Time-out at Terry’s

(Clockwise) The menu at Terry’s, aptly titled “The Art of Food,” is a great read, each entry a story in itself, like the Tarta Rusa Imperial, the inspiration for sans rival. Delicious discoveries and adventures await at all the Terry’s stores. Not quite red but heftier than a rosé, the Château Penin Clairet Bordeaux 2017 is a gem of a wine, a mustdrink at Terry’s. The Torta Riojana is one magnificent omelette, a must-try at Terry’s.

SHOULD I have the usual or do I order something I haven’t tried before? I was at the Terry’s at the Podium, torn between having a quick bite or taking a leisurely lunch. “Quick” would mean my favorite Cinco Jotas Béchamel Croquettes and the MESS sandwich afterward. An unhurried lunch would mean I can browse among the wine shelves while waiting for my Dinuguan Risotto (preparation time: 25 minutes) and then have the Tarta Rusa Imperial for dessert afterward.

Dining and shopping at Terry’s are both adventure and reassurance—that everything on the menu is delicious and that something equally yummy is just waiting to be discovered. The actual menu makes interesting reading.

Each entry is a story in itself and, I have come to realize, the story (at least partly) of the owner himself, “JC” Juan Carlos de Terry. Take the menu cover: an image of jamón legs suspended from the ceiling, in the cavernous curing room of Cinco Jotas, the famous brand of jamón Ibérico.  JC, an accomplished photographer, had taken the photograph himself on one of his regular trips through Spain to visit family and suppliers. (Cinco Jotas is both family and supplier as Fernando Terry, of the Osborne family that owns Cinco Jotas, is his nephew.) The Dinuguan Risotto, enriched with black sausage and Basque chili peppers, is JC’s take on his favorite dinuguan, a recipe he created for the first edition of the Madrid Fusión Manila in May 2015. The MESS—“Mr. Eduardo’s Special Sandwich”—has the distinction of being the first ever sandwich at Terry’s: smoked pork ham, pepper salami, Tomme de Savoie cheese, tomato slices and lettuce, bound together with JC’s special dressing on ciabatta, the bread I always have.

But that day, after a particularly frenzied morning of meetings and traffic, I needed more than a sandwich. That was how I ended up at Terry’s at The Podium, my go-to place for a little bit of quiet and plenty of nourishment. I was ushered into one of the banquettes (the only vacant one), each one a seating for four, lined up by the wall. How lucky, I thought, for a solo diner without a reservation to get coveted seating. It was noontime, the peak of the lunch hour and the store was bustling. A gentleman heading to the checkout counter with a pack of coiled chorizo, did a double take and detoured at the wine shelves where two other ladies were looking through the bottles. Was he going to pick out wine for the chorizo?  A staff member was busy wrapping holiday gift baskets. There was a burst of laughter from the mezzanine at the other end of the room. How can a store be this busy and still be peaceful?

Whoever were up there must be having a good time and maybe having some wine too, I told the server who handed me the menu. When the server came back to take my order, I had made up my mind: the Tortilla Riojana to start with and after, the dish intriguingly called “The Perfect Salmon,” marked with an icon that said it was a JC original. (Either of two icons can appear beside an entry on the menu: one that signifies the dish as a must-try or as a special JC creation.) And (unlike the happy group in the mezzanine) I was having a glass of the Château Penin Clairet Bordeaux 2017. (That same server took the time to find out if the group in the mezzanine had indeed ordered some wine.)

The wine-by-the-glass selection is another must-try at Terry’s. There would almost always be three wines—red, white and rosé—all carefully chosen from the impeccable wine list. The Château Penin Clairet was the hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Clairet (not to be confused with claret) is a Bordeaux specialty, made from the Bordeaux red wine varieties, although Merlot is the grape of choice, either alone or as the predominant grape in the blend. Not quite as hefty as a red, but with enough muscle to pair with heavier fare, Clairet straddles both worlds of red and rosé and is still light enough to be served chilled. The Château Penin Clairet is from Quinsac, a commune in the Premier Côtes de Bordeaux where clairet is thought to have originated. How like JC de Terry to find a gem like this and bring it to his stores for people to enjoy.

The Tortilla Riojana, marked by a “must-try” icon on the menu, now joins my list of favorites—“a distinctive omelette stuffed with slow-cooked onions, potatoes and roasted piquillo peppers sautéed with Chorizo Alejandro from Rioja,” read the description on the menu. “The Perfect Salmon” was just that—perfect, with JC’s stupendous sauce made with cava, smoked salmon, organic dill and Dijon whole grain mustard. I thought of forgoing dessert, but how can I leave without having the grand Tarta Imperial Rusa, the precursor of the sans rival? And then, with the last sip of the clairet still lingering in my head, I walked out into the blazing afternoon sun, fortified by JC de Terry’s generosity of spirit, manifest in the beautiful meal I just had.

There will be time enough this New Year for more delicious discoveries—and more wine at Terry’s.

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