Monday, May 9, 2011

Talk food to me, baby

I have a friend that talks food to me.  You know, the kind of talk that gets you all hot and bothered about braising techniques, Scoville units, dinner parties and pho shops.  It's the kind of talk that makes you want to go home and get down and dirty in the kitchen.  In fact, after the minor pleasantries are exchanged and out of the way, we just get down to business and talk about food, food, food and more food.  What we've eaten, where we've eaten it, who we've eaten it with and how it made us feel.  What we cooked recently, whether for ourselves or for friends.  We miss no detail: the textures, the aromas, the mouthfeel, the visuals.  We talk about what wine we drank with our food and what that wine tasted like, smelled like, looked like.  How it opened up and bloomed in the glass.  Talk that is explicit and salicious in every way.

I appreciate someone who speaks my language and can communicate to me on my level.  Talk like this for a foodie is a major turn-on.  And, my friend not only speaks my language, he walks the talk.  He loves food, and loves cooking, and loves talking about food and cooking with someone else who loves talking about food and cooking.  And he can throw down--doesn't matter what the cuisine or how long the list of ingredients, he's the man.  I have only a small handful of friends who can talk with me on this level, cook with me on this level, and even stand to be with me on this level.  I am on fire when I'm talking about food.  I am obsessed.  I am unable to think about anything else.  I am single-minded.

Recently, on a blustery, rainy evening that was more November than May, my friend and I had tapas at Fino (Austin, TX).  I had been jonesing for several days, in serious withdrawal from beautiful food and beautiful wine that I did not have to cook myself or think about selecting.  I also needed to be pampered, coddled, rescued from the mundane.  My friend had no idea he was participating in a rescue mission because I offered no informed consent.  I just set the stage:  "I want to have some inventive small bites and some good wine.  Some place moody, atmospheric and evocative.  Join me?"  Apparently, that was all it took.  Like I said, my friend speaks my language.

This is what we ate:

Olives & Pickles / Marcona Almonds / Manchego
Blistered Padron Peppers & Sea Salt
Piquillo Pepper with Gulf Crab & Basil
Pork Pinchitos with Sea Salt
Tortilla Espanola with Almond Romanesco
Fried Olives with White Anchovies and Smoked Paprika

This is what we drank (sorry, vintages not available):

Mencia Tempranillo
Fontsainte Rose
Berger Gruner Veltliner
Mencos Rioja

This is what we said about what we had to eat and drink: 

The blistered Padron peppers were definitely my favorite.  Earthy, smoky, slightly bitter and only about two inches long, each had its own way of jumping into my mouth without much assistance.  The olive oil and sea salt made them totally addictive (which was why halfway into the first dish, we ordered a second).  The heat was subtle, but every few peppers would yield a surprising little kick.  My friend really liked the crab-stuffed poquillo pepper.  The filling was creamy, with plenty of crab, and the rich, velvety texture of the poquillo pepper along with its deep, sweet flavor was entirely lovely.

The pork pinchitos arrived hot, succulent, crispy on the edges, infused with olive oil, garlic, cumin, paprika.  With two skewers of pork apiece, there was no jousting over who would get the last few bites.  The Spanish tortilla, served at room temperature, had a generous amount of coppery-hued romesco sauce, rich with olive oil and ground almonds.  And the fried olives, a close runner up to the Padron peppers as my favorities, were a revelation.  The right amount of salt from the anchovies, perfumed with smoked paprika and really crispy (probably due to panko), it was too easy to pop these in my mouth one after the other.

I drank Mencia Tempranillo, a lively Spanish red that is full of tannins beautifully balanced by tart red fruit, spice and an elegant finish.  The perfect foil for tapas.  I followed that with a Mencos Rioja, another tempranillo that is rounder, richer and full of cherry and spice dovetailing to a slight anise note.  Lovely, warming, perfect also with tapas.  My friend drank the Domaine de Fontsainte Rose, a gorgeous rich salmon color in the glass and full of raspberry, strawberry and tropical notes.  He followed with the Berger Gruner Veltliner, one of my food-friendly favorite whites that I love for its great balance of acid and minerals.

And for dessert, I had Goat Cheesecake with Poteet Strawberries, Rosewater and Fried Rosemary, lovely, tart and sophisticated with the herbal notes from the rosemary.  I drank a lovely Sauternes, but regrettably did not memorize the label.  My friend had the Salted Caramel Pot de Creme with Bruleed Banana, wonderfully rich and the bananas a surprise for their firmness and greenness, a brilliant combination with the burnt sugar topping.  And my nightcap: Sercial Madiera, a domestic madiera that was very lovely.  Soft, dry, and pale topaz, it was a fabulous finish to a great evening.

I must also mention that the service at Fino was outstanding.  We sat at the bar and were regaled by Clinton, mixologist extraordinaire, who will make a hot toddy with seared orange peel and cloves in a flash for customers with sore throats, who mixes his own bitters and infuses his own spirits.  Clinton will tell you anything you want to know about what he stocks on his bar, and he is knowledgable about and helpful with his wines.  He will give you clever answers to your queries and laugh at your jokes.  He gives impeccable, personable service.  He knows his menu and his ingredients.  He is, in short, a Renaissance Man.  So thank you, Clinton.  You made my evening very memorable.

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