Arzak's Nueva Cocina from the Basque Country

Chef Cooper and Chef ArzakFew wine and food events in recent memory have generated more excitement here in Washington than the Basque Food and Wine Showroom that featured the culinary genius of three star Michelin Chef, Juan Mari Arzak. The event that took place on October 19 was held at Long View Gallery and included a spectacular VIP lunch in the chic rear alley Rogue24 Restaurant where Chef RJ Cooper performs his magic. Seats at the lunch were virtually impossible to obtain so our i-WineReview team felt very fortunate in having been invited to experience this culinary tour de force.

For those not familiar with Juan Mari Arzak, 69, he is a legendary chef and father of the Basque Country’s nueva cocina, a movement that has modernized and transformed Basque cooking in much the way Ferran Adria revolutionized Spanish cuisine. His dishes are highly imaginative and embrace the use of high tech processes and imaginative presentations that excite the senses. His dishes also taste amazing, offering purity of flavor and surprising combinations of ingredients. Pictured here, Chef RJ Cooper (l) and Juan Mari Arzak (r).

VIP Lunch

TapasOur lunch began with a selection of memorable tapas—small petit fours made with a base of pineapple and a piquillo pepper topping (seen here), mini-sandwiches made of slivers of lotus flower chips stuffed with the Basque fish arraitxikis, cheese, and pimento cream, and small triangles made of thinly sliced ribbons of honeydew melon stuffed with fois gras mousse and topped with a caramelized coating of confectioner’s sugar served over a pedestal of fried plantain. The caramelizing process melted the fois gras resulting in a creamy, mildly sweet bite that is pleasurable beyond belief! To accompany these tapas we were served a magnificent Txakoli, a crisp dry white wine that is unique to the Basque region. Most Txakoli are young, crisp and made for easy drinking. This one--the 2010 K5 Argiñano—was elegant and complex, benefiting from six months of aging in neutral oak and stainless steel.

EggThe first course was a highly imaginative dish the chef called “Huevo con temblor de tierra” (Egg with earth tremor) which consisted of a poached egg in a sauce containing several ingredients including powdered egg, edible silver and even some earth to give it a natural flavor. The egg yolk blended with the sauce and was served with a magnificent 2008 100% Viura from Honoratus Aurum offering pear, minerals, and a nuance of petrol.

The second dish “Atún en hoguera de escamas y cebolla” (Tuna in a bonfire of scales and onion) consisted of grilled marinated rectangles of solid tuna served in a sauce made of fish skin and ground toasted scales and blood orange juice. The tuna was marinated in olive oil, herbs and almonds. The fish skin and the blood orange sauces brought out contrasting flavors in the tuna. The onion, which was marinated and caramelized, was served skewered as a side dish to the tuna. The tuna was served with an elegant 2006 Valserrano Finca Monteviejo from Viñedos y Bodegas de la Marquesa from Rioja Alavesa. It combined 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano and worked beautifully with the tuna.

BeefThe third main dish, “Guiso de carrilleras con porrusalda y aire de chufas” (Stewed beef cheeks with leek and tiger nut foam), consisted of beef cheeks cooked in a stew of olive oil and sweet and sour sauce and served with a foam of stewed leeks and tiger nut, a local root. The meat was very tender and flavorful and combined well with the mild taste of the foam. For this dish, we experimented with a variety of wines from Rioja Alavesa. They included two majestic Gran Reservas: the 2001 Coto de Imaz Gran Reserva, that showed lovely dried cherry fruit with a delicate and silky texture, and a more earthy 2001 Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva.

DessertThe meal finished with two deserts that were unforgettable. The first “Pan de frutas con sopa de canela” (Fruit bread in cinnamon soup) showcased small “pillows” made of thinly sliced mango wrapped around bits of macerated French toast in vanilla, sugar and cinnamon, served in a almond and cinnamon soup with a touch of lemon and pistachios. Each morsel melted in the mouth. The second desert “Hamburguesa de chocolate” (Chocolate hamburger) consisted of two slates of white chocolate with nuts as bookends to a bite size rich chocolate mousse .We finished our desserts in style with a delicious off-dry Txakoli from the firm of Txomin Etxaniz, which paired perfectly with the fruit bread.

The Showroom

The Basque Food and Wine Showroom featured 28 food and wine producers who served a spectacular array of products. These products represent the region’s rich gastronomic tradition which is evidenced by the opening of the Basque Culinary Center this past September in San Sebastián, Spain. In addition to magnificent Txakoli and Rioja Alavesa wines, the guests were treated to Idiazabal cheese, boquerones, mineral salts, Bacalao and Bonito tuna from the Bay of Biscay. We tried everything and came away awe struck by the richness of the Basque culinary offerings. Time permitting, next year the i-WineReview plans to re-visit Rioja Alavesa and the Basque Country to prepare an in-depth report on the wine and food scene of this magnificent region of Spain.

(Photos courtesy of Susan Hornyak Photography)

Mike Potashnik, Sandra Rosenhouse, Don Winkler

October 2011