Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Piperade" My Restaurant Review and Journey into Basque Cooking

IT WAS OUR SIXTH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY... and I did not have any restaurant reservations. It was a Saturday night and I knew it would be tough to secure reservations at the last minute in San Francisco, but I was determined to find a good restaurant, with a romantic atmosphere and food worth spending a lot of money on. If it had not been for my natural inclination to procrastinate, this task would have been completed easily, weeks prior. So onto I went, searching for highly rated restaurants that would fulfill my desires. It seemed that all of the favorites were booked until I stumbled onto the site of Piperade. There was one spot open for an early reservation at 5:30. Based on the immediate reviews that I scanned over and the 4 star rating out of 350+ reviews, I figured I couldn't go wrong and took the reservation.

Piperade is a restaurant owned and operated by Chef Gerald Hirigoyen. The restaurant features what Hirigoyen calls "West Coast Basque Cuisine." A native of the Basque Region, Hirigoyen has twice been named Best Chef in the Bay Area by San Francisco Magazine and was one of Food & Wine Magazine's Top New Chefs in America. He has also received numerous write ups and recommendations from publications such as the New York Times, Bon Appetit, SF Examiner and many more.

The Basque Country is a nation that runs along the border of Spain and France. The Greater Basque Country also includes some areas in both aforementioned countries. Naturally, the cuisine in this region has strong Spanish and French influence, but there are also many regional specialties unique to the Basque country influenced by the mountainous regions on one side and the ocean on the other. Fresh and Salted Seafood, Cured Meats, Peppers, Lamb, Ciders, and Sheep Cheeses are staples of the Basque diet.

We started of our meal with two of the small plates: Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Goat Cheese, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins and the Calamari "A La Plancha" with cantaloupe, mint and lemon confit

Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Goat Cheese, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

Calamari " A La Plancha" with cantaloupe, mint and lemon confit
They were both fantastic and had us eagerly anticipating our main course. We took the recommendation of our waiter and paired a Basque white wine with our meal and ordered a bottle of Txomin Etxaniz. The wine had a slight effervescent quality to it and was a perfect companion to the meal. For my main course, I had the Sea Bass with Brussel Sprouts and Frothed Butter with herbs. It was simple and perfect. The Bass had the texture of lobster and melted away in my mouth the instant I bit into it. I could not have been happier.

Sea Bass

For Dessert I had the Orange Blossom Beignets, which were crispy, light and perfect. In the photo there is only two of them, but originally there were three, I just couldn't wait to eat one. They were the perfect end to a wonderful meal.

Orange Blossom Beignets
The other interesting thing is the classic Basque dish section on the menu. There is one specialty everyday of the week that you can order. Perhaps I will try to go on a Tuesday next time so that I can try the Sauteed Calamari in Ink Sauce "Txipiroa." Overall the restaurant provided a perfect atmosphere, wonderful food, courteous, attentive service and Beignet so delicious, I do not feel that I could overstate their case. Or maybe I was just really hungry!? We will see as I will certainly be returning to this spot in the near future.

Here you can see by the expression on my face how satisfied I am with the stuffed pepper.
I started to study Basque Cuisine and Chef Hirigoyen in particular. I found that he had a few cookbooks out and went to my local Barnes & Noble to look for one. It was my lucky day and the nice lady behind the customer service counter walked over to the regional cooking section and pulled out a book called "Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition"

"Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition"
Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition
Exactly what I was looking for! So I got right to work. I started off by going to the store to see what was fresh. I ended up getting some Sea Scallops and Calimari tubes and tentacles. I decided to make the Scallops with Lychee Gazpacho and the Fried Calamari with Romesco Sauce. Both recipes turned out to be very satisfying and have me looking forward to trying our more recipes from this book. The mistake I made was trying to make the Lychee Gazpacho when Lychees are not in season. I used canned Lychees, which I can only imagine, could not compare in flavor or texture to the fresh fruit. Do not make this mistake. The Calamari turned out wonderful, though Milana said I put too much salt (I did not agree).

Coating the Calamari in Rice Flour
Broiling the Tomatoes and Peppers for the Romesco Sauce
Scallops with Lychee Gazpacho
Fried Calamari with Romesco Sauce

Of course, I had to make a few substitutions for ingredients I could not immediately find, like the Pimente D'Espelette, which he specifically says there is no suitable replacement for. Regardless, I used another smoked Spanish Paprika in its place. For the most part I followed the recipes exactly and so I will not post them here, but I encourage everyone interested to go pick up this cookbook or have a meal at Piperade. As I learn more about this type of cuisine, I will undoubtedly figure out my own way of doing things and have variations of classic recipes that will be mine that I can post here for your reading enjoyment.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa that calamari looks super good...