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Jun 20, 2009 09:08 PM

Ibiza Tapas in Hamden

I had a late dinner earlier tonight at Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar in Hamden which just opened yesterday (Friday). I must admit that I'm extremely biased in favor of this place merely existing, having grown up just a couple of blocks away and having waited at a school bus stop one year at the very corner Ibiza is now located. For those of you also from the neighborhood, it's located next door to what used to be the old Cherry Hill Pharmacy (now a jeweler's).

The restaurant hasn't yet received its liquor license from the state, so I was offered a complimentary glass of Spanish red wine while I perused the 3 page menu. It's tapas, and nothing but tapas: Hot, cold, traditional & modern. And every food item is priced below $10.

I thought I'd start off with two items: the arugula salad, which I've had before at Meigas in Norwalk, and gnocci with braised oxtail., which was new to me. The arugula was the dandelion type (not the baby spinach style), very lightly dressed with an olive oil vinaigrette (every leaf was coated, but no pool at the bottom of the bowl), and 4 wedge slices of manchego cheese. Perfectly simple, and a very generous amount for a tapas.

The gnocci were small, like orichette ("ear-shaped") pasta, and filled with something (I forgot to check or ask), with snow peas, in a sauce from the braised oxtail. Delicious, and again, a generous portion (same-sized bowl as the salad came in; this was from the "large tapas" section of the menu, all $9.75 each).

I would have loved to try others, but I was stuffed from just these two items, dining alone. Needless to say, if these portion sizes remain and are typical for the entire menu, you can easily share each with at least one other person and create your own little feast.

I was offered a complimentary dessert of rice pudding in a martini glass topped with a small scoop of mango ice cream. A very refreshing end to a quick meal on a very miserable, rainy night. The restaurant was about half full, impressive considering the late hour, the rain and the lack of a lighted sign out front. It was noisy and everybody seemed to be having a great time. If you've ever been to this location in its prior incarnation as a Columbian or Vietnamese dive, you'll be impressed by the tranformation of the interior.

Ibiza Tapas & Wine Bar
1832 Dixwell Ave, Hamden, CT 06514

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  1. I ate here when it was Columbian food, but was not impressed enough to keep coming back. I guess this is from the same people with Ibiza in downtown New Haven?

    This area may become a new "restaurant alley" for us with The Terrace (Thai) just down the street and Mickey's just up the street. I also intend to try Szechuan Delight, two blocks down towards The Terrace.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Scargod

      Yes, same owner as Ibiza downtown.

      I tried The Terrace shortly after it was featured in the NH Advocate and was turned off by the excessively long wait for our meals and the excessive charges incurred for same. The food was well-prepared, but just not worth it, in my opinion.

      I've never been to Szechuan Delight for the simple and rather arbitrary reason that my parents (and their dog!) experienced such a bout of food poisoning at this location 15 years ago (under a previous name/owner) that I could never bring myself to enter the premises again and incur their disapproval from beyond. Illogical, but true. They're owned by the same people that run Formosa in North Haven, whose separate Chengdu menu still delights me in its authenticity (cold spicy beef intestines! kung pao chicken with only peanuts, water chestnuts & whole chilis! real dry-fried szechuan beef with actual lip numbing szechuan peppercorns (and no chilis)!).

      Unfortunately between Ibiza and MIckey's is a gauntlet of mediocre national chains (Chili's, TGIF, Applebee's (and one mediocre local one, SBC)) and the big four fast food chains. Just put on your blinders and keep driving. Real food awaits.

      1. re: rbailin

        rbailin, have you been to Lao Sze Chuan in Milford? I've been to both LSC and Formosa and LSC wins for me. Since you've mentioned it, we actually had the whole lip-numbing/alters-the-taste-of-water experience of Szechuan dry-fried beef with jalapenos at LSC with the peppercorns. That particular dish was not a favorite for either of us due to the very results you describe, but since you like this dish, you'll probably love it. Here's a link to a photo of it at LSC:

        And we tried the pig's ear, too. No, sir, I didn't like it. A pig's ear is pretty sinewy. But I do LOVE Lao Sze Chuan...and it's nowhere near my house, so extra points for being so good I don't mind driving about 45 minutes to get there.

        Just curious, where do you prefer Thai over The Terrace? My only NH point of ref is Bangkok Gardens.

        1. re: kattyeyes

          I've been to LSC only once, about a year ago, and had what I believe was a beef hot pot. Not a great dish to test a szechuan restaurant with, but I didn't know better at the time. I've been meaning to return to give it another try, but like you, it's a bit of a hike from northern Hamden, factoring in the near constant clog at the I-91/95 interchange.

          My favorite Thai in the area was Thai Inter on State St before they moved out to Guilford. Haven't been to the new place yet, nor the replacement at the old location. So I don't really have a favorite Thai on this Father's Day.

          1. re: rbailin

            Getting a bit OT here, but I recommend Rice Pot on State Street or Som Siam in Guilford. You'll find a lot about Som Siam on this board, but I don't know what you'll find about Rice Pot. IMO, Rice Pot is a nice mainstream, above-average Thai. (As opposed to the mainstream, good-enough-for-benighted-Yalies Thai places on Chapel St.)

          2. re: kattyeyes

            I can easily answer the question about great Thai - Rice Pot on State Street in New Haven (near Edwards, across from The Pantry and Mezcal). GREAT Thai food!!!!! Don't waste time on Bangkok Gardens- fine for a lunch meeting but that's about it. Thai Awesome in Hamden is not bad but tends to be a bit greasy. If you are ever in New Haven around lunch, try the Jasmine Thai Cart on Church just in front of Willoughby's. Really friendly people and great food at a very inexpensive price.

            OH..and I finally made it to Ibiza Tapas two weeks ago. WONDERFUL food!!!! The tapas rivals what I've had in Spain. Will definitely go back.

      2. I was at Ibiza Tapas for their opening party, but could not get an accurate telling of what was going on food wise being that the place was sooo packed. I heard that the police came to move everyone into the building later on that same night. So thank you for the details. It sounds good enough to go back for an actual meal.

        1. Did you ever eat at Pika Tapas before they made the change to Ibiza in 2002? I'm wondering how similar Ibiza Tapas is to Pika Tapas. I loved it when Luis Bollo was executive chef, but only ate there once after Manuel Romero came in as sous chef. I have thoroughly enjoyed Romero's work as executive chef at Ibiza.
          Do you know who is running the show at Ibiza Tapas? I can't find any information on that. I'm not sure if Ignacio Blanco is still involved on a culinary level with either Ibiza or Meigas, but he is mentioned on the front page of the Ibiza Tapas website. I wonder if Bollo or Romero are involved, or if he has imported yet another great young chef from Spain.
          I've been a big fan of all of Blanco's other restaurants: Pika Tapas, Meigas in Lower Manhattan, Meigas in Norwalk, Mediterranean Grill, Meson Galicia, and Ibiza. Outside of Jose Andres's restaurants in DC, his are the only restaurants I've eaten at in the US that measure up to the food in Spain. As you can probably tell, I'm pretty excited about his new place.

          3 Replies
          1. re: danieljdwyer

            Pika Tapas lives! (sort of)

            I went with my wife and a friend to Ibiza Tapas last night, and while I neglected to ask about just who was involved in the kitchen, I can report that it's a lot like an even purer version of Pika Tapas. Many of the same dishes are on the menu, and some I know (e.g., the fresh anchovies, the little croquettes of bacalao, etc.) are essentially the same as always. The "large tapas" section isn't a set of main courses (and there's no paella on the menu...), so this really is an exclusively tapas oriented place.

            That format seems to have failed for Pika Tapas because New Haven diners didn't understand it: they looked at the menu and saw lots of first courses, and then looked for the main courses, and proceeded to order one tapas plate and the paella. The result was the transformation into Ibiza, and while that is (in my opinion) the best restaurant in New Haven, it would still be really nice to have Pika Tapas back. It will be interesting to see if the Ibiza Cafe succeeds: I find it hard to imagine that the format will work in this Hamden location if it didn't in downtown New Haven, but I will be glad to be proven wrong about that.

            If you can manage to get there within the next week or so, before they get their liquor license, it's an incredible bargain. They're still giving away wine by the glass, and our dinner (nine plates, including three "large tapas") was under $70 for the three of us -- though I should admit that we weren't charged for one of the plates, which was forgotten and then substituted by something we hadn't ordered (but which was good anyway).

            Not knowing about the free wine, I brought some of my own. I had been told on the phone that they would charge a $10 corkage fee, which seems ridiculous given that they can't sell me any of their own, but no such charge appeared on our bill.

            Anyway, whoever is in the kitchen seems to do the same good work as at the old Pika Tapas. The wait staff is another matter: they seem still be learning, and the less said about the service, the better. But I'm sure that will improve.

            When they do get their license, there's a decent, if limited, wine list already on the menu. Perhaps they have another, more extensive list if you ask (which would be pointless until they can sell you some), but what's visible is not nearly as good as the list at Ibiza (or the fantastic one at Barcelona). Quite enough to wash down the fine tapas, though.

            I wish them luck.

            1. re: linguist

              A $10 corkage is great! I would take that in a heart beat. I Haven't seen their wine list either, but if the same wines that they poured on the grand opening night are the same ones then expect good basic spanish table wines. Not mind blowing, but friendly wines. I am going down for dinner next Tuesday...what were some of the items that you had and any suggestions?

              1. re: triggs73

                The wine list is on the back of the third page of the menu. A range of things, but a proper subset of the list at Ibiza.

                Let's see... the fresh anchovies are always very good. The "noki" aren't really gnocchi, more like orecchietti (as mentioned by the OP), but with the oxtail sauce, very good. There's a "veal carpaccio" which is something like vitello tonnato, but without the tuna, and good. We found the rice with shrimp and scallops rather bland. My wife loved the sete (oyster mushrooms). A plate of ribeye slices on toasts was not a success, by me, but a skewer of chicken and chorizo was very tasty. The croquettas de bacalao are always good, and a plate of Spanish cheeses, while not tremendously varied, was interesting enough. We were offered a free dessert of little chocolate croquettes, each on a spoon with a creamy sauce, and these were delectable.

                We ordered gambas al ajillo, but that never came. As I recall, this dish is not a standout at Ibiza, so maybe we didn't miss much. They also have a plate of heads-on shrimp, which I wish we'd tried. But that -- and some delectable sounding pork dishes -- are for next time.

                I still think $10 is high for corkage (especially when you're not doing them out of wine sales, since they can't sell any!), but YMMV.

                Portions are clearly optimized for two or four, by the way: three of us had to work on dividing things up.

          2. I ate at Ibiza Tapas this weekend. Overally, I would rate it as very good, with potential to be excellent. The menu is very similar to what Pika Tapas used to do, and exactly what I expected from an Ignacio Blanco venture.
            To start with the negatives, the service has room for improvement. It is definitely above average for the area, and some members of the staff are clearly quite experienced. There were a few staff members that seemed like they were still learning. Also, this is a tapas bar, so there is a casual air to the service. The table next to us seemed a bit put off by how casual the manager was about everything, but this casualness was not a detriment to the service. I have always found the management at Mr. Blanco's restaurants to be very eager to please. As an example, when our first round of food came, we got two dishes of gambas al ajillo instead of one gambas al ajillo and one gambas a la plancha, as we thought we had ordered. I think the mistake was actually on our side, but they gave us the extra shrimp dish for free and got us the gambas a la plancha very quickly.
            They are still pouring free wine and beer until they get their liquor license. The offerings are an inexpensive red, white, and cava. I looked through the wine list, and it is excellent. It is not extensive, but in Spain the wine lists at tapas bars are usually even shorter. It does hit all the bases, however, touching all the major wine regions of Spain and ranging from good, inexpensive wines from Castile y Leon to fantastic, moderately priced wines from la Rioja. The prices are very fair, with smaller markups than I expected. As an example, I brought a bottle of 2002 Ondarre Reserva, which cost me $18 at the Wine Thief, and sells for more at other area liquor stores. A bottle is $30 on their wine list.
            Now, the food. The food was mostly excellent with some minor disappointments. I tried the olives, gambas al ajillo, gambas a la plancha, fideua, noki, asparagus, baked goat cheese, and fried squid.
            The fried squid was the best I have eaten in a long time, with minimal breading and a nice flavor.
            The noki was delicious, but very slightly undersalted. The oxtail served with the noki was absolutely perfect, cooked to an incredibly soft texture with no stringiness at all.
            The asparagus (I believe cooked a la plancha, but the menu did not indicate this) was also delicious, though some might call it plain. Dishes such as this in tapas bars require you to really like the main ingredient, and serve as a good break from the rich sauces.
            The olives were a very pleasant surprise. I have not had small, pitted green olives this good since I was last in Spain. These olives, very typical of Spanish bar or tavern food, are firmer then what I have seen in the US, aren't stuffed with anything, and strike a balance between briny and oily. My one complaint about the olives is also true of the gambas al ajillo, noted below.
            The gambas al ajillo was executed perfectly, with the garlic sauce every bit as rich as one could want. And that's the problem. Four shrimp can't hold six tablespoons of sauce. You need bread to get all that sauce up, because it's a damn shame for something so delicious to go down the drain. It is not typical for tapas bars to serve bread with a meal, though they do prepare some bread based dishes. I did eat at some in both Madrid and Barcelona that share my philosophy that you need bread or else you're wasting sauce, but this was not standard. I can't fault Mr. Blanco for staying traditional, but would have liked bread both for this dish and to dip in the oil left behind by the olives.
            The fideua is a dish that I think the kitchen needs practice on. The flavor was there, but the texture of the noodles was not exactly right. It was more like an al dente pasta and scallops dish than the baked to a slight crisp noodle dish of Valencia.
            The gambas a la plancha were cooked perfectly, and overall I was pleased by the dish. However, dishes cooked a la planch are very simple, meant to highlight the fresh, delicious locally available ingredients of Spain. Some classic tapas a la plancha cannot be perfectly replicated here in Connecticut, because the same ingredients are not available fresh and local. These were some of the fresher jumbo shrimp I've had in the Northeast, but do not compare to shrimp fresh out of the Mediterranean. This dish could be wonderful on the Gulf Coast or done with our more local pink shrimp. Despite this, I loved it, because cooking a la plancha makes for incredible shrimp heads. If you're not going to suck the heads, the dish is only ok, but it's a great dish if you suck heads.
            The baked goat cheese was absolutely the highlight, just as I always though it was at Pika Tapas. The cheese is floating in a mild but full flavored tomato sauce, and served with toast. It is simple, but flavorful and delicious in its simplicity.
            Overall, Mr. Blanco has put together a great little restaurant. The space is smaller than Pika Tapas, and has more of the feel of a tapas bar. The bold colors and sanded metal are a perfect example of modern Spanish design. This place could be in Madrid. The design of the menu shows a clearer understanding of Spanish cuisine than I have found anywhere else in the Northeast - even well regarded Manhattan restaurants - on the part of Mr. Blanco and his chefs (all from Spain and experienced in Spanish kitchens). Spanish food has its classic dishes, and the menu here hits many popular classic tapas. But Spanish cuisine also must be inventive and unbound by tradition. The food is about style, not centuries old recipes. Tapas bars are not like pubs. If you compare the menus of two tapas bars in Madrid, half the menu items will be standard, the other half will not overlap. Mr. Blanco has stayed true to this spirit. I can only hope he will continue to adapt and modify his menu over time. Pika Tapas did not do enough of this, and I think that hurt it. Ibiza has done this, which has kept me going back for the last seven years.
            I should also add, the prices are great. Our bill worked out to under $25 per person. If I had to recommend somewhere in this area that is not in downtown New Haven, this would be my new number one recommendation, and it can only get better from here.

            5 Replies
            1. re: danieljdwyer

              Great review Daniel. I'm going there tomorrow night with some friends. I also bought the 2002 Ondarre Reserve, but I hate to tell you that I paid $15 for it and it wasn't at the THIEF. But I am anxious about going tomorrow. Thank for the heads up! I'm drooling!

              1. re: triggs73

                Mind if I ask where you did buy it? I find it immensely difficult to find liquor stores that even have decent Spanish wines.
                Last summer it was only $12 a bottle...

                1. re: danieljdwyer

                  I don't know if they carry that particular wine, Amity Liquors does have a nice selection on Spanish wines at several price points. I will stop by later in the week and let you know.

              2. re: danieljdwyer

                Ate there last night and it was spectacular...nuff said!.

                1. re: triggs73

                  I can't wait to eat here. We love Ibiza in New Haven and with all these great reviews I hope we can get there this weekend at some point.

              3. Went last night and it was a home run again.