Special Report: Urban Crust in Plano’s Tour of Spain Dinner

Wherever there is wine, there is Andrew Chalk.

A couple of weeks ago we went into deepest East Dallas to visit Jimmy’s Food Store for a wine tasting. This week we headed north to Plano where we attended a “Tour of Spain” at Urban Crust. We arrived about 15 minutes after the appointed starting time becuase every car ever built was on  Central Expressway. By that time, the first floor of the three floor restaurant was packed with tasting participants, cheek by jowl, as they say. The wood floors and brick walls combined to create a deafening buzz that rendered conversation with the person opposite on the family-style seating nearly impossible.

Below is the menu, prepared by Chef/Partner Salvatore Gisellu, Chef Keith Browning and Chef Raul Hernandez. The wine was supplied by Republic, who supplied representative Kim Merrill who bravely attempted a description of each wine to the lively crowd and is probably investigating laryngitis cures as you read this.

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Grapes, pistachios, & Cows Milk Cabrales

Fresh bruschettas

Poema Brut Cava

Spanish Potato Tortilla

Marinated octopus

2008 Paco & Lola, Albarino

Paella with Chorizo, Mussels and Chicken

2002 Campo Viejo, Gran Reserva, Rioja

Lamb chops al Forno

2005 La Montesa, Rioja

Fried cabrales & Manchego with membrillo (quince paste)

2005 Embruix de Vall Llach, Priorat

Let’s go through the courses with gun and camera….

The appetizers included two bruschettas. My favorite was cherry tomatoes and basil on a garlic rubbed slice of toasted baguette. The last time I had this it was Italian! The other bruschetta wasthe same bread, but topped with chick  photo 1peas. The taste was good but the chick peas kept rolling off the bread.

Cherry tomatoes and basil on a garlic rubbed slice of toasted baguette.

The thought behind the “Grapes, pistachios, & Cows Milk Cabrales” left me baffled. The cheese acted as a binder to glue the pistachio crumbs to the grape (maybe this could have glued the chick peas to the bread in the previous appetizer). But the flavors didn’t work together. Nonetheless, the Cava was terrific. At around $12 retail it is a serious pre-prandial alternative to Champagne at twice the price.

Grapes, pistachios, and cows milk cabrales.

Next came the classic tapas dish tortilla (a Spanish omelet). Here it was served in squares on toothpicks and dressed with truffle oil and watercress.

Spanish omelet

Truffle oil and potatoes is one of those unfailing synergistic combinations where 2+2=5.

Also in this course was marinated octopus.

Marinated octopus.

This was my personal favorite dish of the night. The octopus was just al dente. The marinade was just piquant enough to lift the dish. The potatoes modulated the texture of the octopus, and the watercress added a vegetable flavor to the whole.

These last two dishes were served with 2008 Paco & Lola Albarino. This citrusy, high acid wine was served at exactly the right temperature and proved a harmonious accompaniment to the octopus. Albarino wines hail mainly from Galicia and the viticulturally identical regions just over the Portuguese border (e.g. the Minho valley). I use them where I would otherwise serve a Sauvignon Blanc but want a change of flavor. They are less herbal and more citrus, as a rule, and virtually never use oak in the ageing. Urban Crust’s pairing is a good example of how to incorporate one into a meal.

The next course was Paella with chorizo, mussels and chicken.

Paella with chorizo, mussels and chicken.

This was very much an ‘artist’s license’ type of paella in the choice of ingredients but was hearty and tasty. The wine served with it, 2002 Campo Viejo, Gran Reserva, Rioja was my favorite wine of the night, but didn’t work at all with the food. In fact, some left over Albarino worked a charm. The red Rioja wine was too tannic to go with the chicken and mussels and the tomatoes in the dish would prove a challenge for any wine.

The main course was Lamb Chops al Forno. Is that Salvatore using an Italian phrase to name a dish at a Spanish meal? Or is Al Forno just a drinking buddy of Al Fresco? I will check with Al Dente next time I see him. Anyhow, once I seasoned my lamb cutlet a bit more it was tasty and did go with the Rioja. I would have appreciated the lamb preparation even more if it had used the classic Spanish lamb accents of garlic and rosemary. The fat in the meat cut through the tannin in the wine and the red fruit in the taste went with the flavor of the lamb. The wine that was actually intended for the lamb did not impress at all. It was the 2005 La Montesa, Rioja. Sure, it had a pleasant nose (notes of raspberries) but it was unusually astringent and what flavors it did have were simple.

We  finished with a cheese course, Fried Cabrales and Manchego with Membrillio (quince paste). This was clever in its design. On the plate was a chunk of manchego pushed on to a toothpick with a like-sized piece of quince paste as well. You popped the whole thing in the mouth where the cheese and quince ‘self-blended’ into one combined taste. After swallowing, you best waited quite a few seconds for the finish to recede before popping the fried cabrales cheese ball into the mouth.

Fried cabrales and manchego with membrillio.

The sharpness of the blue cheese was intense but went with the wine, 2005 Embruix de Vall Llach, Priorat. This was an ambitious blend of Garnacha, Cariñena, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, apparently, the letter ‘L’. It scored 92/100 points from the Wine Enthusiast and it is always reassuring to drink a wine with a score higher than one’s IQ. Watch out for this around town as this winery, founded only in 1992 is, as they say, an up-and-comer.

If this event was typical, the tastings at Urban Crust are high energy affairs where they don’t stand on ceremony or load you with details unless you ask. The food is equally important as the wine. I would like them to pass the empty bottles around the tables to memorize the labels, and post prices and availability for the wines. However, at $27.90 + T & T this evening was a bargain.

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