Whenever I travel someplace new I like to do a lot of research before I pack up and head out. As I usually structure my days around food I will often scour magazines like Food and Wine, Bon Appetit and Saveur for restaurant and bar recommendations. Publications like Travel and Leisure and Frommers will serve me for things to explore and places to visit. However my favorite suggestions always come from locals, or from friends who have also visited the area.
Remember when I wrote about the (kinda) cool cooking class I took? During that class I met two young gals (they were probably 23…babies!) who worked with me at my station. They were very bright, interesting to talk to and had an air of hipness to them which I admired. One of them wore these thick black rimmed glasses, with no actual glass in them, but she somehow managed to pull it off without seeming pretentious. That takes a special skill I think. During our time together we naturally talked about food and I naturally asked for restaurant recommendations. Many of the names they shared with me I already knew, but one came up which hadn’t been presented to me: Extra Virgin. “They serve duck tongue tacos” on of them exclaimed, “they have a whole section devoted to the adventurous eater.”
Well…there you go. I wrote this down immediately.
Now it probably wasn’t the wisest idea for Jurgen and I to opt to go between shows this past Saturday, but we are humans and sometimes humans make bad choices. I say this only because, despite it being a tapas restaurant, we consumed a lot of food after which I had to squeeze myself into a pair of Spanx, a form fitted dress and four inch heels. It was a tough show.
I went to Extra Virgin on a mission, which was to consume their Duck Tongue tacos (#15), but I figured there was nothing wrong with sampling a few other adventurous items.
Deviled Eggs (not from the adventurous section for obvious reasons)
I should make an admission right now which will leave my desired “foodie” status in question: I hate mustard. I try to like it, I really do…but I just can’t. This makes eating deviled eggs hard for me because so often it becomes a dominate flavor in the egg yolk filling. Thankfully this was not the case at Extra Virgin. The yolk has a silky texture with only a slight hint of mustard. The whites were cooked well, not too rubbery, not too slimy and the hit of paprika on the end made for a nice finish. I do wish they had chosen to do a Chili oil vs an Olive oil drizzled over top. I think it would have added a nice kick and depth of flavor.
Chickpea Fries (also not from the adventurous section)
These little lovelies came out piping hot. The inside was fluffy and light with a nice, only slightly crisp exterior. They came served with a side of romesco sauce which offered a hint of smoke but not much else in terms of flavor.
Crispy Trotter (aka pig’s feet) cakes (Now we are taking a leap)
I am going to pull a Padma quote from Season Two of Top Chef which is “You could fry my big toe and it would still taste good.” I tend to agree. If something is breaded, and fried even remotely well it will go down pretty easily. So for those of you who’s stomach is turning at the idea of eating pigs feet trust me when I say I could have given you one of these little patties and you never would have known what you were ingesting. Which was both the strength and weakness of the dish. The little feet cakes were fried well, not greasy with a great crunch and a hint of salt. However you couldn’t take the little piggies at all, any sense of meat was lost between the breading and the filling. The filling was ok, the texture was a bit off and lacked seasoning, while the jicima and olive relish on top felt like a bit of an afterthought. Still, they were fried, so we ate them more than willingly.
Shaved Cured Tuna Heart (I don’t have a photo of this one, so I will appease you with some decor shots)
Now imagine a plate comes out to you piled with long, kinky pasta noodles. A soft egg yolk rests in the center and grated all over top, covering the entire plate is what looks to be milk chocolate shavings. The chocolate shavings being the Tuna Heart in this case.
The problem with this dish was the excessive amount of cured heart, which was remarkably salty. The flavor profiled was that of anchovies and it overwhelmed the entire dish. Breaking the egg yolk helped to soften the intensity a bit, but the balance was way off in this dish. Plus the pasta wasn’t cooked all that well. We only were able to muster a few bites and then we had to wave a white napkin. I suppose when you go the adventurous route you have to be prepared to surrender from time to time.
Churros and Chocolate (Dessert)
As already mentioned above, you can fry anything and it will taste good. This particularly holds true for any sort of fried dough as is the case with the traditional spanish dessert. Now these churros didn’t hold a candle to the ones Rick Bayless serves at Xoco in Chicago, nor did the chocolate. But come on…its fried dough…and you get to dip it in chocolate, nothing bad will come from that.
And finally…the reason we came
Duck Tongue Tacos
Served in a delightfully crisp shell the gaminess of the duck really did shine through and the balance with the spicy pickled onions provided a nice contrast. The Queso Fresco cheese honestly didn’t contribute much from the overall dish, I suppose I would have preferred a cheese which melts a bit easier with a richer flavor, but perhaps that would have clashed more than I think (anyone? Bueller?). My only complaint would be the choice of a hard shell vs. a soft shell. I usually vote for crunch when I go for tacos but in this case I think it took away from the duck. I think a soft shell would have allowed the meat to really sing and enhanced the overall dish. Just my two cents, for what that’s worth.
The space at Extra Virgin is open and hip, with a great outdoor patio (clearly not in use right now). I think it would be a perfect after work or late night cocktail hour spot, where you want to grab a quick bite and be surrounded by your beautiful friends. In general I found the cooking to lack a bit of soul. Everything was good, nothing was really great. It feels like Michael Smith, a James Beard award-winning chef, is more concerned about expanding his restaurant empire, rather than truly excelling. Now, in fairness we did stick to one side of the menu (they had a whole section of items from their wood fired oven as well as more traditional hot and cold tapas), but for my money if you are going to have a section devoted to adventure that would be where you really let your culinary creativity fly. It’s the section where you can be bold in your flavors and techniques. In this case, not so much.