Spaniards don’t take siestas! That’s what I was told by my dining companions last night at a dinner at Sea Grill promoting the food and wine of the Spanish region of Rioja — a small, wine-rich area west of Aragon and Navarre and south of the Basque country. At my table was a young American publicist representing the region, a Spanish journalist, a Spanish publicist representing the region and Pedro M. Sáez Rojo, general manager of the Rioja government's food quality and agriculture research department. Somehow the topic came up of how it’s not uncommon to have dinner in Spain after 10 p.m. Yet they’re expected to show up at work in the morning at the same time Americans are.
Thus, I suggested, the need for a siesta. And they politely laughed at me — they don’t siesta, certainly not in seasons other than summer. They just don’t get much sleep.
The food was prepared by five chefs from La Rioja, starting in the cocktail hour with some sort of raw fish preparation I didn’t get around to trying. They also passed spoons of sweetened white asparagus purée with a piece of green asparagus stuck into it, a raspberry to the side and lots of black pepper. That one got mixed reviews from the crowd. I tried two of them and I’m still not sure what I thought about it.
While I tried to figure that out I chatted with Glenn Collins from The New York Times (and good friends with cousin Leonard Kamsler) and his wife Sarah about Thai food, Caesar Augustus’ use of the institutions of the republic to become Rome’s first emperor, and other light topics.
The food of the evening definitely was showing an experimental side of Spanish cuisine.
At the table was a bowl filled with a spread that I later learned was made of some sort of crustacean (probably langoustine, but we didn’t work too hard at translating it accurately), mayonnaise, cucumber and mint.
We also had:
sunflower seed tuiles
country bread to use in tasting Rioja olive oils
cherry gazpacho with langoustine
asparagus with mushroom mayonnaise
cod in pil-pil sauce
meat ball over potato parmentier
French toast with cheese mousse served with cacao jelly
assorted mignardises, including a chocolate bon-bon filled with olive oil.