La Catalana: A Slice of Spain at Cucina in Marco Polo Ortigas

The year may be almost over, but Marco Polo Ortigas is still not yet finished creating gastronomic adventures for its diners. Cucina, the hotel’s all-day dining a la carte and buffet restaurant, brings to us the La Catalana—a Spanish feast featuring Catalan dishes especially created by Marco Polo’s new Executive Chef Lluis Cantons Pessarodona. Inspired by a fondness for his hometown in Catalonia, Chef Lluis wants to share a slice of Barcelona through food that he grew up eating and cooking, taking pride most particularly with the Catalan-style paella—which he fondly calls the best paella in town.

From November 21 to December 6, special Catalan dishes will be offered at Cucina’s weekend lunch and dinner buffets (Saturdays and Sundays only), a mini Spanish feast mingling with the restaurant’s usual offerings. Catalan cuisine is heavy on seafood, pork, and Mediterranean ingredients (tomatoes, garlic, artichokes, beans, chickpeas, to name a few)—a marriage of sea and mountain, owing to the region of origin’s geographical location. We had the pleasure of trying out some of these dishes during the exclusive launch of La Catalana, wherein we indulged in a 6-course lunch of exquisite food and fine wines.

We started with the Iberico Ham with Tomato on Bread. A piece of warm, crusty sourdough bread sits on a board, waiting for you to squeeze some of the cherry tomato’ juices onto it, and top it with Jamon Iberico. I loved this especially since when I’m in a buffet, I usually make a beeline for the cold cuts station first. This starter was paired with a 2013 Marieta, Albarino, Semiseco, Rias Baixas, which was light, semi-dry, and semi-sweet.

The Seafood Escabeche is art on a plate—a board bedecked with cod escabeche, Manila clam, Tiger prawn, mussel, sardine, olive coulis, chantarelle mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and a piece of deep-fried sardine bone, which tasted like chicharon. This dish was an interesting play on textures and tastes—a fantastic showcase of different flavors of the sea. It came paired with a 2012 Cocheros Y Criadores Candidato Blanco, a dry, sweet white wine.

Soup came next, and it was one of the tastiest soups I’ve had. The Broad Bean Cream Soup with Kilawing Mahi-Mahi, Caramelized Onions and EVOO was creamy and hearty, demonstrating acidity from the kilawing mahi-mahi and sweetness from the onions. The soup itself was rich and comforting.

For the main dish, we had the Stuffed Piquillo Pepper—a large piece of piquillo filled with cod fish brandada, laden with pil-pil sauce, and served with some artichokes and white asparagus. The fish is creamy, moist, and melt-in-the-mouth, the piquillo skin slightly sweet. I loved this—so light and exquisite! This dish was paired with the same Marieta white wine.

Chef Lluis first did a live cooking demonstration of the star of the day—the Paella Mixta—before he let us dig into it, as if to tease us and make us beg for it. Who wouldn’t salivate after this—especially after seeing the giant prawns and smorgasbord of seafood and meats he put into the paellera?

The Paella Mixta—a.k.a. the Best Paella in Town—has humongous Carabineros prawns imported from Barcelona, delicious Botifarra sausages, clams, mussels, squid, and chicken. Unlike the usual paellas served in Spanish restaurants here, this had a pale orange color (not yellowish), and it was slightly soupy. I longed for some socarrat but got none, but I couldn’t really complain as Chef Lluis’ paella was SO GOOD. The rice was still al dente even though it’s a bit soupy, and the prawns … damn!

We enjoyed the paella with some 2013 Cocheroa Y Criadores Candidato Tinto Joven Tempranillo, which I downed in one gulp, LOL!  At this point I was starting to get groggy—haha!

To finish off the meal, the Crema Catalana was served. It may look like crème brulee, but it’s not the same—the Spanish dessert is grainier, but just as indulgent and delicious. Chef Lluis’ rendition had strawberries, blackberries, chocolates, cinnamon, and hazelnut wafer cigar. We, of course, ate this with some sangria!

Marco Polo’s La Catalana offerings are truly exquisite—a culinary exploration that was straightforward but incredibly rewarding. Chef Lluis truly knows—and loves—his roots, for he has prepared a lineup of dishes that speaks of authenticity and exudes a fondness for the cuisine.

As for all us hankering for good Catalan or Spanish food, these dishes can be found, savored, and experienced at Cucina’s weekend lunch and dinner buffet services—starting on November 21 until December 6. Catch this exclusive offering and discover a whole new world of Spanish food!

24/F, Marco Polo Ortigas, Sapphire St. cor. Meralco Ave., Ortigas, Pasig City

Buffet rates:
Lunch (12:00NN – 2:30PM) – PhP1,500++
Dinner (6:00PM – 10:30PM) – PhP2,200++
Children 6 yrs. old and below – FREE
Children 7 – 12 yrs. old – 50% off

Do you love paella? What do you think of Cucina's?

My meal was sponsored by Marco Polo Ortigas. All opinions, however, are my own.

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