MUST READ - MUST GO to incredible new authentic spanish restaurant in san mateo
- wonki Aug 14, 2000 10:23 PM
to my fellow sf bay area chowhounds (and anybody else who happens to be reading this post):
just wanted to introduce myself to everyone out here since i moved to the bay area several months ago from new york where i used to post quite regularly on chowhound, and haven't really had time yet with the new job and all to really chime in over here (that plus the fact that i needed to get acclimated restaurant-wise and nothing's really blown me away enough to compel me to post (a few have come close and i'll mention them at some point)). until now.
this past friday, my girlf- i mean, fiancee (still trying to get used to saying that - just got engaged) said she felt like tapas, and since it's pretty rare for either of us to actually voice a preference (come on, i know you've been there), i whipped open the san mateo county central yellow pages (we live in san mateo) and read thru the entire restaurant listing (not something i'd recommend to anyone who values their time, okay i'm not one of them) and the closest thing we found was something called johnny pancha's mexican grill or something like that that claimed to be a spanish restaurant (yeah right). for obvious reasons (not the least of which was that its address was listed as crystal springs mall) we decided to skip the mexican grill and head into town where i had sworn from my many wanderings that there was a spanish restaurant somewhere on one of the side streets.
sure enough, right there on 234 South B Street between 2nd and 3rd avenue we saw a sign for ole espana (as in olay! espanya, not old espana - a distinction you will be singing to yourself after having eaten there, believe me). we were a little hesitant at first because the tiny first floor was empty and looked none too promising, but a friendly guy with a mustache called out to us, asked if we were there for dinner, and then led us upstairs to where the actual dining room was located.
the decor is nice, nothing too fancy, some exposed brick and plenty of space. i was pleasantly surprised to find a list of decent riojas all reasonably priced. from the bottles i recognized, they certainly didn't come close to the 300% markup most places charged. and though i've never heard of it, a 1989 (i repeat 19 -8- 9) campo viejo gran reserva for $45 had to be a relative bargain so i ordered that one. and it turned out to be a really nice bottle, which really opened up after a few minutes, and went exceptionally well with the food.
ah, yes, the food. what struck both of us about the menu was the great list of choices, many of which we had never heard of before but all of which sounded really good. we decided to go with 5 tapas, though the waittress recommended some of the main dishes as well (and as i told my fiancee (yeah baby), we'd be back there as many times as it took to try everything on that menu). we ordered the classic tortilla, the gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), albondigas (meatballs), the pimientos de piquillo (a house specialty according to the waittress) and one of the daily specials, buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and a cilantro dressing.
the buffalo mozzarella special was amazing. one bite of that and i knew this meal was going to be good. right off the bat, the first thing i noticed was how fresh everything was, down to the lettuce which they used as garnish. the mozzarella was superb, just the right texture, not too salty, obviously of superior quality. and the cilantro and other herbs and spices mixed on top complemented the cheese and tomato perfectly, not overpowering at all which you might expect, but subtle and an exciting distinction from the mozzarella and tomato you would get at an italian restaurant.
i think sometimes the simplest dishes are the hardest to make really well, so when i bit into the tortilla, i knew for sure that the man in the kitchen had skills. the tortilla struck the perfect balance of egg, potato and onion, the sweetness of the onion tempered beautifully by the other two, the density of the combination as if out of a textbook. my friend mike yu (another fellow chowhound), who introduced me to this simple dish, would do well to fly out all the way from korea to eat this, fly back and be perfectly content.
even the albondigas, usually an afterthought in most tapas places, you could tell were made with care and attention. not hard and tasteless like every other place in new york i've had these, but tender and flavorful, with chopped almonds and a variety of spices to make it a dish you really needed to think about.
but the real killer were the pimientos de piquillo, red peppers imported from spain, stuffed with seafood and topped with lobster sauce. i don't have the adjectives to describe how good they were, other than to say that the dish rivaled things i've had at places like nobu in new york (though that was japanese food of course) at half the price and without the hassle of getting a reservation. the peppers themselves are amazingly sweet, and surprisingly soft, the seafood stuffing light, almost cheeselike, like melted ricotta, and the lobster sauce just the right temperament of added flavor and not the distraction you'd expect it to be. each pepper was topped with a couple of roasted pinenuts which was pure genius, something without which, you might not notice, but with them, really puts the dish over the top. they say that god is in the details, and if that's true, then god is all over this place.
that's about the highest compliment i can pay to this place, other than to say that it reminds me of something like the restaurant in the movie "big night" (except the beauty of it is, that was the movies and this place is real) or a place in new york called giorgio's trattoria which i luckily found before i left - one of those rare places nowadays where they care about the food above all else, a place where the chef really takes pride in his work and where you know that you're going to get the real thing and not some dumbed down americanized version that caters to the masses so that bubba can have his burrito with kraft slices.
this place is a treasure, a real gem, the kind of place that justifies chowhound's existence and restores your faith in restaurants in general. you won't find this in zagat, or any guide book and damn sure not in the yellow pages (at least not this year) and i'm letting you know because these people deserve to be recognized and that as chowhounds, you can appreciate a place like this, or rather, like me, you live for places like this. this place made my weekend (well, my new set of golf clubs didn't hurt either, but anyway). too many times places like this will go under because it's hidden on some side street on the second floor of some building nobody would bother entering if they weren't feeling a bit daring. please, do yourselves the favor of checking this place out before it suffers that fate, or even starts that downhill slide because it realizes it's a business and needs to make money (see reference above to bubba). i guarantee you'll feel the same way we did and maybe we can keep this place going and its integrity intact.
whoa, got a little carried away there, sorry about that, but it's just been so long since i've been to a really good restaurant like that and i can hardly contain myself. i do have to say, that the only disappointing thing about the place were the gambas al ajillo. the shrimp never absorbed the garlic sauce, and the garlic sauce itself was a bit flat. but hey, a couple misses here and there are nothing compared to a bunch of home runs. the other minor drawback is that for tapas, the price is a bit higher than usual (about $8.95 per dish, and only about three items per dish) but again, for that quality, i'm more than happy to pay those prices.
by the way, the people there are super nice (they'll even give you a tour of their adjoining nightclub which they also own) and we found out that the place has been open for 3 months and that the chef comes from spain, the island of mallorca to be exact, and they import a lot of their ingredients, serrano ham, peppers, olives, cheeses, directly from spain. now that's what i'm talking about.
sorry for the long post, but i wanted to get everything right, or as close to right as i could, because i felt it was the only way to do the place justice. well, let me know if you go there and what you think and if i'm completely off my rocker with how good it is. for all i know, mr. chef from mallorca was doing a one night engagement. though i doubt it. and if you see me and my fiancee there, say hi, i'm the guy with the big goofy grin on my face, and my fiancee is the one looking really embarrassed to be with me. :-) take care.
wonkster, you've come out of your semi-retirement like a champ, with double parentheses and everything!
This place sounds great; I really hope people support it. Every time a great place goes out of biz for lack of support, we chowhounds have failed...and given justification to all the bad souless food in the world!
Use it or lose it, you all! Spread the word!
And...public congrats re: your engagement! Who's catering?
re: Jim Leff
what's a wonki posting without parentheticals (don't answer that).
it's good to be back. we need to get this board going. i know that with all the places out here on the peninsula, especially all the little hole in the wall asian joints, that there are tons of little treasures just waiting to be found.
thanks for the congrats. any suggestions on caterers will be appreciated, though we haven't even set a date yet. :-)
re: Gary Cheong
what's going on? yeah, you know, i really missed posting. it's fun to be back on board again.
eunice and i will be in town in november. i'll give you advance notice so we can get some of the ny chow crew together for a meal again. thanks for the well wishes. see you soon.
:Just discovered the Chowhound and been trying to make up for lost time! I work in NYC but go to SF at least once a month. Gonna give this place a try! I will let you know my spin on it. Georgios Tratoria...got to give this a try as well, where is it? I love those small Italian resturants like John's, Ralphs, etc. See ya in the Bay town resturants some day!
welcome aboard. giorgio's is on 84th between 1st and 2nd, just off the corner of 1st on the south side of the street if memory serves. there's no sign on the place, but it's got wood paneling on the outside and frosted glass. just pop your head in and you'll know. also, search the new york board for my original post on the place. hope you enjoy both spots.
wonk--the chowhounds seem to be coming to the rescue. We've saved a few undeservedly neglected places in NY from the brink; let's see if SF hounds can turn this place into a household name!
Wonki, What a great post about your terrific find! Gotta get out there one of these days.
Best wishes on your engagement. Ain't love grand?
Thank you, thank you, thank you for finding this place and posting. I've been on an Iberian tear for over a year now and can't seem to get enough of the region's wines and foods. And, I'm getting to word out so that this place will continue to be there for you to enjoy.
Piquillo peppers are so wonderful! First had these at a tasting sponsored by Rioja producers - the sweetness and gentle spice of the peppers is a perfect match for red Rioja. In fact, the best piquillos come from the Rioja region. Another time I had piquillo rellenos at a now-departed Catalan restaurant in SF, had a chance to rave to chef on his rendition, and asked him where I could buy the peppers to make in my own kitchen. Then he gave me a tin to take home!
Campo Viejo isn't my favorite Rioja producer, but 1989 was a very good year. At $45 at a restaurant, I'd certainly be pursuaded to polish off a bottle. Gran Reserva Riojas have wonderful perfume and are so compatible with almost meal.
Mike and other fans of Spanish tortilla might enjoy the legend of the Basque omelet linked below. Found this last year when I was hot on Basque gastronomy.
re: Melanie Wong
If you don't have a convenient source for piquillo peppers, and other ingredients from Spain, you can get them by mail order from The Spanish Table in Seattle. I've put their web site link below. Fax them or e-mail them and get put on their mailing list. This is a fantastic resource for all things Spanish and Catalan, one that I personally use a lot.
P.S. to Wonki: Great to have you posting again.
re: Tom Armitage
Thanks Tom & MA. I've been buying from Española Meats in Harbor City (310 area code) near LA. No website but a very complete catalog with peppers, spices, candies, white asparagus and many kinds of chorizo and other meats. Nice people on the phone. Delivery is 2 days via standard UPS. I'll compare selection and prices with Spanish Table.
Great to hear you are still finding Spanish food! One piece of advice, start moving from the Riojas and start mosieing over to Ribera Del Dueros. Riojas are fast becoming the overhyped Spanish variety, a bottle of Riscal or Carceres is fast replacing Mouton Cadet as a "good" wine...right. Ribera Del Duero I gather, I am not sure about this, is either a sub region or completely separate from Rioja. Beautiful stuff. Absolutely good stuff. Ask the nice people you met at the restaurant if they can get wine from there.
I happen to be doing some business right now with some Spaniards and they brought over the three essentials of Spanish food: jamon serrano (don't ask me how...next to the laptop in the laptop case?), a bottle of ribera del duero, and membrillo. Membrillo -- sometimes its nothing more than sophisticated jelly, but there is something about fruit and cheese. You know how jelly and cream cheese normally...you wouldn't think it goes that well together but it does...some good quince membrillo and goat cheese is just amazing stuff.
Since my last tortilla phase, I have found that simplicity is key. Its not what else goes in besides the onion and potatoes, like ham, peppers, etc. That's just a denver omelette at Denny's. Its how the potatoes are sliced, what oil is used, and how much care is given to dice the onions... Its a philosophical thing just like kneading bread. Wonderful stuff, wonderful stuff. And wonderful wishes to you and the embarassed bride to be!
re: Michael Yu
Tortilla is indeed a deep thing. I've been to Spain 19 times, ostensibly to play jazz gigs, but really to scout tortilla de patatas. And I've gotten to the point where I can tell which region the chef's family is from by tasting the tortilla. The way the potatoes are cut, how brown they are, how wet the tortilla is, how thick it is, etc etc.
Problem is, you can't make it outside Spain, because their eggs have a distinctive richness that's essential for the recipe. Everywhere else, the potatoes and oil dominate because the eggs are so wimpy.
re: Jim Leff
The eggs in spain are no different than they are here. You're just being silly.
Making Tortilla Espanol is just a matter of practice and technique. You simply have to balance the amount of eggs to the amount of potatoes and olive oil used. Mind you I have never had it done well at any spanish restaurants in the US, I tend to have it at home. I like the potatoes to impart a very strong olive oil taste with just a hint of onion, but thats just the way I was used to it in Salamanca.
I dont even think the origin of the olive oil matters, allthough certain oils of iberian origin impart a very strong olive taste which is what you want in a tortilla, and you want to use spanish onions and smaller potatoes, but not red ones or new pototatoes. Do not use extra virgin, it doesnt taste strong enough and first pressings will just burn in an oven -- a virgin one is just fine. You want to cook the potatoes and onions in the pan on the stove just until they brown, and then you add the eggs -- Cook the sucker in a cast iron pan for a few minutes and finish off in the oven for about 10-15 minutes at 350 to get the browning at the top -- no other pan will work. You also want tortilla to cool down considerably before you it eat it, I actually put it in the fridge for a while after I cook it, and then right before I serve it I bring it up to room temp by leaving it on the kitchen counter . When you take the tortilla out of the pan put it on some paper towels so it soaks up the excess oil, and let it rest.
Best way to serve it in my opinion is with a french or italian style loaf bread, with just a teeny bit of mayo -- thats the real tapas bar way to do it.And have some nice olives on the side with some sherry or a good port.
who spent the summer and spring of 1987 at the University of Salamanca as a poor student and eating tortilla every day.
re: Jason Perlow
"The eggs in spain are no different than they are here. You're just being silly"
sorry, but you are wrong. the chickens are different, their diet is different, they're raised differently (all free range, though that may be starting to change) and the eggs are hugely different enough to be remarked upon even by the most non-foodie traveler. Even the color of the yolks is vastly different. Their incredible richness makes the dish work there. Outside of Spain, where the eggs taste wimpier, the potato flavor dominates.
also, most Spaniards do not brown the potatoes or the onions...though in Murcia and Aragon they sometimes do. I suspect your chef in Salamanca was Murcian or Aragonese (did he slice the potatoes or dice them? if sliced, he's Murcian, if diced, Aragonese...though probably not the latter, since Aragonese seldom use onion in their tortilla). It's weird that you got this impression, because the Salamanca area tends to make tortillas with determinedly NON-browned potatoes and onions (most of their recipes stipulate "do NOT let onions or potatoes brown!"). Or maybe he was originally from Galicia, where chefs occasionally brown them. There are quite a few Galician chefs in Salamanca, and they tend to run the cheaper establishments likely to be patronized by poor students. In any case, the breadbasket of Castillian cookery...Madrid south into Andalucia...doesn't brown them. And, in fact, onions are fairly rare as an ingredient.
Also, you don't add the eggs to the onions/potatoes...you take that stuff out of the pan and WIPE DOWN THE PAN because you don't want all that gritty oil (or all that onion flavor) permeating the exterior of the omelet. Of course, if you're gonna brown the poor thing in an oven, it hardly matters. But more on that in a sec.
Even the most traditional chefs use nonstick skillets rather than cast iron for this dish (at least for the cooking of the omelet...the onions/potatoes are often done in cast iron).
And in 19 trips to spain, covering the country and avidly inspecting the tortilla everywhere I went (and discussing with literally dozens of chefs who specialize in the dish) as well as checks of my library of Castillian cookbooks (all in Spanish, all considered super-authentic by cooks over there) and my collection of books devoted solely to this one dish, i"ve never seen anyone propose finishing it an oven. You simply pass the torilla onto a plate (much easier if you're using nonstick) and then flip it back into the pan, upside-down for more cooking. Tortilla is NEVER crunchy.
Of course, if you like it that way, that's totally fine (no argument from me). But it's completely off the map of what is traditional.
Tapas bars in Spain do NOT serve tortilla with mayo, though you can ask for a side order. In Catalunya, you may see all i oli (garlic mayonnaise), but never plain mayo. And port is rarely drunk in Spain at all, and if it were, it wouldn't be drunk with tortilla. Everyone of course has their own matching preferences and none are "wrong", but bland tortilla is an awfully strange match for port wine.
re: Jim Leff
Mea Culpa. I should have known not to try to attempt to knock down el perro grande.
"sorry, but you are wrong. the chickens are different, their diet is different, they're raised differently"
If youre arguing that the commercial american chicken versus the european free range chicken is wimpy, I agree. However they have commercial eggs in europe too (and supermercados)-- and they are most definitely are seeing the economies of scale now that prohibit the kind of poultry farming you are talking about. But I can get perfectly good farm raised organic eggs here in NJ that make a hell of a good tortilla -- all I gotta do is drive 3 minutes to my local farm stand.
"also, most Spaniards do not brown the potatoes or the onions..."
I've had it browned and not browned. I like them browned slightly.
"It's weird that you got this impression, because the Salamanca area tends to make tortillas with determinedly NON-browned potatoes and onions (most of their recipes stipulate "do NOT let onions or potatoes brown!"). Or maybe he was originally from Galicia, where chefs occasionally brown them. There are quite a few Galician chefs in Salamanca, and they tend to run the cheaper establishments likely to be patronized by poor students."
In the mid 1980's I could most definitely be classified as a poor student -- and I most definitly was not going to the nicer places. Rachel and I are considering doing Portugal and Spain this year, It would be nice to see how things have changed in 14 years.
"In any case, the breadbasket of Castillian cookery...Madrid south into Andalucia...doesn't brown them. And, in fact, onions are fairly rare as an ingredient."
interesting that spanish restaurants in the US prepare it that way. I like the onions.
"Also, you don't add the eggs to the onions/potatoes...you take that stuff out of the pan and WIPE DOWN THE PAN because you don't want all that gritty oil (or all that onion flavor) permeating the exterior of the omelet."
Thats what paper towels are for.
"Even the most traditional chefs use nonstick skillets rather than cast iron for this dish (at least for the cooking of the omelet...the onions/potatoes are often done in cast iron)."
Try cooking 6 or so eggs in a nonstick pan on a gas range and see what kind of heat retention you get, buster! You get one big runny mess with potatoes floating in it. Youre not gonna be able to exactly duplicate tortialla espanol without restaurant quality burners.
Okay. Its a friggin frittatta the way I do it. I like it.
Oh wait. I forgot I'm talking to the guy who admitted that he burned olive oil into a sticky mess in a cast iron pan.
"And in 19 trips to spain, covering the country and avidly inspecting the tortilla everywhere I went (and discussing with literally dozens of chefs who specialize in the dish) as well as checks of my library of Castillian cookbooks (all in Spanish, all considered super-authentic by cooks over there) and my collection of books devoted solely to this one dish, i"ve never seen anyone propose finishing it an oven."
Well. I'm impressed how often you've been to Spain. I'm not gonna argue with you about tortilla preparation -- I've seen it done this way by Spanish americans.
" Of course, if you like it that way, that's totally fine (no argument from me). But it's completely off the map of what is traditional."
Yes. I like it that way.
"Tapas bars in Spain do NOT serve tortilla with mayo, though you can ask for a side order."
This is the way I was shown how to eat it in Madrid and I saw quite a few native castillians eating it this way.
"And port is rarely drunk in Spain at all, and if it were, it wouldn't be drunk with tortilla."
Yup. This is true. I guess its just the way I'm accustomed to eating it in Newark at Casa Vasca. I like port -- so sue me.
You'd definitely want to eat it with olives though.
"Everyone of course has their own matching preferences and none are "wrong", but bland tortilla is an awfully strange match for port wine."
I'm an awfully strange person. Compliment taken.
re: Jason Perlow
re: the eggs, I'll make it even stronger: the very worst-quality egg you'll ever find in Spain (not Europe...Spain!) tastes a LOT better than the very best organic America egg. In fact, I'd put money on it. The diff is that profound!
As to whether wimpy American eggs can make serviceable tortilla, that's a matter of taste. Personally, any combo of potato and egg tastes pretty darned good to me. But I've not had a really serious Tortilla Espanola in this hemisphere. Even when the tortilla was prepared by a master Spanish chef (who was staying in my apartment....and I drove 50 miles to get the very best eggs, too).
Not true about the burners. Everyone in Spain cooks 'em at home in nonstick skillets with gas burners. trick is slooooooooow heat and to keep the proportion of potato versus egg high so it's not too liquidy.
all your personal preferences are absolutely fine. I'm not criticizing them (I even agree with a few...I happen to like browned potatoes in my tortilla), just explaining for those reading along that they are just that....personal prefs and not the Heart and Soul of tortilla. There is a range of possibility for traditional tortilla, but your choices are not within that range. Doesn't mean they're unworthy or even undelicious. Just untraditional.
re: Jim Leff
one more note....regarding your comment that it's "interesting that spanish restaurants in the US prepare it that way. I like the onions"
The overwhelming majority of "Spanish" restaurants in the US have Latin American chefs (and often owners, as well). And as I wrote in an article on tapas I did for Wine and Spirits:
"Few seem to realize that while New World Spanish speakers may share language and blood, food is a completely different sensibility; the cuisine of the mother country is radically different from that of her offspring...[yet] Latin American chefs who know nothing of Spain are often charged with turning out Mediterranean recipes more reminiscent of Greece or Italy than of Mexico or Puerto Rico. If you see "tortilla de papas" on a menu ("papa" being the Latin American word for potatoes--"patatas" in Spain), understand that while the food may be delicious, it's probably more Dominican than Castilian."
re: Jim Leff
also, for what it's worth, i have never been to spain, and certainly haven't been there 19 times, and didn't spend a year there, so if anyone goes to this joint and finds the tortilla lacking after i touted it, hey, my bad, i just thought it was good, especially compared to inferior versions i've had maybe 6 or 7 times prior. ole!
re: Jim Leff
Also worth a look is the recipe in the Time/Life Spain cookbook; it is similar but with (I'm pretty sure) a lower egg-to-potato ratio; also I think it recommends white, rather than yellow, onion. I used that recipe while I was in Spain, with excellent results. (Though my omelet-turning skills are rather weak, -> a consistently sloppy outcome.) I twist I really enjoyed was to fry some chorizo in with the potatos.
Another thing I did, off the top of my head, was to make the same recipe but with asparagus instead of potatos -- that was delicious; is it a traditional dish?
Jeremy--in the part of Spain you were in (near Alicante), a number of vegetables are frequently added. My favorite: garlic shoots. Short season, though. One must time one's travel.
As for the turning, the trick is to use a non-stick pan, slide the omelet out onto a large plate, place the pan upside down over the plate, then do a fast topsy-turvy. If THAT breaks up your omelet, it wasn't cooked enough!
White onion makes sense.
I've actually got dozens more recipes; if I have time, I'll do a thorough culling. Actually, I just thought of something...the eggs in Spain are smaller than our larger ones, and contain less...er...egg inside. Maybe adjust accordingly. I've only tried that recipe actually in Spain.
As for proportion, the egg should just barely come up to the level of the top of the potatoes in your mixing bowl. That is, you should still be able to see the entire top surface of the potatoes after pouring in the egg. But when you mix, everything should be coated and yellow and there should be a decent amount of residual eggy liquid (not dry at bottom of bowl by any means). Hope that helps...can't think of a better way to express it.
In any case, this is yet another reason to pull the potatoes out of the frying pan to do the mixing.
re: Michael Yu
Michael --- Wines & Foods of Spain has spent a lot of promotional dollars in the US the last 5 years, and if you now consider Rioja "overhyped", looks like it's finally paying off! I love both Rioja and RdD and have been stocking up on both for future drinking as many are very age-worthy and they are still significantly underpriced on the world market in relation to the quality they deliver. Now Priorato wines from Catalonia are another matter - hard to find something decent under $40, and many are priced sky high.
La Rioja region follows a section of the Ebro River in NE Spain and includes part of the Basque country and Navarra. The principle red grape is Tempranillo with some Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano. The wonderful thing about Rioja is that the traditional methods of fining, filtration and extended time in wood renders the wines softly fragrant, supple and accessible when they are released to the market. Compared to "modern" fruit-forward wines, some would also describe them as tired. Ready to drink, they're usually excellent buys on restaurant wine lists.
I do consider Marques de Riscal reserva and Marques de Caceres crianza as "good" wines, but not "great". Yet they are much better wines than Mouton Cadet. We can buy them locally at Trader Joe's for $10 and $7, respectively, and I've recommended both many times as the value leaders in their price categories. Caceres is a relatively new producer (by Rioja standards) and makes a more fruity style of Rioja. Riscal is very traditional yet is one of the few producers permitted to use Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Riscal had a funky barrel problem for many years, finally bit the bullet and dumped huge amounts of affected wine in the mid-80s, and has hit new quality levels with each successive vintage while holding the line on price. A 1994 Riscal opened recently (3 additional years of bottle age since release) was claret-like and stylish, would beat out many $25 Bordeaux wines, and will probably continue to improve in the bottle for the next 5 years. Not many $10 wines that can make that claim.
Other Rioja producers I like are Muga, CVNE (pronounced "coonay", the Imperial Gran Reserva is a benchmark), Marques de Murrieta (Castillo Ygay is world-class), Faustino Martinez (awesome aromatics), Sierra Cantabria, Montecillo (94 reserva for $12 in Calif. is a best buy) and Conde de Valdemar. La Rioja Alta is also very good but I've had more than a fair share of off-bottles in recent vintages and suspect there is a problem in the bodega. Seeing the success of their RdD brethren on the export markets, several Rioja producers have developed international style luxury cuvees using maturation in French rather than the traditional American oak, deeper and more concentrated fruit, and more tannic backbone. These include Torre Muga, Remulleri, San Vicente, Roda, Ramirez de Ganuza, and Contino which will set you back between $30 to $60.
The Ribera del Duero region is a little SE of La Rioja, and runs along the Duero River which becomes the Douro of famed Porto wines when it crosses into Portugal. The red wines are principally Tinto de País (the local name for Tempranillo) with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha and others in the mix. This is the home of Vega Sicilia which is one of the world's most expensive wines, and reputed to be Spain's finest although many would contest this.
Traditional RdD wines are extremely tannic, dark-fruited, oaky, and leathery/gamey. The new stars in RdD have taken a lesson from the Bordelais in extracting more supple and ripe tannins and using French oak barriques, plus achieving riper and denser fruit from low yields to cloak the firm strucutre. Top producers besides VS (Alion bottling is affordable) include Alejandro Fernandez's Pesquera and Condado de Haza (estate bottled), Mauro, Hacienda de Monasterio, Pingus (Flor de Pingus is affordable ~$35), Vincente Arroyo, Teófilo Reyes (former Pequera winemaker) and Valduero. Best buys in RdD are Condado de Haza and Viña Mayor reserva for about $16. Do be careful in purchasing from this region as the success and high prices for these stars has encouraged less meticulous producers to export to the US.
Both Rioja and RdD have had a string of excellent vintages recently - 1994, 1995 & 1996 - which in combination with improvements in winemaking have yielded some awesome wines. I understand that 1997 was average, and prospects for 1998 to be very good to excellent.
When you pass through San Francisco next, let's get together with Wonki and Eunice and open a few vintages of Rioja and RdD from my cellar for a comparison. It's always a pleasure to share them with someone who has a special passion for the wines.
re: Melanie Wong
Wow...an incredibly useful info dump.
I've long known about Conde de Waldemar and its Reserva, Riscal, & Montecillo. I can't wait to try the others (to the extent that Georgia's crippled wine distribution system will allow). Thank you, thank you.
(In order that this knowledge trove not be lost within the discussion of a specific restaurant, maybe it should be moved to the General Topics Area?) Really, its too important to misplace.
re: Michael Yu
although i do like riberas, i find riojas to be more consistent, at least when i'm randomly getting bottles. i had a great muga at gramercy tavern last summer, and since then i've been hooked. i think the riberas, as melanie says, are too tannic sometimes, though i recall when we ate at luzia's the first time, we got a couple of riberas. they were great. get your butt out here already so we can chill with mel and get drunk and eat great food just like the old days, boyee! :-)
re: Michael Yu
Thank you so much Wonki for recommending Ole Espana. A small group of us went and found the food to be quite tasty. We were very impressed with the buffalo mozzarella and vegetarian paella.
The flamanco show was also quite good. Overall we found the whole experience with Ole Espana to be very enjoyable.
Thanks again for all your tips and advice.
Evan Lemley and Karyn Tripp
sorry, i threw out the card. i'm pretty sure the first time i went though, was on a thursday so it's open for your standard dinner hours, at least until 9:30 or 10. if you're not going for dinner, i don't know if they're open for lunch.
i went back friday as well. you have to check out their list of specials. i think it changes daily. they had this pacific snapper dish prepared menorcan style which was just fabulous. layers of different foods, potatoes, raisins, piquillos, onions, yet it all worked. i'm telling you, i eat at that place and i think of big night. maybe it's the guy with the mustache. maybe it's the food, i don't know. anyway, unfortunately, we also got the scallop special, which wasn't so great, so i'd steer clear of that one. they had a different piquillo tapa special, but we didn't get that one. sounded great though.
also got the melon with serrano ham and manchego cheese. great great great. what a combo, and everything downright fresh. sangria was also very good, probably more fruit juice than wine, and mostly apples, but refreshing and easy to drink.
hope you like it. let me know. also, maybe call info. ask for ole espana on south b in san mateo.
take care and happy eating.
We are students from Pacific Union College and we
just finished reading your review on Ole Espana!
We are so excited to try this restaurant and use
it for our Spanish class project.
Would you have any way of telling us how to get
to the restaurant specifically from the Napa Valley
area? Is there a phone number?
Would you think they would mind if we asked
questions and took pictures for this project?
Did you take note on any vegetarian dishes other
than the Buffalo mozzarella?
Tell us about the club..was it good quality?
Thank you for your rave review!
We love to try new restaurants!
re: Evan Lemley
evan and students from pacific union college,
welcome to chowhound and thanks for your post!
i can't tell you all the details of how to get there from napa valley, but i can tell you the last legs of it. your best bet is to go to mapquest.com or just look at a bay area map and find your way to highway 101 South from the city down to the peninsula. i think there are several ways to get there and some might require a brief drive thru the city, which can be tricky, so be careful. if you can map a way without going thru the city (maybe over the bay bridge and onto 280 and then onto 101 south) that might be better.
anyway, once you get on 101S you'll go down for about 20 minutes until you reach san mateo. get off at the 3rd avenue exit and head west (it will be to the right off the exit). just take 3rd avenue until you hit south b street and make a right on south b. the restaurant will be on the left, #123.
alternatively, and this may be longer but you won't have to deal with the city, try to go down east bay until you hit the san mateo bridge, which will take you across 92 west. take 92 west until you hit el camino real north. take that about a mile until you hit 3rd avenue, and make a right on 3rd avenue. then make a left on south b and it will be on your left.
unfortunately, i threw away the card i had once i posted the address but i'll try to find the number for you. everyone i met there was super nice so i expect if you call and let them know you're coming they'd be happy to answer any questions and let you take pictures, etc. maybe they'll even cook up something special if it's a big group coming or you can request things. they did have other vegetarian tapas that i noticed, like eggplant, and i think a mushroom dish and a cheese platter, etc., and i'm sure you can also ask them that when you call.
the club seemed nice. i think on saturday night they have spanish dancers or something like that but again, you should call and confirm though i know for sure one night they have spanish dancers, i'm just not sure if it's friday or saturday, so that would fit in well with your spanish class theme.
well, thanks again for your post and i hope you find it worth your while to come down all the way from napa, though i think you will. i'll try to track down that phone number for you.
Thanks for the quick reply regarding Ole Espana.
We appreciate the directions as well and we plan to make reservations and go really soon. AND, when we do, we'll be sure to give a review on our experience. We plan to go with a very
large appetite and try a little of everything.
Evan and Karyn
I went with my wife and a friend last week based on your glowing report and was quite disappointed! Probably in part due to expectations, but also were simply not impressed. We have travelled throughout Spain and this did not come close to what we ate there in simple inexpensive places.
We tried several of the same dishes you mentioned plus a few others. The gazpacho was fair, a bit too acidic. The pimientos were good, but on a scale of 1 to 10 comparing vs. the level of what you get at a place like Nobu (Nobu being a 10), I would give the dish a 7 max. The pine nuts were nice, I agree! Sauteed mushrooms with shrimp were tasty but nothing special. My favorite thing was probably the pesto-type dipping sauce for the bread, which, while on the dry side, had a nice basil garlic kick to it.
My 2 cents.
re: B Kaplan
i'm sorry to hear that, and i apologize if i overhyped the place, but to be fair, to compare it to a place like nobu is like apples to oranges. i mean, we're talking about a neighborhood place here, in a suburban town, with a limited budget, etc. nobu is a cream of the crop over the top new york city establishment with serious backers and a world-renowned chef. and if you tell me i'm going to get a 7 out of 10 at less than half the price, i'll guarantee you i'll go to the 7 a hell of a lot more than the 10 and be perfectly happy.
i think it all needs to be put into perspective. i certainly wasn't touting the place as a five star joint where you should sell your last child to have a meal there. i admit i got a little out of control with the subject line, but that was probably because i've been so unimpressed with most of the food i've had out here that when i found a place that i thought served superior quality food at a reasonable price and that seemed truly authentic and paid attention to getting it right rather than trying just to make money, i was simply overjoyed and felt it should be recognized.
well, i could go on, but i think you understand where i'm coming from. everything's relative, and relatively, i think this is a great place.
thanks for your message.
Boy was the guy at Ole Espagna surprised when he found out that I live in San Mateo and found out about him on the Web. Actually, it was just that I was moved to try the place because of Wonki's impassioned post.
We loved it. There was lots of garlic -- which I consider a very good thing (some of my family emigrated from the dark forests of Transylvania so I always stare down at a pungent dish and mutter "no vampires here!") Outstanding huge house salad with cheese, prawns and fresh wonderful greens. I'll study the earlier postings for better wine recommendations.
On the way out we discovered that they are going to have a jazz combo downstairs Wednesday through Friday nights (and Flamenco on Saturday.) Ole indeed. I'll be back soon, thanks Wonki!
Awesome.. I will definitely try it... the only other decent tapas place I found was The Thirsty Bear, a micro brewery at 660 Howard Street, also near Second Street and waaaaaay more expensive, I'm sure, and tends to not be as good when it crammed full of people (I guess the need for speed overwhelms the ability to produce quality) I will let you know what I think of your recommendation after I've tried it.
In the interim, may I also suggest you try another place at Columbus and Jackson called The House... very reasonable and spectacular Asian/American Fusion Cuisine... I definitely recommend the Salmon Rolls appetizer (thick slices of fresh salmon wrapped in seaweed, fried with a wasabi dipping sauce that is out of this world!) A friend of mine told me her husband liked the appetizer so much that he ordered one for dessert, as well and I believe it. They are also have a fantastic Chilean Sea Bass main course. I don't eat red meat, pork or poultry so, I can't personally comment on those but, if the fish dishes are any indication... it will be a dining experience to remember.