Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Invoking Spring: Barrafina's Chorizo & Watercress Sandwich

Barrafina-inspired Chorizo Sandiwch with Watercress salad
Sometimes in the Spring, ever-so-fleetingly, I get nostalgic for London.  This year that was the case last week when I re-experienced the frustration of it being too cold to wear anything but a sweater in the middle of April.  It's just not right.  And it's just what I experienced every single spring in Londontown.  Even now, I shake my head at my British / UK-residing friends' facebook statuses about how they're almost convinced the sun will never shine again, that the weather will never warm up.  I shake my head in dismay, but also in solidarity.  I know their pain.

So this post is about invoking Spring in an otherwise un-spring-y circumstance.

I remember the first time I heard about the then-new Barrafina restaurant in London's west end back in February of 2007.  My hellacious boss (who I'll refer to as " Luca Delcattivo" here for the sake of anonymity) had taken a client to lunch there one day and came back to our offices raving about it.  Tapas.  New, delicious, refined Spanish tapas in London like none he'd ever had outside Spain.  I drooled at his brief but poignant descriptions.  Shortly thereafter, in March or April, Matt and I went there and we were so blown away that we insisted on taking most of our guests there too when they came to visit.  And a couple of Marches and Aprils later, they were all blown away too.  It's such a nice place to eat, but best in the Spring, when the window-walls fly open and you're left to enjoy the ambiance of Soho, crowds toasting glasses of wine as they wait patiently outside the door, wafts of gambas and garlic filling the air.

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Top Things that Invoke that Springtime Spirit 
at Barrafina

watercress in a snowy garden
1. A Glass of Cava
 Maybe it's the stark, modern decor or the white-marble countertops, but, to me a glass of bright, bubbly Cava is the best-fitting drink to start your meal at Barrafina.  There is always a queue so forget the fantasies of walking in to a lovely white-linen-lined table and eating a leisurely meal.  Tables don't exist either (except for a few impossibly-small ones on the sidewalk outside if my memory serves).  You get there, you get a drink, and you stand outside with the rest of the world on the street, drinking, toasting, and feeling bubbly.  The cava brings the sunshine to you.

2. The Ooey-Gooey Tortilla Española (with shrimp)
The Spanish Tortilla is a thing of beauty.  Eggs and potato combined into round sublimity.  At Barrafina they cook individual-sized tortillas in tiny cast-iron pans, finishing them under the broiler so that the outside is set but the inside is an ooey-gooey, runny, eggy mess.  A revelation. Completely, absolutely, delicious.  They offer many different variations - often using seasonal ingredients (perfect for a time like Spring).  We especially enjoyed the one with shrimp.

3. The Pan con Tomate
Dreams of sun-ripened tomatoes haunt me at this time of year.  If you've never tried this uber-simple Spanish-staple, you must.  You will never look at a tomato and piece of bread the same way again. 

4. The Seafood
Nothing screams warm-weather and better-days more to me than a well-cooked piece of seafood.  Barrafina excels at taking fresh fish and highlighting its best aspects.  Get the octopus, the clams, the razor clams - or any of the fish.  They are all cooked simply and perfectly.

5. The Cheery Ambiance
The seating in Barrafina and the fact that you can't make reservations will either make or break the experience for you.  It's hard to sit at a long bar when you're with more than one person.  You are always seated next to a stranger.  There is no privacy because the cooks, the bar staff and chef are all running around in front of you, making food, drinks, taking plates and glasses, offering another round of painfully expensive Jamon Iberico which you will not be able to resist after a certain number of alcoholic libations.  But that's ok.  You'll feel shocked the next day when you remember the total cost of the meal, and marvel at how, truly, you're probably still hungry after having had 6 plates between the two of you.  But that's ok.  Sometimes its worth it just for the ambiance and for a couple of truly amazing bites of food.

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Last week I decided to invoke the spirit of Barrafina by making what was one of our favorite dishes there (though we admittedly loved them all): Chorizo and Watercress sandwiches.  I'm not sure whether they still serve the chorizo sandwiches or not as it has been about four years since we've been there but judging by the reviews on Urbanspoon, whatever they are serving is still as good or better than what we had several years ago.  We loved the sandwich both because of its simplicity and its seamless fusing of Spanish and British cuisine: the Spanish chorizo and bread together with a quintessentially English crop - peppery watercress.

Bolillo and Chorizo
The chorizo I used is Mexican (I like it hot, what can I say?), and I simply formed small sausages from loose chorizo, grilled them, and paired them with a lightly toasted (grilled) Mexican bolillo.  I then placed a small helping of a watercress salad dressed simply with lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt and pepper on top.

Spring in sandwich-form. :)

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