Finding bueno Spanish cuisine is a possible dream, not a Quixotic quest.
Stroll the squares in Madrid or Barcelona and you will find stands, alot like the hot dog stands in midtown Manhattan, each one selling a different tapa—some chorizo sausage here, anchovies there, squid two stalls up. Tapas are bite-sized portions of food native to Spain; think the half-dollar sized quiches and smoked salmon on toast served as party hors d’oeuvres, but with a Spanish accent. They supposedly originated in an edict of a Spanish king dictating that inns offer minuscule meals, so workers didn’t have to take a siesta after a heavy lunch.
Solera on Hudson in Irvington, an offshoot of the sister restaurant in Manhattan, is acclaimed for its tapas, though it also offers hard-to-find Spanish “alta cocina.” On our first expedition, we thought the $14 assortment of tapas on the menu entitled us to sample a wide variety and ordered with abandon. What we learned, to only mild dismay, is that $14 delivers a plate with four hot tapas and a sauce identical to the rouille served with a French bouillabaisse, and everything else was extra. Our assortment wound up costing almost $100. It was worth every peseta, though.
By popular acclaim, the favorite was piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in Serrano ham, a sublime dish. Others brought mixed reviews. Some liked the garlicky chorizo or Spanish sausages, others thought them too bland. The marinated anchovies were superb, and those who like squid and calamari (not me) assured me they were perfect. And there wasn’t a morsel left on a plate.
But what to drink? Solera’s walls are lined with bottles with impressive labels, and the wine list offers dozens of selections from $28 a bottle to $230, all of them Spanish. We thought it safest to order a carafe of a traditional Spanish sangria—inexpensive Spanish wine, spiked with brandy, and mixed with fresh fruits and sugar. Whoever concocted our $25 carafe had a generous hand with the brandy, and the beverage was, well, intoxicating.
The signature dish of any classic Spanish restaurant is, of course, paella, which is traditionally served in a flat, wide pan. Besides the choice of pan, what’s in a paella is pretty much up to the chef, with no two recipes alike. The classic basic ingredients are chicken, chorizo, lobster, shrimp, clams and mussels, and whatever else may be in the pantry. Solera offers three versions of paella, a basic one ($25), a version called fideua with angel hair pasta baked with shellfish ($30) and a seafood version ($30). The only difference between the basic dish and the seafood cousin seems to be the inclusion of a lobster tail in the $30 version. Shrimp were served with their heads on, which might unsettle diners not used to this European style, and the lobster was tough, but the compensation was in the tiny, delicate mussels. If you choose to eat the seafood version and are bound to the “white wine with fish” rule, Solera offers a non-traditional white Sangria.
The other pleasant surprise was dessert. The crÃ©ma catalana is a Spanish version of a classic crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e, but with lemon and cinnamon. It was greeted with cheers of “Ole!” Likewise the chocolate and orange mousse, caramba!
Located on a pier jutting into the Hudson River, Solera is set in an old factory building featuring dramatic, two-story-high ceilings with exposed old beams. The main dining room has art from contemporary Spanish artist Santiago Lopez lining its brick walls. The
SOLERA ON HUDSON
One Bridge St., Irvington
Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 11:30-4 pm
inner, Mon. to Sat. 4-10 pm, Sun. 2-8:30 pm
Appetizers: $4-$10 (tapas), $8-$14 (regular appetizers)