In Lieu of Gifts, Please Send Wine

14 04 2013

photo(7)

We fist visited Lieu precisely one year ago. Easter Sunday feels just right for a proper degust, and there’s nowhere we like to do it more than at Daniele Scelza’s place in Madrid de los Austrias.

This time we succeed in bringing along a guest, and yet fail to remember a proper camera. It’s a blow – the lunch is certain to be a visual treat – but we’re running slightly tight on time, and the iPhone will have to suffice.

photo(8) photo(9)

We’re startled to note that we’re the only ones here. Lieu’s certainly not a place for rowdy lunchtime cañas, but the absolute stillness is stark. Of course, it’s an honor to be the center of attention – like last time, we’ve specifically requested the barside chef’s table in order to maximize connection with the kitchen. However, we badly want to see this place make it big, to not only weather the crisis but to sail through in high style.

Darío and I trawl through the excellent wine list, noting many current favorites. Juan Gil makes an appearance, so we inquire as to what else among the offerings might be in the same vein. Daniele recommends a 2010 Clio, and, my god, yes. Like its murciano brethren, it seems to expand in all directions at once, licorice and smokiness, overripe red fruits and dusky vanilla. The fledgling oeonologist within is positively giddy.

photo(10) photo(11)

An amuse of breaded morcilla dotted with apricot, followed by suckling pig canelone with crumbled pork cracklings and red pepper air. Weight mediated with lightness.

photo(14)

Every single spring, I’m smacked across the face with a mad craving for asparagus. This visually stunning arrangement celebrates the stalk in both white and green incarnations, the fresh grassiness counterweighted by panna cotta and dots of creamy yolk. Spring’s stirrings, plated.

photo(28) photo(13)

Sheets of potato and bacon draped in velvety beef sauce. Oh, and a pair of juicy escargot. Yes. I love snails this way; their earthy umami is most successfully underlined for me by other robust flavor combinations. It calls for a second bottle of Clio, which keeps displaying different facets depending on its accompaniment. For sheer versatility, I think I even prefer it to my beloved Bierzos.

photo(15)
photo(16) photo(17)

The fish course is hake with herbs de provençe, resting on a bed of stoplight red tomato compote and topped by green quinoa. I ask where one acquires this variety of quinoa – because, wow! – which makes Daniele grin, and he reveals they make it in the kitchen by blending up herbs (duh).

The pork shank’s thickened juices form a yin-yang with the creamy yellow polenta, lifted with greens and a scattering of rogue raisins.

photo(21)

Daniele and the newest member of his team come out for chat re: wine, business in Madrid, the jazz classics playing in the background. He’s a consummate host and, quite frankly, my favorite professional chef in the city. Note that each and every dish on the tasting menu is completely different from those a year prior. Daniele seems to take this as a matter of course – seasons change, and so should menus. Plus, why get into the restaurant biz at all if not for the opportunity to surprise your public with something new?

photo(12)
photo(19) photo(20)

The first dessert course is exactly this – something new, a kir royale like we’ve never considered it before. Icy berries huddle in the bottom of a glass layered with cassis sorbet just this side of sour. Champagne foam floats ethereal. It’s the hidden ginger chips that shock you, though, a sudden crunch of obstreperous spice that runs parallel to the otherwise angelic concoction. We goggle.

Our final sweet is Lieu’s cold and creamy rendition of arroz con leche, complete with puffed rice grains and slices of kumquat.

photo(22)

We’ve picked Daniele’s brain regarding the world of professional oenology – I’m thinking it might make a very nice Next Step – and he emerges with a bottle of Rioja, and presents it to me. Wha! We spoke about Rioja Crianzas normally being much too woody to suit our taste, and he tells me this Viña Eizaga is anything but, and that I should give it a go.

I reel at the kindness. Can’t wait to pop the cork.

photo(26)

The rain that’s been so unrelenting all of Semana Santa refuses to abate, and we figure we’ll wait it out in nearby Café de Oriente. Espresso and a corner table and belly laughs round out the afternoon: wholly idyllic.





Mark Bittman’s Squid and Artichokes Braised in White Wine

7 03 2013

Predictably, the cusp of spring brings desire for both rebirth and new vegetables.

Mark Bittman's squid and artichokes braised in white wine

The rain doused me today. I think I needed it along with the city. The surprise snow last week was charming for an hour or two, but ultimately resulted in little more than frozen toes. March calls for proper rain.

I went out walking in it, south to the Mercadona I used to frequent my very first year in the city. Very first year. It’s suddenly long ago. The grunge and the gintonics and the wicked-witch-of-the-West nails, Hector and Marta, Emily, theme parties and walking back across the city incensed about the nature of love during the night’s smallest hours. Surely aggravating our unseen neighbors with joyful raucousness of all sorts, much stomping and wailing. Always meaning to try that Colombian place across the street. Wearing boots. Cooking my first octopus, deciding to stay.

It’s all still there, when I visit. All the chaotic love that I found in Madrid, me, for myself, despite/owing in part to The Brick getting lodged somewhere deep in my corpus callosum. You know, I don’t even think about it anymore. I’ve told that story so many times that it has ceased to have weight. I disagree, in the end – we can heal, and we do. We’ll never be the same, but who wants pepper-pots anyway?

Mark Bittman's squid and artichokes braised in white wine

I want to rededicate myself to the art of constantly learning. I’ve misplaced much of the curious drive that so propelled me that first year. It’s not a wish to regress, far from it; it’s a desire for much more movement. I read somewhere recently that we Americans mistake comfort for happiness, which rings terribly true.

And so, today: I decided to learn how to prep artichokes. I’ve done so before but never alone. The thistle bulb takes specific TLC before it’s ready to offer up its buttery secrets, and the specific names for its alien parts make the process feel all the more intimate.

Spoon out the choke. Savor the heart.

Mark Bittman’s Squid and Artichokes Braised in White Wine

1 lemon
4 large artichokes, trimmed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 medium-sie squid, bodies cut into rings
1/2 cup white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
Minced parsley to garnish

1. Prep the artichokes: squeeze the lemon into an awaiting bowl of water, and submerge the artichokes as you trim them so they resist oxidation. Cut them into quarters.

2. Heat 2 T EVOO, then add the garlic and anchovies. Cook a few minutes, breaking up the ‘chovies. Add the squid, artichokes, and wine. Stir and cover.

3. Uncover and stir the mixture every 5 minutes or so. Both elements should begin to tenderize around 20 minutes; at this point, remove the cover and let the liquid simmer off – should take about 15 minutes or so. Season with black pepper, salt if needed, and parsley. Serve.





Merluza and Leeks in White Wine

14 10 2012


You should be eating more leeks. They’re cheap, available everywhere, and low in calories, plus their taste basically turns into butter upon sautéing in a smear of olive oil. Leeks can be used anywhere you’d use an onion, which is to say, at the beginning of practically every kitchen preparation known to man.

Don’t let the whiskers put you off. David Lebovitz demystifies the beard.

Whitefish loves leeks. This one is a merluza (hake) filet, and has been steamed over said sautéed leeks, garlic, dill, and a glug of white wine. Add S&P, drizzle with EVOO, and begin anxiously anticipating tomorrow so you can eat it again.

Merluza and Leeks in White Wine
ganked from Mark Bittman.

1 leek
4 cloves garlic
olive oil
dill, or thyme – I actually liked the thyme better. Bittman suggests basil.
1/3 c white wine
merluza filet

1. Clean your leek, then roughly chop it. Mince the garlic and toss it into a frying pan with the leek and a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Add some S&P. You want to “sweat” the leek – soften it and allow it to develop a beguiling complexity of flavor, but not overtly brown it.

2. Toss in your herb of choice followed by the white wine. Let the liquid come to a simmer, then lay the merluza atop its leeky bed. Crack some pepper over it. Turn down the heat if needed, cover, and let steam for 3-5 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet.

3. Guild the lily with a drizzle of EVOO. Devour with a chilled glass of white.





Tres Peces, Cinco Botellas

17 01 2012

Moved house. New year, new piso, new pisomates.

Same wine. Same weeknight dinner parties, different guest list.

Same croquetas. Croquetas is as croquetas does.

New deck, new dealer, new hand, new trump suit. New animal noises, fresh giggles, old bottles. Emerging hoots, ebullient hollers.

Far from the same old song and dance.





The best is when you rediscover.

12 10 2011

When you walk down a familiar street at an unfamiliar hour and the lightstreams flow orange like eels through the infinite columns.

When splashy new streetart wizards its way onto walls.

When a new bar transforms to an old bar, and they greet you with a shout and open arms and Rioja.

When a friend’s face illuminates at the first taste of jamón ibérico de bellota, and you remember yours and you smile big and you experience all over again.

When the cast turns over completely, when the script goes to shit, when you have to start it all over again, when you find yourself on the verge of what appears a terrifying void left by past loves and past support beams, past pyramids you were so proud to have placed together stone by precious weighty stone, feeling safety in stability and the known.

When you realize what plunging ankledeep waistdeep neckdeep into those shifting swirling sands means, that precise instant of cognizance where color shifts a degree this way or that and things start to rotate, buzzing excitedly.

When you’re told tales of your own enthusiasm, when your image is as a crackling electric ouroboros, when production takes a running leap and ends up keeping pace at consumption’s side.

When you give all of it, when you are seeking for the pleasure of seeking, when you spread far and wide, when you keep nothing for yourself.

When your unfurled tendrils meet the nourishment of the city in glorious chlorophyll feast, blossoming million-petaled-beauties everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

Hola, year two. Vámonos.