Too Much Potatoes,
Too Stingy with Seasoning,
Meh at Espana.
For 2015 I’m introducing a new type of post to the blog, The Meh Files. These write up will be of meals that didn’t wow me or piss me off in some way. Meals that are neither here nor there but the restaurant is notable enough to warrant a review.
One of the most memorable meals I had in 2014 was in Toronto at Bar Isabel. A restaurant that serves small plates with Spanish influences. If you venture out that way, I highly recommend a visit and in particular their ceviche (it’s presentation is unique) and the Basque cake.
Unfortunately, Vancouver doesn’t have too many Spanish influenced restaurants. I was curious to see if I just like Spanish food as a whole or just like Bar Isabel. With the closure of Le Bodega, the one notable tapas restaurant in town is Espana.
Small plates are more fun when you can share with a few people so along for the ride are Dennis from dennisthefoodie.com
and his charming wife.
As a group of three, were able to try eight small plates and two desserts.
The Gilda was a nice start to the meal as the simple skewer of marinated anchovies, fresh parsley and olive had nice bursts of contrasting flavour. The peppers were pickled and less spicy but I omitted for fear of a heartburn attack later on. The gilda were a great way to simulate the appetite and start our meal.
With just a squeeze of lemon, the whole fried anchovies were good to go on the their own. The dish was enjoyable. I felt the fish had a nice smoky flavour without the dip.
One special we had was duck egg on toast with lardon. The egg was executed well but overall I was underwhelmed with the dish as the lardon was shave so thin that it did not add anything to this dish. So in essence this was egg on toast. The lardon needed to be more prominent to make this dish more interesting.
Although I grew up eating offal, I have to admit I’m not a fan of every kind and of certain preparations. Simple pan seared/grilled liver of any animal, other than Fois Gras, is not something I enjoy. The medium grilled liver on the salad, I felt had an off putting bitter taste. The salad was nicely dressed and studded with crispy pork belly croutons. However due to my preference about the liver and my insistence that you don’t win friends with salad, I would pass on this dish.
Liver my not be my thing, but smoked paprika is! To my delight the Patatas Bravas was caked in a sauce that heavily leaned on this aromatic red spice. Under a mound of aioli (I thought it was sour cream to be honest) and chives, each cube of tender potato was bursting with a smoky sweet peppery taste. I was a happy camper.
Potatoes showed up a lot in our meal at Espana. If I had realized they would be in our grilled Octopus & Chorizo dish and in our special of grilled beef hearts, I would have skipped the Patatas Bravas dish and order something without the starchy tuber.
For the Octopus & Chorizo dish, it was more potato than anything else. The one piece of octopus I had exhibited a strong burnt/charred taste so that was not good. The chorizo was all right. I felt like this dish was a hodgepodge of ingredients thrown together with out any cohesion.
The inclusion of potato and caramelized onions for our beef heart special made more sense as beef heart is known as poor man’s steak. With beef heart, it needs to be cooked to medium at max as it can be quite tough and Espana does a great job here. However the beef heart was quite bland which surprised me as I was expecting a deep beefy flavour. In fact the strongest flavour in this dish was butter and the onions.
Another dish with a lack of flavour was the pork belly. The pork skin was rendered nicely into a super crystalline crunchy layer. The pork belly itself was fork tender but it was underseasoned and relied on the Romenasco sauce to give it a boost. Some of the accompanying herby (sage or bay I think) white beans where under cooked and overall also under seasoned as well.
With the small plates consumed, our first dessert was the churros. I’ve never had this dessert before and I found Espana’s sugar coated version to be dense. Reminded me of day old yeast donut. However they acted as the perfect vessel to scoop up the two fantastic dips that came with the dish.
The first a caramel yogurt dip which had a nice sweet, creamy and subtle sour dynamic going for it. The second dip was a chocolate that had a mint accent, which was also delicious.
Our second dessert was the flan; this was delicious and well prepared. It was firm without being dense. Had an ultra smooth texture. Sweet without being overwhelming and just had a faint egg taste. I’m a big fan of custard based desserts and Espana’s flan hit the spot.
Overall, there were too many underwhelming dishes at our meal at Espana. Perhaps the mark I had set was too high with my meal at Bar Isabel lurking in my mind.
The only thing I would I like to have again is the Patatas Bravas and the flan but that is not enough to make me return to Espana any time soon.
For a different take and 100% better photos of our meal at Espana, check out Dennis’ review here