Unearthing Catalan fare at Cova

Posted at 11/23/2012 6:50 PM | Updated as of 11/26/2012 11:18 AM

MAKATI CITY, Phliippines – In just one year, the hip tapas and wine bar Cova has established itself as among the metro’s top foodie destinations, earning a nomination as one of the best Spanish restaurants at next week’s Manila’s Best Kept Restaurants Secrets Awards.

Although set up like a stylish party bar with its cave-like interiors looking like 3D wooden animal puzzle pieces, Cova, the brainchild of Tatyana Guevara and Chef Patrick Hesse, is just as serious with its food.

Recently, Cova, located in Jupiter St. in Makati City, hosted a dinner for select food writers to sample its modern Catalan fare.

The night started with a duo of sangrias---strawberry and peach. Both of them were very refreshing, but the peach sangria packed quite the kick. These fruity Spanish drinks set the tone, readying our palates for the culinary adventure ahead.

The appetizer was the Tartar de Toro – or steak tartare, Cova style -- made with finely chopped fresh beef tenderloin, topped with the classic raw egg, but with a twist. As a crust of sorts, there is “migas,” bread crumbs sautéed in chorizo oil. The dish was finished with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and topped with crispy onion rings. The “migas” added great textural dimension to this dish and the components such as the onion rings and the balsamic reduction -- gave the dish a refreshing complexity.

Next up was the more popular dish for the boys -- the Huevos Cabreados (which translates to “crazy eggs”), Cova’s take on the on the classic Catalan egg dish with jamon Serrano and fries. This version comes to your table as a tower of crispy shoe-tring potatoes, mixed in with chorizo, “ajo y pejerel” (garlic and parsely), and topped with a fried egg with a runny center. You break the egg yolk, mix them all together, and you dig into a sticky, crispy mixture that just sings.

Cap I Pota, Cova’s version of the Spanish staple callos came next. The ox tripe, wagyu cheeks and blood sausage married surprisingly well with their addition of sultanas and pine nuts. The sultanas gave the dish a sweet and sour kick that balanced it out nicely, while the pine nuts added that textural element, as well as giving the dish that buttery flavor.

When we talk of Spanish food, we cannot leave out the paella. That night, we were served two kinds of paellas and a special dish called “Fideua.”

The first paella was the Paella Negra. Although this has been done everywhere in the world, in every Spanish restaurant there is, what makes Cova’s version different is that while it features the usual ingredients of squid, mussels, and prawn cooked in rice and broth and squid ink, this paella features crispy soft-shell crabs, topped with homemade aioli. Besides making it really easy to eat (compared with the typical crab found in most paellas), the soft-shell crabs also added a unique taste and texture to the classic dish.

The other paella was the Paella de Mariscos, which was cooked perfectly with seafood and chorizo. The stock used was very flavorful and seafood was infused in every bite.

The dish that followed was something that most of us had never tasted before. The Fideua came in a paellera, made with fideo, a vermicelli-like noodle. The Fideua is cooked like a paella with squid, clams and their special seafood broth. Biting into it, it was crunchy and had a really nice crab-fat taste.

Chef Hesse then unveiled Cova’s latest offering--- the Cochinillo Asado, which must be ordered in advance. Coming to the table in its full roasted glory, the cochinillo was paired with a simple sauce made from its own cooking drippings and butter. The meat was very juicy and herby, while the skin was cooked perfectly crisp – which stayed that way even after a short waiting time courtesy of the food paparazzi present. With the meat succulent and flavorful, it was the ultimate piece de resistance.

Capping off the evening was a new simple dessert of apple fritters with dulce de leche ice cream sauce. The apples used were tart and held up well to the frying, and dusted with powdered sugar. Some of us enjoyed it without the dunking, but if one wishes for something a bit sweeter, the ice cream sauce did the trick.

As the night progressed and the diners gorged on sumptuous bites in between sips of sangria, one is struck with the realization that Cova is aptly named.

Cova means cave in Catalan and with its beautifully designed interiors and modern Spanish food sensibility, this was like a refuge for a night of good food, drink, laughter and conversation. The kind that one always wishes to be repeated.

Cova Tapas y Sangria
22 Jupiter Street, Bel-Air, Makati City
Tel. No.: (02)4789700 or 09052930591