WHERE can you find the best paella in the world? Why, in Spain, of course! But exactly where in Spain?
Well, it’s in the Principality of Catalonia, where Barcelona is located, and whose cuisine relies heavily on ingredients bountiful along the Mediterranean coast, including fresh vegetables (particularly tomatoes, garlic, aubergine, capsicum and artichoke), wheat products (used to make bread and pasta), Arbequina olive oils, wines, legumes (such as broad beans and chickpeas), hams and sausages, cheese, poultry, lamb, assorted fish varieties (especially sardines, anchovies, tuna and cod fish), and other seafood (such as scampi).
Catalan cuisine is often mistaken as the usual Spanish food, but it has flavors all its own, and so, to introduce Catalan cuisine to diners in Manila, Marco Polo Ortigas decided to feature La Catalana, which showcases the flavors of Catalan cuisine as prepared by Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pessarodona. Cucina, the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, shall be dedicating an action station for Catalan cuisine on November 21, 22, 28 and 29 and December 5 and 6, for both lunch and dinner. For La Catalana, Chef Lluis will be preparing a number of Catalan favorites, accompanied by, of course, the best paella in town, Paella Mixta with Carabineros and Scampi, a gastronomic creation by Chef Lluis inspired by his childhood and the paella that his own dad used to make.
In a media preview that Marco Polo Ortigas’ general manager Frank Reichenbach, food and beverage director Mirko di Giorgio and director of marketing communications Judith Los Baños recently hosted, Chef Lluis drew up an impressive menu of Catalan favorites, highlighted by on-the-spot cooking of a giant Paella Mixta with Carabineros and Scampi, then finished with a breath-taking dessert that tasted as good as it looked.
The sit-down lunch began with Iberico Ham with Tomato on Bread, an interactive appetizer which you enjoy by taking the sliced tomato, rubbing it on the toasted bread, sprinkling it with salt and olive oil, topping it with the thinly sliced Iberico ham, and, with all the passion you can muster, biting into it. The flavors are fresh, simple and clean.
This was followed by Seafood Escabeche, Manila Clams, Tiger Prawns, Mussels, Sardines, Olive Coulis, Chantarelles with Deep-fried Sardine Bone Chips. It’s a deconstructed platter of all the delightful bite-sized tapas that you partake of one by one. Chef Lluis himself went around to add the finishing touch to the platter, which was the Deep-fried Sardine Bone Chip, which, according to him, has to be cooked in very hot oil for only a very short period so that the bone becomes crunchy and does not turn hard.
The soup, Broad Bean Cream Soup with Kilawing Mahi-Mahi, Caramelized Onion and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, combined Catalan and Filipino flavors. The soup is basically Catalan, but Chef Lluis added slices of Kilawing Mahi-Mahi into it because it’s his favorite Filipino food. The sourness of the kilawin and the bite of the fresh fish complemented the soup.
Following it was Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Cod Fish Brandada, Pil-Pil Sauce and Artichokes on a White Asparagus Bed—a proud showcase of all the bountiful ingredients in Catalonia.
Then Chef Lluis got to work on his Paella Mixta with Carabineros and Scampi. Before everyone, he cooked the paella step by step, starting with huge scampi which he had flown in directly from Spain specifically for the media preview. He wanted everyone to have a taste of the fresh seafood that Catalonia boasts of. Besides being huge, the scampi had a natural sweetness perfect for the paella.
Chef Lluis combined it with prawns, mussels, squid, chicken, spareribs, and Butifarra sausages from Barcelona. The resulting dish, when done, was loaded, flavorful and heavenly. And because he made a big paellera of it, Chef Lluis had everyone served a generous portion of paella complete with all its heavenly ingredients, including a huge scampi from Barcelona.
Ending the meal on a sweet note was Crèma Catalana, Red Berries and Chocolate Hazelnut Wafer Cigar. It was a beautiful and colorful piece of art and, like Chef Lluis’ other dishes, was an interplay of delicious elements—all delightful bites on their own as much as they complement each other.
Marco Polo Ortigas’ Cucina is open daily for lunch from 12:00 to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner from 6:00 to 10:30 p.m. Buffet price starts at Php1,500 per person, with children aged 7 to 12 charged half the price while children aged 6 and below get to eat for free. For inquiries and reservations, call 720-7720.
(Marco Polo Ortigas is located at Meralco Ave. and Sapphire St., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.)