Our next food joint was something of a Tomas Morato classic, Alba Restaurante Español. Since we wanted to have some paella, we called the restaurant while we were on the way so that they can begin cooking the rice dish. During the call, we were informed that one of the dishes we wanted to try, cochinillo, was unavailable. It was unfortunate, but the warmth exuded by the person who answered my call sent signals that we were about to have a delightful experience.
Upon arriving, the staff quickly led us to the table that was reserved for us. Looking around, it was evident that Alba had its loyal customers — the clientele was a little bit of the older generation, and it felt odd to be some of the youngest patrons in the room. In any case, I loved our table — it had no immediate neighbors and the seat’s backrest provided a little bit of privacy.
A platter of cold cuts was our cold appetizer, consisting of mortadella and two kinds of salami. The salamis were both good, but we found ourselves having a difficult time distinguishing the flavors of one over the other, despite looking distinctly different from one another. The mortadella was less pleasing to my palate: it was definitely not my favorite. It was fatty without being salty — not my preference for cured meat. The entire platter was served with pistou, a sort of dip or sauce that rendered freshness and tartness to the fatty cuts. Their tomato version was very good, but I honestly enjoy my cold cuts without it.
A hot appetizer graced our table in the form of baked clams. I ordered it in the hopes of reliving a memory of baked clams topped with parmesan I very much enjoyed as a kid, yet the ones that arrived were less than stellar. True to its name, there was no parmesan topping, only cooked clams sitting on their shell drowning in melted butter. Those were definitely tasty, yet they didn’t hit the mark when it came to rekindling that childhood memory.
Soon came our much awaited paella negra. Though the seafood was camouflaged in the darkness of the rice, the pieces were plenty. Each bite screamed a rich squid ink flavor, and it was honestly very flavorful. It was so good that it was difficult to stop getting more servings despite being too full. The cooking of the seafood pieces could be improved though: the shrimp was dry and overcooked while the squid was a bit rubbery but was still edible. Some soccarat was present, which I was glad to find, but there were also burnt portions that were too bitter to be enjoyed.
The lengua sevillana was very tender but it lacked flavor. I would assume (I might be wrong though) that it was pressure-cooked instead of slow-cooked, or it could have been cooked far longer than necessary. The texture was different: it did not have the integrity that the meat would usually have but it did not feel as melt-in-my-mouth as my mother’s version was. It came in a very loose sauce that did nothing to complement the ox tongue. I also found the dish quite pricey for three thin slices of the delicacy.
The biggest surprise for us was the beef salpicao. Early on, our waiter asked us the doneness of the beef, to which we replied medium rare. Our server cautioned us that it would still be ‘madugo’, perhaps a typical reaction from other clients. The dish that arrived on our table was spectacular. The beef was cooked right; it was a true medium rare. The gravy that came along with it wasn’t the tastiest, but the fried garlic bits elevated the flavors of the dish. The dollop of mashed potatoes was creamy, but it was underseasoned. Still, this dish was so good and our favorite among those that we tried.
The two stand-outs during our meal were definitely the beef salpicao and the paella negra. The beef could even rival some of the steaks we’ve had recently, except that it wasn’t presented as a huge chunk of meat. It was very, very good, but make sure to ask for a medium-rare doneness (more on this on a later post). The paella was the runner-up as it wasn’t perfect, but most bites were still truly enjoyable.
More on QC eats next time. Until then, happy eating!