When you're gearing up to open a Spanish-inspired small-plates restaurant what better way to gain inspiration than take a research trip to the motherland. And that's exactly what Ryan Poli, Patricio and Alfredo Sandoval and the rest of the Tavernita crew did the first week of May.
The team, which also included the Tippling Brothers (who create the beverage program for the Mercadito group), spent a whirlwind week tasting, drinking and cavorting through restaurants, tapas bars and taverns in Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian. Poli, who said he felt constantly full due to the constant tasting, added that the trip really got him primed to create the menu at the River North spot scheduled to open mid-summer.
"The trip sculpted a lot of what we're going to do," Poli said. "It opened our eyes to saying, 'yes we can do this.' I've been there before, at many of the restaurants ... I saw some new dishes, I got re-inspired."
Poli said that Spain is moving away from molecular gastronomy and that gastro-bars are opening up all over. Spending time in San Sebastian, at places like Feugo Negro, helped create the vision for Tavernita's barcito area. It'll focus on being a pinxtos bar, where super-fresh food will be displayed in glass cases and chefs will serve items as people select them. As in many tapas bars in Spain, you'll then be charged per item, or more specifically, by the number of toothpicks left.
"We'll try to maintain the feel of San Sebastian and standing and eating," Poli said. "It's a nostalgic kind of feeling."
Poli said there were many incredible moments during the trip and he chronicled his top 10 highlights on his blog. This included tapas-bar hopping through Madrid's La Latina neighborhood, and being invited by Albert Adria, brother to famed elBulli chef/owner Ferran Adria, for a last-minute dinner at his new Barcelona hot spot, Tickets, after the team had drinks and bites at his cocktail bar, 41 Degrees, next door.
"[Albert] asked if we were having drinks and going next door. We told him we couldn't get in," Poli said. "He said, 'That's too bad ... things have been crazy.' He came back 20 minutes later and said he had a table for us." Adria then personally crafted a menu for them, selecting the best items they should try, including liquid olives, razor clams with lemon foam and tuna belly sliced super then and dusted with Iberico ham fat and laid out on butcher paper to make it look like prosiutto.
"Those guys make you think about food; it made me think outside the box and it's very inspiring," he said. "It got me thinking I could play around more with food."
· Ryan Poli Leaving Perennial to Helm Kitchen at Tavernita [~EChi~]
· 10 Things I Loved in Spain [Poli Point of View]