Sunday, August 13, 2006

Did Everybody Go to Spain Again this Summer?

I'm not naming names, but recently I have noticed a few bloggers jogging off to the salty coasts of Iberia.
I will also withhold Cranky's jealous observation that maybe, since they are tourists in España, they have found themselves slogging through soggy meals in tourist traps.
No, I say, these fine eaters know where to go.
Though there's a fine possibility we won't be joining them.
Keep your Schadenfreude fantasies mired deep within your envious psyche, Mr. Crumb, and enjoy a simple supper of Hispanic-inspired snacks at home tonight: aquí, en la casa de La Galleta, aka the Tapas Trap.
Nothing fancy on the menu, but I'm not a fancy cook (and I went to great effort to keep that a secret from you when you married me). Also, since I'm just emerging from a few days on a bland diet, all of a sudden I wanted skyrockets in my mouth. But easy skyrockets. I'm so not a fancy cook.
Here's how the tale unfolds: Not long ago, Cranky and I peered into the new Spanish Table in Mill Valley's Strawberry Village — open only a few months, I believe, and still lacking a permanent storefront sign. It has an unfinished, warehousey look on the walls inside, but I'm sure things are coming along. There is plenty of gorgeous merchandise to get lost in.
I didn't really have time to get lost in the merchandise, though, because I was immediately attended to by the nicest employee. We chatted. I sensed a kindred spirit.
I said, "This is the goofiest question in the world, but do you know the Patty Unterman vinegar?"
"Yes. Here."
She handed me a bottle of Toro Albalá Reserva 1980 wine vinegar. I flipped.
Weird way to shop for groceries? Oh yeah, but she was implaccable. I, on the other hand, was so placked, I figured I owed it to her to buy the bottle.
See, Patricia Unterman really likes this vinegar, and according to my Spanish Table source, "buys it by the case for her friends." I already knew Unterman was partial to Toro Albalá, having copy edited the Christmas Gift-Foods story she once wrote for a paper we both worked at in the past, the one where she praised this particular vinegar. (I don't believe the story is available online anymore, because somebody out there wants us silenced!)
It was during this frenzy of me being an incredulous idiot and my purveyor being a cool character that I might have misheard her say, "It's just vinegar."
Maybe she didn't say that at all.
Worse, a part of my brain keeps wanting to remember that I might have heard her say, "It's a sour vinegar."
Whatever. We are talking faulty memory. Hearsay. Schadenfreude fantasies deeply mired within my... This will never hold up in court, Mr. Sifuentes.
Wait a minute. I LIKE Patty Unterman, that can't be it. I'm sure I heard wrong.
So I bought the vinegar.
Then! At the cash register, I noticed a pile of Pimientos de Padrón, the culty, locally grown, Spanish wannabe green poppers from Happy Quail Farms that I sorta-semi dumped on earlier this year. Truth is, I really did like them better than I let on at the time. They grow on you. And we hadn't seen Dr. Pepper at our local farmers market for a while (he's back now, however), so we thought — whoa, we can get them here at the Spanish Table any time!
Long story short. (What? Too long already? I've been ABSENT! I've missed writing.) Dinner was fried pimientos de padrón. Loads of fun, especially when you get a hottie. Accompanied by roasted almonds and a slab of Manchego cheese.
When I roasted the almonds, I thought I might really kick up the Spaininess a notch by coating them in a mixture of olive oil and anchovy paste. The addition of dried Greek seasoning from a jar in the cupboard was, if not exactly Iberian, at least inspired. It wasn't until this morning that I realized the anchovy paste was Roman, but the effect was still — to this New World-bound couple of whiners — so Spanicular.
And in a final inspiration from Recuerdos de la Alhambra (though I've never been to Alhambra so there's nothing to recuerdo), I seized upon the little bowl I had used to mix the oil and anchovies and dried herbs... and poured in a splash of vinegar.
It was the perfect condiment to swirl our smoky pepper poppers around in: a little flavor, a little armchair travel brisk enough to transport us out of our deeply mired psyches...
But it wasn't the Toro Albalá Reserva vinegar.
Too sour. Just really too sour.
We used Lustau Vinagre de Jerez instead.


kudzu said...

Welcome back, Cooks! Keep remembering that those folks in Spain right now will have to fly back to SFO clutching their meds in plastic baggies and having no way to bring back vinegar (no matter how sour or un) or riojas. Meanwhile I would love to borrow "Spanicular" ------- you're faboo.
PS Yes, the new part of that MV center looks slightly like something out of Mussolini's era at present but I feel good things will happen there with Spanish Table, Pizza Antico and the soon-to-open French bakery. Light a candle.

mrs d said...

You were gone? Oh, wait, so was I.

I like Spainicular Spaininess. More meals should have it.

There's a Spanish Table at Pike Place in Seattle too. Very nice, but our paella pans where I work cost much less. Heh.

Then again, I do have to sell them to annoying tourists (who, in my own Shadenfreude fantasies have truly miserable adventures in Iberia).

Tana said...

Spooky. We had the same dish ourselves...and my local padron peppers are only $3.50 a basket compared to the $6.00 a basket he gets at the Ferry Plaza!

Have you ever read that claim that one of ten of these peppers is supposed to be astonishingly hot? I don't believe it. I have had dozens, and never gotten one surprise. Gosh, they're good.

Kevin said...

Well, I missed you. And I too, have been feeling a bit Spanivious of those currently touring Iberico -- my favorite part of culinary Europe. I had to make do with a new Spanish cookbook, named, oddly enough, Spanish that I found brand new for $2.99. It's packed with gorgeous photos and recipes to match. Imagine olive/anchovy crackers and a glass of Rioja or Flash-Fried squid with Paprika and Garlic and a glass Amontillado.

cookiecrumb said...

Kudzu: Hilarious! Banned from flying due to sour vinegar!! I'm holding out hope for the MV Strawberry redo, but yes, at the moment it's a Potemkin village.

Mrs D: The Pike's Place Spanish Table was the first, I believe. I've been in there and gawked at the paella pans you could throw a tent over and call El Prado. (Did you ever get your own pan, BTW?)

Tana: Oh my goodness! Good eating, eh? There's nothing greenier. We ran across one or two heat-y peppers, but no scorchers (and are your less-expensive baskets of padrones also from Happy Farms?).

Kevin: Speaking of all things Spainiferous, I was interested in your tale of Spanish knives. Your description of your new book made my tummy growl. $2.99? That's cheaper than a cheap basket of padrones!

Kat said...


I was supposed to go to Barcelona in June and we ended up changing our plans and visiting Vancouver instead. Thank goodness I was a lot cheaper and cooler, and I otherwise would have missed eating a Vij's.

shuna fish lydon said...

I now understand why, as Pim duly noted, eating Padrones is like a small game of Russian Roulette. From Andy over at Mariquita. The funny thing is that the Latin cooks know how to pick these ones out... :}

Welcome back.

anni said...

CC -

Allez! Allez! You're back!

I know a source of these hot numbers. Can you guess where? (Tee-hee) Yep, your name is on them too!

Anni :-)

mrs d said...

We have pan. No paella yet, though we did eat some at the fair today, courtesy of Podchef (our nearest foodblogging neighbor). Good stuff, he made. If I can stop packing boxes for a moment, I'll write about it.

Monkey Gland said...

Well it's the new France innit? Or is it the new black? or the new Brando?