Food & drink // Viva lEspaa!

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September 10, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar

There it was, hiding in plain sight — the best meal to tease my palate in a month of table-hopping. I rediscovered Solera, and it was like hooking up with a high-school sweetheart who’d turned into Mr. Right.

OK, while I was napping, Solera acquired a new owner and dynamite new chef, Jorge Guzman, who recently introduced his own menu of highly creative tapas — small plates that actually aren’t all that small, certainly generous enough to share; most ring in under $10.

Sure, everybody’s doing small plates now, but the Spanish invented the concept and Jorge’s are as clever as the stylin’ going on today in Madrid. The new wine list — totally Spanish — is like a stroll through the nation’s vineyards with a glass in your hand. Not to mention the cocktails (including The Sun Also Rises) and new spins on sangria.

From the list of verduras — veggies — we hit upon the beet salad: little roasted rubies paired with watermelon, goat cheese and curly pea shoots tossed in chive oil, then tied together with sweet red pepper jam. Perfect with the complementary basket of rugged, yeasty sourdough.

Next, an egg poached gently as a custard, cresting a heap of earthy sausage bits riddled with garlic, joining sweet sautéed tomatoes that played against the vinegar of pickled ramps. Moving on to seafood (choose scallops paired with chorizo; prawns fired with chili-hot PilPil, octopus, cod) for the evening’s pescado en escabeche — tonight, a dangerously delicious softshell crab, deftly deep-fried then set upon a bed of pickled artichokes, asparagus and onions. What are they doing on a plate together, you wonder, then you taste it and decide it works.

But the mussels, not so much. Small and flabby, they get lost in a flurry of gazpacho salsa, spiked (nicely, by the way) with a sparkle of burnt Meyer lemon dust — a marriage made on the drawing board but not necessarily in heaven.

Time for some carne — beefsteak, pork ribs, chicken, the usual barnyard icons tweaked with paprika, garlic, sherry and what’s this? Charmoula? Well, sure. Spain boasts Moorish roots as well, so pair it with couscous to spiff up the quail. Or rub the bird with black pepper honey and nest it on grilled chanterelles wafting garlic and hints of coffee. Works for me.

Oh, wait! Back up! We haven’t tried the patatas bravas! Big mistake, because 1) they’re as basic and traditional as tapas come — spuds simply fried, then sent out with a fiery aioli and 2) they’re my favorite tapa of all time. 

Now we can proceed happily to dessert. Hard choices: a combo of cool, smooth semifrito with equally suave chocolate custard is a winner. So’s the leche fritta — the archetypical fried milk, here infused with strawberries, then paired with olive oil ice cream (house-made and ultra-yummy). Next time: a flan to conquer any jaded palate, laced with bitter orange, joined by lavender and rosewater sorbet. Or that quintessentially Spanish addiction, churros (doughnut fingers) to dip in hot chocolate as deep and dark as a scandal and just as irresistible.