Saturday, December 31, 2011

Relaxing, Casual Spanish Dinner & Drinks @ Tonico's Brithday.

I was fortunate to have recently enjoyed, in the midst of the spate of the holidays' parties, two back-to-back relaxing dinners at friends' homes. The night after the one at Keiichi's, 29th December 2011, was at Tonico's place nearby in a leisurely and quiet celebration of his birthday. I was so laid back that I forgot to take photos of the dinner spread that included, among others, paella, agachonas and beef tenderloin salpicado. I caught myself eventually, however, and managed to take some later on.

Tonico the birthday boy (who is actually a distant cousin of Catha) in the white España fútbol shirt surrounded by his cousin/niece Victoria, brother Kiko, Boozze, Ken.

Sisters-in-law Yvonne & Pilar.

Lots of assorted cheeses and crackers...

...deli products...

...and an endless supply of silky jamón Ibérico that Pilar brought over from Madrid.

With all the above and much more, everyone enjoyed glasses of chilled white wine and:

Casería San Juan del Obispo Tareco Sidra Natural - This is an apple cider from the cool clime of Asturias in northern Spain - a typical apéritif enjoyed with pica-picas and lighter fare. Apple with slight pear and citrus flavors with an appetizing slight bitterness, beer-reminiscent mouthfeel and a slight underlying gamey/meaty/sanguine character. Very easy to drink a lot of. This is readily available at Terry's Selection.

Bodegas Hidalgo Single Vineyard Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada - Another typical Spanish apéritif hailing from Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cadiz, southern Spain), this is a manzanilla sherry made from palomino grapes from the producer's best vines. Manzanillas and finos are usually served with pica-picas of olives, warm almonds and chorizo. The term "pasada" means this particular manzanilla is aged longer than usual (12 years in American oak casks to be precise, which is around twice as long as the norm for manzanilla soleras). Bone dry with nuances of apple, sea brine and almond skins. This is locally distributed by Forth & Tay.

1991 Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva - I've written about this wine that I've loved since I first had a bottle over lunch with Catha at Restaurante Echaurren in Ezcaray (in the Oja Valley of the Rioja region). Since Aaron and I import (or used to, at least) López de Heredia's wines, I will refrain from saying anything now - save that this bottle was in fine condition and showed me why I fell in love with the producer's steadfast traditional style. Riojan elegance in a glass.

Tonico also had out a bottle of Bowmore 15 Year-Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky - Though I tend to shy away from Islay single malts due to a less than stellar experience with a Lagavulin Islay 16 Year-Old specimen, Boozze (who is deeply into single malts nowadays, the lush) convinced me to try some, promising me that Islay's typically forward peat and smokey woodiness is much more balanced with maltiness in this one. He was right. Tonico, Kiko and I eventually finished off the rest of the bottle by midnight.

Before then, however, I did have a bit of this Chocolate Truffle Cake for dessert. There were other cakes on the table, but I stuck to this one. Delicious stuff. Never tire of it.

Happy Birthday again, Tonics, and many, many more happy ones to come!

Dinner @ Keiichi's.

Keiichi is in town for the holidays, so we had dinner at his and Christine's place on the 28th December 2011. We were six in all: Keiichi & Christine, Tad & Chako, Catha & I. Chako and Christine had known each other back when they were both still working/living in Tokyo. Christine and Catha set up the get-together around a month ago at the last Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila dinner.

We started off with some refreshing Taittinger Brut NV with...

...a wheel of cheese...

...and a leg of Parma Ham which Christine expertly sliced away at.

Tad & Chako

Keiichi and Catha.

Dinner started with some fresh salad...

...and nice homemade pizza.

With the salad and pizza, we had some 2010 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis (I forgot to take a photo of it, so the above picture is a file photo of the 2009 vintage). I've written about this excellent, dry, bright, appetizingly bitter white Piedmontese white from the Roero hillsides of Piedmont very often as I love it with Italian meals - particularly with antipasti and pasta courses.

I used to have to ask Miguel to bring my stash of this in from Italy since the wine wasn't locally available. However, now, Premium Wine Exchange distributes it together with the producer's fine reds. At only around P1400/bottle, it's much better for me to just source bottles from them. Love it.

With the comfortingly earthy truffle pasta course...

...we had a bottle of 2005 Ceretto Barbaresco Asij - 100% nebbiolo from 4 hectares of estate owned vineyards; due to its youth, I slow-oxed it for around 4 hours in my wine ref before bringing it over. Though it had decent enough acidity, it was notably less acidic than Barbarescos I am used to - though the acidity picks up towards the back and finish. The concentrated, notably extracted dark fruit is sweetish, hefty, full-bodied, very round, somewhat dense, to the point of being a bit ponderous mid-mouth with prominent vanilla and other oak-related spice notes. Fair enough and more accessible for those who like modern-styled nebbiolo. Personally, I like mine cleaner, more focused and with better acidity.

With the roasted rack of lamb...

...Keiichi served a bottle of 1986 Château Prieuré-Lichine - I've not had very many vintages of this 4th growth Margaux-based estate though Catha & I had dinner at the château with the Vigneron and JC & Mari de Terry on the 30th March 2010, so this was a nice opportunity to see how one with age performs.

This had been breathing in a decanter, but I forgot to ask Keiichi for how long. Very nice, actually - notable over-all balance, not tired at all with subtle bottle-age sweetness setting in; proper old-school Bordeaux in its slightly over medium body, deep cassis, slight plum, violets and underlying gravel with a touch of tobacco. Acidity was precise, making it, to my taste, a lot more food-friendly than the preceding wine.

It was a most pleasant and relaxing evening. Conversation flowed easily. Very nice blending. I remember reading many years ago that 6 is the ideal number for an intimate dinner at home. This dinner was certainly a very strong indication that that is indeed so. Until the next!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dinner @ Cyrille Soenen's New Brasserie Ciçou.

Though Cyrille's been connected with Impressions (Maxim's Hotel, Resorts World) since he closed down the old Restaurant Ciçou (formerly at the Hotel Celeste) and I've eaten very well at Impressions twice, I couldn't help but await dining at his own restaurant again with great anticipation. I finally got myself to Brasserie Ciçou (Annapolis St., Greenhills, San Juan) with my family this past Monday, the 26th December 2011.

We were only 5 for dinner that night, nephew Michael joined us, while the youngest was just on his way home from a day at Catha's cousins' farm. Though Cyrille himself wasn't there that night, I was confident we'd have a good spread. I wasn't mistaken.

The brigade de cuisine hard at work.

I enjoyed watching the crew concentrated at their stations through the glass...

...especially my niece, Nicole, commis chef who was manning the sidings station.

The Cassoulet oven bound, one of my favorites at the former Restaurant Ciçou.

We started off w/ delicious pork-based Pâtés, Terrines, Gherkins...

...Fresh Sardines (another carry-over favorite from the former Restaurant Ciçou)...

...some Escargots of course...

...Duck Terrine...

...and a couple of orders of Eggs Benedict. Unlike most commercial Eggs Benedict renditions which I find ponderous with terribly overly dense, ponderously creamy Hollandaise sauce, this was relatively light, remarkably clean, the flavors/ingredients well-defined and precisely balanced. If I still lived in Greenhills, I'd have this for breakfast everyday. Both orders were quickly wiped out.

With all these, we enjoyed a bottle of 2008 Domaine J-M Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Montmains - one of my Christmas gifts from Premium Wine Exchange. I first tried this on the 8th February 2011, during Hiro-san's unforgettable IWFS Kaiseki Dinner. My notes then were as follows:

2008 Domaine J-M Brocard Chablis 1er Cru Montmains - from the Stockbroker. This is locally available his Premier Wine Exchange. I've liked the wines of Domaine Brocard ever since I visited the winery and tasted through their wines back in July 2006. Their 1er Crus Montmains and Montée de Tonnerre are my favorite bottlings. This 2008 Montmains is excellent in its typical oyster shell, cold stony notes to its well-focused, apple, clean white mineral and white flowered base. Definitely a lovely Chablis - tons of charm, good cut, typical and easily approachable.

Nephew Michael & the second.

Now, around 10 months later, the steely, oyster-shell laced fruit seems softer, riper, more rounded and amiably pillowy, almost lush, faintly honeyed, but with good definition, acid balance, focus and a consistent underlying cold stone theme. Very nice. Catha really liked this as she prefers her Chablis a bit fruitier; and I found it wonderful with the butter-slathered escargots and rich pork pâté, pork terrine and duck pâté as well. Very nice. Very enjoyable indeed, and well recommended at its price (available at PWX at P1850 full retail).

The eldest & Catha.

The eldest had the Chef Cyrille Salad...

...while I had the French Onion Soup, another clean, well-defined, focused and nicely balanced rendition. The onions' natural flavor and sweetness were brought out without becoming heavy on the palate at any time. The main courses then started arriving at table.

The finished Cassoulet (the second most always orders this when available)...

The eldest's Boeuf Onglet...

...and two orders of the large Rib-Eye Steaks w/ Roasted Potatoes, Mushrooms, Pumpkin, Lardons, Shallots & Garlic Confit. The steak came rare enough as ordered and was well flavored, juicy and very tender. The sidings prepared by Nicole were, objectively, exceptionally good, the squash soft and caramelized as was the shallots, the lardons slightly crisped, the mushrooms were done precisely, etc. Loved the two nice, large and thick steaks which Michael and I shared with Catha and the second (though the eldest got a bit as well just to taste).

With the steaks was offered helpings of what appeared to be a jug of Sauce Béarnaise. I'm not 100% sure what it was though, since I don't put sauces or gravy on good steaks (I prefer to taste just the meat). Catha asked me to photograph it, however, since it was "cute". What married men have to put up with, I tell you....

The Seared Foie Gras was the last starter to be served, arriving slightly before the mains. It was competently executed; served atop some sort of brioche which tasted like maple syrup. Upon my suggestion, Michael toppped a bit of steak with the seared foie for an makeshift tournedos Rossini of sorts - which he obviously liked a lot.

Earlier that day, Richard recommended that I bring no fine Bordeaux, but a Pommard, Volnay or Northern Rhône instead. So, with the mains, I served a bottle of 1998 Domaine Comte Armand Pommard Premier Cru Clos des Epeneaux (thanks to Nicole for the photo as I had forgotten to take one of the bottle) - The wine, after being left open for around 1½-2 hours, released aromas of dark, ripe, deeply-veined confited plum, slight raisin, black cherry, slight vanilla, violets and alluring sanguine, meaty notes.

On the palate, it mirrored its scents in a notably masculine, concentrated, slightly dense and rustically textured medium++ body. Not bad; but I couldn't help but think that this was slightly over-wrought - like its concentration/extraction/density was contrived - but that's just me. I could, of course, easily be wrong.

As to the pairing, it was good enough. It did stand up to and complement the steak well enough. I'd have preferred a bit more cut as the acid was a just a bit low for my taste. My main course itself, though, was wholly beyond reproach.

Good job!

For dessert, among others, we had 3 orders of Kouign Amann but the kids attacked it way faster than I could take a photo - so this is one of my file photos of it from the old Restaurant Ciçou. It's the same dessert served now though. I've loved this dessert ever since I first had it almost 2½ years ago at a Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila members' dinner back on the 7th August 2009. My family, friends and I have been enjoying it since, the dish having now achieved virtual cult status amongst Manila's dining consignetti. It's essentially a butter-rich pastry/cake which many, including myself and my family, have found addictively delicious. One simply has to try it to know for one's self.

By way of mignardises, we were very thoughtfully given a platter of excellent Chocolate & Orange Ganache Macarons and Mini Madeleines. Love it!

Upon Nicole's recommendation, we also had a large order of Kings' Cake (a.k.a., Galette des Rois of northern France). As I understand, a little toy is hidden in one of the slices, and the one who draws such slice is "King for the Day". What benefits are accorded such King are unknown to me, but, it does make for a bit of fun during dessert.

The second drew the piece with the toy and was thus crowned "King for the Day". Michael was worried if he had to be the queen. A couple of double espressos later, we headed off for home. Wonderful dinner - well worth the trek and braving the usual Greenhills post-Xmas shopping traffic. We'll definitely be back!

Until the next!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Tribute to Extremadura.

Dinner of Tuesday the 29th November 2011 found me back at Terry's 2ºPiso for La Gran Cena Homenaje a Extremadura organized by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce (a.k.a., La Cámara).

Naturally, there is nobody in this country more qualified to design and execute the menu than Juan Carlos de Terry. He only had to mention to me that he was to handle the dinner, and I immediately decided to attend.

As one can see in the map above, the region of Extremadura is bordered on the north by Castilla y León, the south by Andalucía, the east by Castilla-La Mancha, and the west by Portugal. In terms of food, the area is known for its pork, cheeses, olive oils and paprika (D.O. Pimentón de la Vera in particular). Thus, upon my arrival, I was endlessly regaled by samples of the regional pork-based deli products Ibéricos de la Dehesa...

...such as jamón, presa, vela de lomo, chorizo and salchichón.

The deli products were so delightfully rustic and addictive, it is a good thing that JC called my attention to the pass-around of Escabeche de Coliflor al Estilo del Restaurante Los Pajares - a recipe (using orange juice) which he picked up and re-interpreted from Los Pajares, a traditional Extremañan restaurant located in the town of La Zarza, in the province of Badajoz. Totally different from the escabeche as we know it in Manila, the escabeche cauliflower pass-around is difficult to describe. One had to be there. I ate 5 of them at least. Aside from these, I also got to have some...

...Caracoles al Pan Frito, Estilo Alange & Montadito del Morcilla de Malpartida. Tragically, I missed out on the Pulguitas Rellenos de Crema del Casar, which must have gone really fast.

All these were washed down by glasses of well-chilled Masachs Cava Brut &
the verdejo based 2010 Bodegas Avelino Vegas Circe Blanco (Rueda).

Current Cámara President Miguel Romero-Salas with past President José Miguel Cortés.

Alicia Sy & Chinkee Clemente-Koppe with Mari de Terry.

Cámara General Manager Fernando Muñoz Ramiro with Cyrene de la Rosa.

I also met new friends there, as well as old ones, such as fellow IWFS & La Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila member Sunny Garcia (right).

Chinkee with Vimla Gopaldas.

We were eventually called to seat ourselves for Miguel Romero-Salas' opening address. The tables were named after major Extremañan localities such as Trujillo, Cáceres, etc. I was seated at Merída (the regional capital) with, among others, the brothers Romero-Salas (José Luis & Miguel), the spouses Cortés, and, as depicted below, beside the most charming Inmaculada Martinez, and across Tito Justo Ortiz (the dad of longtime friends since college, twins Ines & Teresa).

My Spanish got an extreme workout that night as Tito Justo encouraged me to speak it the entire time, as much as I could, anyway. I can understand fine, but my spoken Spanish is somewhat limited. When conversation turned to local politics later that night, I had no choice but to switch to English when I answered as my vocabulary wouldn't allow me to otherwise.

Juan Carlos then took the floor and gave an account on Extremañan cuisine, complete with notes on the climate, soils and history as only he can. When JC spoke about la cocina Extremaña, he did so with authority - never satisfied with book learning when it comes to food, he actually has traveled the area, getting to know all first-hand. During his talk, he recounted how we together, at a lavish ICEX cocktail in Barcelona, came upon the jamón de Trevélez that he now distributes. I remember it well, he chatted up the owners and immediately arranged a visit to their farm (approximately 40 kms. southeast of Granada) to learn more about the product. Talk about being passionate about food - he is a whole lot crazier than I'll ever be.

Dinner proper then started with a 1st Course of Bacalao Confitado Roclado con Bálsamo de Arbequina y Crema de Pimiento Morrón, Aceitunas Aromatizado al Orégano Fresco y Pimentón de La Vera (Confit Codfish Adorned with Arbequina Olive Oil, Red Pepper Cream, Olives Scented with Fresh Oregano & Smokey Paprika from the Extremañan La Vera D.O.). The cod was melt-in-your-mouth, moist and tender, the accompanying flavors balanced and complex, yet maintaining a rustic honesty.

This was paired with the earlier mentioned 2010 Bodegas Avelino Vegas Circe Blanco*, one of JC's newer wines, a verdejo-based blanco from Rueda - a lively, clean, very slightly honeyed soft, slightly creamy, round, tropical passion fruit and peach. Deeper, heftier, more ripely sweet and more concentrated than most all other verdejos I've tried - I'd guess the fruit was from older vines. Open, accessible, amiable - a feminine verdejo; this is for easy, casual enjoyment. There was just enough acidity to brighten this dish and give a bit of lift. Good as an apéritif as well as for pairing with fattier fishes for a fruity contrast.

*Named after the mythological Greek enchantress mentioned in Homer's Odyssey.

The 2nd course, a crowd favorite (it certainly was mine), was Arroz Meloso de Rabo de Toro Y Setas Silvestres al Fundente de Queso El Porfiao, Origen Casar de Palomeros, Las Hurdes, Cáceres (Creamy Rice with Oxtail and Wild Mushrooms with Molten "El Porfiao" Cheese from Casar de Palomero, Las Hurdes, Cáceres). A masterpiece in savory-earthiness: the rice maintained its integrity despite its slightly nutty creaminess, the oxtail's and mushrooms' flavors seamlessly intertwined, the cheese adding a layer of delicate pungency and balanced richness. Fantastic. Rustic luxury and elegance.

With the dish was paired the 2007 Casa del Valle Estate Bottled Syrah - I don't get to try many Spanish syrahs - this was very ripe, full, hefty, showing raspberry liqueur, blackberries and crème de cassis, slight black pepper, with undertones of new oak: vanilla/cinnamon and cocoa. I had no idea where exactly it was from until Tito Justo pointed out that it was from the Toledo area. Interesting.

The 3rd and main course was JC's take on the traditional caldereta de cordero, named Caldereta de Cordero al Pimentón La Dalia Estilo Jaraíz de La Vera (Lamb Stew with "La Dalia" Brand Paprika in the Style of Jaraíz de La Vera [a town in the province of Cáceres]). This was paired with magnums of 2009 Palacios Remondo La Vendimia Rioja - a vino joven made up of garnacha and tempranillo from the Rioja Baja in a very ripe vintage. Spicy blackcurrants and cherry, ripe dark plum belly, vanilla and slight licorice, halfway to full-bodied; a straightforward, polished, rounded, modernish young Rioja. At it's very reasonable price, I believe retailing at Terry's at under P700/bottle, it is a steal and perfect for pairing with rich meaty dishes at large holiday parties.

The Cáceres Table laughs it up.

JC scoops out the cheese for plating.

The Cheese Course was Ibores al Orégano Fresco, Torta "El Porfiao" de Castuera, y, Ibores "De Caza" 10 Años de Curación, Berrocales Trujillanos, Cáceres. "Ibores" is an Extremañan D.O. cheese from the districts of Ibores, Villuercas, La Jara & Trujillo in Cáceres. To qualify as a D.O. cheese, it must be made of unpasteurized milk of only Serrana, Verata, Retinta goats (and crosses of the same) raised in officially registered farms, under official and regulated guidelines.

The first cheese was a moderately rich one laced with fresh oregano. Firm and just mildly pungent, vaguely nutty, slightly salty, it is totally unlike the ubiquitous ultra-creamy and gamey French chèvres. The second, not an Ibores, was an oozingly rich, fat, creamy, buttery cheese ("El Porfiao" is the brand) from Castuera (province of Badajoz) made of raw Merino sheep's milk. It is so soft one has to spoon it out of its rind (as seen being done by JC in the second photo above). The third, a 10-year aged Ibores by Berrocales Trujillanos (a 3rd generation family business based, obviously, in Trujillo - the southern outskirts thereof in particular) , was hardened and darkened by age, showing a pronounced nuttiness that called to mind a cheesy, slightly salty, unsweetened marzipan cookie.

JC finishes the desserts of...

Helado de Higos Frescos de Almoharin y Aceite de Oliva Arbequina sobre Torrija Cacereña de Sierra de Fuentes (Ice Cream of Fresh Almoharin Figs & Arbequina Olive Oil around a Cáceres Torrija from the town of Sierra de Fuentes). This Cáceres version of torrijas (a Spanish take on pain perdu - a.k.a., French toast) was unlike any torrija I've ever had - denser, nuttier, calling to mind a flattened, somewhat chewy/more glutinous macaroon. The helado and accompanying fresh figs were absolutely heavenly in themselves, with the torrija, and all together. Superb. I could have eaten 3 of these, but stuck to just one.

As in most traditional Spanish dinners (the ones I've attended, anyway), pacharán rounded off the meal - in this case, the La Navarra Etiqueta Verde Pachrán that Terry's distributes. Love this stuff, and, apparently, so did Tito Justo.

Miguel Romero-Salas then re-took the floor, gave the closing remarks and led a deluge of applause for the Terry's staff (standing at left is La Cámara's Immediate Past President Alfredo Roca), and, of course,...

...for El Maestro...

...for whom Past President, José Luis Romero-Salas, offered a congratulatory toast.

Thus ended my extremely enjoyable crash-course on the cuisine of Extremadura. Surely, this lesser-known region's food products and traditional dishes currently are under-appreciated - even by me, admittedly - until that night, that is. With the many people leaving the dinner with purchased packages of Extremañan cheeses and assorted deli items, however, a lot of progress had definitely been made. ¡Olé!