This year I took a little time to sit down and compose a bucket list. A real one, with realistic goals. Broken down into the Big List, a food destination list, a dream home list, a list of minor bucket items, and a list of things I’ve already done to remind myself of how far I’ve come. It has really helped prioritize projects and more importantly, helped me recognize that many of the items are not just pipe dreams but quite achievable.
One of those items was killing, processing and eating a moderately sized animal. I’ve been fishing many times before, deep sea albacore even, but there is something different about killing an animal, like a pig. Yet we (meaning: I) eat so much pork. I love it! But I need to acknowledge that an animal has to die for me to eat that delicious bacon, or tender belly. I had to know I wasn’t being a hypocrite about the privilege of eating meat. It has been a longtime wish for me to go hunting and see if I can take it. If not, I really should be vegetarian. As luck would have it, my friends Andrew and Lexi, along with a few other friends of theirs, have been hunting wild boar for a while and invited me to join their crew. This past April, I joined my first hunt. At that time, I didn’t have a hunting license, so the only shooting I did was from my camera. I rode along with the hunters, who took four boar. They were dressed in the field, and back at the lodge, they were skinned and prepared for breaking down. My crew processed the boar themselves, vacuum sealing the majority of them, and we feasted on assorted wild boar before heading home.
Over the summer I attended a hunter safety class, passed the test for my hunter safety certification and got my hunting license. Then it was time to join the hunt for real. My choice is wild boar because they are considered an invasive pest. I don’t care about trophy hunting.
We started early in the morning, our guides picking spots where the wild boar are known to be rooting around. By around 9 or 10 am, we were done. Three boar taken, including mine. On my side, it wasn’t easy. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good amount of range practice beforehand and to be comfortably familiar with the rifle used. I’m not at a point where I’m ready to commit to the responsibility of rifle ownership, so I had to borrow a rifle and really lean on the expertise and advice of my guide. A hunting partner would have been great to have here, but ultimately the responsibility was mine. So…of course I missed a number of times, or hesitated on pulling the trigger until it was too late. This is something I need to practice, but I had to start somewhere and this was the weekend that I started.
I tried to do as much of the food from scratch where possible. Dipping sauces, pickles, the steamed buns were all homemade. I made the quick cucumber pickles while Andrew did the carrot and daikon pickles. Lexi and I worked together on folding all the dumplings, then we steam-fried them and ate them with a mustard-rice vinegar sauce.
For the bao, I braised the boar using a recipe from my mother called Pork By Numbers. it is a simple concoction of sherry, rice vinegar, dark soy sauce, sugar, ginger and water. It braises until the liquid reduces to a shiny syrup. It worked perfectly for the bao, which we also filled with quick pickles, slivers of spring onion, and kewpie sauce. It’s a little momofuku inspired. If I could do it again, I’d make the steamed bao half the size. I didn’t know how much big they would steam up, and having smaller buns but more of them would have been better for sharing the food amongst the half dozen of us. But that is for another time in the distant future.
So what happened to the rest of the boar? Well, I don’t have the space to store it. I was supposed to have a shooting and food sharing partner, but that fell through. All the rest went up to the bay area to the folks who have chest freezers. Maybe I need to add “chest freezer” to my bucket list of dream home items. Meanwhile, I’m reading through Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book to get inspiration for the future. After all, learning curing and charcuterie is on my Big List bucket list as well.
Open only a week, and they have it dialed in. I walk in and the mood, atmosphere, knowledge of the menu, friendliness of the staff, quality of the food, everything fell into place just right. Plus, much of the ingredients are sourced locally from our farmers market or local businesses.
It helps that southen Spanish and Moroccan are two of my favorite cuisines to begin with. I didn’t ever go to fancy restaurants in my travels there, but I did experience the traditional dishes, the spices, and the Moorish architecture. And I felt this new restaurant embodied the spirit of the region albeit on the higher end.
The people working there already knew their stuff, down to cheese preferences and details of ingredients. Those who were clearly in training were under careful care of the experienced staff. I sat at the bar initially for a cocktail, but enjoyed the beverages and company of the bartenders that I stayed there for the rest of the night. The head bartender was Dudley, a modest but very sharp fellow who took very good care of me. And bonus: he announced that someone else in the restaurant had bought my cocktail. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Was it my perfume?
My dining companion and I didn’t hold back and ordered way more food then we needed, only because we wanted to try so much on the menu.
The cocktail menu is evolving, at the time I was there only four specialty cocktails were available and I tried them all. My favorite was the Palermo, similar to a Manhattan but with a piece of vanilla pod as a twist. Best of all, it’s served with real maraschino cherries. It’ll cost you $15, though, so be prepared. The other cocktails cost less. Again, extra props go to Dudley and Scott at the bar, for the conversation and information. I know I took up a disproportionate amount of their attention, and I’m grateful for their company.
Here are the four drinks.
Toarmina: Avion silver tequila, St. Germain, fresh grapefruit juice.
Foodwise, gah! Are you ready?
* 5 cheese platter, served with a little Pink Lady apple jam. There’s a 3 cheese option as well. 3/$15 or 5/$25. The cheeses were Garrotxa, Romao, Mahon Reserva, Pecorino Stagionato, and Queso de Valdeon. Served with Pink Lady apple jam and toast. The waiter first said and we all agreed: the favorite was the blue queso de valdeon. I also liked the cheese with the rind of rosemary, as the herb had infused into the cheese. I played a game – how much of the rind was I willing to eat into to get more of the musty rosemary flavor. Pretty far, it turns out.
* cured meat platter, including buffalo carpaccio. 3/$15. Loved the serranno ham with pickled onions and garlic aioli.
* Ricottta gnocchi. My dining companion’s favorite. Three dense pillows over creamed spinach and wine reduction, and topped with crisp baked cheese. Keep in mind this is quality over quantity. Three may seems like a small number, but they are a good portion for tapas.
* Saffon risotto. A cross between risotto and paella, with firm Spanish chorizo and mussels and plenty of saffron threads. It doesn’t look like a big portion, but it is very filling. This could have been a whole lunch for me.
* Albondigas. Four California lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. Two were a little salty, two were just right. Very good tapa.
* Moroccan chicken breast as a main dish, with chickpeas, almonds, swiss chard, grapes, natural jus. Different to what I consider Moroccan chicken, but the spice combinations were good, loved the crisp grapes.
* Wild boar ribs, creamy polenta, roasted baby beets, smoked bacon, fig reduction. Yummy! A robust and rich dish, and a lot of food. Meat was super tender, deeply flavored, like braised meat. This was a big dish, worthy of its $25 price tag. I was so full on all the other food, I was only able to eat one rib before declaring my meal done and getting the plate whisked away to be boxed up.
There was a lot of food left over. Honestly, if you have a drink and a couple appetizers or tapas, there isn’t room for a main dish. And that’s enough because you still get a full dose of the lovely atmosphere, which took me back to Andalucia, or Chouen or Marrakesh. I went on a Tuesday, when the farmers market was just feet away from the protected patio, like our own little souk bustling outside.
Spotted dining there: old school Santa Barbarans, other local reputable chefs and restaurant owners, travelers. Some believe the Haj is more about the enlightenment obtained from the journey there, rather than reaching Mecca itself. Therefore, to take in a traveler and be a part of someone’s Haj is an honor, for you will be a part of their experience. I’d like to think that the people behind Cadiz believe in that, too.
I love a restaurant when I can “feel the soul of the chef” in my food. It doesn’t have to be a fancy place, it doesn’t have to be a hole in the wall, it comes down to the passion of the chef and the restaurant. It was good here!
But Cadiz made one mistake. They left the jar of Luxardo cherries next to me unattended. This is more their problem than mine, mind you.
So, the bill? About $200 and we got a helluva lot of stuff, more than is realistic for two people. We probably could have cut $100 off if we’d stuck to what we knew we could eat and drink. So much went home in doggy bags.