Ever had one of those toe-curling experiences with food? Jamón Ibérico does it to me every time. They have at Cabrito and sometimes you just need that one thing to keep you coming back. Luckily, the rest of the food (for the most part) is executed well and warrants repeat visits if you’re looking for tapas/small plates. This is just the start of my journey to find out if Vancouver can do tapas/pintxos, and not just leave it to Toronto (eg. the exemplary Bar Raval and well-regarded Bar Isabel).
Cabrito occupies the old Wishes + Luck space (review here) and is just beside personal fave for Lebanese takeout Jamjar (review here). I checked it out with Wicca and fellow blogger Moyenchow (who will probably post her take on this place soon).
We actually didn’t get to try their new superfood dish, Aguacate. But this place is near St. Augustine’s and Broadway/Commercial skytrain station, so maybe I’ll be back soon… Hit me on my beeper!
Their dinner menu. Prices for pintxos right on the money. Their full menu is available online but they added some new stuff (burger, sliders, etc) to the dinner menu that aren’t listed online yet.
Their brunch menu. If you must have brunch… [snickering anti-brunch sound]
The bar area. The setup is pretty much the same as the old Wishes + Luck setup. The patio is still there.
No-brainer Spanish beers (Estrella Damm, Alhambra Reserva) on the menu. Seasonal taps were Four Winds IPA and Bomber Pilsner. Four Winds Oat Porter and Strange Fellows Nocturnum are good bottles choices to round out the menu.
For the non-booze hounds.
Seasonal Virgin Mojito (blackberry and mint) – $4. It was Moyenchow’s mojito, so she’ll have to chime in about it 😀
Bomber Brewing Pilsner (8oz for $4.50). It’s a middle-of-the-road pilsner for me. Sticks to the standard pilsner profile. I prefer my pilsners to be either super super clean (eg. Strathcona’s Premium Pilsner in recent memory) or have a fresh hoppy edge to them (Driftwood Pislner Doehnel, etc, or the new Persephone Amarillo Pilsner — which I’m still trying to decide whether I like or not).
Jamón Ibèrico de Bellota ($20), “100% acorn fed pata negra pork leg, aged 36 months (hand carved)”, served with sourdough bread (I believe they serve Beyond Bread here), cornichons, and pickled okra. As far as I’m concerned, this jamon is the King of Charcuterie™.
Mouth orgasm. So full-flavoured and complex without being just salty meat. Aged funkiness, nuttiness…and the texture! It’s chewy (in a certain way) and “squidgy”, if that makes sense. The feeling of it between your teeth when you chew is just as important as the taste. This $20 portion was good to share between two people, but I sorta wanted all of this to myself!
If I had to nitpick about one thing, is that the slicing job is a bit rough compared to what I had recently at Bar Raval in Toronto:
My expensive-but-worth-it vacation indulgence, #IbericoBellota #Jamon ($34) at @bar_raval. Incredible. The texture/chew had me swooning. Aroma was funky, taste was aged like a firm 3-year cheese. I got none of the burnt plastic undertones that I got before with the Iberico served at Ox & Angela. Pure pleasure. Much respect for the meat-curing arts! #DTFinToronto16 #yyz #toronto #bar_raval #iberico #ham #bellota Don't drop any of this on the floor!!
But as I said, it’s all just nitpicking. I’ll still eat and enjoy this precious meat any way I can get it. I’ll even eat your sweepings.
While we’re on the topic of jamon, I also had a similarly “eyes rolling in the back of your head” experience with some locally made jamon-style charcuterie at Upstairs at Campagnolo:
#Salumi di "Cure" (three selections for $18) with Cavallo #Bresaola (red wine & spice cured, #beef from Fort Macleod, AB), #Mortadella (smooth #pork sausage, #Berkshire pork from Sloping Hill Farm), and Dry Cured #Ham (housemade, cured 29 months[!!!], Berkshire pork from Sloping Hill Farm). Good crusty #bread, GREAT #charcuterie. That 29 month #jamon was the standout. I was seriously affected by it. Tasted better than the rare times I've tried Spanish jamons. Sliced super thin, which *increases* the enjoyment. So much funky flavour and acorny undertones. Amazing. @campupstairs #campupstairs #upstairsatcampagnolo #campagnolo #yvr #vancouver
So it’s not just “OOOoooooo, exotic overseas charcuterie” that can be good, it’s all a matter of technique and terroir. We have different air, different yeasts/bacteria in the air than Spain and Portugal, but I think we can make similarly great products if people just try to do something crazy like a Canadian jamon.
Pimientos Rellenos (goat cheese stuffed piquillo pepper) – $5. It’s a sweet, mild pepper sitting in luxurious piquillo sauce that I mopped up with lots of bread. Wicca didn’t touch this cuz she hates anything goaty or lamby, but I thought the goat cheese was pretty mild.
Umm, the cross-section looks exactly the same as the open end 😛 Really tasty and the perfect pintxos.
Compressed Watermelon Salad with kale, cucumber, goat cheese, mint, and olive oil ($8). What impressed me was the freshness and balance. Nothing overpowered anything else, and it all worked together.
Potatoes & Alioli ($5), which is fingerling potatoes wrapped with Jamon Serrano, and served with alioli. Again, the size and price point are right on the money. Tender, sweet potatoes with a salty, meaty kick from the serrano ham. Sprinkled with what appears to be Maldon sea salt flakes. A simple pintxos done well.
Housemade Chorizo ($5) spread on toast. Even though there was Maldon sea salt sprinkled on top, the chorizo spread itself was a bit underseasoned. Just flavourful enough but I’d prefer a bit more oomph. They also offer a couple other forms of chorizo on the menu, so I’d still be curious to try those and compare with this. Not a total write-off.
Albondigas ($10), beef and chorizo meatballs. Moist meatballs with plenty of sauce. Wicca detected carrot. Homey, fresh flavour with a crumbly texture that wasn’t too processed or overworked. I let Wicca have most of this because of her many specific food aversions (gamey meats, goat anything, the list goes on), so I only had a scant ear wax picker of meatball. Good level of seasoning. No room for improvement, as far as I can see. Perfect with:
Artisan Sourdough Bread ($4) served with a bright, fruity extra virgin olive oil that Wicca loved. I’ve been viewing all olive oils with a skeptical eye ever since reading Extra Virginity, so I’ve been buying olive oil from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company who always list the region/variety and (most importantly) the crush date, because above all else, freshness matters most.
I think the bread is from Beyond Bread, but in any case it’s a good sourdough bread with depth, structure, and character. Not quite as much character as Nelson the Seagull’s sourdough, but definitely above the supermarket sourdough level. Minor complaint is that it’s a bit too toasted for my liking, as the crust was very crusty and toast-like about 1cm into the crumb. Yes, I’ll nitpick you until your eyes bleed.
Smoked Patata Brava ($6), Kennebec potatoes with piquillo sauce. This is the one dish that we felt didn’t meld together as much as we’d like. I don’t think I’ve had a good patatas bravas before, so I have no baseline, but these tasted like brunch potatoes with the piquillo sauce poured on top. Thinking back, I didn’t get much of a smoked element either. Potatoes weren’t crispy. However, as the dish sat through our meal, it did seem to meld and infuse better…especially the pieces towards the bottom. Perhaps a dish that could do with some tweaking.
Seasonal dessert: Gâteau Basque ($4). Wicca and I have no baseline for Gâteau Basque, so…as a cake it was good. Eggy, not too sweet. The best part was the caramelized, crusty top. Server said there was almond in it but we couldn’t taste any almond element, so that was a bit disappointing. Could use a sauce or whipped cream or something to bring a bit more moisture to the party. Moyenchow may have more to say about this when she posts her review because she loved the gâteau basque (served warm and drenched in sherry cream) at Bar Isabel in Toronto.
The damage for three people. Not bad for tapas, I must say. Relaxed atmosphere, unpretentious service, accessible prices…maybe Vancouver can do tapas after all. Way better experience than España (review from December 2014), where we found the cooking to be wonky. Here things are more assured, and the room is less infuriatingly dim. Aside from the Patata Brava, a solid place.