- Richard Foss
- Comments are off
By Richard Foss, Cuisine and Restaurant Writer
I don’t usually eavesdrop on neighboring diners, but the guy on the cell phone at the next table made it impossible not to. He had the kind of voice that carries across a room. He was doing his level best to get a friend to join him.
“Hey buddy, I know you’re feeling down right now but you really ought to get out some,” he said. “I’m sitting at a good restaurant with some wine in front of me; you want me to have to drink it alone? And I ordered some food, the plates here are good-sized, and there’s gonna be plenty. Why don’t you come and join me?”
The accent was pure New York, but the restaurant was Spanish and so was the attitude. The Iberians have great faith in the restorative power of food, wine and companionship. It was charming to hear a champion of the idea in full evangelical mode.
My wife and I were sitting at an outdoor table at Sevilla in Long Beach, one of a chain of restaurants specializing in Spanish food and paella. We had considered dining inside amid dramatic décor that recalls Dali and Picasso, but the light breeze on the shaded patio was too delightful to resist.
Every meal here starts with tapas, a category that originated in Spain. In the 1800s these were snacks of cured meats and cheeses that were put on top of bread. When you ordered wine, they were served atop your wine glass, hence their name, which means “lid” or “cover.” As time went by, they became more substantial and started being served on little plates but were still intended to accompany leisurely meals with many glasses of wine.
We started with three fairly traditional items: bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with cabrales blue cheese, octopus and potatoes with garlic and paprika, and a tortilla Española. That last item confuses lots of people who order it and expect some kind of flatbread but get a potato omelette. Both the Mexican and Spanish tortilla are named for their shape, as the word means ‘little cake.’ This one hardly fits that definition as it’s the size and geometry of a generous slice of pie, topped with roasted and pickled bell peppers and mushrooms. It’s delicious, but almost too much as a starter for two.
The order of dates was daintier, but still substantial: the fruits were skewered and grilled and then topped with herbs and a sweet and sour glaze. It’s an appetizer that anybody can make at home but few people do, because it’s time-consuming, but it hits all the sweet, salty, fruity and umami buttons.
The octopus with potatoes was a surprise because my wife actually liked it. She finds most paprika harsh or metallic, and I had ordered this figuring that I’d eat it all. Although there was plenty of paprika, it had an unusually mellow flavor, warm and slightly smoky rather than hot. She usually tries a bite, shudders slightly and moves on to other things, but we shared this equally.
We had arrived during happy hour, which is arranged differently than usual here. For every dollar you spend on drinks before 7 p.m., you get a dollar toward food, which is a very generous program. We tried some sangria variations with our starters and wine with dinner, as Spaniards would, and saved a fair amount on our bill.
For our main course, we shared a small “six sausage” paella, which actually had five sausages and some rabbit medallions if you want to get technical about it. This is a remarkable bargain for a main course because a $24 pan feeds at least two hungry people. Having been to Spain several times, I can say that it tastes just like it’s supposed to. The sausages and rabbit had abundant and varied flavors and the rice cooked in herbed stock was moist and flavorful and just a bit caramelized in the bottom of the pan. They serve six varieties of paella here, including seafood and vegetarian versions. I just may have to come back and try them all.
We were tempted by the cheese platter but were too full, and might have skipped dessert except that they offered a bread pudding with rum-soaked figs, apricots, cranberry and banana. This particular combination of fruits baked into a cake or custard isn’t traditionally Spanish, but the general idea is and the execution was superb. It had a slightly crisp top and wasn’t overly sweet. The topping of ice cream and drizzle of chocolate were nicely calibrated to match the flavors. It’s one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time and I taste a lot of desserts.
The service by a waiter named Rogue was excellent, but there were evidently some problems in coordination with his support staff on the day we were there, as some items arrived late or mistimed. Our experience was very good but the management should watch this aspect of things.
Our dinner for two ran about $75 with four drinks, which was remarkably reasonable. As we departed, the guy at the table next to us was still hopefully waiting for his buddy to show up. I hope he did, because the experience lightened our moods and might have done the same for him.
Sevilla is at 140 Pine Ave. in Long Beach.
Details: (562) 495-1111