Tapa Tapa Tapas – Spain [Franklin Smith]

8 01 2011

Tapas.  I am sure that everyone has heard this word.  And then after hearing it, they turn away in disgust — mostly because in America, tapas signifies some foodie-gourmand-‘my taste buds are better than yours’-type of eating that leaves normal folks hungry and poor at the end of the meal.

But with some very limited experience here, my attitude has changed.  Tapas in Spain are amazing.  It is like having a multiple course meal for the price of a hamburger.  Here is what you do: walk in fearlessly to any of the number of tapas bars in the city you are patronizing.  Do not be intimidated by the old men or the black tie/white shirt waiters.  They only add to the atmosphere.  You can see a menu if you want, or you can just point to whatever looks good behind the bar.  There is a ton of food back there, and most of it costs around 2 euros.  Granted, there is usually only enough for 4-5 bites, but there is so much variety to choose from.  Jamon, cheese, Spanish tortilla, anchovies, croquettes, fried cod, spinach with chickpeas, shrimp, octopus, meatballs, chicken wings, chorizo, white esparagus, etc etc etc.  So, you just keep ordering tapa after tapa after tapa.  Then after the 4th or 5th plate, you realize, “wow, I’m pretty full”, and you walk out of the place with an amazing and strange mixture of food in your stomach.

Tapas (Madrid)

Apparently these tapas are from Madrid

Tapas are different in every region of Spain, partly because most of the ingredients are fresh and local.  So, if you are by the sea, you are going to be eating a lot of seafood tapas.  But tapas are also different because one region is so distinct from another.  Your experience in the south in Granada is going to be worlds apart from your experience in the north in San Sebastian.  The surrounding culture influences a tapa experience just as much as the ingredients themselves do.

My favorite so far has been Granada.  Here, you don’t even order anything specific — you just resign yourself to fate, because tapas come free with any drink.  Ordering a glass of beer or wine gives you free food.  The waiter looks at you and then decides what you need, no questions or preferences asked.  They frequently give out massive bagel sandwiches, with ham and cheese in the middle.    I never even dare to request a specific tapa, in fear that I might throw off an unspoken bond of understanding established with the waiter.  In some ways it is easier — all you have to do is sit back, drink your beer, and eat whatever they put in front of you.  The best part is, at the end of the night, you have gotten free beers out of the deal (or free tapas, depending on how you look at it).

Granada Sandwiches

How to libate in Granada

On the other end of the tapa spectrum is San Sebastian.  There is a different language up there in Basque Country, and instead of tapas, they call them pintxos (peeeeenchos).  In all of the bars in this city, there are platters upon platters filled up with different bite-sized portions of picturesque, saliva-inducing food.  And everything is impaled with a toothpick, for easy access.  The technique here is almost like a buffet; grab an empty plate, and then work your way down the bar, filling it up with whatever strikes your fancy.  The barman keeps track of how many you have eaten, and you pay at the end of the meal.  Each toothpick-skewered portion costs 1-2 euro.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up like that fat kid in Willy Wonka, eating everything in sight, and then getting kicked out because you can’t pay the 100 euro bar bill that you have somehow accumulated in only 15 minutes.

My goal now is this: weirdly alluding back to Pokemon (pokedex, categorization of diversity), I want to make a ‘tapadex’, an encyclopedia of tastiness that can be shared and bettered by tapas-eaters all over the world.  Hopefully it won’t ever have an end.

Note: The images above are not originally Franklin’s. Clicking on the image will take you to the original site.

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2 Amy’s – Cleveland Park

5 12 2010

“You better cut the pizza into four pieces, because I’m not hungry enough to eat six” – Yogi Berra

2 Amy's Exterior
Where are the crime fighting turtles?

One of the restaurants that kept popping up on the Chowhound DC/Baltimore board was 2 Amy’s. A lot of people consider it a must eat destination in DC and the unofficial title holder of “Best Pizza”. Despite all the buzz surrounding 2 Amy’s, I wasn’t really drawn to it until my friend Gchat raved on and on about the food and insisted that we go. One Friday evening I boarded the Metro and rendezvoused with two friends Spikes and Gchat who had just got off from work and off we went to the mecca of pizza. In big letters on 2 Amy’s window is “Denominazione di Origine Controllata”, which means that the pizza they serve abides by strict regulations set in Italy for what proper Neopolitan Pizza should be. They have a section of their website dedicated to D.O.C. pizza, and after reading this I realize just how seriously Italians take their pizza.

Suppli

Eat your heart out Mozzarella Sticks

The interior of 2 Amy’s is that of the classic pizzeria: a lot of tile, a lot of black and white, and a lot of hungry people. Despite it being around Six O’Clock we didn’t have any problem getting a table right away (Gchat did tell me a horror story about an hour long wait though). We each ordered a beer to properly begin our meal. I went with Old Speckled Hen, an English Pale Ale thought I thought would go pretty well with pizza (Spikes and Gchat went with Hefeweizens). One thing that we saw a lot of people at nearby tables eating were these round fried balls, I initially misclassified them as arancini, but they were actually suppli a telefono. The suppli were perfectly fried and once you broke through the outer shell, the creaminess of the rice and the mozzarella together was fantastic.

Crusts

This is what I dreamt about that night.

We ordered two pizzas to share between the three of us and combined with the suppli, it was definitely enough food. I don’t know if it’s the whole D.O.C. pizza thing, but this felt like simply the purest or cleanest pizza I’ve ever eaten. The first pizza we ordered was the Margherita (at the suggestion of Gchat). The pizza was superb but the crust and the buffala mozzarella stood head and shoulders above everything else in the pie. The quality of ingredients to make the dough combine with the wood oven used to cook the pie to create simply the best crust I’ve ever eaten. While I was eating my slices I wondered to myself why I never ate the crusts as a kid. I just never had crusts like these, never. The mozzarella was perfectly melted and just exploded, filling your mouth with an intense creaminess and salty undertones with each bite. If the crust is the foundation, the cheese the bricks, then the sauce is the mortar of the pizza. It did a great job of bringing the pie together creating this necessary counterpart to the buffala mozzarella.

Norcia
Try getting a reservation at Norcia now….

The second pie that we ordered was the Norcia, which had salami, grilled peppers, fresh mozzarella (Yes, there is a difference between fresh mozzarella and buffala mozzarella), and grana (similar to paremseano reggiano). I personally enjoyed this pizza a bit more than the Margherita. It’s more substantial and I’ve always been a big fan of peppers on pizza. The salami on the Norcia was definitely high quality and made the pizza in my opinion. The big slices of delicious, salty salami just seemed to cover the entire pie and perfectly complimented the salty fresh mozzarella. Grilled peppers by themselves are fairly bland, but when added to other things seem to elevate them. I don’t know how this works, but it does.

I really enjoyed my meal at 2 Amy’s. They took a simple concept (pizza) and DID IT RIGHT. Simple might be the definitive word for Amy’s. The decor, the menu, and the food was all simple. But it was all done properly and was put together well to create a fantastic place. I really took notice of the quality of ingredients, everything on the Norcia could be on a great antipasto platter. While the price hints at the quality of ingredients used, they don’t use it as justification to gouge you and I for one appreciate that. 2 Amy’s is a lot like Ray’s Hellburger, you will leave here extremely satisfied.

2 Amy’s Website

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Note: The images used in this review are not my own. Clicking on them will take you to the original website.








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