As part of its tradition in showcasing different world cuisines, Marco Polo Ortigas Manila’s Cucina features La Catalana, an event that brings the delightful and scrumptious Catalan dishes closer to our palates. Coming from the region of Catalonia (if the name sounds familiar, it is where Barcelona is located), Executive Chef Luis Cantons Pesarrodona gives us a glimpse of Catalan cuisine and how it differs from the typical Spanish food that we all know and love.
As soon as we enter the Cucina, we were greeted by an elegantly prepared table arrangement in front of a kitchen countertop where the “Best Paella in Town” would later be cooked before our eyes. I got a glimpse as well of the fresh imported ingredients behind the countertop.
The 6 course set menu featured Spanish wine pairings to enhance and compliment the Catalan dishes. We began with the simple yet interesting Iberico Ham with Tomato on Bread (Paired with 2013 Marieta, Albarino, Semiseco, Rias Baixas). An interesting fact we came across while we were eating the bread – Catalan Cuisine does three things as demonstrated by Chef Lluis Cantons. The tomato is squeezed and spread over the bread, a bit of salt is sprinkled and finished by a generous spread of olive oil. The ham is placed on top after as the final ingredient. Even if the toasted bread seemed tough at first, by adding the tomato and olive oil, it made the bread softer and easier to consume.
The second appetizer deviated from the simplicity of the first. Seafood Escabeche, Manila Clams, Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Sardines, Olive Coulis, Chantarelles with Deep-fried Bone Sardine Chips (Paired with 2013 Cocheros Y Criadores Candidato Blanco, La Mancha, Spain). This dish highlighted the nuances of Catalan cuisine as well. Since Catalonia is located by the sea, its dishes usually involve lots of seafood. I considered the sardines the highlight of this dish, especially the deep-fried bone sardine chips.
While eating our appetizer, Chef Lluis Cantons and his apprentice started cooking the Carabineros Prawns which smelled amazing!
The third course seemed uninteresting on paper but upon eating it, I found it to be a skillfully crafted masterpiece. Broad Bean Cream Soup with Kilawing Mahi-Mahi, Caramelized Onions and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Paired with 2013 Martin Codax, Albarino, Rias Baixas). The broad bean soup was rich, simple and delicious but by eating the kilawin and the carmelized onions, it added flavor and enhanced the experience. Even though the kilawin was soaked in the soup, it didn’t affect the overall taste of the broth and the sourness and acidity were preserved.
Our fourth course was the Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Cod Fish Brandada, Pil-Pil Sauce and Artichokes on a White Asparagus Bed (Paired with 2013 Martin Codax, Albarino, Rias Baixas). Chef Lluis Cantons explained to us that it’s a classic Catalan dish. It’s basically emulsified cod. The texture is added by eating the artichokes and asparagus with the cod. It served as a light preparation for the Paella.
The highlight of my day, ‘Best Paella in Town’ as it’s called, deserves the name no doubt. Paella Mixta with Carabineros and Scampi (Paired with 2013 Cocheros Y Criadores Candidato Tinto Joven Tempranillo, La Mancha, Spain). One of the main differences between typical Spanish paella and Catalan paella is the use of seafood together with different meats – a surf and turf paella if you will. Chef Lluis Cantons explained to us that in order to make paella, you need three base ingredients; the sofrito, the picada and the rice. The paella was wet but still had those burnt crispy pieces which I found interesting and flavorful, cooked to perfection I must say. It had such an appetizing aroma that when you taste it, you are completely speechless. I found it amazing how each topping had its own unique flavor separate from that of the paella, from the chicken, to the clam, to Botifarra Sausage and finally to the Carabineros Prawn with its head bursting with flavor. I don’t know why but the second serving seemed better than the first.
To top of the lunch, our dessert was a Catalan classic as well, called Crèma Catalana, Red Berries, and Chocolate Hazelnut Wafer Cigar (paired with Home-made Sangria). It pretty much looked like crème brulee but it wasn’t – the texture felt different and less sweet. I liked how the berries and the chocolate hazelnut complemented it.
Overall, this was an unforgettable experience. I might not be able to go to Barcelona soon but at least I know that I get to taste of authentic Catalan food here in Cucina.
Cucina will have a station of the Catalan cuisine on weekends starting November 21 until December 6 only. Lunch on Saturdays will be 1850 pesos net. Dinner on Saturdays as well as Lunch and Dinner of Sundays will be 2500 pesos net. Chef Lluis Cantons also mentioned that the Catalan dishes might be available as part of the room service menu.
This post is contributed by guest writer, Lawrence Ong