with the Boys

Some people eat to live, while others live to eat. I, obviously, am one of the latter. Food, to me, is not just consumed for survival, but is the source of one of life’s simplest pleasures.

One of my like-minded friends, Noel- lawyer/blogger/all-around epicure- invited me to a BYOB (bring your own bottle) lunch with his fellow International Wine and Food Society members at, arguably, Manila’s best Spanish restaurant- La Tienda. I have dined a great number of times at this restaurant and I am hooked on Chef Javi’s Basque cooking. Noel texted me the lunch menu- which was a line-up of my favorite La Tienda dishes- and I immediately asked him to reserve seats for Matt and I. He promptly put us on the waitlist (IWFS members get priority booking, of course), and confirmed a few days before the dinner that we were in. Being a BYOB lunch, I ask Noel what wines I should bring. He graciously answers, “No need to bring bottles. I will bring wine for us.” Who would argue with that?

Aside from eating good food, drinking the best wines, and hanging out with a buddy I haven’t seen in a while, I was curious to see what an IWFS lunch would be like. This group of men, aside from their shared passion for wine and food, is an illustrious bundle of Manila’s captains of industry, politicians, professionals, expatriates and food industry giants. Their exposure to the finest cuisine, wines and spirits have brought them together to further glorify the pleasures that only fine dining could bring.

I initially had a vision of men in penguin suits, sniffing and swirling giant Bordeaux glasses of Chateau Latour, pinkies and eyebrows raised. But then, after having met several members on different occasions, I confirmed that, no, they are not a bunch of food and wine snobs that only eat from gold-trimmed platters. These are actually fun and down-to-earth guys who enjoy a slice of Shakey’s pizza as much as a perfectly-seared slice of foie gras. But, put them all in one room together- like in any boy’s club, where high amounts of testosterone can bring out the beast even in the most mild-mannered of men- I can’t help but wonder what that would be like.

Matt and I arrive at La Tienda thirty minutes late, so I hop out of the car before Matt looks for a parking spot during the busy Makati lunch rush. We were the last ones to arrive for lunch proper, and I count roughly 20 gentlemen seated at the long table, busily tending to their wine glasses and pintxos. I was a bit overwhelmed by the sight, and mumble my incoherent greetings to Noel; stockbroker, seatmate and the youngest-looking 40-something I know, Jojo; fellow guest and WSCP member Gino; the shy but always pleasant Jay-Lab; and that cheeky cherub Rene, whom I haven’t seen since our burger lunch at Elbert’s.

Noel introduces me to the man seated across from me, who turns out to be Rene Sr. He seems to be the Alpha male of the bunch, occasionally barking admonitions at the others in Spanish, punctuated by a curse word that rhymes with baƱo. When Noel introduces me to him, he warmly shakes my hand and gives me a wink. Not a creepy wink that grimy old foreigners give young nymphs at a bar, but more like a “Relax- kid-you’ll- be-ok” kind of wink. It immediately put me at ease and I proceeded to enjoy my pintxos with the first of the wines.

The menu, like I said, is a mix of my favorite dishes in La Tienda and some new creations. To start, the server placed a platter of pintxos in front of me, containing Escalivadas (grilled peppers, anchovies and cheese on bread), Brandada de Bacalao (puree of bacalao on bread, topped with shrimp), and Boquerones con Crema de Centollo (Fresh anchovy with cream of spider crab). Aside from that, we were also given a refreshing glass of Cordoban gazpacho called Salmorejo, topped by a plump and barely-cooked shrimp (which I loved, and was only too happy to eat Matt’s share, as well).

With these, I had some of Noel and Gino’s Freixenet Reserva Real Cava and Noel’s Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli 2009. Being an IWFS lunch, I thought it would be fun to pay better attention to the food and wine pairing. The cava, as expected, paired famously well with all of the pintxos, its bright, crisp, citrus characters complimenting the acidity in the dishes and cutting the richness. Refined and radiant, it felt like butterfly kisses on my tongue.

This was the first time I tried Txakoli (a slightly sparkly, dry, highly acidic white wine produced in the Basque Country), and it was quite a revelation. It is not something that I would drink on its own, but with the Boquerones, it was a match made in heaven. Its sharp acidity and dry character makes it perfect with seafood, and with the vinegar-soaked anchovy, there could not have been a better marriage. This is a great food white wine, and I’m excited to see how this is different from the No. 7 ItsasMendi Txakoli I ordered from Noel and Aaron.

I step out with Matt for a long cigarette break, and when we returned, they have started with the mains- a heavenly Besugo al Horno (Sea bream baked in olive oil and garlic), Paella de Verduras (vegetable paella cooked with Basmati rice), and Chuleton con Pimientos del Pequillo (Rib-eye Steak with Red Peppers and Fries). I don’t have to mention how amazing these dishes were- made from the freshest ingredients, the flavors were pure, honest, divine.

With the main course, bottles of red wine were poured. I tasted several throughout the meal, but I easily recall those that I like the most. I remember starting with a side-by-side tasting of Noel’s Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva 1998 and Oscar’s Pesquera Gran Reserva 1996. To my fairly young palate, I quickly distinguish the differences in these wines from Spains prominent wine regions (the former is from Rioja, while the latter is from Ribera del Duero). The velvety-elegance of the rioja is a well-known characteristic of good wines from the region, while the ribera proved to be heftier and had a little bit more “muscle” in it. I enjoyed sipping the rioja on its own, enjoying its quiet and subtle complexity, while the Pesquera (a favorite ever since Matt brought some home for me during a visit to Spain) I loved with the chuleton.

Another notable wine is Jojo’s Finca Dofi Priorat 1998, which upon first whiff, was something I knew Matt would love. It had a delightfully fruity nose, such a different style from the earlier wines I have tried. As Noel has pointed out, these “big, dense, ultra-ripe” wines are quite characteristic of Priorat considering their “hot weather”. The bold red cherry might be a bit distracting, but when sipped on its own, this wine is just too frigging pretty to ignore.

With my second helping of chuleton, I had two glasses of Gino’s Bodegas Alion 2006, produced by Ribera del Duero’s famous Vega Sicilia. This young wine is definitely not shy, and it stood its ground admirably to the smoky and meaty steak.

Before dessert was served, the talented Chef Javi came to the table greet us and was met with applause. After some introductions and ribbing from Rene, he lingered a bit to answer some questions from the IWFS members.

For dessert, we were served a scrumptious Leche Frita con Halado de Quezo Confitura de Tomate (fried milk with cheese ice cream and tomato confiture). I wish I wasn’t so full so I could have had more of this. A more “soothing” alternative to end the meal was Jay-Lab’s Cardenal Mendoza Brandy de Jerez, which I had at least two pours of. I was sad to see it disappear.

Slowly, the guests at the table had to take their leave for various reasons. Fellow WSCP member and former Cheese Club president Bill joined us at our end of the table, where we chatted for quite a bit with a sweet Swiss fellow, Markus. Our rowdy bunch stayed on to chit-chat a bit more and share a few laughs, crack some inside jokes and poke fun at the unfortunate ones who weren’t there. It was a great lunch, and I was truly sad to see it end.

Yes, maybe they eat better food than most of us, and have access to a massive collection of the world’s best wines. But, at the end of the day, the IWFS proves to be a fun bunch of guys who really just love wine and food. Everyone just seems to be happy to be around their buddies, sharing a good meal and a hefty amount of laughter. No hang-ups, no pretentions, no bullshit. Now, you tell me: Wouldn’t you want to be part of THAT boy’s club?

Note: Some pictures and notes were taken from Noel’s blog, Eye On Wine.

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


ChichaJo said...

They have leche frita in La Tienda? Oh I am so there! Love that :)

Chinkee said...

Hi Joey! I asked Miguel- he was the one who organized the lunch with Jojo and Chef Javi- and he said that the leche frita is part of the special menu for that lunch. But, I suppose if you let the chef know a few days before, he would be happy to make it for your group:-)

Noel said...

Sorry for such a late comment, but I really enjoyed reading this, Chinks. It's great to read about our events from the viewpoint of a guest. As Rene, Sr. said, you will always be welcome to attend the events of this "Boys' Club"!

Actually, long ago I asked Bernie if the IWFS only accepted men as members and he replied that there is nothing to such effect in our charter - it's just that no lady has ever applied to be a member.



Chinkee said...

Thanks again for inviting me, Noel! Matt and I had a great time. Awesome lunch! Glad you liked this post:-) Oh, and you guys better watch out, coz there's a new "saling-pusa" in town. Hahahaha! See you soon, Noel:-)

Miguel said...

Cool!! Nice write up. Again I missed this lunch seemed like you guys had a lot of fun.

Chinkee said...

Hi Mig! Yes we had a lot of fun. Sayang that you weren't there... Hope to see you soon though!