This Spain experience can be found in Naperville, Illinois, at a great restaurant called Meson Sabika.
As soon as you are seated, you are presented with bread and butter and...marinated olives. Yes, my dears, marinated Spanish olives. And there's not enough there. You will want more. They call them aceitunes, and you can order a whole bowl of them to accompany your other tapas. Do it. No, don't ask questions, just do it. Unless you don't like olives, in which case...
Anyway! When you order your drinks, if you are in the habit of enjoying an alcoholic beverage on occasion, my aunt tells me they make an excellent sangria roja. If not, they also make an excellent non-alcoholic sangria with fruit juices (shown right). But you won't care much what you have to wash down those tapas once you get to eating.
Here's my favorites list:
- Datiles con tocino: Bacon-wrapped dates that are so crispy, so candy-like, that you will want to eat the entire plate of them. True, there's only five, but when you go with a group, you'll be willing to fend off your companions and keep these little guys all to yourself. They're topped with a silken red pepper sauce that adds just a little moisture (even though they hardly need it). They were gone so quick I couldn't even snap a photo.
- Queso de cabra (al horno) (top right): Baked goat cheese swimming in a creamy tomato-basil sauce. They only give you five toast points, and you'll need more. My advice? Hoard the bread they bring you as a starter. True, it doesn't have the super extra-virgin (green) Spanish olive oil on it like the toast, but that tomato sauce is so good I could spread it on my shoe and it would seem appetizing.
- Pincho de solomillo (Top middle photo, at the top of the plate): Steak. Awesome steak. Here, they cut it into little cubes and skewer it, then grill it to medium-rare perfection and serve it alongside luxurious horseradish cream and caramelized red onions that just melt. Don't skip it. You'll only be doing yourself a disservice.
- Jamon serrano (Top left, at the top of the plate): Cured ham. If you like prosciutto, you'll love it. If you've never tried prosciutto, you'll still love it. If you don't eat pork, you're out of luck. Oh, and there's Manchego cheese. So. Good.
- Patatas con aioli (Top left, right side of the plate): They say 'robust garlic potato salad.' I say 'Holy lord, this is so garlicky I'm going to smell like an Italian restaurant for a week or so.' You won't encounter any vampires afterward. You also probably won't encounter anyone who wants to kiss you. Or hug you. Or come within ten feet of you. So make sure the whole table eats some. So you're not left to find your own way home...that would be unfortunate.
- Champiñones (Top middle, right side of plate): (Cue the choir music!) Stuffed mushroom caps! They're mushrooms stuffed with cheese, breadcrumbs, and more mushrooms. So good! (This almost warrants a smiley, but this is my blog, darlings, not my Facebook)
We tried a bevy of dessert delights at the conclusion of our meal. I always brake for flan, so I had to inquire about the flan del dia (pictured right). It was hazelnut! Perhaps I haven't mentioned this, but I love, love, love hazelnut. And it certainly didn't disappoint. I was hard pressed to share a taste of my dessert in exchange for tastes of everyone else's.
Let's see...my sister had something called delicia de chocolate (At left). And delicious is how I would describe it. It was a rich, ganache-like mousse cake served with a smooth and luscious raspberry coulis.
My mom had crema catalana (shown right), which is Spain's answer to creme brulee. It wasn't as heavy as a traditional creme brulee, and it had a citrusy flavor. While I far preferred the flan and the delicia, the crema was tasty if you're not interested in trying something adventurous.
We left the restaurant pleasantly full, and ready for a nap. The whole meal took more than two and a half hours. I think that's the real Spanish experience that you find at Meson Sabika. They don't rush you out the door. They refill your drink, place orders for a few more small plates, and let you relax and chat while you slowly and laboriously finish your dessert and coffee.
Next time we'll enjoy our meal on the outdoor patio. Enjoy being the optimal word.