Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Walk on the Lighter Side… Sort of!

Sorry for the late entry gents.

Teddy did it again. He blew this foodie away. I will always hold a special place in my heart for Thursdays at Teddy’s as it was at his house that I broke my cherry. After a string of some spectacularly heavy on the saturates Thursdays, Teddy did us all a favor by focusing on the lighter side of the cuisine of the major nation of the Iberian Peninsula. That’s right; we took a trip to Spain last Thursday, and had some unique and really exciting flavors along the way.

As we started to pour in, Teddy initially expressed shock that I would dare bring a French wine to a Spanish Thursday. My explanation that everyone else would bring Spanish wines vindicated me when 3 people showed up carrying the same Spanish wine, no doubt purchased from the same Park Slope liquor store.

Teddy kicked off the gastronomic gala with a lovely Cream of Some-Young-Guy AKA Red Tube Special, AKA White Gazpacho garnished with the surprisingly traditional green grapes. This luscious cold soup tasted like a crusty country loaf of bread dipped in the greenest first pressing of Extra Virgin Olive Oil with garlic and almonds. It definitely reminded me of Horchata - that gloriously refreshing Mexican rice and almond summer drink.

This was followed by a family style (perfect for this ‘family’ of food fanatics) Ensalada de Pulpo or Octopus Salad. I normally do not have much of a taste for the flesh of this 8-legged cephalopod. Teddy’s version will stand as the exception to the rule. It was as tender as silken tofu. (Perhaps not the best analogy for a readership as disdainful of vegetarian health food as ours, but you get the picture). Its delicate flavor was as fresh and beautiful as the cleanest hoo-hah I a have ever had the good fortune to eat. It’s soft and creamy texture was exquisitely contrasted by the crunch of celery and the saltiness and umaminess of olives. It glistened with a light coating of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

The next course was a surprise, as it did not appear on the menu Mr. Hunter sent to us the previous day. It was a shooter of Conch salad laced with fresh mint from Teddy’s front yard. Teddy was upfront about it really being scungili or Whelk from a can, but he really did not have to be so honest. I never would have known the difference. It was absolutely delicious with crunchy hints of pepper and bright flavor of sherry vinegar really shining through.

A Spanish feast would, of course, be French if it were not for the Tapas course. In this case, Teddy put together one of the most balanced plate of bites I have ever enjoyed. It was more substantial than the previous courses, but by no means did it make one feel like a Cadillac Escalade overflowing with Saudi Arabia’s finest black gold. In other words, I did not feel uncomfortably full in the least, and that is a Thursday first! The trio of tapas included Toast topped with Toro tossed gently with walnut oil topped with a generous dusting of terrifically yellow egg snow – hard cooked egg yolk passed through a fine sieve. The 2nd tapas bite was my personal favorite because it was a deep fried Bacalau or Salt Cod Quenelle (or maybe I should say quenellito!) Teddy advised us to dip it into or top it with the Jalapeno sauce. The 3rd part of the plate was Spain’s answer to a Russian egg salad called, can you guess? That’s right, Ensaladilla Rusa. It was topped with a beyond generous spreading of salmon roe! I love the taste of salty ball exploding in my mouth!

The final savory course I expected to bring us back to the richness of old with a name like Pork Belly with chorizo, breadcrumbs, oranges (MIGAS)” I was thrilled to be in the kitchen with Teddy to smell the smells as he sautéed the Chorizo and then fried the pre-cooked porcine belly in the pimenton (AKA Spanish Smoked Paprika) laden oil left from the chorizo sautéing. Grant and I aided Teddy in the supreming of Oranges for this dish, a touch that really complimented the fat and starch harmoniously. I would like to give a nod to Grant, who for someone in his first month of culinary school has impressively advance knife skills. As we all sat around the table as Teddy served this final savory course we found it to be a glistening mountain of flavored pork fat and bread crumbs. When Teddy told us we might just be better served by eating with our hands as opposed to a fork, the animal in me came out. It was finger-lickin’ good, a recipe I will surely replicate at home and deconstruct for my business. Perhaps I will call it Panzanella Salad Alla Teddy.

This left us with only the dessert course, an almond tart, known as a Torta Santiago. This is reminiscent of my Grandma Yetta’s bitter almond cake. The flavor brought me back to my childhood, and that my friends, is the goal of every cook, and an accomplishment of which to be truly proud. Good food brings back fond memories, and Teddy outdid himself.

As a vodka enthusiast, ok fanatic, I did not get full experience of tasting the digestives that Teddy brought to the table, but judging from everyone else’s reactions to both, the Sherry (you fucking Brits love the Sherry) and that other oddly banana/vanilla flavored syrupy liquor, they were a smash hit – fit to close out a truly wonderful culinary odyssey!

Bravo Teddy!

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