A new tapas lounge is so good,
it might just last awhile.
(page 1 of 5)
Olé Tapas Lounge
1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378
Shared dishes $22-29
Artichokes wrapped with Serrano ham, piquillo relleño de bacalao, Pulpo a la Gallega, fried bronzino
Olé Tapas Lounge sets out to make a statement—and a bold one at that. From the inside, you’d never guess you were dining in a strip center in Newark. The front dining room is dressed in sun-soaked hues of blood orange, avocado green and cinnamon gold. Stylish half-moon booths hug one wall, and a nook is the ideal spot for cherry red sofas, which sit under a blackboard framed by a matador’s rippling cape.
The menu is just as vivid as the decor: chorizo roasted with cider, pumpkin hummus, bacon-wrapped figs with Cabrales cheese, Segovia-style baby pig and white bean-potato soup scented with truffle oil.
The restaurant is heavy on tapas, and that is a very good thing. Unless you’ve been living under a serving platter, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that small plates have long had a presence on area menus. But until Olé, Delaware had yet to host a true tapas restaurant—at least one with staying power.
Tapas is purportedly the invention of Spanish bartenders, who placed a piece of Serrano ham and bread atop a glass to keep flies from nose-diving into the drink. Patrons liked the salty treat, especially after siesta, so the concept evolved into a cultural tradition—and a much needed one at that. Some Spaniards don’t eat dinner until 9 p.m.
In this area, the tapas guru is the affable Jose Garces, who whet diners’ appetites in 2005 when he opened Amada on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. He followed up with Tinto, which showcases the Basque version of tapas.
“I had a chance to work with him a couple of years ago for the Share Our Strength benefit at Harry’s, and he is just amazing,” says Ivan Torres, executive chef of Olé, who owns the restaurant with partners Juan Manuel Aguinaga and Joe Tis, whom Torres met when they were both sous chefs at Harry’s Seafood Grill. “Garces learned it from the best and worked with Douglas Rodriguez.”
But Torres, who is from Mexico City, and his partners did not want to copy Garces—or anyone else, for that matter. Olé’s decor does not resemble Amada’s Spanish-inspired design, and the food is just as distinct.
After talking to Torres, you soon realize that tapas requires as much preparation and labor as full-size entrées, if not more. You have to pack a lot of flavor in a small bite.
Consider a seemingly basic dish such as artichokes wrapped with Serrano ham. Marinated with extra virgin olive oil, the artichokes are cooked with parsley and garlic. Torres then wraps them with paper-thin slices of Serrano and pops them in the oven to produce a slight crispness. A bed of frisée gives the dish a textured flourish. It was the perfect finger food.
Speaking of greens, I could have eaten an entire plate of the garlicky sautéed spinach that cushioned two tender baby lamb chops, which crossed each other on the plate like swords on a wall.
Piquillo relleño de bacalao was a treat. Scarlet envelopes of spicy-sweet red pepper were packed with salt cod, which Torres soaks for three days in water that’s changed every six to eight hours. He purées the cod with olive oil, butter and cream to create a paste, which is tucked into the pointed pepper envelopes. A visit to the oven releases the pepper’s flavors, letting them mingle with the smooth-as-silk filling. It was not chewy, nor was it salty. It was just right.
Chopped vegetables would simply not do for the escalibada, a medley of roasted market vegetables. Torres roasts them in a pan with olive oil, removes the skin and carefully hand-pulls the vegetables for what he calls a rustic appearance. “I want to do it myself and take my time with it,” he says. “I put some love into it.”
Page 2: Olé! continues...