Monday, July 18, 2016
An "Un-obvious" But Perfect Pairing: Alhambra Reserva 1925 and Coya's Peruvian Cuisine
Unless I'm at the pub or a barbecue, I never think to order beer with my dinner - do you? It seems like a drink that's reserved for laid-back fare: burgers and fries and all that. But my friend, Jodi, is never shy about ordering a beer at dinner - even if we're at a super fancy restaurant. And I love her for it. I thought of Jodi when I recently tried Alhambra's 1925 Reserva hand-crafted, premium lager paired with the exquisite Peruvian cuisine at Coya - an unexpected, but perfect partnership.
The lager itself is smooth-tasting and easy to drink: it has a lovely caramel armoa and a golden, citrus finish - and this is from someone who doesn't indulge in beer very often! Because of this, the lager is perfect when paired with tapas and barbecued meats, so I was curious to see how it would work with Coya's Peruvian menu.
We began the feast with a delicious assortment of ceviche and vegetables: sea bream with amarillo chilli and coriander, salmon nikkei, and yellowfin tuna with ginger and chilli salsa.
I love ceviche, but I don't have the opportunity to enjoy it enough. Of the selection we tried, I loved the tuna the most: the tangy and hot kick of ginger and chilli salsa tasted fantastic when offset with bitterness of the ice-cold Alhambra.
As I scanned the menu, I was most excited for the gambas fritos: crispy tiger prawns cooked with Alhambra and aji rocoto. Like a light tempura, the prawns were served piping hot and we left our silverware on the table, eagerly digging in with our bare hands instead. They were so good that when asked if we wanted seconds, we couldn't help but mumble a feeble, "Yes, please." It's no secret that anything remotely fried tastes fantastic with beer, although the prawns were ever-so-lightly battered and I liked the salsa that accompanied the plate (rather than the heavy mayonaise-based sauces that are typically served with tempura).
As the evening progressed, the dishes that emerged from the kitchen only became increasingly impressive. I couldn't get enough of the langostino tigre: grilled tiger prawns and chilli salsa.
The morsels of prawn we politely scraped from the shell tasted more akin to lobster: sweet and meaty. They proved to be an instant hit when paired with the Alhambra, which seemed to only enhance the flavor rather than detracting from it, as wine can sometimes do.
But the crowning glory, in my opinion, arrived in the form of these beef ribs with aji limo, which had also been prepared using Alhambra in the recipe.
The sweet and sticky ribs made me involuntarily reach for my glass of Alhambra, which had been magically refilled when I turned my head to make conversation with the rest of the table. With a menu that worked so well with the beer however, I found myself continually reaching for my glass, until I noticed my laugh getting a little bit louder than usual!
I love trying new restaurants and cuisines for the surprises on the menu: vegetables I've never tried (purple potatoes, anyone?) or flavor combinations that need explaining (huancaina sauce, for example). I especially appreciated and admired the presentation of the papa fresca, mashed purple potatoes with summer vegetables, tomatoes, and aji limo (a type of pepper, in case you didn't know - I didn't!). The potatoes had been mashed and delicately piped on top of the vegetable and tomato stew - served any other way, they would have disappeared into the mixture in a probably unappetizing mix of colors. It was clear that the continuity of the colorful decor had found its way onto our plates, much to my delight.
I had high hopes for dessert, and I wasn't disappointed. Mousse de Coco consisted of a coconut mousse carefully arranged into a shell of wafer-thin chocolate to mimic a real coconut. Imagine my surprise when I dipped my spoon in, expecting the hard flesh of a coconut only to discover a lightly whipped mousse and a flaky chocolate shell! I'm always partial to a bit of coconut, so it trumped the Caramelo con Chocolate y Sorbete de Frambuesa for me - salted caramel ganache, pisco and raspberry sorbet - but just. Salted caramel always makes me go weak at the knees.
Just when I thought the evening was over and the last, dreamy mouthful of coconut mousse had melted on my tongue, we were presented with something I can only describe as the most epic and exotic fruit bowl I'd ever seen:
Fruit that I spent the rest of my journey home Googling because I'd forgotten the names: rambutan, passion fruit, and pitaya (or dragon fruit), to name a few. The generous slices of pineapple, papaya, and melon nestled on ice transported me back to tropical holidays in Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Washing it down with my last slug of Alhambra, I momentarily felt like I was on vacation - until jostling elbows with tourists at Green Park tube station reminded me that I was very much not.
I returned home feeling a little giddy (probably because of the bottomless Alhambra) and a lot like Cinderella. I think I just might request a glass (or bottle!) of Alhambra for my next meal out.
I was a guest of Coya and Alhambra, both of which I loved! All opinions are my own.