Street | Restaurant Reviews
Even before setting foot into Despaña, diners can see through the window shelves stacked almost up to the ceiling, filled with imported Spanish foods in jars, cans and boxes. This sets the atmosphere for the cozy Spanish restaurant, which can be very busy during peak dinner hours, so a reservation is highly recommended. Although I had a reservation, my guest and I had to wait for several minutes before the hostess showed us to our seats. After we were seated, service was slow to bring us menus and beverages. Fortunately, after we ordered our food, the service became much more prompt and reliable. My guest and I ordered buñuelos de bacalao — deep-fried cod fritters — and a platter of ibérico-style cured meats to start, as well as a paella. Despaña also provides complimentary fresh bread and olive oil for diners to munch on while waiting for dishes to arrive. The bread, while not especially remarkable, came to the table warm, and the waitress was attentive to refill the basket when it was empty.
The cured meats platter contained three types of acorn-fed pork: cured pork loin, chorizo and sausage. The sausage had a very subtle taste and was not at all greasy. The chorizo was tender and flavorful but slightly oily. However, the pork loin was the star of this tapas platter. With a firm bite and a rich, meaty flavor, the sliced pork loin stood out from its peers on this plate. Next to arrive were the cod fritters, accompanied by a “chef’s secret sauce.” With an excellent balance of batter to fish, the fritters were fried perfectly – just enough to make the batter crispy without weighing down the delicate fish.
Finally, the paella arrived. Despaña offers five varieties of paella, and ours was the paella mixta, which contains chorizo, chicken, sea bass and shrimp. Despaña takes its paella very seriously, as evidenced by the “Paella Manifesto” printed in the menus. This paella contained generous portions of meats and vegetables. The sea bass was especially impressive: cooked to soft and tender perfection, with the broth infusing the meat with the paella’s distinct flavor. The waitress also came by to scrape the socarrat – the caramelized rice at the bottom of the paella pan – and mix it into the rest of the paella. As she did so, we could smell the much deeper aroma of the socarrat, which had soaked up the broth from the paella and now filled the rest of the dish with its rich fragrance. The chefs at Despaña definitely know how to make paella.
For dessert, my guest and I split a goat cheese cheesecake and a “tarta de Santiago,” an almond cake. The cheesecake tasted like its more common cousin, but with the distinctive tanginess of the goat cheese. The tarta impressed us with how well it incorporated the almond essence: Each bite of cake contained the almonds’ sweet aroma. Diners at Despaña should remember to save room for dessert!
Overall, the food at Despaña was exceptionally good. The atmosphere is comfortable but not too formal — perfect for a casual meal to share some tapas with friends. While the service started out slow, our waitress was very attentive throughout the meal. I will definitely be returning to this paragon of Spanish cuisine — with a reservation, of course.
4 out of 5 paws
Pros: Delicious food; comfortable atmosphere.
Cons: Initially slow service during peak hours.