Spanish Cuisine: The Next Big Thing

By Moreton Neal


Nasher Velázquez Show Inspires Iberian Dishes In The Triangle

There must be hundreds of Italian eateries in the Triangle, scores of Mexican and Chinese, a plethora of Indian, Greek and Thai. French cuisine can be found in all corners of the area. Even traditional foods of Argentina, Brazil, Korea and Vietnam are pretty well represented here.
Conspicuously omitted from our international smorgasbord is Spain. There’s just one modest Spanish restaurant in Raleigh, Tasca Brava, that recently relocated to Glenwood South. The only other quasi-Spanish venue, Serena in RTP, identifies itself as “American with Metropolitan Flair” as if association with Spain were a handicap.

The reason for this culinary vacuum eludes me. I can only speculate that Spaniards are so happy in their own country that they have no reason to leave.

A summer in Salamanca, Spain many years ago introduced me to the delights of Spanish cuisine, and I keep my eye out for it. You can find a tasty paëlla at Spice Street or blu seafood and bar, gazpacho at Globe or Café 101, and colonial versions of arroz con pollo at Carmen’s Cuban Café and Fiesta Grill. The Spanish national dessert, flan al caramel, is served at most of our neighborhood taquerias. Manchego and Cabrales cheeses, Marcona almonds, pickled caperberries, and bottles of Rioja or albariño are always in stock, I’m happy to report, at Whole Foods.

Even so, the cuisine hasn’t really taken off in this area or across the country. But with the best ham in the world, jamón Ibérico, now legally imported to America, and the recent boom in good Spanish wines, the time is ripe for Spanish food to become the Next Big Thing. Even PBS is getting in on the act. Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow, surely an odder couple than Felix and Oscar, will host a series chronicling their gastronomic tour of the Iberian Peninsula. SpainOn the Road Again will air in September following Batali, Paltrow and cookbook writer Mark Bittman — doubtless taking cues from Anthony Bourdain’s cult hit No Reservations, as they chomped their way through Spain’s culturally varied regions.

That the Nasher Museum of Art’s first blockbuster show, “El Greco to Velázquez: Art During the Reign of Phillip III,” opens just as the Spanish food trend waxes, is a fortuitous coincidence. Duke’s chief curator Sarah Schroth has been gearing up for this show, a dazzling display of early 17th century Spanish art, just about all of her professional life. We have Schroth to thank, not only for a stunning exhibit, but also for a rare opportunity to taste authentic Spanish food and wine in the Metro area this fall during the run of the show from Aug. 21-Nov. 9.
Years of study in Madrid and Toledo left Schroth with a taste for the country’s delicacies, and she actively sought restaurant partners for the duration of the exhibit. The Nasher has recruited local chefs to create special culinary events, and many will continue to offer tapas and Spanish wines throughout the full run.

To learn more about Spanish food and cooking, I recommend The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas (or any of her cookbooks), The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Barrenechea and 1080 Recipes by Simone Ortega. Culinaria: Spain edited by Marion Trutter is a gastronomical armchair tour of every region of that fascinating country.

“A Fabulous Fig Festival” will benefit the Goathouse Refuge, Inc. on Sept. 13. Cooking teacher and potter Siglinda Scarpa will serve 13 Italian dishes with figs in the garden outside Goathouse Gallery. For information and tickets, check out
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This month, North Raleigh’s Zest Café offers an opportunity to learn about pairing beer with food. Zest will host a six course “small plate and beer dinner” Sunday,  Sept. 14. For details, log on to
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Tickets for the annual two-day “Corks for Kids Wine Extravaganza” are still available by calling 919-968-1884. Wine dinners at Pazzo and Bin 54 in Chapel Hill, and Acme in Carrboro will be held Friday evening, Sept. 12, culminating in the huge wine tasting and auction event at the William and Ida Friday Center Sept. 13.
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Executive chef and television host of Turn Up The Heat, G. Garvin, will join Raleigh’s Chef Walter Royal of The Angus Barn at the Progress Energy Center in Raleigh for “G. Garvin Presents: Cooking Live!” a live and engaging cooking demonstration followed by a Q&A session. Each chef will highlight their own unique take on great cooking, simple recipes while interacting with the attendees. For more information and ticket sales, log on to
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Herons, the signature restaurant at Cary’s Umstead Hotel and Spa, has received Wine Spectator’s 2008 “Award of Excellence” in recognition of its comprehensive wine list. Heron’s new director of food and beverage, Nick Pijerov, and executive chef, Paul Kellum, have introduced a new slate of American regional dishes for the fall season. Both menus and wine list appear on the hotel Web site
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Battistella’s New Orleans Kitchen at the Raleigh Crabtree Inn will close Sept. 27, but owner/chef Brian Battistella is on the look for a new location. Check out Battistella’s Cajun menu for his closing specials at
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Bon Appetit’s restaurant issue, now on newsstands, features Ashley Christensen (executive chef of both Poole’s Diner and Vin) among five other prominent women chefs. Discover Christensen’s favorite eats in the article, “Women Chefs: The Next Generation.”
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Metro congratulates The Angus Barn, winner of the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award — its highest honor. The Barn is one of just 73 restaurants in the United States receiving the award for “uncompromising, passionate devotion to the quality of their wine program.”


Venues Offering Spanish-Themed Meals and Wine Tastings
Here is a list of venues recruited by the Nasher to offer Spanish-themed meals and wine tastings this fall. Each one offers an excellent opportunity to sample the wonderful cuisine of Spain. Who knows — if these dishes are popular enough, some of these restaurants might offer them on a regular basis!

A Southern Season
University Mall
201 S. Estes Drive,
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919-929-7133
Sept. 19 — “El Greco to Velázquez” — a cooking class and lunch with Sarah Schroth and Marilyn Markel.
Celebrate the Golden Age of Spain with Schroth. Spanish-inspired tapas will be prepared by Markel as Schroth takes us behind the scenes of her own art sleuthing story in Toledo.
The menu will include fried calamari, citrus chicken medallions with spicy aïoli, zucchini and carrot ribbon salad with sherry vinaigrette, and pomegranate sangria.
The lunch will kick off a storewide Spanish celebration, which will run through Sept. 30.
The store’s Weathervane Restaurant will hold a Spanish wine dinner Sept. 10.


The Fairview at the Washington
Duke Hotel
3001 Cameron Blvd.
Durham, NC 27705
Phone: 919-493-6699
On Sept. 23, the Fairview presents “An Evening of Art and Wine,” a six-course dinner of rustic specialties, including Spanish omelet “tortilla” with charred red pepper relish, rabbit confit a la Plancha with caramelized fennel in saffron cream, cedar roasted quail with spicy chorizo, and pan-roasted cod with tomato ragout and fried capers. A lecture on the exhibition and reception will feature the award-winning Cava sparkling wine from Juvé y Camps in Penedès.


Elaine’s on Franklin
454 West Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Phone: 919-960-2770
After Chef Bret Jennings’ Spanish wine dinner Aug. 24, Elaine’s will be serving Spanish tapas throughout the fall and will offer flights from various Spanish regional vineyards. Check the restaurant’s Web site for more information on the wine tastings.


Vin Rouge
737 9th St.
Durham, NC 27705
Phone: 919-416-0406
Chef Matt Kelly’s menu will expand beyond the French border to include Spanish dishes and tapas every evening through Nov. 11. A selection of Spanish wines will be available for pairing. Other Giorgio’s Hospitality Group restaurants, Spice Street and Parizade, will also offer Spanish wine and menu specials.


Nasher Café
The Nasher Museum
2001 Campus Drive,
Durham, NC 27705
Phone: 919-684-5135
Spanish favorites dot the menu during the run of the exhibit. Gazpacho, bocadillos (chorizo sandwiches), bacalao (dried salt cod), Serrano ham with melon, smoked paprika pork loin and a choice of tapas including tortilla Espanola, will be available through Nov. 11.


Four Square
2701 Chapel Hill Road
Durham, NC 27707
Phone: 919-401-9877
Chef Shane Ingram will create a multi-course Spanish dinner to benefit the Nasher Museum on Oct. 5.
Every week during the “Spanish season,” Four Square will offer “Friday night flights” featuring wines of Spain. The first week showcases cavas from Seguras Viudas Aria, the second, Riojas from Lan vineyards. Check the Web site for flights of sherry, Bodegas Arzuaga and other wines for the duration of the exhibit. Tapas will be served with the wine.


Tortilla Espanola
The Nasher’s senior curator, Sarah Scroth, is an excellent cook, known to whip up a mean Iberian feast. Here is her recipe for Tortilla Espanola, the simple and addictive omelet served in homes and tapas bars all over Spain.

4 large eggs
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup olive oil
3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet until medium hot. Add the potatoes, one slice at a time to prevent sticking. Layer onions and potatoes, lightly salting each layer. When all the potatoes are in the pan, the oil should cover the top of the potatoes. Lower the heat and cook until the potatoes are soft, but not brown.
Drain the potato mixture in colander, reserving 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the cooked potatoes to eggs in the bowl and press down so that they are completely covered by the eggs. Let mixture sit for 15 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of the oil back into the skillet, which has been wiped clean. Heat the oil until very hot before pouring in the egg mixture, spreading out to sides of the pan. Turn the heat down to medium. Shake the skillet to prevent sticking.
When the eggs begin to brown, place a large inverted plate over skillet, turn upside down, flipping the tortilla onto the plate. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet, then slide the mixture back to brown the other side. Lower heat to medium and flip two or three more times. The omelet should be slightly juicy inside.
Serve at room temperature, cut into wedges.