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Tapas 24

9 Nov

My trip to Spain last year was a wonderful experience through and through. Among the many things I enjoyed was all the wonderful food – especially the tapas “scene”. To be able to enjoy true Spanish tapas in Barcelona night after night was a thing to behold and made me realize that much of the “tapas” we have in Montreal isn’t quite up to snuff. Fast forward a year and we hear about Chef Carles Abellan and that his Tapas 24 concept is coming to Montreal. I didn’t get a chance to visit any of his restaurants while in Spain so the notion of trying his cuisine at home is quite appealing. The restaurant opened earlier this summer and finally, for the occasion of my grandfather’s birthday, I found a good reason to head over.

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Being a new restaurant in Old Montreal, Tapas 24 certainly tries to make a visual impression and succeeds in doing so. With the front of the restaurant being entirely windowed, the major use of natural coloured wood on the walls and at the first floor bar, when added to the ample lighting, makes the whole restaurant pop from the outside. The second floor mezzanine allows for the high ceiling to be utilized and gives the room a big presence. Part of the kitchen is visible from the bar downstairs as is the prep kitchen/ grade manger on the second floor although that part isn’t as nice to have visible as the kitchen. The music was present but unremarkable. The noise level was relatively loud but nothing abnormal for an Old Montreal restaurant on a busy Friday. Conversation could still be had but I wouldn’t said this is where you would have an hugely in-depth talk with a meal. The service was pretty good for us throughout the night unlike some of what you can read elsewhere so I guess this can be hit or miss. In our case, we had absolutely no complaints.

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Foodwise, we had originally planned to go for the MTL a Table menu but decided instead to simply order from the regular menu and share everything in order to enjoy a greater variety of dishes. These are the perks of being a larger group in this instance. First up, a few staple Spanish tapas. There was the Coca con Tomato – simply put tomato and olive oil on fresh warm bread. Simple but oh so good… especially since the bread comes from my favourite bakery Hof Kelsten. We then had the Iberian chorizo – freshly sliced and a perfect compliment to the bread dish. A spicy kick on top of the usual fattiness. The last of the staple trio was the patatas bravas – potatoes (in this case, french fries) with an aioli and the spicy tomato “brava” sauce. The fries themselves were nice and crispy but the key was the combination between the heat of the brava sauce and the creaminess of the aioli. These were so good that we had 3 separate orders over the course of the evening!

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The next set of dish were a little more unique. First up, la bomb de Barceloneta – a potato and meat croquette topped with the same aioli and brava sauce as before. Pretty good overall. Each individual croquette was rather big – lots of potato and meat stuffed inside. Great crunch on the outside without losing any moisture inside.

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Next up were the Gambas Al Ajillo – garlic shrimps with hot peppers. A solid dish but one that, compared to the rest, lacked any real punch or spark. Enough so that I even forgot to take a picture, so there you go.

We also have the strangely named Bikini Comerc 24 which essentially are mini grilled sandwiches of tramezzini, Iberian ham, mozzarella di buffalo and truffles. Extremely delicious – the combination of iberian ham and cheese is always a winner… and that is even before we add the truffles. The only complaints are these were how small they were. When a dish would need to be ordered more than once to purely satisfied hunger, you probably a sizing issue.

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The Atun con tomate y ponzu – or tuna with ponzu sauce – was a hit at our table. The tuna was beautiful – nice sized pieces well seasoned also. The ponzu added a nice hint of citrus to mix with the sweetness of the tomato. A light but well executed dish.

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Next were the alias de pollo con salsa “alegre” – boneless chicken wings with alegre sauce. Here, my camera failed me due to poor lighting but take my word for it, they are worth ordering next time you visit. The chicken was wonderfully moist and tender – simply fell apart using a fork. Great dish.

The final main tapas was actually a main that we added – the rabo de toro – oxtail stew with potato puree. The oxtail was amazing. The meat and fat was so cooked down that the two bones in the plate appeared to have never had any meat on them once we pulled the meat off them. Beautifully meaty and fatty goodness.

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Now, after all of the food, we may think that we were too full for dessert… and you would be wrong. There is always room for dessert, especially these ones. We went with three to share amongst the group. First, we had the molten chocolate fritters – bunuelos del tio nelo. Hot dark chocolate in a fried ball with some powdered sugar… what is there not to like!? They may be too tart for some as it is dark chocolate but delicious nevertheless.

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The second option was fresh ricotta and honey – Mel y Mato – a huge contrast when compared to the previous dish. Personally I loved the combination – a fresh and light alternative to standard dessert options. The sweetness of the honey worked very well with the creaminess of the ricotta. May not be everyone’s jam from a texture point of view but it worked for me.

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Lastly, we have in my opinion the best of the group – chocolate, pan, acetic y sal or simply put chocolate, bread, olive oil and fleur de sel. Milk chocolate mousse with a hint of olive oil, a touch of salt and a crunchy crouton. Simple but so wonderful in execution. Loved every bit of this one.

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All in all, with all the food and a few good bottles of wine, we left full and very satisfied of our experience at Tapas 24. The one stickler would be price point as this definitely wasn’t a cheap evening. This was a pretty penny for tapas. Be prepared to pay more than you probably expect. I saw a lot of negative reviews for this restaurant early on… other than the overpriced issue, I experienced none of what others have apparently faced here. In my eyes, Tapas 24 is definitely a worthwhile visit. It may not be Barcelona but I’ll take it. I suppose that your mileage may vary however.

Cheers!

Tapas 24
420 Notre-Dame Ouest
514 849 4424

Tapas 24 on Urbanspoon

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Madrid 2013 – La Tasquita de Enfrente

28 Jul

On our second night in Madrid, we decided to find a nice sit down restaurant where we could enjoy a more refined Spanish meal. After some research, we settled on La Tasquita de Enfrente, a small but well reviewed restaurant run by Chef Juango Lopez Bedemar. The restaurant is located just north of Calle Gran Via and from the outside, other than the numerous Michelin rating stickers from over the years in the window, you really wouldn’t guess this was much of a restaurant. However, if there’s anything I have learned from my trip in Spain regarding restaurants, it’s don’t judge a book by its cover.

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Walking inside, we entered a small but colourful-looking dinner room. The walls are covered with paintings of different styles and signed images of various people – most of whom I don’t recognize but who appear to be Spanish politicians or celebrities. Nice relaxed lighting and some gentle music in the background. So far, it sets up for a nice meal.

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Our waiter presents himself and explains that there is no menu at this restaurant. The chef changes everything daily based on what it gets from the market. We were recommended the tasting menu where you are at the whim of the chef – although you can make some requests and he will adjust for them – or if you want, you can go “a la carte” where the chef consults with you and makes a few dishes based on that. We naturally went with the tasting menu to truly experience what this restaurant is about. One member of our party requested no meat so we all ended up with no meat throughout our tasting. Ended up not being an issue – even for a meat lover like myself.

First up, a Mushroom cream soup that my camera decided didn’t like its look so I have no picture of it. Very smooth texture with wonderfully earthy tones. You could taste the freshness of the mushrooms throughout. A very nice way to start the meal. Next up, a king crab salad with homemade crisp. As it would be throughout the meal, the Chef prepares his dishes very simply – he allows the freshness of the ingredients to do the talking. Here, wonderful crab meat with a bit of binder, some bread crumbs and a little bit of roe on top. A great appetizer.

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Third course now, we got a cold Spider Crab soup. Great seafood broth with hints of tomatoes in the base. The crab meat itself was delicious and added a nice texture to the soup. I am not a big cold soup fan but this one worked for me on all accounts.

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Next up, egg fried sardines with some bacon bits on top. When one thinks of sardines, one tends to think about sardines in a can which I absolutely hate. This was nowhere near that. Nice crisp of both the skin and the coating around the sardine. The meat inside was nice and flaky. Overall, there is a nice richness to the dish without any oiliness or being too heavy which was a good thing given we were only halfway through the meal!

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To counter that richness, the Chef then presented us with a very simple but again wonderful dish of mixed mushrooms. Just a few different varieties of mushroom presented in different ways (chopped, shaved, sliced) and tossed in a little oil. Amazing how many flavours one can get with such a simple dish. Great follow-up to the sardines.

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The next 2 dishes were truly new experiences for me. First, we got fried Hake necks with a aioli of mayonnaise, garlic and Hake neck broken down. The fried necks were wonderful – very rich and fatty texture. Our server described them as the best part of the Hake and I would agree. The aioli didn’t work for me though. While a very unique idea of incorporating the neck into the sauce, the aioli was devoid of any real flavour to add to the fried necks. It ended up just being an textural addition to the dish. It was the one thing over the course of this meal that really didn’t work for me.

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The final pre-dessert course was brown butter stingray. I had no idea what to expect from stingray. It ended up being like ribs but instead of red meat, you got flaky white fish in between each rib. Great quality of fish here and the brown butter sauce was perfectly executed. Nice richness added to the white fish.

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On to dessert, we each got 2 items – a pistachio tiramisu and a spanish pain perdu. Given my hatred of coffee, tiramisu tends not to be something I enjoy but this one worked for me. The pistachios added a nice nutty flavour which helped to dull the coffee for me. The pain perdu was quite good as well. Very sweet richness with the crispy sponge cake on top for a nice textural crunch. A good way to cap off a wonderful meal.

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It didn’t look like much walking in but boy was this a great meal! The cool thing throughout was seeing the chef come around numerous times to see how we were enjoying things and at the same time, seeing how each table had slightly different dishes one to the other. There truly is no pre-set menu – even for one night! If ever you go to Madrid and are looking for a way to truly experience Spanish cuising outside of the usual Tapas fare (which are amazing don’t get me wrong), you won’t go wrong checking this place out.

Cheers!

La Tasquita de Enfrente
Calle Ballesta, 6,
28004 Madrid, Spain
+34 915325449

Barcelona 2013 – General Travel Log

24 Jul

Finally, after many distractions and false starts, I’ve have gotten around to this post!

A few months ago, as a vacation, I was in Spain for 10 days visiting both Barcelona and Madrid. There will be a few other posts on some specific culinary experiences that I had while I was there but I figured I would start with a overview post about my time there food-wise – specifically in Barcelona. When one talks about Spain from a culinary point of view, we think about Tapas, Manchego cheese, Iberico and Serrano Ham, amazing seafood and wine. Well… I got to enjoy all of that and then some while on this trip.

We made a concerted effort to try and follow Spanish timeline food-wise and get the true experience. We seeked out tapas bars, markets, cafes and terraces in order to try Spanish food. We weren’t in Spain to eat French and Italian. We didn’t do much research beforehand to plan anything. Starting in Barcelona, our hotel was located just off the Ramblas – the main tourist throughway – but more importantly, just a couple of minutes away from the Gothic Quarter, the old district of town where there are numerous small but amazing joints without any of the tourist-gouging prices or bad food.

In our first night in town, we tried a tapas bar just off the Royal Plaza (Playa Real). It’s called Bodega Biarritz and is insanely small. My apartment living room is almost bigger than the seating space here. Their menu is one of pretty “classic” tapas dishes so a perfect way to start the trip.

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We started with an order of Patatas Bravas, a stuffed puff pastry and Cod Fritters. Patatas Bravas are fried potatoes covered with a spicy tomato “Bravas” sauce. The sauce is really the thing here…. tangy at first but quite spicy in the finish. The puff pastry is good as well but nothing special. The cod fritters were wonderful – nice, fresh cod meat with a nice crispy exterior.

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Next up, we ordered meatballs on top of a potato tortilla, grilled sausage and smaller meatballs covered in bravas sauce. Both meatballs were moist and tender. The sausage had a nice kick to it and the potato tortilla was great. Soft interior with a crisp exterior, the texture was much flakier than your usual corn or flour tortilla. Add to all of this some beer and a great Mojito and you have a wonderful introduction to true Spanish tapas.

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The following day, we went to the famous La Boqueria Market to check out Pinotxo Bar. This tiny bar counter located inside the market doesn’t look like much but it has been showcased in a number of publications worldwide including Food & Wine and the New York Times. Once we actually were able to grab some seats (there are only about a dozen stools present so expect to wait a bit), I was ready to dig in. Upfront, it amazes me the quality of food that comes out of a space that small. The pictures probably don’t do it justice enough. Every tiny inch of space is used to its maximal capacity. Somehow 5 cooks and the owner, the very jovial fellow in the pink and blue vest, fit and crank out great stuff.

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First up, a chick pea salad with some garlic, parsley and a few other spices that I didn’t catch as the owner who ended up serving really doesn’t speak English. Amazingly fresh and flavourful, I am really not a chick pea fan but this dish turned me around. The chick peas were cooked to the right consistency and the mix of spices and herbs really enhanced their natural flavour. Great starter.

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Next up, a plate of snails cooked with a mixture of tomatoes and garlic amongst others. Once again, great combination of freshness, texture with simple but strong flavour. I have never eating so much snails at one time in my life and it was great to try them in a preparation other than one involving tons of garlic butter.

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Following that, we got a plate of fresh grilled squid with some chick peas, olive oil and a balsamic vinegar reduction. The squid was perfect, the chick peas provided a nice earthy balance to the squid and the balsamic added a nice touch to the whole time. Great plate of food.

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Lastly, we went with fresh langoustines boiled, slightly grilled and with garlic butter. Simple but perfect overall. As was true throughout my time in Spain, the seafood was amazingly fresh and of high quality, so the natural flavour of the langoustine shone here beautifully. All in all, a great experience that I highly recommend anyone who goes to the market check out. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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The next day, we got to check out some more tapas places. First up, big props to the corner cafe that serves the following plate of Manchego cheese.

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Honey, pecans, fig sauce and huge pieces of Manchego…. there is a reason why we went back again a few days later. The quality of each component was wonderful and really made me wish I could get a similar plate at my corner cafe! For now, I will do so at home.

That evening, we did a mini tapas crawl. The first location was Euskal Etxea which specialize in pintos which are snacks like items usually skewed on a piece of bread. All the items were laid out on the bar where you make your selections. Once eaten, you keep the toothpicks from each and that is how they add up your bill. Totally a different set-up then I am used to. The items here were mostly meats, pates or cheese. All good but nothing really exciting.

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After that quick stop, we went literally across the street to a more typical tapas bar, El Xampanyet. This tiny bar was cramped, loud and had tons of paper napkins on the floor a.k.a a good tapas bar from all appearances. Once we wiggled our way up to the bar, we dove in. Ham on breadsticks, mini spicy sausages, roasted potatoes topped with cheese and tomatoes, marinated fresh anchovies and goat cheese stuffed mini peppers. All fresh and delicious. Add to that a couple of pints of beers and we’ve had ourselves a great night.

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I have a few more places to showcase but as mentioned initially, that will be done on a few separate posts that will appear shortly (I hope…). Having now had the true tapas experience in Spain, I found a nice appreciation for that style of dining. Every Tapas place we went to, I left feeling satisfied but never completely stuffed to the point of inactivity. Hopefully this mini tour has given you a sense of the kind of food one can experience in Spain. Now… I just want to go back!

Cheers!

Bodega Biarritz. Ciutat Vella, 1881, Barcelona, Spain. 08002
Bar Pinotxo. Mercat de la Boqueria, 466-470, Barcelona, Spain. +34 933 171 731
Euskal Etxea. Placeta Montcada, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. +34 933 10 21 85
El Xampanyet. Carrer de Montcada, 22, 08003 Barcelona, Spain. +34 933 197 003

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