Hours: 5pm-10pm Monday- Wednesday; 5pm- 1am Thursday- Saturday; Closed Sunday
Aesthetically, this 22,000-square-foot tapas factory, one of the anchors of the re-revitalized Church Street Station entertainment complex, is as grand and enticing a restaurant you’ll find in the city. The ambience, rich in fine details and accentuated by a gleaming bar, tile mosaics, sumptuous lighting and a cathedral ceiling, would’ve had me quoting Shakespeare, but my memory (or lack thereof) foiled a display of frivolous pretense. For what it’s worth, the passage I was groping for – Her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence full of light – is a fitting one. This Spanish beauty of a restaurant will ultimately capture your heart, but not before seducing your stomach.
The advantage in dining at a tapas joint (particularly one offering a whopping selection of 100 small plates from which to choose) is that you’re sure to find something you like. A miss will most surely be countered by a hit, with plenty of in-betweens thrown in for good measure. Ceviche doesn’t reinvent the tapas experience, but what it does, it does relatively well.
Sampling ceviche, a delicacy originating in the former Spanish colony of Peru, was practically a foregone conclusion, and the ceviche de atun ($11), a martini-glass assemblage of citrus-marinated tuna, red peppers, jalapeños, garlic and onions, made a cool introduction to the meal. Nothing awe-inspiring, but the dish was tangy, refreshing and had just enough kick to jump-start the affair. Our waiter assured us the Iberico ham ($8.50) was top-quality, and while I couldn’t confirm if the jamón was solely acorn-fed, my dining companions both agreed the thinly shaved meat, served on a crunchy baguette and topped with a triangle of aged manchego cheese, was melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
Another dish that had us cooing was the wonderfully gooey portobello relleno ($8). Wilted spinach, shallots and manchego stuffed the corpulent ’shroom, with contrasting brandy and sherry cream sauces providing a sop-worthy complement. The floral notes and fruity finish of a glass of velvety-smooth Wrongo Dongo Monastrell 2006 ($5.60) proved to be an even better complement to the tapas vegetales.
But not everything was wine and roses, a pointed example being when our accommodating (though somewhat forgetful) waiter mistakenly served us a plate of aromatic salmon a la gaditana ($9). The fish was remarkably bland, and the accompanying saffron sauce with leeks was equally insipid. Bacalao Bilbaina ($11) looked promising, the plump loin of cod glistening with olive oil and garnished with garlic cloves and fire-roasted peppers, but the flavor gave me an idea as to what a wet, chewy sock might taste like.
Luckily, I was able to cleanse my palate with oxtail (I don’t get to say that too often). Fall-off-the-bone tender rabo de toro ($11) is slowly braised in a red wine reduction and served atop cushiony potatoes: absolutely delicious, and the hit dish of the evening. Skewers of nicely seasoned chorizo were the hit of the banderillas mixtas ($8.50), which also came lanced with chewy tenderloin and ho-hum chicken, though repeated dips in the garlic aioli elevated each meaty bite.
Both desserts we sampled were outstanding. The creamy-drunk tres leches meringue cake with fresh berries ($7.50) won over more sweet-tooths than the trilogia de chocolates ($8), a moussey drum of white, dark and milk chocolates. Just about ready for a siesta, I ordered a double espresso, and while the brew did its part to recharge, the taste fell flat and the crema was nonexistent.
On the way out, I took a gander at the cold tapas bar, a centerpiece fixture that drew my eyes upward to the dangling gams of hams. Each lovely shank vied for the attention of patrons already bedazzled by the vault’s feasting presence.
Payment Type: Amex, Discover, Master Card, Visa