Sunday, November 8, 2015

La Catalana: A Catalan Feast at Marco Polo's Cucina

The rich and rustic cuisine of Catalonia are recreated right here at the heart of the bustling Ortigas commercial and business district...

Marco Polo Ortigas Manila's Cucina ends the year with a culinary celebration of authentic Catalonian cuisine, the La Catalana, with a wide range of the famed region's dishes prepared by Catalan native and Executive Chef, Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona.

Located at Marco Polo Ortigas Manila's Sky Lobby high up at the 24th floor (L), Cucina (R) is the hotel's all-day dining buffet restaurant offering a wide variety of flavors from the very best of global cuisine (for more on Marco Polo Ortigas Manila's elegant Cucina, check out my previous post here).

As you enter Cucina, the formal yet warm tones of dark wood and glass, highlighted by stunning wall art pieces created by national artist Jinggoy Buensuceso, combine for an impressive sight, a fitting backdrop to a memorable dining experience. As we sat at our table, the elegant setting included the special menu for the Catalan feast. 

At the launch of La Catalana at Cucina, Mirko De Giorgi (L), Marco Polo Ortigas Manila's Director of Food & Beverage; and Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona (R) welcomed guests to the exclusive preview with a special six-course Catalan tasting menu paired with Spanish wines...

The exclusive preview also included Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona's signature Paella Mixta in a special cooking demonstration prepared with the freshest and finest imported ingredients, including the plump red Carabineros Prawns from Barcelona (R).  

The northeastern region of Spain, flanked by the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, and the progressive and modern culinary center of Barcelona at its heart, is known for its rich cuisine relying heavily on local ingredients, including tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, capsicum, and artichokes, various wheat products like bread and pasta, Arbequina olive oils, wines, and pork products like sausages and hams, cheese, and bountiful seafood from the Mediterranean coast like sardines, anchovies, tuna, and cod. My Catalan feast by Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona at Cucina began with Iberico Ham with Tomato on Bread, a simple and rustic dish with rich flavors. If there's one dish that can be enjoyed every day for the whole year, Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona would pick this in a heartbeat. "A good Jamon Inerico paired with a country sourdough bread, topped with tomatoes and olive oil. It's simply the best yet easy to do," says Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona.

Then, Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona demonstrated his own unique way of enjoying this dish, simply pick up a slice of the cherry tomato and rub it vigorously on one side of the sourdough bread to spread the juices evenly. Sprinkle some sea salt and drizzle some olive oil, then gently top with the slices of Jamon Iberico. The deceptively simple dish bursts with bold flavors with every bite, with the distinct notes of the tart tomatoes, sea salt, and Jamon Iberico rounded out by the nutty hint of the olive oil for balanced flavors. A glass of refreshing and crisp 2013 Marieta Abarino Semiseco, Rias Baixas white wine from Spain was served with the dish.

For the second course, Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona served his elegantly plated Seafood Escabeche, Manila Clams, Tiger Prawn, Mussels, Sardines, Olive Coulis, and Chantarelles with Deep-Fried Bone Sardine Chips. The dish captures the richness of the Mediterranean, with assorted seafood laid on a stone slate. The rich flavors of the sweet and sour escabeche lingers long after the first bite, followed by the briny sweetness of the clams, mussels and plump prawn. But it's the sardines that made an impression, both the tender fillet and the deep-fried bone sardine chip with its own familiar yet unique flavors. The humble sardine used to be a staple for the working class way back in Barcelona, but it's revival by the inventive and modern culinary movement has elevated the sardine as part of the fine dining experience. "For me, such change is amazing, I love sardines cooked in different ways" says Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona. The dish was paired with the 2013 Cocheros Y Criadores Candidato Blanco from La Mancha, Spain.

As more wine was served, Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona prepared the various ingredients for his Paella Mixta (R). Drawing inspiration from his childhood back in Catalonia, his signature paella captures the rich medley of distinct flavors, blending seamlessly in his version of the classic dish. 

Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona began with the plump red prawns, the Carabineros imported from Barcelona, laying a base of rich flavors for the paella. Preparing the traditional paella is all about building layers of flavors, slowly infused on the paellera, as more ingredients are added for even more layers of flavors.

As each ingredient is added to the paellera, a fragrant aroma is released. Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona then delicately seasons the Paella Mixta as it gently simmers on low heat.

A good paella takes time, allowing each ingredient to blend in low heat. The paellera is then covered in aluminum foil and left to simmer, but the aroma continues to linger as we eagerly await for the right time when the aluminum foil is lifted. As the paella simmered, the next courses were served...

For the third course, we were served a rich, hearty and comforting Broad Bean Cream Soup with Kilawing Mahi-Mahi, Caramelized Onions, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil, with the thick broth poured separately. The creamy broth is tempered perfectly by the sour tartness of the Kilawing Mahi-Mahi for balanced flavors.  

For the fourth course, Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona served his intricate Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Cod Fish Brandada, Pil-Pil Sauce and Artichokes on a White Asparagus Bed, paired with a glass of 2013 Martin Codax Albarino Rias Baixas. The delicate notes of the cod fish are punctuated by the sweet and smoky notes of the Piquillo Peppers, perfectly capped by the fresh and mildly sweet notes of the white wine.

Then, the aluminum foil was lifted from the paellera, like a ceremonial unveiling of a classic art piece. After simmering gently throughout the first four courses of Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona, his signature Paella Mixta with Carabineros and Scampi, the best paella in town, was ready to be served ala minute and fresh off the paellera...

The long-grained rice is soft and moist, absorbing all the rich flavors of the various seafood, mushrooms, and chorizo, concentrated in each spoonful. It's a taste of Barcelona, recreated. The deep notes of the 2013 Cocheros Y Criadores Candidato Tinto Joven Tempranillo completed the flavors. Seconds? Absolutely. 

The Catalan-style paella is noticeably a lot more moist than the usual, local versions prepared in the metro. And that's what makes this paella so much more flavorful, with just the right level of "wetness" concentrated with all the flavors. More wine was served, along with Cucina's Homemade Sangria served in mason jars.

Another serving of what may be one of the best paellas in town completed my first dining experience at Cucina. My Catalan feast ended on a high note with the indulgent Crema Catalana, Red Berries and Chocolate Hazelnut Wafer Cigar. The creamy richness of the dessert is perfectly tempered by the tart berries for contrasting notes, and that wafer cigar filled with chocolate hazelnut completed the elegant dessert. Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona's tasting menu recreated the wide range and depth of flavors Catalan cuisine is known for, and you can have a taste of the famed region with Cucina's La Catalana for an authentic dining experience.

Cucina will be dedicating a live station featuring Catalan dishes on November 21, 22, 28, and 29, and December 5 and 6 for both lunch and dinner, including Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona's best paella in town, his signature Paella Mixta, freshly prepared at the station. Cucina is open daily for lunch from 12:00nn to 2:30pm and dinner from 6:00pm to 10:30pm. Buffet prices starts at P 1,500 net per person, free for children aged 6 and below, and half the price for children aged 7-12 years old.

If it's an authentic Catalan dining experience you're after, head on down, or rather up, to Cucina at Marco Polo Ortigas Manila's Sky Lobby for a taste of Barcelona at the heart of the Ortigas CBD. And just in case you want to recreate Catalan flavors, here's Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona's special recipe for Seafood Paella...

Seafood Paella
by Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pesarrodona

500 g Paella Rice
200 g Prawns
400 g Black Mussels
1.2 L Prawn or Fish stock
500 g Squid
400 g Clams
10 ml Olive Oil
15 g Chopped Garlic
200 g Sofrito
500 g Chopped Onions
500 g Green Bell Peppers
30 g Garlic
1.5 Kg Freshly grated tomatoes (skin off)
2 Units Bay leaves
50 g Toasted Hazelnuts
50 g Toasted Almonds
20 g Fried Garlic
100 g Fried Parsley
50 g Bruschetta Bread Toast
11 L Water
8 Kg Fish bine and trimmings
2 Kg Mixed celery, carrots, and onions (chopped)
500 ml White Wine
38 pcs Peppercorn


  1. To create the fish stock, place the fish bone and trimmings, mixed celery, carrot, onions, white wine, peppercorn, 8 pcs. of bay leaves, and 10 L of water in a pan. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer. Skim often and strain after 30 minutes.
  2. To create the Sofrito base, first pre-heat a pan with olive oil. Add 30 g of garlic to the pan and fry until golden brown. Add 500 g of chopped onions, 500 g of green bell peppers, 500 g of red bell peppers, and 1 unit of bay leaves to the pan and stir continuously with heavy fire until poached. Add the fresh grated tomatoes and let it simmer for 2-3 hours. Sofrito is used as the base of many paellas that give a strong flavor and texture to the product.  
  3. To create the picada, mix the toasted hazelnuts, almonds, 20 g of fried garlic, fried parsley, bruschetta bread toast and 500 g of water into a food processor and blend until it becomes a smooth paste. Add more water if necessary.
  4. To make the paella, take a paella pan and add 15 g of chopped garlic followed by the squid, sofrito, and paella rice. Stir continuously.
  5. Add the fish stock and stir until the rice is equally spread in the pan.
  6. When it starts to boil, add the prawns, clams, black mussels, and picada.
  7. Season with the saffron and bay leaves and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Cucina is located at the 24th Floor Sky Lobby of the Marco Polo Ortigas Manila, Meralco Avenue and Sapphire Street, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Metro Manila or call (632) 720-7720 for reservations and inquiries.

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