Espana Tapas and Wine Bar
655 Middle Country Rd. St. James, NY 631-656-1564
At this classically Spanish tapas and wine bar, host Julio Caro will guide you through the roster of traditional small plates. Try the tender Galician-style octopus with sweet and spicy paprika, as well as the assorted Spanish meats and cheeses, the crisp patatas bravas and croquetas de jamon - crunchy little ham croquettes.Hours: Lunch, noon to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, dinner, 3 to 11 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 3 to midnight Thursday to Saturday, 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Ambience: Good Service: Very Good Credit cards: Accepted Accessibility: Bathrooms not wheelchair accessible
Be on the lookout for the red and yellow sign announcing the presence of Espana, in a nondescript St. James strip mall. What looks like a sliver of a storefront is actually a sizable wine bar and dining spot with a focus on tapas, the small plates of Spain.
True, these days, tapas can mean anything from mac 'n' cheese to miso black cod. Here, though, Castilian traditions prevail. For those who need guidance ordering food or wine, gracious host Julio Caro is there to provide it as well as recite daily-changing entrees from chef Sebastian Cambeiro's repertoire.
Even in warm weather, soups have allure. Sopa de ajo (garlic soup) is resonant yet mellow. Also recommended: rich sopa de mariscos (seafood soup) and hearty caldo Gallega (Galician white bean, potato, chorizo and kale soup).
One night, our table shares a big platter of meats, cheeses and olives. I'm especially taken with the savory Serrano ham, mildly spicy chorizo (dry-cured pork sausage) and two kinds of Manchego (sheep's milk) cheese.
My favorite dish, though, is the ridiculously tender Galician-style octopus with paprika, olive oil and potatoes. Love the patatas ala brava, crisp, fried potatoes drizzled with a spicy red sauce.
Tortilla Espanola is a comforting little Spanish omelet with potatoes and onions. Croquetas de jamon: crisp little ham croquettes made with a bechamel-like sauce. Anchovy lovers: try the boquerones en vinagre, fresh little fish marinated in vinegar, garlic and parsley. It's strong, though, and not for every palate.
An entree standout: juicy grilled skirt steak.
Flan, custardy and very Spanish, is a fitting finale.
Empanadillas (chicken-stuffed turnovers) encase dry fillings. Both shrimp and chicken in garlic are way overdone. Stuffed piquillo peppers are OK but nothing more. And an entree of mariscada (assorted seafood over rice) is small, with some items overcooked.
Share a pitcher of sangria, a plate of meats and cheeses and some octopus. Life is a fiesta.