Definition: Tapas – Small Spanish savory dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar. The variety of tapas though is uncountable. Every bar or restaurant may have their own take on a Spanish classic, so you need to try them all. Recently on my quest to experience Spanish tapas, I was invited to Patria Restaurant in downtown Toronto. Walking into Patria, you are hit with the energy of the restaurant. A large open room, packed with people, casual and in business wear, sitting side-by-side, enjoying tapas and wine. Joyful noise.
My tapas guest this evening was Erin Maynes from foodiepages.ca, as it is always better to share tapas with friends. We were greeted by two sommeliers from Patria, who made wine suggestions for our tapas throughout the evening.
Erin and I started off with a plate of olives and the perfect wine pairing; a glass of Tio Pepe Fino Sherry. This sherry is dry, with aromas of citrus and toasted nuts and a salty brine. The pairing made us hungry for the rest of the tapas and wine to come.
Our wines for the evening:
- Tio Pepe Extra Dry Fino Sherry (ON $15.40). (I mentioned above.)
- Emina Rosado 2011. This Rosado is made from a blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Verdejo grapes (according the sommelier), and comes from the Cigales region. Light strawberry and lemon aromas. Medium minus body, soft with higher acidity. Nice strawberry and strawberry leaf flavours. Finishes with lemon on your palate.
- Bodegas Sierra Salinas Mo Monastrell 2011. This wine comes from the east coast region Alicante DO in Spain. The grape, Monastrell, is also known as Mourvèdre. This wine had dark fruit and spice aromas in the glass. Full body, dry, with higher acidity. Quite tart with dark fruit flavour. Cassis more evident on the long mouth watering finish.
- Principe de Viana Reserva 2007. This wine is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The wine comes from the Navarra region which is inland to the northeast of Rioja. Cassis fruit and purple fruit on the nose. Dry with medium plus tannins. Ripe, juicy black fruit up front followed by spice on the mid palate. I really liked this wine.
Our tapas for the evening:
- Gambas al Ajillo (Gulf shrimp with garlic and parsley)
- Pulpo a la Gallega (Spanish octopus with potato round, paprika and olive oil)
- Datiles con Tocino Iberico (Dates, Manchego cheese and Guindilla chilies wrapped in bacon)
- Albondigas con Salsa de Tomate (Lamb meatballs with tomato and mint)
- Seleccion de Embutidos (Iberico Lomo, Iberico Salchichon, Jamon Serrano and Morcon Salami)
- Patatas Bravas con Huevos Fritos (Crispy potatoes with spicy tomato topped with a fried egg)
The Gambas al Ajillo were tasty as expected. Juicy shrimp with a lot of flavour. Squeeze some lemon on top to complement the garlic and parsley flavours. The Emina Rosado, having both strawberry and lemon flavours were a complementary pairing with this dish.
The Pulpo a la Gallega was interesting. I have not had this dish before. The octopus tentacles were cut into approximate cube shapes and placed on a thin round of fingerling potato. Smoked paprika was sprinkled liberally over the octopus and in the olive oil giving the whole dish an orangy hue. It was quite a pretty looking dish. The tentacle was soft as you bit into it, almost feeling as if it were the cooked potato in texture. I liked the smokiness of the paprika with this dish. While I would have thought a white wine would work well with this dish, such as a Verdejo, our sommelier paired this with the Bodegas Sierra Salinas Mo Monastrell 2011 and it was successful. I think the smoked paprika helped make this pairing work.
I had been told by our server that the Datiles con Tocino Iberico is one of the restaurant favourites, and I agree! There was many flavours and textures to this dish. You get a bit of sweetness from the dates, smokiness from the bacon, spiciness from the chilies and creaminess from the Manchego cheese. Each of these bacon wrapped delights were baked till crisp. You could pop an entire one in your mouth, or cut it in half if you want to be dainty. My favourite dish of the night. The red wines did make this dish even spicier tasting in your mouth. I tried both the Salinas Mo and the Principe de Viana Reserva with this dish and either seemed to work with it.
The Albondigas con Salsa de Tomate are meatballs with a tomato and mint sauce. Usually the meatballs are made with beef, but here they are made with lamb. The meatballs were very juicy, no fattiness to them. The tomato salsa had some paprika giving it a bit of smokiness. The juiciness of these meatballs went very well with the Principe de Viana Reserva which is also a very juicy red wine.
The Seleccion de Embutidos is a selection of Spanish style hams/salamis. A bit about each we tried:
- Morcon Salami is “…a type of chorizo …typical of the regions of Andalusia and Extremadura and the province of Salamanca. The difference is the meat with which it is made, which is usually lean without much fat content, and that the meat is stuffed into a section of por klarge intestine…The marinade used to flavor the chorizo is mainly composed of paprika, garlic and salt…“(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morc%C3%B3n) It was coloured a very deep red and has visible flecks of fat throughout the sausage (yes I know Wikipedia says it does not have much fat content), and a dense dark flavour.
- The Iberico Lomo is made from acorn-fed free-range Iberico pigs, and has a rich smoky flavor and very little fat. I did taste a sweet nuttiness to the Iberico Lomo.
- Ibérico salchichón are sausages seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and hung to cure in the cool mountain air for several weeks. Unlike Ibérico chorizo, salchichón sausages are not seasoned with smoked paprika. (from http://www.tienda.com/food/products/ic-02.html). The salchichon was so soft, it practically melted when I put it in my mouth. It was really tasty. One of my favourites.
- Jamón Serrano are a lean ham with a rich nutty flavor that cured in the mountains of Spain for over a year. Their preparation according to Wikipedia, “Fresh hams are trimmed and cleaned, then stacked and covered with salt for about two weeks in order to draw off excess moisture and preserve the meat from spoiling. The salt is then washed off and the hams are hung to dry for about six months. Finally, the hams are hung in a cool, dry place for six to eighteen months, depending on the climate, as well as the size and type of ham being cured. The drying sheds (secaderos) are usually built at higher elevations, which is why the ham is called “mountain ham”.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jam%C3%B3n_serrano).
All these hams and sausages paired nicely with all the reds. The protein and/or the fattiness in them working with the tannins and acidity in the reds. I enjoyed being able to compare the flavours and textures of each of these hams and sausages together, rather than just having one to sample.
The last dish, which really surprised me was the Patatas Bravas. Back in Vancouver, whenever I had this dish it would be served only with a spicy tomato sauce, but here at Patria it comes also topped with a sunny side up fried egg. The server carefully broke the yoke and mixed the egg into the potatoes and salsa. The result was fantastic. The egg adds creaminess to the dish without imparting too much egg flavour. The tomato salsa was not overly spicy making this dish so easy to enjoy on it’s own, or with a glass of wine. My other favourite dish of the night.
Patria Restaurant is a fun place to go. I only had a small sample of their wine selection, which is all Spanish. Several of the wines or wineries I recognized being high quality producers, such as Muga and Vina Herminia. There are also a selection of Spanish Cavas if you want to start your evening with some sparkling wine. They do make a paella, which I am told is quite large, and if I had more people and time, I would have tried it. Overall I recommend Patria Restaurant, but show up early as it fills up quite quickly! Enjoy!
478 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario