Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'I'll Make A Note Of It!' , pt.2 I'll Have The Quail...

I'll Have The Quail

It's been an inside joke with the band especially when weighing some of the lamer dining options while 'on the road' here in the States. It all goes back to Spain, just like The Fleshtones have been doing for the past 22 years. We had arrived in Madrid the morning before and I spent the previous afternoon tramping from bank to bank with with long-time Spanish agent and friend Jose 'Pepe' Ugeña in a fruitless attempt to wire money back home (the avalanche of unpaid bills doesn't cease just because I leave the country). That night we had drinks at La Catrina (corradera Alta de San Pablo, 13), a small Mexi-kitsch bar whose Russian bartender Andre is one of the kindest in Madrid's Malasaña district.

In the morning the band and all our gear piled into a modest-size Ford Transit mini-bus along with our road manager/driver Luis 'Jimmy' Garcia (former Templo del Gato DJ and lead singer of Los Nuggets -traveling with Jimmy makes everyday seem like you're in in some sort of movie) heading for our first engagement in Valencia.
We were listening to early 60's Halloween music and re-visiting old favorites The Move via an anthology (courtesy of David Kamp). After mind-numbing hours of driving through a blasted spaghetti-western landscape of eroded rock, the occasional cement plant (abandoned) in the middle of nowhere, and tortured olive trees and vineyards (look, there's our first 'bull' -adverts for 'Osborne' brand sherry, the colossal black silhouettes have been a hallmark of driving in Spain for generations) I figured I'd try another old plan of mine. "Let's learn a Spanish phrase everyday since we're in the van anyway." "Comemos" said Jimmy -let's eat. Somewhere before entering the province of Valencia we pulled into a truck stop (also in the middle of nowhere) that had the right look. I'm not suggesting you to drive out here to eat so I won't bother telling you the name or where it was. Anyway, there are places like this all over Spain. This is one country, along with Italy, where you can expect to eat well, and more importantly, cheaply, while on the road. The band also enjoys having our main meals midday. Anyone who has seen us on stage knows that we're not exactly 'shoegazers' so we don't like to eat much before shows. A quick look at the menu - which included a 12 euro 'menu del dia' -a bit more than we would like to spend. 'Why not?' and we were in. There was a massive, wall-through brick wood-fired 'asador' (cooking hearth) that was screened-off with fire-proof glass. We grabbed one of the many tables in the cavernous, sterile but bright comedor. A scattering of truck drivers and highway maintenance crews were busy ignoring the tiny TV that was showing a Spanish version of 'Wheel Of Fortune'. Although a well-paid professional in Norway, the richest country in Europe, often has to squeeze in a brown-bag lunch, a blue collar Spanish worker can somehow afford a leisurely 3-course meal, with a bottle of wine tossed in. The menu del dia offered 18 choices for the 'first plate' - and over 20 for you to choose for your second -bacalao con pisto, cordero al horno, chuletas de cordero, magro con pisto, merluza ala plancha and cordonices (quail), either asodo (roasted), fritas (fried) or escabechadas (cooked in a vinegary marinade). "I'll have the quail" I said without having to think twice. My only problem was 'how?' I settled on 'escabechado' since I figured frying or roasting the little things might dry them out.
We picked the second best bottle of wine on the list, a bottle of Don Octavo, reserva 2001 from La Mancha. Although The Fleshtones have become fans of Manchego wines from playing in Tomelloso so often, this hearty' tinto' more than lived up to that region's tough reputation. My first plate choice, a platter of judias verdes (flat green beans), simmered with pieces of prosciutto-like Iberian ham, was just want I wanted, but Ken Fox's 'potage de garbanzos' was really something -a heaping bowl of chick peas laced with, besides more jamon iberico, big hunks of cardos, the giant celery-like vegetable known to (a very few) English speakers as cardoon. A whole fat link of morcilla (blood sausage) elbowed for room in the middle of the bowl.

Ah, Spain, the vegan's hell. Where else could a place like the 'Museo Del Jamon', a Madrid chain of cerveccerias, where the very walls are studded with whole hunches of ham -which also drip from the ceiling by their dainty cloven feet like stalactites (or are they stalagmites?) be considered to be tastefully decorated? Bill Milhizer says her Spanish food travelogue is great, but somehow I can't picture Gweneth Paltrow eating this stuff. Huddled together alone in the middle of my plate, my quail looked naked and pale, but their sharp, vinegary aroma was irresistable. Stuffed with a giant clove of garlic and a single bay leaf, the quail were succulent and tasty -I sucked the goodness off each pitiful little bone with a combination of relish and respect.
Although the time is always right for flan, afterwards I enjoyed 'caujados' sweetened with honey. Light and refreshing, it's a nostalgic dessert for anyone who can remember the Junket Rennet Pudding that was so heavily advertised on children's and family TV before the McDonaldization of the American palate winnowed out most of our food spectrum.
By the time we left the restaurant the sky had darkened and a biting wind swept us back into the severely overloaded van and off the high 'meseta' of central Spain into the province of Valencia. We sped past Fuenterobles (Spring Oaks) in the Utiel wine region (we didn't stop). The racing wind tore the clouds into steely shards and a rainbow appeared ahead as we descended into the piney mountains leading towards the warm Mediterranean sea.
Maybe I should have had my quail 'asado'?

-Peter Zaremba

next, Valencia, Barcelona, Leon and 'Don't Talk To Juancho'
photos: Ken Fox