FORMENTERA - SANT FERRAN DE SES ROQUES - LA MARITERRANEA
Our friend Jonathon Lipsin is back in Formentera for the summer. Here is his visit to La Mariterranea.
I walked by it last night, this raffish-looking restaurant with a funky patio and an equally funky kitchen with a cook feverishly working over a hot fire and multiple pots and paella pans.
This could be The Place I thought to myself. You know that place that is off the main road away from the fancy high-end restaurants where the food makes all the difference and you will find yourself talking about it many years later. My nose started twitching and I decided maybe to follow my footsteps from last night and check it out.
I persuaded my vegan companion to join me as I followed my nose and we walked in and made reservations for a half hour later.
We found out the chef is a Brit who has lived in Spain for some 20 years in Valencia which is the mother of paella dating back to Roman times. I rubbed my hands in anticipation.
We walked down to the centre of Sant Francesc Xavier (San Fernando) village that being the hippie bar Fonda Pepe where I had washed up some 47 years ago as a 20-year-old world vagabond hippie. I ordered two glasses of red wine. They always serve a superior one, most likely from the "payès" meaning, country wine from the island.
Jonathon outside the bustling Fonda Pepe in Sant Francesc enjoying a glass of vino tinto.
We bantered with the owner who has known Bernadette for 40 years and sat outside people-watching. Here is where the action all is. After finishing our wine we walked a minute away to the restaurant which sits in a forgotten street off the centre. You can pass it by and not blink, that is how unpretentious it is unlike the Can Forn restaurant across the way that boasts serving "local Payus" food for the tourists to try.
Various starters are available like pulpo (octopus).
and the paellas come in various shapes and sizes, like this seafood one.
The server is a stunning Spanish girl who speaks modest English and helps me decide. I order a vegetarian paella for Bernadette and myself and a dish of dorado (gilthead bream) which is the local fish and sure to be fresh. It is similar to the sea bass but has a deeper body and slightly sweeter flesh. We started with the house-made ail-oli and I declared it the best I ever had as we ravished it greedily with chunks of wonderful crusty bread. It had the correct amount of garlic just this side of a healthy dose and this set this ali-oli apart from the pedestrian ones I have had. Each swab with the bread begged for another until it was all gone. We waited as I licked my lips for our main courses. Presently a large paella pan arrived loaded with grilled vegetables studding the yellow saffron rice. Mushrooms of all kinds, some mysterious zucchini, white Romano beans and green beans and many other morsels.
It was wonderful as we scraped the rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan (known to paella aficionados as the Socarrat), often my favourite part of paella. My vegan companion was very happy.
The fish arrived, two large pieces pan seared and served with capers and tomatoes and scalloped potato slices on the side and it was good and fresh. I would have preferred a whole fish grilled but this was fine enough especially combined with the hearty paella. A bite of the paella and then a taste of the delicate white fish adorned by sprigs of herbs encrusted on the skin.
Johnny was a happy boy as I savoured each bite and surveyed the growing darkness of the street and watched as lovers walked hand in hand to seek out some bar to have a tete a tete perhaps.
Spain is a passionate one and the paella pan was scraped clean I asked our server who was having fun with us to talk to me about dessert.
She exclaimed, "You must try the cheesecake!" I replied, "I know cheesecake like no one else and I am reluctant. I have been raised at the Carnegie Deli in NYC and so I am spoiled. I have tasted cheesecake around the world," I boasted, much to the scorn of my companion who has heard this before, "and I doubt I will be happy with your cheesecake here in San Fernando village." I said smugly. She fixed on me a confident eye that said don't mess with me outsider gringo and she shot back, "I make the cheesecake Senor and my cheesecake is the best !" Who am I to say no?
She served it. I dipped in a fork after professionally twirling it in the air for a second to get the right rhythm and I dove in. It was damn good piled high with the right among of sweetness and covered in delicious fruit preserves. "Can I marry you?" I said to her purring, and content as I tucked away in.
I confess the paella and the fish was so much that I couldn't eat all so I took the rest to go albeit reluctantly and later that night we caught up with friends from Italy Davide and Jana and I gave it to them.
I saw Jana this morning and she ran to me with her eyes wide open extolling the cheesecake she and Davide ate for breakfast. "Bellissimo" she cooed. "Well, I know cheesecake "I rejoined with a wink.
Words © Jonathon Lipsin
Jonathon's music picks can be found here:
LA MARITERRANEA Calle Major, Sant Ferran de ses Roques, 07860, Formentera, Spain +34 674 274 298
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