Diners were treated to a Spansh/Portuaguese extravaganza for the first dinner in the Westin’s winemaker dinner series for 2008/9. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull was there to enjoy the feast and reports.
The Spanish wine dinner was an important one in Cayman’s culinary calendar; not just because it kicked off the first dinner in the new series but also but also because it featured the Westin’s new Executive Chef, Jason, who’s culinary offering would be judged by the keen foodies in attendance.
Jason worked the crowd just like a pro, an exuberant character whose gift of the gab kept diners entertained and informed throughout the evening. He explained the first dish – a simple but effective salt cod cloud with fingerling potatoes, salt and olive oil – and said, “We wanted to give you a grass roots snapshot of the culinary delightes from the region, but with a contemporary twist. The salt cod foam is a delicious opener for your palate.”
To work in conjunction with this light first course, Aaron Jay, wine educator with Palm Bay Imports chose a 2007 Fonseca ‘Twin Vines’ Vinho Verde from Portugal, and said, “We really took a great deal of time in ascertaining the specific characteristics of the wine when creating the menu for this dinner. It was a real labour of love!”
He continued, “Fonseca is really well known for its red wines but perhaps not so well known for its whites. This is a lovely light wine that has a slight frizzante. It’s drunk a good deal in Portugal as it only has 10 per cent alcohol, so it’s great for lunch.”
The following course consisted of a delicious selection of traditional tapas-style morsels, just the right proportion for enjoyment rather than fulfillment (my favourite sort of dish). Manchego quince flatbread sat forcefully next to an intensely herby cilantro tapenade, while Serrano ‘grilled cheese’ nestled like an old friend with a new shirt next to an ingenious east-meets-west paella springroll, along with a fresh and enticing Andulucian style ceviche.
It was hard to imagine what on earth would pair successfully with such a riot of flavours, textures and blends, yet Aaron did a great job showcasing a 2007 Serra da Estrela Albarino from Rias Baixas. This region in North West Spain is noted for its production of white wine, producing some of the most vibrant wines in the country.
“This wine is bigger and bolder than the previous wine. I think it does a great job bringing out the smokiness of the Serrano ham while also complementing the other flavours equally well,” he said.
The following dish, a piquillo pepper stuffed with crab, cabrales and an almond rioja sauce was, according to Chef Jason, made from the heart. Having worked on cruise ships before coming to Cayman, Chef Jason made this particular dish for perhaps 3000 diners in one go and said it was an absolute favourite of his. One taste and diners could see why – an explosion of delicacy and piquancy, richness and acidity – a memorable course that should go down as one of the best in the Cayman culinary history books.
A glass of Portia Prima was served along with this course, a wine that is a debut release from the Portia estate in Spain’s Ribera del Duero region.
A sea bass course then followed, pan roasted and served with a tomato mermelada with preserved lemons (preserved at the Westin’s own kitchens around three weeks prior to the dinner.) The tomato mermelada was Chef Jason’s own take on that European flavouring the gremolata which usually includes lemons and garlic and adds a wonderfully zingy citrus accent to a dish. A deconstructed white sangria had the tastebuds on red alert for what was to come.
Pushing the boat out as is customary with the Westin winedinner series, diners enjoyed a hunk of meat that they perhaps had not ventured trying before – wild boar. This was served ‘en cazuela’ with olives, dates and prunes, alongside a roasted corn cake, caramelised pearl onions and a porto glaze. I have to admit that by this time I could not do justice to such a handsome portion of flesh but my nibblings confirmed a delicious pork-like dish served on the bone. The 1996 Bodega Faustino is a powerful yet velvety Rioja made from 90 per cent Tempranillo and 10 per cent Mazuelo and Graciano grapes. Aged for two to three years in oak casks this wine is then aged for a further four years in the bottle prior to its release. The end result is a wine filled with red fruit flavours and ripe tannins that perfectly complemented the heavyweight course.
If diners had managed to save room for the mains (yes – we have only just reached there!) they will have delighted in the roasted lamb loin served with a white gazpacho sauce and herbed polenta. To do justice to the dish Aaron paired not one but two fine wines – a 2005 Fonseco Domino Duro and a 2004 Xisto from the Duro Valley.
Dessert was now only possible after five rounds around the block. A beautiful homage to Spanish cuisine, Chef Jason’s patisserie team did an outstanding job creating a Basque-style fried milk with cinnamon anglaise, a dark and light white chocolate torte with hazelnut crema catalana, drunken sponge cakes (bizcochos borrachos) and a divine Rioja wine sorbet, the latter my favourite out of a delicious offering.