Simplicity is seriously under-rated and one need only experience the fabulous tapas of Spain created by the precise hand of chef Jose Andres to recognize this fact. In Andres’s cookbook, Tapas a Taste of Spain in America, he salutes the egg and notes its popularity in a variety of Spanish meals: “Eggs transform even the simplest foods. For many Americans, eggs signify one meal: breakfast. But for Spaniards, eggs can be part of every meal, from breakfast to dinner and tapas in between. As for me, I love nothing more than a pan-fried egg, with a gloriously runny yolk, a little salt, and lots of bread to wipe my plate clean.”
Typically, inexperienced chefs go overboard in creating their menus, seemingly in the belief that a complicated dish is far more impressive. But if he or she can’t create a simple dish that allows peak of the season ingredients to shine, that amateur doesn’t understand the rudiments of cooking.
Undoubtedly, Jaleo was our favorite for its varied menus and great wine list. During three visits: We started with the amazing liquid olives named for Ferran Adria of the renowned ElBulli (who required a written request for a reservation explaining why you deserved to dine at ElBulli); Spanish mini hamburgers made from Spain’s legendary acorn-fed, black-footed, Iberico pigs; salmon tartare and trout roe cones; fried spring roll with a traditional Basque crab stew; and succulent grilled quail with rosemary sauce and honey aioli. There was so much more; it’s easy to try extravagant amounts with tapas. All of it washed down with exclusive Spanish wines from their list (unfortunately, none available on the West Coast).
I returned home enthralled over our experience and unforgettable meals in the district, and I’ve been sharing the news with everyone who loves food like we do. Since it’s no short journey to the capital, I’m excited about sharing news of our own Latin-themed restaurant, La Cosecha in Paso Robles. Created by the inspired and passionate restaurateurs Carole and Santos MacDonal, their new Latin-themed menu equals Andres’ restaurants in quality and inspiration.
Executive chef Santos MacDonal has earned a great reputation at Il Cortile for his outstanding Italian cuisine. Not surprising, this extraordinary chef spent many years cooking in Malibu and Santa Monica’s finest Italian restaurants. We are so lucky that he and his wife and partner Carole honeymooned in Paso Robles and decided to make it their home. MacDonal focuses his exceptional talent on finding the best produce and proteins, and Carole brings in the exceptional wines for their well-chosen list.
The chef fills his pantry with locally sourced ingredients, mostly, to create his unique style of Latin-themed foods. And you’ll usually see him cooking with his team in the kitchen, overseeing every dish that’s ready to serve. La Cosecha, appropriately, means “the harvest.” Like Andres, MacDonal imports Iberico jambon and other unique spices from the source of origin, but he also grows some rare herbs himself to keep his foods fresh from the garden.
The culinary team includes Santos’ brother, chef Jorge MacDonal (who followed in his career footsteps), and chef de cuisine, Fernando Bedolla, Jr. The general manager is Sherman Walton, Jr. who turned me on to his former employer Old Ebbitt Grill in DC, where we enjoyed amazing fresh shellfish platters. Carole designed the interior, hiring an artisan to create the bar made from reclaimed Paso Robles oak.
To create the brilliant menu for La Cosecha, Santos went back to his Honduran roots to offer the hottest dining trend nationwide—Latin cuisine in a relaxed tapas setting. Unlike Jose’s pure Spanish tapas menu at Jaleo, Santos’ La Cosecha menus feature multiple Latin styles ranging from Spain, South America, and the Honduras. His ceviche of scallops and shrimp was tangy with delicately cut crunchy peppers and onion, dressed in a perfect vinaigrette, and tasted wonderful atop crunchy plantain chips.
The baby pork ribs are my favorite (for now). The tantalizing first bite through the crispy, sweet and spicy, caramelized crust yielded pork that was astonishingly succulent. It rated among the finest baby ribs I have ever been served. The joy of eating didn’t stop there. Santos’ Cornish game hens are seasoned with a traditional Honduran spice rub and then grilled. Dan’s order was deliciously moist and intriguingly spicy, but not too spicy-hot. The delightful aromas made me want to taste it and then I wanted more, which shocked me since I’ve never cared for the gamey-tasting hens.
I must explain one important fact: I didn’t love every dish at Jaleo, or at La Cosecha, but it was never due to a lack of quality or inspiration. At Jaleo, I disliked a salad of beets, citrus, pistachios, and valdeon cheese because the pungent cheese was so sharp I couldn’t handle it (I prefer the mild Italian gorgonzola over blue). At La Cosecha, I wasn’t impressed by the comfort food, huevos catracho that Hondurans typically eat for breakfast. However, I thought the huevos Espanol with housemade brioche, topped with thick-cut Spanish jambon, poached egg, and Manchego cheese sauce was incredible, far better than most eggs Benedicts served at other restaurants.
At La Cosecha, if you love dessert, do try the triple mousse. The bottom layer is blueberry, then a layer of strawberry, and a top layer of dark chocolate with a fresh strawberry and berry purée. One taste and, like an addict, I could not stay away from the glass. Less like mousse texturally, it was rich yet elegant and I tell everyone I thought it was more like an ultra-creamy cheesecake.
I’ve loved one exquisite meal after another in a month’s time, and I don’t mind admitting that I’m hooked on this trend. Latin cuisine
Contact Cuisine Columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at firstname.lastname@example.org.