Monday, November 5, 2007

The Penultimate Tabernero

The other day I got a call from David inviting me to a fiesta in honour of the birthdays of Pepe and Toni. Pepe you already know--of paella fame. Toni is a friend of Pepe and David and a lawyer. Don't hold that against him.

You have to come, said David, who seems to be under the impression that I have other things to do with my Wednesday nights. It'll make a great blog. O.K. It's at this crazy place. Uhuh. The guy calls himself the penultimate tabernero in Barcelona. There's another one? What do you mean? Well, if he's the penultimate, then who's the ultimate? I don't know, but he calls himself the penultimate. O.K. His name is Angel. O.K. You'll love it. O.K.

Allow me to take a moment to explain the concept of a tabernero, as it was explained to me by Pepe, who is worthy of the utmost trust in these matters. (If you were left with the opposite impression after reading the paella blog, English is quite likely not your first language. You're forgiven for not catching the nuances of the writing.) Taberneros are owners of tabernas who prepare and serve the food themselves. Often, taberneros do so in their own homes. Taberneros in this sense still exist in many parts of Spain, but have almost disappeared from Barcelona, except for Angel. Angel, who is in his sixties, is also thinking of closing soon. When this happens, it will be a nearly tragic shame.

When we arrived on Wednesday night, Angel greeted us with great enthusiasm and immediately proceeded to explain his approach to food, all before I took off my coat. For Angel, food is primordial. It is (his words, my loose translation) like the face of a woman (la cara de una mujer) when she first wakes up in the morning. This is when a woman is at her most beautiful, her most unspoiled. If you apply too much make-up, that simplicity and perfection are gone. Food works along the same principles. It's best if simply prepared. The goal is to bring out its flavour (el sabor), not to cover it up with fancy dressings.

As a brief aside, if a woman woke up at Angel's place, she'd probably stub her toe on the way to the bathroom three or four times, at which point her face may not be the picture of perfection that Angel had in mind. Angel's place is a junk shop. That's not a figure of speech. It is, by day, a junk shop. It's a little like eating in your grandparents' closet, i.e. the place is filled to overflowing with everything from wire hangers to deer antlers to Swedish dictionaries; it adds an extra dimension to the food, although I'm not exactly sure how it fits with the make-up metaphor.

Now, the food, the food: a Spanish tortilla as delicious as it was enormous, fresh tomatoes dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and pieces of stewed pork that you could cut with a spoon. All in enormous dishes placed in the centre of the tables, along with still packaged fuet and chorizo sausages that you could cut yourself, provided you could find a sharp enough knife among the mismatched cutlery. All piping hot, except for the sausages and tomatoes, which were at room temperature, just as they should be. This is the food your grandmother would have made if she were a wise cracking Spanish man with an ample belly and a penchant for suspenders. The food wasn't fancy, inventive or creative; it wasn't whimsically presented. The food was home, which is better than anything.

Angel has a bit of an exclusive thing going on. I asked Toni how one goes about making a reservation at his place. Well, Toni said, first Angel has to remember you--i.e. you will require an introduction and a memorable presence. Assuming you've made it past step one, you can call him in the morning on his mobile. It's up to him to give you his number.

1 comment:

Butter Chicken said...

BFG, I love the fact that you know someone named "Pepe" now.