I just returned from a transformative dining experience in East Harlem. I am still vibrating. These pictures tell some of the story of a chef’s passion for cooking and a love of the foods of Spain. This is Tastings Social presents GAUDIr (@TS_Gaudir, 251 E. 110th St., 212-744-4422, www.tastingsnyc.com), a Monday-night-only pop-up serving Basque, Catalonian and other dishes from Spain.

Having fallen in love with the foods of chef Kenichi Tajima and wife Keiko Tajima of Mountain Bird (still Tuesdays through Sundays), I knew taking a Monday-night-only flyer at the same location would not disappoint. The dinner is helmed by Tastings Social Special Events Executive Chef Cédric Durand. A classically trained French chef, he found inspiration for Gaudir from his Spanish wife.

My guest and I sat down to a simply dressed table and perused the leather-bound menus. Durand greeted us and offered a cocktail. It would be Durand’s father-in-law’s sangria and one of three Spanish gin tonic cocktails, a reflection of Spain’s love affair with the drink and as the largest consumer of gin in the world. His recommendation for charred lemon, rosemary and coriander had my name all over it.

We could have had everything on the menu, from the tapas to the desserts, but we asked for chef’s choice. Spoiler alert, he hit everything right on the head, although we had to add some jamon Ibérico to the mix. I mean, when “in Spain”—you know the rest.

So let’s get to the getting. First up were our tapas. Patatas bravas (crispy potatoes, salsa brava, aioli; $8), escalivada (roasted eggplant, red pepper, onion, cumin yogurt, herbs; $12), 36-months-aged Ibérico ham ($14), setas a la Vasca (chanterelle, shiitake, king oyster, egg yolk, breadcrumbs; $9) and, from the Mariscos menu, pulpo a la plancha (grilled octopus, smoked pimento, arbequina olive oil mashed potatoes; $15).

The onslaught of tasty small bites was magnificent. Gaudir cured me of my dislike of patatas bravas with perfectly fried, not greasy, potatoes, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside and lovingly dressed with the sauces. Brava indeed! The escalivada was a good vegetarian moment, although the option with preserved anchovies would have raised the profile even more.

Thank you, chef, for letting us dive into that mushroom tapa. This dish is the decadent vegetarian star at Gaudir. Breaking that yolk and coating the warm buttery umami mushrooms with those delicate breadcrumbs led only to the perfect bite. And that creamy olive oil potato mash was a perfect foil for the smoky char of the octopus.

For our main course, Durand chose paella de mariscos ($23 per person). Traditional Bomba rice and saffron with monkfish, sepia, shrimp and clams. It was a thing of beauty when it arrived to our table. It tasted even better. Seasoned well, the sepia (cuttlefish) added great texture to this mix. Although an Albarino white ($9) would have been the wine pairing, the Carignan Grenache-Syrah-Priorat red was calling me.

There is more on this evening of Spain in East Harlem you do not want to miss. Visit my blog at www.TalkingSCHOP.wordpress.com to discover the craveable desert we enjoyed and my post-meal conversation with chef Durand.

Gracias a todos!

Happy eating and thanks for reading!

Kysha Harris is a food writer and editor, culinary producer, consultant and owner of SCHOP!, a personalized food service in NYC for more than 15 years. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @SCHOPgirl, on Facebook, /SCHOPnyc, and her blog, www.talkingSCHOP.wordpress.com. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback?  Invitations!  Email AmNewsFOOD at AmNewsFOOD@SCHOPnyc.com. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @NYAmNewsFOOD and tag us with #SoAmNewsFOOD with
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