This one was on “Vancity Buzz’s” best new restaurants of 2015 list. And I choose it for today, as when dining with a group, I prefer tapas so that I get to try many dishes and eat only what I like from them.
One of my guests has been to its predecessor downtown, so knew what to expect with this one. She knew the food would be good, declaring that we would be spending a lot of money and trying many things. However, the decor was better than anything she expected. After we set our jackets down, she even took the time to tour the restaurant herself. They didn’t have happy hour (yet), but opened at 4pm and we were only the second ones in.
The Spanish influenced wasn’t only in the name or cuisine, but it continued to the ambience and decor as well. The space was rich with warm tones: Browns, reds, and gold. Brown in the tables and booths, red in the checkered napkins at each setting, and gold in the rim of the crystal goblet used as a tea light on each table. There were patterned tiles under our feet, each different but altogether complimentary in design. Cast iron chandeliers hung from the ceiling, suspended from chains and glowing with an orange hue. One wall was plastered in Spanish posters and adverts like a collage. Another hung with greyscale canvas art and black and white photographs surrounding it. All this was accentuated by the bluesy beat of the music playing over head, it even had my Cuban guest swaying to it and clapping to the tempo. Authentic and engulfing, are the best word to describe the scene.
The staff were just as authentic. Our server was attentive in a friendly sort of way; like a cousin who doesn’t know you so well, but cares for you just the same, and wants you to have a good time. She took several opportunities to engage my other guest’s baby girl, even getting her manager to help make room for their stroller. Apparently in Spanish culture, the family comes first, kids are welcomed everywhere including the bar, or in our case a nice restaurant. The large family that sat in the corner opposite us had their toddler exploring the isle between the tables. Where ours held us a table and a half worth of space. The guests that eventually sat next to us, would not be happy over it.
When looking for libations, my tapas experienced guest was insistent that we had to have Spanish wine with tapas. The wine list, like the fold out paper food menu was spelled out in Spanish. Luckily this sake guess double as our translator, she knew the cuisine well and spearheaded our entire ordering process. Though each Spanish name did come with an English description underneath.
“Jamon iberico de bellota”. This was described as the “finest ham in the world”, so good that the vegetarian even had to nibble. You could feel the quality as you pulled a gummy sheet of meat from the plate. And taste the quality as soon as it melted on your tongue. It had a unique chew with melted fat, to match its unique salty tang. It’s hard to describe, but you can taste that what you were having was something special. I have never had anything like it. This plate, like a few others to come also came with a pile of mixed olives. Both it and the ham were easier to eat with fingers.
“Membrillo y queso”, aged manchego cheese and quince jelly. It went well as a pairing with the ham above. Glad they came together. Like an adult ham and cheese combo with the bonus of jam to seal the salty with some sweet. The cheese was deep and rich. A starchy, dry and dense match with the fruity syrupy jam. And because of of the sweeter jelly this option was also mentioned as part of the dessert menu. It can go both ways depending on what you pair it with.
We ended up asking for some bread to complete our ham and cheese sandwich feel. The white and multigrain slices made a great accompaniment. It came with a dish of olive oil for dipping. Like everything else, you could taste the difference in their Spanish olive oil. The flavour was so deep, like all the olive oils I have had before it was diluted in comparison.
“Tortilla espanola”, the traditional potato omelette. This was thin slices of potato adhered together with egg, hence the omelette description. However it was more like cake in texture and appearance. Fluffy, with chunks of starchy potato. According to the Cuban it was done perfectly, exactly like how she recalled it from memory. It was served at the perfect temperature, where the potatoes were neither too soft or too hard. It was served with a nice garlic mayonnaise to change the taste, not that it needed anymore flavour. So good that we ordered a second serving and it came out just the same.
“Champinones”. Sautéed mixed mushrooms flavoured with garlic, sherry, and finely grated aged manchego. There was the option to add a fried egg for extra on top, I regret not doing so as it could have used another element to create some depth. It was the same flavour in each cap. It was a juicy pop in your mouth, accented by sharp cheese. It needed a starch with it. Some bread, a little pasta; or in my case the omelette above was helpful.
“Gamas al ajillo”. Sautéed prawns in garlic and chillies with sherry. It was a little spicy, although should not have been, as Spanish cuisine isn’t spicy at all. The prawns were good, and it’s oil based sauce made a great dip for the basket of bread.
“Pimientos de pardon”. The blistered peppers with maldon salt was a fun one. When delivered, we were warned that some may be on the spicy side. So essentially this was the pepper eating version of Russian roulette. It was the luck of the draw whether your pepper was spicy or not. I was 1:3 for getting a non spicy one, though even then the heat creeped up close to the stem. I enjoyed the game, holding you breath, as you watched one another bite down. When it wasn’t making me tear up, the waxy pepper had a nice flavour brought out by the crunchy salt sprinkled over it.
“Lengua estofada”. We dared the beef tongue made with tomato, onion, and capers. I actually think it’s weird to break down a tongue with your tongue. Though it’s great that they were using every part of the animal. It would have been better if they didn’t slice the tongue as a whole, that they didn’t preserve its natural shape. However covering it in the pasty tomato sauce helped. It actually it tasted no different than if it were from any other part of the cow, it was even a little fatty. And if no one mentioned it, I wouldn’t have been able to tell that this was tongue meat.
“Crema catalana”. This was not the usual Creme brûlées that I am partial to. It had the same crisp sugar burnt crust, but under it, the texture was more like whipped yams. Where I prefer the almost pudding and a little bit jello-like texture that I have had in the past.
“Churros” served with hot dipping chocolate and vanilla mascarpone. This is actually my first taste of a churro, which is essentially a Spanish doughnut. This textured straw was fried, making it look and taste similar to a Chinese donut; but less greasy and sweeter with the sugar and cinnamon coating. The chocolate sauce was a little tart, probably from the use of good quality dark chocolate. But best smeared with the thick milky cream of mascarpone.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
They had a winning combination: clean and simple food in a dark and rich environment. Mix in staffing that care and a comfortable ambience, and you have the makings of a great night. I would be bringing many guests back to this one. A great place to sit and catch up at, or the one for a casual dinner date. My new favourite spot for tapas. Make sure you visit with the attention to pair your food with Spanish wine. Don’t deny your cravings.