Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spanish Olive Oil Tasting, and a Feast at Playa

What country do you think of when you think of olive oil? Italy? Greece? How many thought of Spain? Well, Spain is in fact the number one producer of olive oil in the world. It's not just the quantity, either. Apparently the winner of the latest international olive oil contest is an olive oil from Spain.

I had gone to a Spanish Olive Oil tasting last year, but it was so much fun that when they invited me again this year, I went. The tasting was led by Alfonso Fernandez, an olive oil expert from the LA trade commissioner of Spain
The formal tastings are done using this dark blue tasting glass, as they do not want to see the color while tasting. Perhaps they don't want to have any misconception based only on visual elements.

We tasted four of the main varietals from Spain: Arbequina, Hojiblanca, Cornicabra, and Picual. For each one, we determined whether the aroma is of ripe fruit or green fruit, and if there is any bitterness and astringency to the olive oil.

The arbequina smelled of ripe fruit (banana) and was sweet with no bitterness. There's a spiciness at the back palate as you swallow.
The Hojiblanca had a medium intensity in aroma and smelled of kiwi. There's bitterness and piquancy in this oil which is great for cooking.
The cornicabra smelled of ripe apple and bananas. It had some astringency but no bitterness and there's less spiciness which came deeper in the throat. This varietal is apparently only found in Spain.
The Picual was many people's favorite. The aroma is much more intense and smelled of green tomato. It was very bitter with some piquancy. It was much thicker. Everything about this olive oil was intense yet it was well balanced.

For more detailed tasting notes, you can see my post from last year!

The tasting was followed a lavish meal prepared by Chef John Sedlar (all incorporating olive oil, naturally). Even though we knew it would be a four course tasting menu, little did we know that each course would consist of four dishes!

Before the courses started we also had a rather big "amuse bouche" in the form of Rivera's famous flan de elote with quinoa. I've had this dish a few times at various festivals and I still fall in love with it all over again, every time.
Flan, Quinoa

The first dishes we had were served with a blend of gewurtztraminer and riesling.
Papas salsa verde, serranos, micro cilantro

Picual, fried chiles gueros, crab. The picual varietal is good for dishes with bold flavors such as this.
Chile Relleno

Spanish Piquillos rellenos, raisins, chorizo. These piquillo peppers were stuffed with gruyere.
Piquillo Rellenos

Chef Sedlar also came out to talk about his dining experiences in Spain. Many of the plates in the current REFLEXIONES series (the images you see on the plates) picture his favorite restaurant in the world, which is in Spain. He also told us he had some special treat for us - iberico fresco. Fresh Iberico pork, from which he made some carpaccio!

We had both Iberico fresco de Bellota, lomo carpaccio, hojiblanca and Iberico fresco de Bellota, pluma carpaccio, picual (pluma refers to the loin).
Iberico Carpaccio
The carpaccio was certainly a treat. They were fatty, almost silky.

We also had some Ecuadorian crudo with kumquat, fresno chiles, cornicabra

Maize cake, salsa semilla, burrata, amaranth, hojiblanca
I don't think I had seen burrata in Sedlar's dishes before, but this was a nice twist on the usual burrata and bread.

Mussels, tomatillo avocado, longaniza

Loup de mer, cinco salsas latinas
Loup de Mer
The loup de mer was perfectly cooked and the sauce was flavorful without overwhelming the clean flavors of the fish. The meat was moist and flaky, the skin crispy.

Scallops, cauliflower tres modos, cornicabra
Again, perfectly cooked.

Iberico fresco de Bellota, solomillo medallion
This time, instead of serving the iberico raw, he cooked the medallions of the tenderloin. Ridiculously tender and certainly had a more meaty flavors than most pork tenderloins.

Stripa Nueva York, pesto chile verde, picual
NY Steak
New York steak has always been one of my favorite cuts as it tends to be more flavorful, though they can be tougher. Here, Chef Sedlar has prepared them to be juicy and tender.

It was quite the dinner without a single disappointing dish. These are the dishes one could expect from Rivera at its top form. Just like in Spain, the dinner started late and went on for a while. Alas, I had to go home so I missed the dessert. I guess I'll just have to come back to Playa to try that blue corn cake.

Olive Oils



How cool you were able to go again! I'm jealous of this menu. Everything looks great, dare I say a little more appetizing than last time? Hopefully they'll have another one next year.

Gourmet Pigs   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital