Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Olé, Olé, Olé

What do the Baltimore Ravens, Michigan (football) Wolverines, Montreal Canadiens have in common? Two different countries. Two different sports. Three different cities. Three different teams. The answer? The fans of all three have been known to break into the chant: “Olé, Olé, Olé”.

“The word ‘olé’ itself, being a Spanish interjection thought to be of Arabic origin, or derived from the Germanic in the Iberian Peninsula, from which it also derives the English “Hello” and the neighbour Portuguese “Olá”, mostly associated with the bullfighting of last centuries, but also with the sports after the 19th century. It was chanted when individuals seemed to rise above themselves in performance…. It is also used by supporters of the University of California, Santa Barbara's Gaucho intercollegiate sports teams, particularly the basketball, soccer, cross-country, and track programs, and led to the creation of a mascot, simply named Olé” (wikipedia.org).

So what does this have to do with anything? Does anyone even care? Well, today I am writing about a Spanish tapas restaurant (Yes, in Lafayette, LA!)—Pamplona Tapas Bar & Restaurant—and I just thought it appropriate to begin with something Spanish.
“Located in the heart of all things Cajun and Lafayette's thriving nightlife, Pamplona doesn't serve traditional Cajun fare.
"The chic and sophisticated Lafayette hot spot—a striking blend of dark woods, crisp linens, plenty of red accents and a touch of wrought iron Moorish detail—serves Spanish staples….

"Even customers who have never been to Spain appreciate that Pamplona is what a restaurant tucked alongside the street of the great bull race must look and feel like.
"Chef William Annesley, owner of Pamplona, is a native of London. He relocated to Lafayette, his wife, Karina's hometown, after spending twenty years in Los Angeles working in the food and entertainment industries….

“Annesley set out to create a restaurant he believed would fill a niche in Lafayette's thriving market. He wanted to create something different, but something local folk would embrace. ‘It's tapas modified to complement Lafayette,’ said Annesley. ‘I understood the Cajun palate. There needs to be an explosion in your mouth’" (countryroadsmagazine.com).
A mirrored wall at the far end of the main dining room

The lower level dining room

In addition to the two interior dining rooms, Pamplona has a small sidewalk patio just large enough for four two-tops. It is from this patio that Pamplona, during the Festival International de Louisiane, sells tapas, small dishes of paella, and sangria to festival attendees.
Now before I proceed any further, I need to vent. As is my custom, I looked at the lunch menu posted online. So it was with dismay that, when presented with the lunch menu at the restaurant, I discovered that the three items that I was most interested in trying (chorizio croquettes, manchego croquettes, and duck rillet) were no longer on the menu. I understand why restaurateurs may not want to post prices. They need the flexibility to raise (always raise) prices when conditions demand. And you can always get some idea of price point from reading reviews. But please, at least keep the menu current—even if sans price. So now I had to make entirely different choices.

I started with the Brandada de bacalao or salt cod and potato bites.
These little potato pillows had—as someone on a cooking show used as a descriptor—a shell that was thin as a “Bible’s page” and an ultra creamy interior that tasted just faintly of the salt cod. Each one sat in its own pool of sofrito (garlic, onion, peppers and tomatoes cooked in olive oil).

While I was eating my salt cod fritters, Chuck was attacking his bowl of Asturian Fabada with great gusto.
This combination of sausage, white beans, and carrots in a broth tasting of sweet paprika is “…originally from and most commonly found in the autonomous community of Asturias, but widely available throughout the whole of Spain and in Spanish restaurants worldwide…. Fabada is a hot and heavy dish, and for that reason is most commonly eaten during winter and at the largest meal of the day, lunch. It is usually served as a starter, but may also be the main course of the meal…” (wikipedia.org).

Still seething (perhaps that is too strong a word) from the menu change, I was at a loss as to my second selection. Finally, I chose the roasted beet and goat cheese salad.
Under any other conditions, I would have been excited about this salad, but I was still regretting not having the duck rillet. I have developed a fondness for roasted beets—especially when used cold in salad. And the frisée mountain hides just how large the portion of beets on the plate was.

I happen to love frisée as much as I did curly endive as a child. But an opposing view is presented at amateurgourmet.com: “No one looks at a coil of barbed wire and thinks, ‘I would like to eat that.’ Yet there are eaters among us who see a plate of frisée and think that very thought. Psychologists have a word for these people: masochists. How else to explain the inexplicable desire to consume razor-like stalks of pale green lettuce, each bite ravaging the inside of one’s mouth? It’s time for someone in the food world to stand up and expose frisée for what it really is: a sadistic trick of nature, seducing chefs and gardeners around the world with a hidden pheromone that creates the illusion that frisée is actually good to eat. I assure you, it’s not.” Well, yes it is. Especially when lightly dressed with a balsamic vinegar and oil dressing.

Chuck’s next item—the house-made Longoniza and Peppers—was listed under the tapas heading, but if “tapas are snacks, canapés or finger food” (spanishfood.about.com), this dish was way too large to be tapas.
And if you Google longoniza, you will find it described as similar to chorizo or Portuguese linguiça. To me, it more resembled a mild Italian sausage without the fennel seeds. Still, it was very good as was the broth that Chuck enjoyed with the small loaf of ciabatta bread from Pamplona’s next door neighbor—Poupart Bakery & Bistro.

If this wasn’t enough food, there is still one more item. Many of the reviews of Pamplona that I read indicated that you need to order the sangria and the fries. Well, I can’t drink sangria since it contains oranges and/or orange juice. But the fries, yes.
And no typical fries these. To make them even more caloric, they are fried in duck fat. These were dusted with garlic and parsley and were very rich and filling.

“…it was only a matter of time before top chefs found a way to make the most universal of comfort foods into a gastronomic luxury. And found it they have in duck fat fries. Although they may look and act like regular fries, duck fat fries are to the standard spud stick as Epoisse (Ed. Note: I had to look this one up. It is a French cheese and “…Epoisses is actually a French word meaning ‘completely worth the effort’—either that or ‘stinky but incredibly loveable’” [murrayscheese.com].) is to Velveeta.

“‘Our customers are absolutely addicted to them,’ says Rob Evans, owner of Duck Fat, a restaurant in Portland, Maine. ‘I went on a bender myself the first year we were open.’ In southwestern France — the homeland of foie gras — they’ve been frying potatoes in duck fat since the time of Charlemagne, or at least since Charles de Gaulle. But all of a sudden, everywhere from the Harrison in New York to the Blue Duck Tavern in DC to Baltimore’s Salt to San Francisco’s One Market, American chefs are converging on duck fat to make a French fry beyond which there is no greater French fry” (Daniel Duane at archive.mensjournal.com).

Well, did we chant "Olé, Olé, Olé" after lunch? No. Just Olé, Olé. And all because I am still mad about the menu change. Still, Pamplona Tapas Bar & Restaurant does earn 4.0 Addies.
To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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