May 13, 2010

The Book of Tapas

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On Monday night, I got to attend a party at the Phaidon Store to celebrate the upcoming release of The Book of Tapas by Simone and Ines Ortega.

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I’d never been to the Phaidon Store before, but its artsy-fartsy, design-y atmosphere was appropriate for a chic and phisisticated event such as a tapas party. This is not your average bookstore where everything is packed onto the shelves like sardines. I might go so far as to say the space is more like a gallery than anything. Given that much of the books were collections of art and photography, I guess that’s not so far off.

I soon found my port sherry in the storm, though.

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Phaidon has a very cool collection of cookbooks and it was fun to flip through them while I sipped aforementioned sherry…

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…which I decided I do not like…

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…though I was more than happy to focus on the whole reason we were there: tapas!

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I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I spent a semester in Madrid way back in ye olde 2004, during which time I ate my body’s weight in napolitanas (chocolate-filled croissants) and cocidos (stews) and kept many a coffee shop in business singlehandedly, downing half a dozen cafes con leche every day. Tapas were things I ate relatively few of, mostly because I have always been a huge homebody (though I was in denial at the time, trying to be a hip college student and all). Enjoying a solid bar-hop with wine and tapas and the whole shebang generally requires going out at night! My host mother was such a good cook, though, that I was almost always in a food coma by 10pm, which is, in fact, a proper dinner time itself, by Spanish standards. She had dinner ready for me by 9:00 or 9:30, just out of courtesy. Obviously, I didn’t adapt very well to the Spanish schedule and meal times, but I was nonetheless happy as a pig in shit, especially if you believe you are what you eat. Dear God, they sure do eat a lot of pork in Spain.

Exhibit A:

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve more or less stopped eating land animals these days. I couldn’t pinpoint a moment when I stopped eating meat, but in hindsight, I’ve really gravitated heavily towards fish where any non-vegetarian eats are concerned, and for some time now. That said, I’m very much a cultural eater (“when in Rome,” and all that…), so I didn’t hesitate to sample all the tapas that came my way. The above picture shows the Paquetitos de Jamon, or Fava bean stuffed serrano ham bundles. Salty, but delicious!

The Tortilla Espanola was the dish most familiar to me:

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In fact, I can make tortilla myself and have done so a number of times since leaving Spain. I’ve even written a blog tutorial on it. It’s surely not the most exotic of Spanish dishes, though arguably one of the most popular: a simple potato and egg omelet.

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These were the Chorizo con chocolate:

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I wish I had read the description before popping one in my mouth! Totally delicious, but the chocolate part was kind of lost on me, despite my chocolate-seeking tongue.

My favorite taste was this one:

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Gazpacho shots! I have tasted many gazpachos in my time, and I’ve loved them all, including my own concoctions. Chef Alex’s rendition was more like a gazpacho smoothie, though and I enjoyed the creaminess. (This stuff has Vitamix written all over it, alas!)

And lastly, here is the Brandada and spring ramp pinxto (salt cod and spring ramps):

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Emphasis on the salt part of salt cod! I don’t think I was at all acquainted with cod before living in Spain, so this taste totally brought back some authentic memories. There was a sixth tapa, the Salpicon Ponte Vedra (chilled shrimp, onion and avocado) but sadly, it never crossed my path.

And among all these books and bites, a pair of Hangry Pants.

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It was nice to see some familiar faces in the crowd! Heather and I agreed that we both kind of wanted this tapas book.

Chef Alex Raij, of Txikito and El Quinto Pino fame, spoke about tapas for a few minutes (she was responsible for the evening’s menu) and she reminded us that tapas are about the experience as much as the food itself, which is most often very simple and made of no more than a handful of household ingredients at a time. Having a variety of these small bites allows you to really socialize with a number of people, begin and end when/where you want and eat as much/as little as you want, all without concern for the structure of a formal meal or anything like that.

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For that matter, Txikito and El Quinto Pino are both located in Chelsea, along with a few other NYC tapas bars, so even in New York, thousands of miles from Spain, it’s totally possible to go out for a tapas tour! I love that.

Have you ever eaten tapas? (And I don’t mean any old “little food”!) Are you a fan of tapas-style dining?

13 comments:

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) said...

love tapas. its my go-to eating style. i am a little of this, little of that, kind of girl. i.e. all my recipes are very modest portions b/c i tire of things faster than you can say, change it up, please!

Mama Pea said...

Tapas and a glass of wine is my favorite way to eat ever. It's about time to hit that again.

leslie said...

this event looks so wonderful! tapas are one of my favorite ways to eat for exactly the reason the chef described - the social atmosphere. i love how they encourage lingering with a group, sharing plates, tasting lots of different flavors. plus, they're so perfectly complemented by sharing a bottle of wine.

i really like your description of yourself as a cultural eater - i might have to adopt that term for myself. because while i won't be ordering my own plate of lamb anytime soon, if i'm experiencing a certain culture through an event or through travel, i'll certainly be tasting everything. cultural eater is a nice way to sum up that style!

Shannon said...

love tapas! i'm intrigued by the chorizo and chocolate tapas... what a fun event!

brandi said...

How fun!

I had my first taste of tapas in Spain in February, which is the best place to try them for the first time, I guess.

We don't have any tapas-style places here, but I loved them! I love the idea of small plates and being able to try a bunch of different things to make up your meal.

Gabriela said...

I've never had authentic tapas, but I do love small plate restaurants where you get to try lots of little things! Those gazpacho shots look especially delicious, I love their color!

Ilana said...

What a cool event! That is a gorgeous bookstore - there are some really cool ones around, no?

Tapas - I've been to a few tapas places in the city, always delicious. Now that I'm vegan I doubt I'll be going back for any serrano ham with manchego cheese anytime soon but damn that stuff was good back in the day.

I learned how to make real tortillas too! When I was in Nicaragua. It's so fun!

whatkateate said...

Such tasty looking tapas! I love little samples of this & that.

Mo Diva said...

i lurve tapas!
what a fun foodie event!!!

Missy said...

Fun event! I love tapas! It is much more fun trying a bunch of small dishes than having one giant one and getting sick of it!

whataboutsummer said...

what a fun event


I love the atmosphere of sharing and conversation that tapas creates

Katherine

Gina said...

I'm so jealous of your summer in Madrid!! Wow, I bet that was fantastic. I have had tapas, but only in the local restaurants (although we do have some really fantastic tapas restaurants around here). And, like you, I'm NOT a sherry fan.

Jackie (Peaces of Earth) said...

I really wish I was at this event! so many books! looks awesome.

I've only had real tapas once, they were sooo good! I love little bites of everything! I'm hoping to travel to Spain while living in London this summer. Will have to have my fair share of tapas. :)