“Make sure you’re free on the 31st” D said to me several weeks ago. So, I promptly went in my calendar and blocked off the 31st.
Why? “It’s a surprise” he said. Hmm. A surprise. I thought about what it could be but then decided not to try and figure it out. I wanted it to really be a surprise. And in a million years, I would have never guessed. We arrived at the St. Lawrence Market at 7:30 PM sharp (did you know that the St. Lawrence market was recently elected by National Geographic to be the best market in the world!).
We were given waiver forms to fill out – apparently there would be cameras and if we didn’t want to be filmed, we had to be seated in certain areas. Now I really had no idea what we were there for. We get upstairs into the Market Kitchen – a huge, open area with beautiful views of the Front Street Iron Building and the CN Tower. There is an open cooking area, and three large tables set with utensils and wine glasses. “Maybe we are here to watch a cooking show” I wondered. It certainly looked like a studio kitchen. We are greeted by a cheery lovely lady telling us to make sure we get a cocktail.
Cocktail? Gin-Tonic Con Los Jarabes de Inspiración. The flavours? Paprika, Pink Peppercorn, Lavender Orange and Cardamom Orange. D was adventurous with Paprika (it made for a more interesting photo – above :))
I went with Lavender Orange because I have been craving lavender lately – above. One of these days I have to make some lavender sugar.
At this point, I’m still wondering what is this event that we came to. I look at the tasting menu/information brochure – Secret Pickle Supper Club. Tonight’s theme: Tasting Tour of Spain.
Secret Pickle was founded by Alexa Clark when she held a tasting dinner for her birthday. From there, it evolved over time to what it is now – a tasting dinner party for up to 50 people, each with its own theme. The Secret Pickle usually happens in the city of Toronto at various locations and the tickets for the event sell out quickly. In honour of their 2 year anniversary, there was also a documentary being filmed, to be released later this year.
The Chef, Matt Kantor prepared the delicious menu we were about to have and it was inspired by the Spanish meals him and Alexa had in Spain while at an olive oil conference.
First up – Croquetas de Bacalao Con Salsa Verde: Cod croquettes with banana pepper mayo and parsley puree. The Croquetas were browned until crispy on the outside. The parsley puree broke up the creaminess of the cod and it gave the plate a beautiful colour.
The croquetas were brought around by the lovely servers and this was the only part of the meal that was served while the crowd was still mingling. The rest was a sit down dinner type meal, complete with an endless supply of Spanish wine.
The white wine: Leira Albarino from the Pazo Pondal Winery in Rias Baixas region of Spain (2008) was light, citrusy and with a hint of pear – perfect for the spring, with seafood or tapas.
The red: Pena Roble Crianza, from the Bodegas Resalte De Penafiel winery (100% Tempranillo grapes, 2004), from the Ribera Del Duero region. The red was my preferred choice for the evening, it was complex, well balanced with hints of fruits and chocolate. For Spain, 1994, 1995, 2001 and 2004 are the best vintages in history as they produced the very best Spain has to offer. Wines from those vintages can last for 20+ years when stored correctly. We were supper lucky to have a 2004 served to us this evening!
Next up, it was Lomo “Iberico” con Ajo y Perilla, which is a dish typical in the Andalusia region of Spain. Cutlet of pork, thinly sliced and pan fried with garlic and herbs. It was very simple, yet it was its simplicity that made it stand out.
During the tasting we were also lucky to try two different olive oils. The first one was from Girona, from producers Bodegas Roda. Dauro was first launched in 1999 and it was the first Spanish olive oil produced as a ‘single estate oil’. It’s a blend of 3 varietals: Arbequina, Hojiblanca and Koroneiki. It’s considered delicate compared to other premium oils in Spain. According to my tasting notes, Dauro was minty, grassy and spicy. It smelled of avocado, nuts and tomato. The taste was quite delicate, smooth and well balanced. It lingered on the tongue long after swallowed. The oil was served in wine glasses and we were encouraged to taste the oil by itself first, then with bread, and then to save some to drizzle on our next course.
The next course was Pulpo Loco from the Galicia region of Spain. “Crazy” octopus and fried potatoes. I’m usually not a big fan of octopus because it’s quite chewy and tasteless. However, the chef did a really good job grilling the octopus so it was a perfect consistency.
And….it was quickly gone!
Next up we had Huevos con Patate, Maitake y Ramp – Sous Vide eggs with mashed potatoes with maitake mushrooms and ramps. Have you ever had sous vide eggs? If you’re like me, maybe you had sous vide meat, but never eggs. In fact, I didn’t even know that eggs could be ‘sous vide-ed’. According to the chef, the way to do it is to cook the eggs at exactly 63 degrees. The shells are then cracked on one end to let the egg fall out.
This was something completely new for me, and even for someone that doesn’t like runny eggs, this was quite delicious. The mashed potatoes were creamy and the maitake mushrooms gave them a slight change in texture.
The second choice for the olive oil was much richer. Tuccioliva Gran Selection from the San Amador Cooperative is made from Picual olives picked and pressed in October 2011. Tuccioliva was greener in colour (which apparently isn’t a characteristic on which olive oil should be judged), it was more bitter, longer aftertaste with hints of ripe fruit, banana and fennel.
After this, we were served my favourite dish of the evening. Arroz Blanco y Negro Con Calamares, a dish most often found in Valencia.
The calamari were first marinated in beet juice which gave them an incredible pink colour. The contrast of the pink against the black and white rice was incredible, as you can see from the pictures.
A little sprinkle of Tuccioliva on top gave the rice a smooth finish. The calamari were perfectly cooked and my favourite were the little bubbles of moisture that formed on top 🙂
Before each meal, Alexa would give us a little background on her and Matt’s trip through Spain and how each meal was thought up and where the inspiration came from.
At some point, she came around with a big plate of chorizo, and passed it around. Pure deliciousness. It reminded me of my own trip to Spain and how I much I miss chorizo and manchega cheese! 🙂
Our last savoury dish of the evening was Cordero Con Mermelada de Pimientos del Piquillo – Slow roasted baby lamb with roasted red peppers. This dish was quite delicate, very clean and simple and a nice way to finish the savoury part of the meal.
Now you’re wondering what was for dessert, right? Our hosts chose Natilla, a typical custard-like Spanish dessert with cinnamon. The natilla was more liquidy than a typical custard, velvety smooth with a perfect cinnamon finish.
The evening ended with Alexa thanking us for coming and inviting us to the next events. I can’t wait for the documentary to come out (I hope they got my good angles :)).
By far this was the best surprise I’ve ever gotten! What better way to get to a girl’s heart than with Spanish tapas? D even encouraged me to bring my camera, which is how all you fine people get to share in our experience 🙂 So, you have him to thank for that. And the best part? Time spent together. Until next time, happy eating!
UPDATE: The Secret Pickle Supper Club Documentary is up and ready! Check out yours truly in a few shots! This is way too exciting! 🙂