Savory In Spain
By Bill Gerdes
Tapas, those wondrous bits of just about everything meant to be savored over an early afternoon, late night or really any time, are something of a tough find ’round these parts. There’s only Viva Madrid in Claremont and Sevilla Restaurant and Tapas Bar in Riverside if we’re talking classic Spanish tapas. One Saturday I made the five-minute drive from my house to Sevilla with tapas on my mind.
Tapas are named for the Spanish verb Tapar, to cover, which originated with the practice of covering one’s glass of wine with a chunk of bread or meat. And they’re meant to be enjoyed slowly over a conversation and a few rounds of drinks with friends. At Sevilla, the best place to have a few rounds of tapas is upstairs, away from the main dining hall, in the area with iron gate chairs, tons of bullfighting posters—both iconic and ironic as bull fighting is under attack in many regions of the country—and enough Gypsy Kings to go into rumba flamenco overload. In short, it’s nearly perfect, only missing ham legs hanging off the wall and cigarette smoke wafting throughout to feel like Spain.
The country of Spain has played a meaningful part in my life, starting with the first time I set foot in Estacio de Franca train station in Barcelona in ’95. I lived right behind the famous Catalan market La Boqueria in ’96, absorbing the sights and smells of Spanish cuisine, from the fish trucks that would begin to unload their wares outside my window before dawn to the distinct smell of old men sipping cognac and coffee as the market got ready to close for the day. My first wife is Spanish. My father lives in Andalucía as a retiree. I go back to Spain for at least two weeks every summer.
I can therefore be fairly critical of Spanish restaurants, but Sevilla gets the big items correct. The service is attentive but relaxed. The wine list is nice. Many of the tapas are either spot-on in terms of being authentic or interesting variations on what one might find in Spain itself. One of the standouts on the menu is the Datiles con Bacon or Bacon Wrapped Dates. Cooked in the oven, the cider-glazed dates are stuffed with a mild blue cheese, then wrapped in crisp bacon and served on skewers with a tangy dipping sauce. Hell, these are quite delicious, sweet, savory; mouth watering really. It took real control to bring a few home to my wife who also adores them.
Other items stand out on the tapas menu too. The Green Mussels Escabeche carry too much heat for your average Spanish restaurant. But who cares? They’re awesome. They sit upon a bottom of ceviche (minus the fish) and after being delicate with the first, I slurped the last four down like oysters. The Seared Scallops are also first-rate; as is the bread, which doesn’t sound too important, but Spaniards have bread at most meals. At Sevilla the olive bread is yummy, and it comes with an aioli style dipping sauce as well as a peppery tomato-based sauce. The restaurant also has Pan con Tomate, bread with tomato that you see in most restaurants in Catalunya, the Northeast province that is once again flirting with independence. It’s a tasty representation of a simple dish. What could be as simple as a bit of bread with garlic, tomato and a smidge of olive oil and salt on top? I’d also recommend their Tortilla Espanola, think a macho no-frills quiche, as well as Sevilla’s selection of paellas that appear on the tapas menu as well as the main dining hall. I’d also be remiss to say that a night spent dining downstairs and trying the entrée menu is also quite enjoyable and that Sevilla’s got a rocking buffet on Sundays.
Sevilla Restaurant and Tapas Bar, 3252 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 778-0611; www.cafesevilla.com. Mon-Wed, 4:30pm-11pm; Thurs-Sat, 4:30pm-12am; Sun, 10am-11pm. AE, D, MC, V.
Photos courtesy of Café Sevilla Restaurant and Tapas Bar