dinner+wine in the parte vieja

Recently a few friends and I gathered for dinner and a local wine tasting with a very knowledgeable guide. Site: cozy apartment in San Sebastián's old town. Setting: a dark, cold and stormy night (hopefully one of the last of the year) Reason: To talk food, wine and everything in between.

I was charged with the appetizers and the dessert. Since I had some fresh mountain milk, I knew at once that it was time for ricotta. It's curious how closed the food borders remain in Europe, despite the fact that we are so close to Italy; there is hardly a container of ricotta in a 100-mile radius (also see bread/French border enigma). And whenever I have ricotta, my tastebuds typically throw a manifestación in favor of lily confit. So I brought that, along with some beautiful pink and white radishes, butter, and sea salt, to snack on with our welcome glass of cava.

Then we were treated to a fascinating rundown on the wine situation here.  Somehow more information was crammed into a ten-minute talk on Spanish wines than in my whole previous lifetime. And that even while being regularly peppered by constant inquiry after our attention span.

We tasted three wines: Emilio Valerio 2009, a wine from Navarra with garnache, cabernet, and merlot grapes, fermented in cement; La Mejorada 2006, 100% tempranillo; and Luis Alegre 2006, a delicious crianza, and in fact the winner of our taste test. With the wine learning experience, including this handy  scent kit, behind us, it was time to cook some dinner.

The infamous brussell sprouts, an impulse buy at the market, were the smallest, cutest things I've seen in a while. And the cause of ongoing anxiety as everyone nervously attempted to convince Tracy into putting them in the oven before she was ready.

Tracy made some delicious fried rice with baby txipirones, seaweed, and other flavors that we can't get enough/any of here.  Then we feasted on szichuan peppercorn-brined duck topped with rehydrated mushrooms with the aforementioned brussels. To finish our loooong meal....lemon-cava granita, by me.

There are people I know living abroad that have a certain gag reflex when it comes to spending time with fellow Americans. By that I mean given any choice they would nearly always choose the 'indigenous' experience, to the nth degree. I'm talking about turning down a dinner at Arzak with an American to go with a local to grab a beer and the crappiest tortilla in town.

It's a ridiculous way to live. And as we sat around by candlelight, scooping up melted cava sorbet and talking really fast in American-accented English, I felt happy to have my little expat circle that night, filled with good conversation, great wines from nearby, picture-perfect baby calamari, milk from the mountains, and all the rest. Because only those who have felt scarcity can really appreciate abundance.