Friday, February 27, 2009

Cafe Apamate

Wade's Take:
February may be the month for lovers, but our hearts weren't fluttering when we finished with Cafe Apamate, a Venezuelan restaurant off of South and 16th. If my heart was going thump-thump a little heavier, it was merely because of my concentrated dose of chocolate caffeination with dessert.

We started with the charcuteria plate, always a favorite of ours. It had bonus points going into round one, as we added on a very special cured meat (See Dave's post for details). Despite this bonus, I felt that the plate wasn't well balanced. The cheeses were too strong in flavor - there was nothing mild to blend down your palate. The bread was standard fare, and not even textured well for smearing, topping or any of the other things you need a good bread to do with a charcuterie plate. And although the other meats were good, they didn't compare to our bonus meat.

I went straight for an entree instead of tapas, as I was famished and ready for some substance. I picked the New Zealand lamb chops, medium rare. The chops were done just right, pan fried and seasoned with some sort of chili dusting and caramelization. It was hard to get to this taste, though, as they were daintily small. Luckily, the medley of vegetables below it made up for the lamb chops' meekness. Roasted grape tomatoes and red peppers, caramelized onions, green beans (perfectly crisp) and brussels sprouts made an excellent, and superior, pairing. It was worthy of being its own entree, sans meat.

We almost bailed on dessert. Luckily we found out there was a dense chocolate mousse lump on the dessert menu. It proved to be potent and quite, quite good. Drizzled with olive oil and salt, with a mint leaf and single strawberry, it was gone from the table quickly.

The place had a lot of background noise, with the kitchen sounds echoing into the dining room, a large refrigerator hum by the entryway and various other heating and music-related distractions. Don't get me wrong, I hate quiet restaurants, but Cafe Apamate seemed to have a cacophony of distracting sounds. It wouldn't stop me from going back.

2.5 out of 4 lumps.

Dave's Take:
I love Pintxos and Tapas. I also love plates of cured meats. And I like (but not love) Cafe Apamate.

First up, as Wade mentioned, was the Plato de Charcuteria. These are always a hit with me and this was no exception. Serrano, lomo and chorizo, the usual suspects, set the stage but the real star was the Jamon Iberico de bellota. I have been wanting the try this for a while but its hard to find and very expensive so it has eluded me up to this point (just legalized recently). Jamon Iberico de bellota is the Kobe beef of cured meats. Happy Black Spanish Pigs roam in open fields eating acorns and soaking up the views in the countryside. No commercial feed, no pesticides or hormones, just nature at its best. These bad boys are then cured for 12-36 months. If you like cured meats then this is a must. It has a similar taste to Serrano ham but much more delicate, rich and has more of a nutty taste. I can't speak to the cheeses, but the meats were awesome. Second prize goes to the Lomo, it was one of the better I've had (best goes to Amada).

While my compadres went with a main course, I decided to hedge my bet and go with some Pintxos so I could taste more. I'm also prepping for our trip to Spain so I needed to do my homework. For those interested, Pintxos (pronounced Peen-chos) are little bites originating from the Basque lands in northern Spain. Similar to tapas. I had about 4 or 5 of these little things and they were good but not great. I'm not going to go through all the details because honestly I forget them and that is a good indication they are not really worth writing about.

I'm usually the one to bail on dessert but the chocolate mousse intrigued me. Olive oil, salt and chocolate mouse was something I needed to try. This was a mouse like none other. It was so dense it held it shape on a plate and boarding on dry. Since real chocolate mousse is just chocolate, egg yolks and egg whites, the chef must have limited the egg whites, over whipped them to almost dry and went heavy on the yolks. Not sure if it was intentional or a kitchen mishap that was turned into a sellable dish but whatever it was it was tasty. I knew the salt would be good on it but the magic was from the olive oil. A high quality oil, heavy on floral and fruit was sparingly drizzled over the shaped "mousse" which gave it additional flavor depth and complimented the dry mousse very nicely.

The verdict. "Mas e menos" Some creative excellent executions, a good respect for ingredients (a lot of local and organic ingredients when possible) but some dishes that were just so so. I would go back but it will not make it on to my favorite list.
2 out of 4 Jamon
I am however haunted by the need to eat more Jamon Iberico. I will find it and it will be mine.....

Jess' Take:
The highlight of my meal was the Jamon Iberico de bellota on the Charcuterie plate, which Dave detailed above. I’ll just add that the pigs are put to sleep rather than slaughtered, making me feel just that much better about eating them.

I went with a fish special that was covered in a smoked red sauce. I was not happy with my choice. The fish, of which I cannot even recall the type, was on the dry side, and the sauce was so overpowering (as you’ll see from the pictures, it’s drenching the dish) that it wouldn’t have mattered what it was poured over. It may or may not have come with something green on the side, but again, was so drenched it didn’t matter.
Although Dave didn’t detail his tapas, I do recall a very good scallop dish – two perfectly cook scallops served in a large scallop shell. Nicely presented and very tasty.

The dessert, also described above, did a good job redeeming Café Apamate, but not enough for me to put this restaurant on my “hit again” list. If I do happen to find myself sitting in this little restaurant again, I’ll go for a tapas sampling, not completely committing to one dish… just in case.

1.5 out of 4 happy pigs.



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