Recently I was lucky enough to attend a Flamenco wine dinner, a quarterly event at Bocado, Worcester. The affair had a very New York City, metropolitan vibe with a sophisticated, well dressed crowd, and 9pm start. Attendees mingled casually in the comfortable bar which was surprisingly uncrowded for a Friday night. Promptly at 9pm we were ushered into a medium sized room, which was intimately set for about 30 people with surrounding what would be the performance floor. The high tables and chairs gave the room an amphitheater feel with the performance happening in the pit. The air seemed to be charged by anticipation.
We were greeted at the table with Bocado’s famous roja Sangria Cocktail. This is always a refreshing and relaxing beginning at Bocado. We were presented a cheese and charcuterie board for two to share. It was packed with bread, thinly sliced salted meats and both hard and soft cheeses. It was incredibly hard for this salt addict to control herself. However, after previewing the attractive, preprinted menu I wanted to be sure that I would be able to give each course its due attention. In other words, I was trying not to stuff myself. A true Spanish dinner requires a slow but steady pace.
My strategy was nearly derailed at the outset because the first course was actually an overwhelming series what would normally be considered three courses. However, these appetizers would be the starters you might enjoy as tapas. Don’t let the small plates fool you or fatigue you! Local cherry tomato and mozzarella salad cleansed the palate of the meats and cheeses. Crispy, corn meal crusted crab bocaditos were served with a spicy smoky slaw and garlic lemon allioli. I could have stopped right here. This was my favorite starter of the 3 but it was filling! The crust on the crab was perfectly toasted, extra crispy, and the crab was meaty and flavorful. Normally, I would eat something like this “naked” but the allioli and smoky slaw contributed the perfect balance of bitter and sweet making it irresistible. AND THEN we were served a small plate of the most decadent, moist, intensely flavored pork and ricotta meatballs with a spicy bravas sauce. As if these devilish dishes were not heady enough they paired the starters with wine a wine that set my head spinning! A wine and grape variety I had never even heard of never mind tasted.
The wine was Zestos Blanco made with the Malvar grape from Madrid. The wine had the color and intense green aromatics, and juicy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc but with the full, round, luscious body of Chardonnay. The harmony of structure, flavor, and aromatics made this a uniquely universal pairing for the 3 starters. It would have been a difficult pairing with the red sauce in dish three but the sauce was served to the side and the herbed ricotta created a very stable bridge between the dish and the wine. I was infatuated with this wine. It is a practice of mine to reserve all wine pours so that I can experiment across the courses. It was difficult to do with this wine. I am in no way surprised that a Niche Hospitality Group establishment threw a renegade stunner of a wine at me. They have a consistent and successful track record with their unconventional approach to wine and food offerings. My head was spinning from sensory overload and I loved it!
True to the Spanish tradition of long and slow dining, there was a 30 minute intermission between courses. It was time to sit back, sip and digest while we were treated to the most exquisite, sensual Flamenco performance that I have seen outside of Barcelona. This is an amazingly talented and entertaining troupe. We were enchanted by the masterful Spanish guitar played by Antonio “Tirti” Tran and heart pounding percussion of Nate Tucker. You would have to be dead if you were not clapping or grooving along. The music was penetrating. The footwork was mesmerizing, the movement tantalizingly seductive. Jamie “La Damaquina” Belsito is a beautiful, expressive, and powerful story teller through dance. Her partner Rio is explosive and commanding. Their two – thirty minute performances led me to falsely believe that I was actually burning off the evening’s calories.
We were served two more courses before the final, pre-dessert performance. The first was grilled salmon which made an interesting pairing with Lechuza Garnacha. The wine was soft on the palate and was bursting with fruit. Most people are hesitant to pair a red wine with fish but salmon has a steak like texture which makes it easier to break the rules. Add a little roasted tomato and garlic and you’re in business. This was followed by my favorite course of the evening, a petite rack of veal served with the lush and beefy Triton Tinta De Toro (Tempranillo). Like all of the previous courses the pairing is driven not only by the protein but also the side lights of the dish. Wild mushroom and wilted kale complimented the fruit forward flavors and the Marsala butternut sauce and anisette toast crumb made the vanilla and toast and vanilla in the wine come to life on the palate and in the nose. The wine enhanced the dish and the dish enhanced the wine. This is the mission of food and wine pairing.
Owner, Michael Covino took to the floor in between courses to talk about the wines and the dishes. I prefer a chef designed and run wine dinners to those run by distributors that tend to have a sales pitch feel to them. Mike and his executive chef are only selling you their passion for their creative dishes and unique wines. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at this dinner but it certainly went well beyond paella and Rioja.
I often leave wine dinners with a slight hunger pang in my stomach. This was not the case at Bocado! For the wines poured, dishes served, and excellent entertainment and service $60 per person is an absolute bargain! This was truly a Spanish style wine dinner. Comfort food, immense in flavor, served slowly with a constant flow of wine! The portions were plentiful and the courses were numerous. Yet, I never felt like my buttons were going to burst. We didn’t stay for dessert not because the black mission fig brulee didn’t sound absolutely fabulous but we simply had to get home. This dinner was a hedonistic thrill and I will go back. Highly recommended!