Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Europe: Zaragoza: A Tapas Redux

NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of articles concerning my Europe trip. See below for links to the previous articles:



More Barcelona

Zaragoza: Part 1

Zaragoza, a redux: Tapas time
“Oh my GOD”, I exclaimed as I stepped out of the restaurant into the alleyway, “I just spent 50 real dollars on finger foods! I need a waffle!”
That was how my epic tapas night in Zaragoza ended. Or, as I like to think of it, how my epic tapas day, in which I had tapas for all 3 meals in less than 24 hours, began. Please, follow me as I lead you throiugh part 1 of this magical 3 meal saga I will call: Ben Gordon: The Bar Food Chronicles (BG:TBFC).
As I explained in my previous posts, tapas are the class of bar food unique to northern spain. Frequently they are ready to eat nearly immediately, requiring mere seconds in a fryer or broiler. I would direct you to my previous post, where I left after exiting the first of 5 restaurants that night. In order, this is how the night went down:
-Tapas bar A (in previous post)

-Tapas bar B

-Churros y Chocolate tapas “break”

-Tapas Bar C “Meli e Melo”

-Waffle Time!

I will let the photos tell the story of this amazing journey.

Tapas Bar B:


To start off, we basically ordered a selection of everything. Let me try to remember what these were. I will go from left to right accross the top row, then left to right across the bottom row
-This was a seafood something, I think. It was served in a metal container to give it shape. I think it had shrimp? Most of the tapas here were fairly forgettable.
-This was a seafood gratin- like a seafood salad with cheese (manchego?) melted over the top. I should mention we shared this plate. Have you ever cut a 2 inch wide tapa into three pieces? While drunk? It's hard! At the next place we did no such thing. I wish I had taken more pictures of these- it would help me remember.
-the little one to the right I do remember- it was a croquette, specifically a mussel one. A croquette is essentially potato wrapped around something that is then deep-fried. You cannot see it, but it was actually served in a mussel shell. This one was quite good.
-The next one (at the far right of the top row) was really different. It was a triangular flaky pastry, and it contained piping hot spinach- it had obviously come right out of the oven.
-On the bottom left: that BIG buy is a croquette of jamon serrano and cheese. It was DELICIOUS. We fought over this guy.
-This next one was a seafood salad, in a flaky pastry "boat" almost. It was baked so that it was like a little cup, which held the salad.
-This next one was my favorite. I will talk more about it below.
-I don't even remember the one on the far right. It wasn't very good.


The one above was really good though. It was essentially another flaky pastry "boat" which held cheese, membrillo (quince paste) and some really caramelized onion. It was very complex- the membrillo was really sweet, which balanced the unami flavor of the cheese and onions, all held together on top of this pastry crust. It was the best tapa there.

Overall, I was not a fan of this place. Although it had the best wine (we-or at least I- was drinking heavily throughout this even) it was also the most expensive, and the tapas were merely average- the previous joint and the next place were much better.

Churros y Chocolate "break"

After the 2nd place, Tyrone and Kyle were both feeling a bit full. So we decided, "Hey-lets get churros y chocolate!". For those of you who don't know, Spain specializes in the churro; a delicious pastry that is very similar to funnel cake, but not "looped" around into a cake form. One then gets these piping hot churros, dripping with grease out of the fryer, and dips them in the thickest, most velvety and sensuous hot chocolate. It really has a consistency of a melted hersheys bar- it is just incredible.

For our mid-dinner chocolate fix, we chose a very serious looking place, called Valor. From outside, we saw gleaming white marble, with crowds of happy people chowing down on the MOST delicious looking churros, which were steaming hot. We were hooked.

As you can see, Valor takes its chocolate seriously. Each of those 5 machines has a different type of chocolate, with different cocoa percentages. The third one from the left, as you can see, has white hot chocolate. We stuck to the traditional: middle of the road hot chocolate with 3 churros.


This is Kyle's look when I said I was still pretty damn hungry. He thought I was drunkenly boasting. I wasn't.


I literally saw them pour these churros into the oil when we ordered. Each one of those suckers is nearly a foot long. This was just one order by the way.


That is the chocolate. One dips the churro in it. This was incredibly thick- it was literally like they took the best chocolate they could find, melted it, and put it in a bowl. This was not a drink; it was more like a condiment for the churro.


Oh my god- I don't think there is any better drinking snack than this. The hot, delicious chocolate just coated the greasy hot churro, and combined to form the most delicious snack. It just sank into the moist center. So good.
Tapas Bar C- My FInal Stop. It was called "Meli e Melo"


This was my first order of 7 items. Keep in mind a few things. First, I ate all of the following myself. Kyle and Tyrone were pretty much checked out by this point, and they were my runners- keeping my wine glass (above left) filled and ordering more stuff when I asked. They were a perfect support team. Thanks guys!

The bartender was also clearly impressed by my skills at eating, and was clearly amused by the fact that I was eating everything they had on sale.
I am going to work around the selection from bottom left, to upper left, moving in a "U" shape.
The tapas here, by the way, were all the bestof any place I had gone. They were all cooked to order, so what was displayed in the counter was a uncooked and ungarnished version of what hit my table. So without further ado:


This was montadilla of sausage and vegatable, with a little cheese. This was really very good- the cheese was crispy, and the suasage and vegetable (celery maybe?) we both flavorful. It was like a really good, open face sausage sandwich. Also, please note: the plates were all about 2.5 by 2.5 inches, so keep that in mind when mentally sizing the portion. These were usually 3 or 4 bite tapas- a bit bigger than normal.


This was another montadilla- this time of some very lightly seared steak. Seriously, it was still ruby red in the middle. It was really good thoiugh. I should mention that all of the montadillas were served on some of the most delicious bread I have ever had. In this case, the bread was just firm enough to soak up the delicious steak juice, which dribbled down my chin with every bite.

I was so happy. This was probably one of the best nights of my life. Great wine, incredible food, my best friends next to me, in a Spanish bar, surrounded by people having a great time- it had it all.


This was another montadilla, of lightly marinated and shredded beef wrapped in jamon serrano. This guy was a beast- the meat portion was an inch in dimater, without a lie. I bit into it the first time, and it was a revelation. First, I got the saltiness of the jamon serrano. Then, the taomato-y bread. Finally, the dense, delectable and incredibly meaty center of shreadded beef. Make no mistake- these were not delicate little finger sandwiches. They were food, with one mission: fill up your tummy!


This was after two or three bites. You can vaguely see the beef in the interior.


Going through these photo's is like living that night all over again. This was a deep-fried shell of some kind, kind of like a canneloni, wrapped around shredded pork, very similar to carnitas. I think the sauce that you see around it was a pan sauce from the pork. This was really good- both the shell and the carnitas style pork were really crispy from the frying, but also very distinct, as you would expect from a protein and a starch. All through this meal, Kyle and Tyrone were watching me. This would be a theme throughout the trip, as I routinely ate tremendous amounts. I am also a very slow eater.


I think this was another tapa of breadcrumbs around more shredded pork or beef- I honestly don't remember.


You can see the interior here- I want to say it was shredded beef because of the color. Anyway, it as really good. The beef was mixed with some little veggies before being lightly breaded and fried.

Best dish of the night, right here. I will let you try to guess what it is you are seeing. Is it meat? Is it chicken? What the hell?

This was queso de cabra- goat cheese. I literally had NO idea what this was when it was plunked down on my table. What they had done was taken some of the most DELICIOUS chevre I have ever had, and then rolled it in a top secret, spanish mix which I think included pistachios, almonds, and maybe bread crumbs. The entire thing was then fried, and garnished with a mixture of quince paste and honey, and then drizzled with some of the most delctable balsamic vinegar I have ever tasted.

This dish was over the top good. Incredible. Give up my day job and becomes a profession tapas eater good. Marry the chef good.

The goaty flavor and creamy texture of the chevre was perfectly balanced by the crispy outside of fried nuts. Keep in mind, the outside was piping hot, and the inside was gooey and delicious, corresponding to how deep it was. The balsamic vinegar was the kind of balsamic that you always hear people on Food TV telling you to buy. It was very sweet, very complex, with hints of fruit. The quince and honey "marmalade" on top of which it was served was delicious as well. The sweet/salty/cheese combo of the marmalade/balsamic/chevre mixture was simply sublime.

When this hit the table, I saw the glint in the eyes of my companions. I shut them down immediately, and made them get their own. I would make my own mother get one of her own rather than sharing this incredible treat (sorry mommy!).

At this point, I was nearly in ecstasy. You could have shot me and I wouldn't have minded; nothing could get me down.


This was another croquette, but I quickly realized here that this was a very special restaurant where I was eating. They obviously were doing new things with old tapas staples.


This was a croquette in the same way that the previous item was "only" some cheese.

First off, it was fried in incredibly hot oil, for a very delicate, incredibly cripsy crust.

Second, the mixture was one of sublimely smooth and buttery potato, mixed with cheese and artichoke that had been pureed into a very fine blend together, forming a gooey, molten center, which you can see above.I bit into it, and just as my teeth moved past the delightfully crispy crust, my taste buds were assaulted by a full compliment of cheese, potato and artichoke. It was just incredible. I can hardly describe it in words.


At this point, I had ordered more. Thus, the item above is not featured on my full table shot, nor were the following.

These were lean strips of pork, which had been lightly breaded and then fried. These were merely OK- at this point, I was in sensory overload. To be noticed, anything I put in my mouth would have to be amazing. The next item did that.


What the hell is that, you may ask. Well, allow me to dissect it for you. What you see on top are tiny, tiny eels.


This is it after a bite- I nearly swooned here. Basically, what you have is a GIANT calamari, into which the chef had put a mix of much smaller, incredibly tender fried calamari with a very light tomato sauce, and then topped it all with the eels. At this point, my mind, she was blown. I was amazed- it ewas just the most creative, delicious thing. The giant calamari was crunchy and flavorful, and I hit this incredible hot mix of smaller calamari, the juice of which had permeated the bread on the bottom.


In any sort of lesser meal, this tapa would have dominated. In this case, it was above average. What the chef had done was, taken a baked potato and filled it with shredded beef, and topped the entire thing with a savory custard of egg and cheese, and speared the entire thing through with rosemary sprigs. I love the presentation on this.

Desert: Waffle

After that, I walked to a waffle place and proceeded to order the most ridiculous item I could think of. I knew I wanted it to be a waffle.



I had them cook me up a fresh waffle, and cover it with two scoops of dulce de leche ice cream, a chocolate shell, and then top it with more chocolate, caramel, almonds and walnuts. I then got some more of that incredible spanish hot chocolate to drink. I also drizzled it over every bite.


Here, you can see the waffle and chocolate.
So, what did I think of the meal?
Probably one of the best nights of my life. I had so much fun. The entire experience was one of travel- from bar to bar, tapa to tapa, wine to wine, cuisine to cuisine., I felt like I was riding a wave that didn't stop until I collapsed, exhausted, in my bed. And I would do it all again, plus more, in the drop of a hat, without a seconds hesitation.
I hope you enjoyed the photographic journey as much I did eating it.


バトラー said...

i hate you.

Ben Gordon said...

Then you are REALLY going to hate my next post. Just saying. =)

OnigiriFB said...

Oh my. I'm not even sure I know what to say. Baby eels... that alone would get me to go to Spain.