Thursday, November 1, 2012

Food Highlights and More - Valencia, Spain

Valencia might be my favorite Spanish city so far. I don't say those words lightly. I have visited Zaragoza once, Barcelona twice, and Madrid thrice. In Zaragoza, I saw my host's home, a park, a heavy metal bar, and a classroom. In Barcelona, I have a favorite bar, restaurant, ice cream place, and enjoy the architecture. Though I've been to Madrid the most, I feel I barely know the city. But Valencia, Valencia I know.
This is what happens when I stay with two Valencians very enthusiastic and proud of their city. I get to wander the city, admire the fountains and squares, marvel at the ancient buildings and towers, sample local cuisine, and imbibe the drinks.
 The first notable drink is orxata made from the pictured tubers of the xufa plant. It was fascinating to hear that orxata's originates from Valencia. It was even more fascinating (and difficult) trying to pry apart these shelled tubers to enjoy the nutty tasting meal inside.
My friends took me to Sequer Lo Branch, where xufa is processed and orxata made. It's traditional to drink the orxata with fartons. Above you see the best way to enjoy orxata.
Another traditional Valencian specialty are the Valencian mussels, or clochinas. You must go to La Pilareta where clochinas is their specialty. Trust me, you'll want lots of bread to soak up the slightly spicy broth immersing the mussels.
If you're not too full or feel like something cool to assuage the spicy clochinas broth, I recommend nearby Amorino. They specialize in artfully arranged, wonderfully dense, rich gelato. Order three flavors for an edible "flower".
Another traditional dish is fideua. Pictured above is a non-traditional version featuring duck. I thank Gin Tapas for a great meal. I also thank my friend's sister for dating a Valencian restaurant magnate. While dining beneath the warm Valencian sun, we also enjoyed several different croquetas and tuna salad.
This dish headlined an amazing home cooked dinner. If you visit Valencia, find this dish in a restaurant or adopt someone's mom. It is arroz al horno with pork. It was legen-.... Wait for it ..-dary!
I want to mention Le Marquis for their eye catching photos decorating their startling white interior, but also their Menu of the Day. It is 14 for three courses. The highlight was this crepe with morcilla (blood sausage), foie, red fruits, and a small salad with vinaigrette drizzle.
When most people think of Spanish food, they think tapas, small plates, meat. There is more to Spain as you witnessed above. However, I want to mention Valencian tapas because they do them quite well. La Croqueteria, for example, stays open late and specializes in croquettes. They do serve other tasty dishes, so admire the crispy ham, sliced potatoes, fried egg, and be jealous you weren't there.
My last night out was fantastic. Friends were craving Negresco's signature cocktail and they knew I enjoyed cocktails and whisky. This venue advertises a large whisky, gin, and cocktail selection. Their menus were large, overwhelming with choices, but they had excellent descriptions. We drank a lot, danced, were entertained by the Spanish Elvis (a drunk patron whose nearby karaoke bar was closed), and played with a French bulldog mix. Cute, right?
When you visit Valencia, it will cure any ennui. This cat used to be sad and plaintive, but then it visited Valencia and discovered the excitement it offered.
Whether it's wire brushes, cocktails, traditional venue, architecture, exciting restaurants, Valencia has a lot to offer. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Iberian Pig - Decatur, Georgia

Decatur Square is happening! Walk through and around here and you'll be struck by the numerous restaurants, active youth, the parkour-worthy MARTA station (traceurs do train there Sundays), statues and more. The nearby restaurants offer many different ethnic foods, but we were here for the tapas. Welcome to The Iberian Pig.
My dining companion and I arrived here shortly after 5pm. We had reservations at 5:45pm, but I was hungry (old story). I was eager to get in a 5pm, but their staff was busy with a wine tasting. Once the doors opened, I tastefully waited for someone else to be first. The Iberian Pig offers a spacious venue with ample seating options and plenty of room at the bar.

Since we were the first to be seated in their main dining area, we met several different staff as the Iberian Pig servers sorted their table assignments. Our first mission involved drinks and I had been talking about the Green and Yellow Parrots.

A couple years ago, I read a Westword article regarding a Colt & Gray cocktail night. I didn't make it that evening, but I visited soon after this event. Their staff found the particular cocktail menu and I ordered a Yellow Parrot featuring Yellow Chartreuse. Later, Kevin Burke arrived and asked me about my drink. Perhaps I didn't display proper enthusiasm, but I soon had a Green Parrot (substituting Green Chartreuse for the aforementioned Yellow) plopped in front of me with the words "you'll enjoy this much more". I did and the memory stuck with me.

Did you know the Green Parrot cocktail exists as a beachy/trashy college kid/spring break cocktail? Yeah....
Well, I looked up the Yellow Parrot, talked to the bartender about it, swapped Green for Yellow, and Voila! Dining Companion pleased! They could have used a better glass for the Green Parrot, though.

The Croquettes de Queso were tasty and filled their dish. They featured chevre goat cheese, honey-citrus yogurt and lavender honey. The cheese's texture and tart taste balanced against the honey and crunchy exterior. They were definitely different from the Spanish tapas I'm used to.
We were warned that we better like pig if we come here. These are BWD's, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with walnuts and Manchego, one of my favorite cheeses. The chewy meatiness gave way to sweet dates. These sat in a delicious romesco sauce bed, their red pepper flavor tantalizing.
The Manchego Mac 'n Cheese next teased our senses. Thick pasta, Manchego pork belly cream, butter toasted panko, fresh thyme bite. This came accompanied by an Iberian Old-Fashioned featuring bacon infused Rye, organic maple syrup, bitters, citrus oil. Its smoky scent appeared in the nose and finish with slight lurking sweetness. Well done balancing the smoky flavors and the maple syrup.
A porky burst of freshness wrapped in a crunchy shell. Meet the Pork Cheek Tacos with slow roasted pork cheeks, corn salsa, avocado crema, arugula, and lime. They were devoured.
Last, but not least, we ordered the Cabrito Carbonara. It was tempting me online, it was tempting me here. We teased out dense chewy pasta strands from this tenuous pile. We savored the flavorful broth, extolled the rich, pull apart slow roasted goat, marveled at the poach egg's perfect form and clean taste. Even as I desire the goat and its broth, I remember the egg's neutrality standing firm against the richness.

Overall, we had a fantastic time at The Iberian Pig. And I'm not sure why, but we also met two out of the three owners. Was it my picture taking? My detailed cocktail requests? Anyway, we found out about Double Zero Napoletana, the restaurant group's ode to Italian. That's for another day. If you enjoy pork or a fresh take on Spanish tapas, check out The Iberian Pig in Decatur, GA.