experiment: tapas

I have no idea why it took me so long to come around to tapas. It was probably my holier-than-thou, Sex and The City trend-bucking, the same philos steering me clear of Magnolia Bakery (which I eventually broke down and visited after a year of NYC residency. Nothing but a pile of mediocre frosting. Billy’s is much better, though Yummy’s in LA takes the cupcake-cake).

I just have a harder time trusting trendy foods, esp. anything immortalized by SatC or Hitch (Rice to Riches, I’m talking to you). Yet, in my quest to become the ultimate foodie it’s often necessary to experiment with all sorts of foods, even trendy/novelty items. Sometimes those experiments prove fruitful, and sometimes you end up with a mouthful of something that has the same texture as a wet towel.

My formal introduction to tapas started with mega-chef José Andrés’ Zaytinya, the apotheosis of small-plate dining smack in the heart of our nation’s capital. Jared and I had gone to a rehearsal dinner the day before at Andrés’ other DC restaurant, Café Atlantico. After an amazing three-hour lunch complete with banana foam(?) for dessert, we were hooked. We decided to try out his more reputable Zaytinya the next night.

The Tapa, as explained to us by our way-too-old-to-be-a-waiter waiter, was the brainchild of a Spanish king—sort of a cookie to his milk. Or wine, in this case. The king would stick a piece of bread or the like over the top of the wine jug to keep out the flies and other impurities. This protocork eventually evolved beyond breads and other yeasty nibbles into the much more intricate and delicious offerings you’ll find on modern tapas menus. They did stay on the small side though. Gourmet appetizers, really. Which, as someone who toggles between menu items for hours before ordering and always likes to try a bit of everything, is my DREAM setup.

And it doesn’t hurt that Andrés’ wildly inventive fares also happen to be freakin incredible. Here’s what we chose:

Cerkez Tavugu
shredded chicken in a walnut-cilantro sauce
(Walnut-cilantro. Brilliant)

Kabak Köftesi
squash-golden raisin fritters, walnut pistachio sauce

Octopus Santorini
grilled baby octopus, marinated onions, capers , yellow split pea puree
(great, though my least favorite. I grew up hating seafood. Mostly because I grew up in a land-locked state).

Crispy Skirt Steak
cucumber-radish cacik, green chili zhoug sauce
(like the heaven and hell of steak – cool and then BAM – fire).

Peynirli Pide
Turkish tomato sauce with cinnamon and oregano, covered in haloumi cheese
(CINNAMON in pizza sauce. Whoa!)

I seriously licked the plates clean. And ever since I’ve been on a major tapas trip.

Martine, an atmospherically-wow restaurant in downtown SLC, also happens to win the Adrienne’s Favorite Tapas award.

Fried Shepherds Goats Cheese with Caramelized Sweet Onions and Lillet-Orange Blossom Honey Glaze

Pretentious-sounding name aside, mmmmmm. Crispy honey outside, warm and soft and cheesy inside. Perfect in so many ways. Please do yourself a favor and get it. I’m convinced the Gaza Strip would be a safer and more loving place if they would spend their time making these instead of C-4-lined vests.

what I have learned:

Sometimes food is appropriately hyped. I suppose. Know of anything I should try?

If you’re going to take a date to a tapas restaurant, make sure you really enunciate when you’re explaining your plans, or they will hear “topless restaurant.” And then they will be let down when they realize their misunderstanding.


Alison said...

Yes, you should try Sex in the City.