The James Beard Foundation invited Andanada’s Manuel Berganza to cook at the historic James Beard House in Greenwich Village on July 30th, and the executive chef stepped up to the challenge. For his “Spanish Wine Lovers’ Dinner,” the chef devised a special five-course menu, featuring wine pairings from Tobelos and Enate Winery.
Chef Berganza, who earned two Michelin stars at Madrid’s Sergi Arola Gastro and staged at Chicago’s famed Alinea, offers his modern interpretation of Spanish cuisine at the Upper West Side’s Andanada. “You know, I’ve been working at Arola for nine years. My personal style comes from Arola, but the thing I learned at Alinea is the passion, the organization, and their good work. It’s incredible how they push the passion they have,” he told The Daily Meal. Berganza’s own passion shows through his modern take on Spanish cuisine and his emphasis on pure, refreshing flavors.
The night began with a walk through the Beard House kitchen to the canapé reception in the garden, where the Andanada team served hors d’oeuvres. The patatas con olivas y boquerones combined fine dining with a touch of casual fare, with spherified olive and marinated anchovies, topped with crumbled potato chips. The foie gras torchon and ratatouille on rice toast had a creamy texture with a kick of spice, making it a favorite amongst guests.
Dinner started on the second floor, and I sat at a table facing a crimson-colored wall lined with bookshelves. The dimmed lights and the fireplace gave the room a cozy atmosphere, and I could picture James Beard enjoying a book or two in what is now a dining room for guests to try food cooked by chefs from across the world.
Each dish was light, well proportioned, and timed so that diners had the appetite to anticipate the next course. The gazpacho Andaluz was studded with fresh vegetables and a piece of king crab that I wanted more of. The stuffed squash blossom, the next course, was filled with Ajo Blanco foam, and beneath it was a marinated foie gras tartare that captured the delicate liver flavor without being too rich. Almond bits added a crunchy texture to the tartare and was a smart nod to the almond-flavored foam.
San Pedro red snapper with creamy Iberico rice was perhaps the highlight of the meal, even though a crispy fish skin would’ve added more texture. Iberico ham, which rested on top of the rice, cupped a foam that melded with the flavor of the fish. Beans, which were packed with brothy flavor, hid underneath the red snapper.
The following dish, beef tenderloin, was cooked evenly as seen by the tender red centers, but it was not served hot enough. Nevertheless, the chef likes to surprise diners with thought-out details. A sprinkling of Maldon sea salt over honey-dressed spinach added an unexpected crunch and sweet vineyard peach bits mimicked the shape of a baby potato. Tobelos Tempranillo 2008, which went with the beef course and comes from Andanada owner Alvaro Reinoso’s family winery in La Rioja, was the most complimented wine of the night at the table.
White chocolate-saffron mousse with berries, like the other courses, had a refreshing vibe, but the dessert didn’t satisfy my sweet tooth. The previous courses were light enough to leave room for diners to enjoy a heavier dessert, and perhaps adding something more starchy like cookie crumbs would have added more texture and not left us thinking, “This was great, but where’s the rest of the dessert?” Still, this dish successfully incorporated savory ingredients such as saffron and cilantro, and the mousse won over non-white chocolate fans like me.
After the dinner, we asked Chef Berganza to describe his cooking style in six words. “Fun, young, always improving, changing, and real,” he said. But he didn’t really have to explain: the food spoke for itself.