Walking into La Taberna is like stepping into a modern tavern in Northern Spain. The look, aromas, casual feel and general camaraderie is immediately apparent. There’s a long bar featuring a list of both local and international wines, as well as a great selection of wine-based cocktails, ciders, beer and sherry. There are high tables along the back wall and a chalkboard menu behind the bar. Everything is moderately priced and expertly prepared, and the sound system features a lively mix of jazz, Latin, hip-hop, dance and other styles.
Owner Mick Salyer is also proprietor of ZuZu Tapas and ZuZu Wood-Fired Paella Catering Co. His culinary team at La Taberna is headed up by Jean Claude Balek and Yancy Windsperger, and their short-but-sweet menu focuses on seasonal, locally produced items, offering several vegetarian, meat and seafood choices. It’s set up so people can come in for a casual bite or stay longer and share several options.
We started off with a refreshing “Porto Tonico” cocktail, a mixture of white port, Mediterranean tonic and lime. We also sampled some Basque apple cider on tap (Trabanco), which was pleasantly tart.
We then tried a lot of menu items, which was great fun. First came the 36-month aged jamon Iberico de Bellota, served thin-sliced on a cutting board with grilled bread. It was well paired with La Guita Manzanilla sherry (light, acidic). The house cured, marbled pork was absolutely delicious (my notes say “off the hook awesome”) on the crisp bread.
Next up was fresh, thin-sliced Hamachi crudo on a base of fennel with clemquats (cross between cumquats and clementines), basil lemon oil and blood orange.
Basque patatas were cubed and lightly pan fried for crisp edges and soft interiors, dabbled with aioli and Catalan sauce (tomato and peppers) that had a building heat. Crispy pig ears were cut into strips and braised with Spanish peppers, which gave them a crunchy, fatty taste (a result of how the marinade breaks down the ears) similar to bacon. They went perfectly with Fernando de Castilla sherry, which had an almost nutty flavor and great acid balance.
Prawns Diablo was a spicy dish made with fresh, plump gulf prawns served over cabbage with pickled slaw, sherry, aioli and pepper sauce. The Catalan greens were Swiss chard with roasted garlic, fennel, pine nuts and raisins plumped with Madeira. They were served hot and had a nice blend of sweet, earthy and smoky flavors.
The restaurant’s specialty is suckling pig, which is a 25- to 30-pound pig, with bones removed, that’s slow cooked in duck fat overnight at 200 degrees. When finished, the skin is removed and the meat is placed back in the oven. When done, it’s cut into blocks and the edges are seared. The natural liquid and fat is saved and used to roast with root vegetables. The result is total comfort food, rich and melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
Mushrooms ala plancha had a wonderful, meaty, earthy flavor and texture with all different types, shapes and sizes mixed with hazelnuts and placed atop mashed potatoes. Paired with 2011 L’Argentier Cinsault (full-bodied and meaty with red fruit), they were dreamy.
Dessert was tetilla empanada, which is Spanish sheep’s milk cheese that’s fried and served with honey, black pepper and sea salt. The result is a flaky, crispy edge with the melted, mild cheese inside. It was a perfect dessert for people who tend to opt for things that aren’t too sweet (like me!). And the pepper was such a pleasant, unexpected touch.
Traditional Spanish café con miel (honey) with steamed milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon topped everything off well. Thank you to the folks at La Taberna for the excellent food, service and conversation.
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