Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Boqueria - Tops For Tapas

Flash back twenty plus (plus) years ago when H(usband) and I were lucky enough to be living in Madrid. That’s when I began to love olives, as well as olive oil. The anchovy stuffed olives, in particular, were a revelation to me and, served with an icy cold Jerez seco, they were a most delightful snack.

Anywhoo, one day a loooooong time ago, H and I were standing in line in Madrid waiting to buy tickets for something or other and we began talking to an American couple behind us. They ran a bed and breakfast and had actually written a cookbook, so we were giving them lots of food suggestions. We told them they had to check out all the Tapas Bars. They exchanged an odd look but…whatever.

We told them what to order, what to expect and so on. It turned out they thought we had said TOPLESS bars and so they were less than enthused. (Did I mention they were a really nice gay couple?) Ever since then, I’ve been very careful with my pronunciation whenever I recommend TAPAS. And, gosh, do I have a place to recommend!

A few weeks ago, a bunch of H’s work buddies, ANOTHER great group, met up at Boqueria, (the one on Spring Street) to try the tapas.

H and I know our tapas pretty well, so we were psyched. By the way, the word TAPA means lid. Traditionally, whenever you ordered a drink at a Tasca or bar, it would come with a little plate of snacks placed on top of the glass, like a lid. The tapas at Boqueria were fantastic, with some real standouts that will definitely have us going back.

Pan con Tomate, grilled bread rubbed with tomato, garlic and olive oil, was really flavorful. It was a like a simple mini-pizza with a great crunch.

Pimientos de Padrón (Shishito Peppers) were slightly sweet and slightly hot at the same time. A nice little bite.

The White Sangria was also sooo refreshing. Be careful, though, it’s easy to drink it by the pitcherful.

We moved on to the Croquetas. Ah, the Croquetas Cremosas! This was my favorite dish of the night. Some were filled with a creamy mushroom mixture, others were studded with Swiss chard. So soft and luscious on the inside, fried to a textbook crispness on the outside. I love them and I loved THESE.

I didn't even remember that the dates were stuffed with almonds AND a Valdeón blue cheese (Dátiles con Beicon), because I was concentrating on the perfectly charred bacon that was wrapped around the sweet, sticky dates. The bacon was muy rico. Charred, yet not burned. I love sweet and savory, so to me that’s a perfect bite.

One aside - One of the gals with us is a part owner of the restaurant. Of course, that definitely got us a table during a busy time, but I have no doubt that everyone there got the same great food we did. AND, as far as the service goes, I looked around to see how the staff was treating the rest of the folks (who didn’t know an owner), and it looked as if they were all treated well too.

Back to the food:

The Tortilla was delivered in a lovely big chunk with some great bread. The board also had some flavorful pieces of chorizo, a must-have on any tapas platter.

Thank goodness they forgot the Albondigas (meatballs), because I’m not sure where I would have put them (my purse, maybe), but there's always a next time.

We couldn't forget about dessert and there were two wonderful renditions of Spanish desserts that I love:

Crema Catalana is my all time favorite dessert, Spanish or otherwise. It’s so velvety, without a hint of the rubberiness that crème caramel can have. Think pudding with a sugar crust. It is pure smoothness on the spoon with the wonderful hard sugar crust as a perfect counterbalance. THIS was a good one.

You can also think Crème Brûlée, even though I think Crema Catalana is much richer and creamier. Spaniards believe their dessert predates France’s Crème Brûlée and there are a couple of differences.

Crema Catalana is cooked on top of the stove, rather than in the oven in a water bath like a Crème Brûlée and that makes it easier to make. Also Crema Catalana is typically made with cornstarch AND egg yolks, while a Crème Brûlée has only egg yolks. You would think I would prefer the cornstarch-less custard, but no, the Crema Catalana is the perfect custard dessert.

Also very, very good at Boqueria was the Spanish flan, which is like crème caramel. (BTW, flan in France is much thicker and served in slices and often topped with fruit like apricots or plums.) This Spanish flan was beautifully made. YUM!

Also on the dessert menu are wonderfully hot and crisp Churros with a deep, dark, thick hot chocolate for dipping. In Spain, those would be served for breakfast, but somehow I managed to choke them down. So good!

Boqueria is perfect for a few Tapas with drinks or you could make an entire (delicious) meal out of three or four, or maybe or five or six tapas. ;-)

I would have been happy with just the Croquetas and Crema Catalan, though. And I guarantee you don’t even have to know anyone to have a great time and great food.


Emily said...

We definitely walked by this place on Spring Street. I'm almost positive.

Everything looks great. I really would love to try it all. The bacon wrapped dates?! Oh my gosh!

I LOVE sangria.

I've wanted to try Crema Catalana ever since I you told me about it. Or wrote about it on your blog. I can't remember. I like that it's more pudding-like.

Sue said...

You probably did walk by it. Everything was sooo good. And you have to find some crema catalana...or I'll find you a good recipe.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Thanks for the tip on Boqueria. I will have to get there soon. Every time I get my hair cut (on Spring Street) I try to explore another place in the neighborhood. And one of the foods I remember most about our trip to Spain years ago was that hot chocolate so thick I had to use a spoon to eat it.

Sue said...

You will definitely love this place. Let me know if I'm right.

Sheila said...

I'm starving now! And the only thing I want is everything in your post. Soooo I guess I'll be there tomorrow! I can fly 35 weeks pregnant right?!?

Cynthia said...

My first tapas meal was at a swanky restaurant in Chicago about 6 years ago. Loved it!

When we get together, that is one of the things we must do - go eat Tapas.

I laughed so hard at your TOPLESS suggestion, I mean TAPAS suggestion (lol)

Olives stuffed with anchovies, my that sounds so good!