Monday, October 31, 2011

An "Ir de Tapeo" in Seville with Shawn Hennessey; and other Adventures

Our Seville story begins with Shawn Hennessey, a Canadian expat, ex-fashionista, now proprietor of a website called “Azahar-Sevilla.” She is, to use a somewhat antiquarian expression, a woman of parts. She writes, she teaches, she leads culinary tours, and probably a lot else that she doesn't necessarily let on about. What we know for sure is that if you visit Seville, you want her at your side when it's time to eat. She took us to the good places, steered us to the house specialties, and coached us on the rhythm of the ir de tapeo, or tapas tour: Step into the place, pick the two best items in the house, have a glass of something, and then move on to the next adventure. We ate cigalas and oysters at Modesto, morcilla and veal cheeks at Enrique Becerra, and various postmodern dishes at Albarama. We ended up at 2 a.m on the roof of the Hotel Doña Maria, facing the Giralda cathedral tower, pleasantly drunk and basking in the soothing rays of the full moon.

Shawn Hennessey. A woman with duende

In the event, that evening was just a warmup, because Shawn had all sorts of great ideas for us. I'm going to skip over Vineria San Telmo, Casa Antonio, and the delightful La Bodega (which became our “local” for the week), marvelous though they all were, and go straight to the best of the best: La Azotea.

 It's a tiny place on a street called Jesus del Gran Poder, in what is euphemistically referred to as a “neighborhood in transition” near the Alameda de Hercules. The place opens at 9 pm, and unlike other restaurants in Seville, which tend to start off slowly and really get rolling after 10:30, there is a crowd waiting for the door to open. We went two nights: Wednesday, the place was packed within 15 minutes; Thursday, within 5 minutes. We will stipulate that everything we tried was of surpassing excellence. We ordered a parade of tapas, and it is no exaggeration to say that we finished every dish thinking “How can they top this?” and were repeatedly delighted with the answer. The chef's name is Jesús Rosendo Domingues. As the lovely Elena told us, “He did not go to culinary school. He grew up in his father's bar.” His food is phenomenal.
He's back there, at la ventana (the window), behind the dupes...Jesús Rosendo Domingues. A chef to watch for.

Elena gives us The Professional Smile. 

 The wine-by-the-glass list was deep, interesting, and priced right; I don't recall anything that cost more than 4 euros.

Our favorite wine at La Azotea was a 2009 Tempranillo from the Cigales D.O. Called “13 Cántaros Nicolás,” it was a gamey, meaty, spicy, jammy red-fruit wine that was completely delicious with morcilla (blood pudding), bull's tail, and other fine bits of Andalusian offal. The name comes from a document found on the wall at Bodegas César Príncipe (the winery) that referred to a debt of 13 “pitchers” of wine owed to a certain Nicholas. Who Nicholas was, and why he was owed the specific amount of wine, is lost to history. The Bodega, like others in the Cigales appellation, once produced rosé wines only; it wasn't until 2000 that the first reds were produced for sale. César Muñoz is the winemaker. The wine is 100% Tempranillo, aged 8 months in French and American oak. Cigales is considered a rising star in the D.O. Firmament; most of it is along the Pisuerga, a tributary of the Duero. Like Ribera del Duero, it has a very dry climate with extremes of temperature, ideal for growing Tempranillo and Garnacha vines that produce wines of great power. The wine is brought into the U.S. by Vinum Wine Importing.

Another favorite was a bottle from something called the “Proyecto Garnachas de España” (Spanish Grenache Project), a 2009 La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo (Ribera del Queiles). Winemaker Raul Acha produces garnacha in a variety of styles and terroirs within the Ebro Delta, a large area (not a Denominación de Origen) that encompasses several appellations, including Aragon, Priorat, and Rioja. Ribera del Queiles is a sub-appellation of Aragon. The Garnacha Salvaje (“Salvaje” translates as “wild”) was soft and round and not in the least sauvage or rustic, similar in style to the better Garnachas of the Campo de Borjas region, with pretty strawberry and plum notes, and the aforementioned roundness thanks to five months' aging in French oak. The wine is in limited distribution in the U.S. by St. Louis-based Bakkehia Imports.

Juan, with a Legal Smile. 

We sat at the bar, and chatted with our neighbors. The Chef sat next to a couple from The Netherlands, who were just finishing up a 12-day tour. I sat next to a guy from Queens who was interested in sherry, and who inadvertently provided one of the evening's many highlights: Juan (an exceptionally personable young man, a native of Seville, who owns the place with his wife, Jeanine, who is from California) brought him an unlabeled bottle of something golden. I asked what it was, and he waved it in front of me so I could see that there really was no label, and announced “Arab herb liquor! Illegal!” Well, we just had to have some too, didn't we?

Dave, with an Illegal Smile.


Anonymous said...

A couple corrections to my faulty memory from Shawn: The first tapas stop was Modesto; the rooftop bar was the Hotel Doña Maria. said...

Great to read about the tour and La Azotea!

Anonymous said...

I just learned that César Muñoz started out at Chateau Montus, making Madiran! He also spent a season at Vega Sicilia, which no doubt made his reputation as far as anyone in Ribera del Duero is concerned.

istanbul tours said...

We had an amazing time on the Rappelling and Zip lining tour. Ender was a great guide; he didn't go too fast and he made sure that we all were doing good and were comfortable. Afterwards, we had a delicious home cooked meal. It was the best meal we had on our entire trip! We would definitely recommend this trip for anyone visiting Spain in the future by