In Praise of Small, Saltwater Forage Fish

Categories: Food Find, Simmons

A. Simmons
The sardines at Contigo: Pace yourself.
​According to Contigo's menu of August 15, 2009, cured anchovies from Cantabria are the finest in the world, which means they're a far cry from the mealy squiggles studding lonely lamp-lit buffet table pizza pies. An Internet excursion into the anchovy-verse turned up a local blog entitled In Praise of Sardines, with a 2005 entry spilling forth a wealth of information about these most lofty of small, saltwater forage fish:
The best anchovies in the world come from the Iberian peninsula, particularly from L'Escalaon the Mediterranean coast of Catalonia, where the little fish are known as anxovas, and from the region of Cantabria on the Bay of Biscay west of the Basque region, where the fish are called bocartes. The best examples from these regions are invariably filleted and packed in extra virgin olive oil... If you have never liked the taste of anchovies, the bocarte or anchoa del Cantábrico, more widely available than those from L'Escala, will be a revelation. It is the José Carreras of anchovies. Its rich, bold flavor expands across your tongue just as the Catalonian tenor's notes fill an opera house. These anchovies are not for the meek.
A swift, deeper dig unmasked the blogger as Brett Emerson, chef of the cozy, newish restaurant in Noe Valley -- naturally, called Contigo.

Right now at Contigo, three slender fillets of these wonder-fish will cost you $5. Go there and get them, along with everything else on the menu. They arrive suspended in an incandescent slick of fruity, salt-suffused olive oil, dense and meaty, the kind of explosive, aggressively flavorful substance only a perfect alliance of nature, time, and human experience can create. You'll want to slice the fillets into small bits and very slowly transport each one to your mouth via toothpick. A fork will have to do, but be snail-like in your pacing and drink plenty of Cava. Then, when you run out of bread for sopping, you'll want to hoover the plate until no trace of neon oil remains. You won't give a shit who sees you.

Contigo 1320 Castro (at 24th St.), 285-0250

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