When I first walked through the door (for dinner), I was met by a theatrical curtain, the kind that closes shut to indicate that the show’s over. Confused, I searched all around for the opening, which was actually a bit challenging to find. Once I made it through to the other side, I realized the curtain is meant to keep the cold wind out of the restaurant.
Pressing on, this place is smaller than I expected. It’s located right on the corner in downtown Durham. Interior lighting is dim. Reservations are seated at low tables, walk-ins are seated at high tables. Many people rave about this place, and after I had a taste of the food, I quickly understood what all the hype was about!
Sopa de Ajo
Tapas are a type of Spanish cuisine (for clarification purposes, tapas originated in Spain, not Mexico). I always describe it as a Spanish version of dim sum because it’s the same concept – you order multiple small dishes (appetizers) that are meant for sharing. To begin, I shared the Sopa de Ajo, which is tomato soup with onion, chorizo, poached farm egg, migas, $7. Despite the redness, it’s not spicy, at all! The tomato base is the most powerful flavor in this bowl, and it tastes great, but it makes it difficult to distinguish the other ingredients. There are many mysterious chunks in this bowl (some that are soggy), but whatever they are, they taste alright!
Incredibly tender and bursting with flavor, this is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, and definitely one of my favorites! It consists of red wine, braised beef cheek, potato puree, mushrooms, and onion marmelleta, $10. The combination of the hearty potato puree with the succulent beef cheek, immersed in the savory sauce is perfect! Highly recommend!
Smoked Lamb Tongue Toast
This is one of the dinner specials that was recommended by the waitress. It includes lamb tongue, quail egg (tiny version of chicken eggs), and homemade espelette mustard on 3 pieces of toast. The bread isn’t as hard and crispy as bruschetta, but it’s not super soft either. Not a big fan of this, mostly because of the bread and because the lamb tongue isn’t the star of the dish, as the name suggests.
Pato y Arroz
Creamy and delicious, this is my other favorite dish of the night! It was recommended to me by a friend, but even a quick glance at all the Yelp reviews will indicate that this is a must! Bomba rice, duck, local oyster mushroom, fall squash, greens, caramelized onion aioli, $12. Love, love, LOVE this!! Absolutely amazing, highly recommend! I must admit though, when I first heard about bomba rice, the first thing that popped into my head was the song “La Bamba.” If you’re not familiar with the song, YouTube it. I’m sure you’ll remember it soon enough!
Albóndigas are a common menu item when it comes to tapas, but these taste different. These lamb meatballs (3) are served with benne tahini, cucumber, pine nuts, red onions, dill, and feta, $9.50. They taste a lot like falafel, which are shaped like meatballs, but taste nothing like traditional meatballs! They’re dry and different in texture. If I wanted Mediterranean food, they’d be great, but I came here for Spanish food….maybe the Pork and Beef Meatballs on the Dinner Specials menu taste a lot better. I’d say pass on the lamb meatballs.
Fideuá de Conejo
All of the dishes are served in a small dish, except Fideuá de Conejo, which comes in a sizzling skillet. It’s presented as thin, shredded noodles (Fideuà) with saffron, smoked rabbit, chorizo, collards, NC BBQ aioli, and pineapple chunks, $15. It’s a fairly large portion, compared to the other menu items. I don’t normally like collards, but these taste okay. The noodles are fun to eat as well. Plenty to share, beautiful colors, and a great dish!
Sweet Potato Cheesecake
This is not your typical cheesecake. It’s not nearly as sweet, or as dense, and there’s a spiced kick at the end of each bite. It’s served in a small mason jar with honey vanilla crème fraîche, pecan crumble, and dulce de leche in a tiny pouring cup, $7. Loved the presentation, but didn’t like the taste.
Budín de Pan
If you like bread pudding, try this dessert. It’s different because it looks like a muffin, but it tastes like densely packed bread pudding. It’s bourbon and pecan bread pudding with cherries and white chocolate, plus buttermilk crème anglaise, $7. The acidity of the cherries nicely balances the sweetness of the white chocolate, such that neither is overpowering. I’d prefer regular bread pudding, but with that said, I enjoyed this!
Overall, I had an excellent experience here. Love the food! Staff is very attentive and checks in regularly. They also came around often to refill water. Bathroom is clean, but there are no male/female illustrations or translation aides to help customers determine which is the appropriate bathroom. The options only indicate “damas” and “caballeros.” FYI, damas = ladies, caballeros = gentlemen. You’re welcome!