Moderately priced, authentic Spanish cuisine exists -- and it's in, um, Pinecrest.
By Enrique Fernandez
You wouldn't expect to find authentic Spanish cuisine -- moderately priced, at that -- in a Pinecrest shopping center. But there it is on South Dixie Highway, Rincón Español
The decor is standard, old-school U.S. Spanish restaurant, but the menu is not your usual paella and zarzuela de mariscos, even if these items are there.
There's an oxtail dish and a chorizo pate, both from Mallorca; fried rabbit from Navarra; white beans with Catalan sausage; a rib steak from the Castillian city of Avila, home of mystics and fine beef.
The chef may be Brazilian, but the oxtail recipe is one the owner's mother cooked for him in his hometown, Palma de Mallorca. The chuleton de Avila is not Spanish beef (alas, not legal), but much of the seafood is flown from Spain.
The croquetas tapas were more like the dense torpedoes of Cuban coffee shops than the soft bechamel fritters common to Spanish restaurants. The waitress insisted they were bechamel, and, to be fair, they were redolent of nutmeg. They were also surprisingly delicious.
Pulpo a la gallega did not come on the usual bed of sliced boiled potatoes, but it was tender and understatedly seasoned with olive oil and paprika. Potatoes with alioli were golden fried chunks, to be dipped in the zesty garlic mayo.
The chuletón de Avila was excellent and cooked as ordered; it easily serves two. At the opposite end of the steer is my favorite cut, oxtail, and their rabo a la mallorquina is one of the best I've had in a restaurant, falling off the bone and cooked in what owner Benito Meneses told me over the phone the next day was "good wine."
A platter of perfectly grilled little lamb chops was, like the steak, properly cooked, and one can have them plain or with a garlic garnish. Garlic galore, that Spanish tradition, topped the grilled Mediterranean sardines, with a crunchy skin and tender meat to be pulled off the bones.
Dessert was a standard offering of crema catalana and a few flanes, including a tasty coconut version. There were also tortas (light cakes) imported from Spain.
Rincon Espanol carries a good selection of decently priced Spanish wines. A $54 Pago de los Capellanes from the very good year of 2001 was excellent, though I imagine the older reserva and still-older gran reserva would have truly blown me away, had I the bucks to fork out.
The restaurant has wine tastings, though these, like the place itself, are not advertised. Instead, at the request of regulars, Meneses will choose a winery, fashion a menu around its wares and invite a representative to introduce the wines.
Rincon is part of a new wave of local Spanish restaurants, some pitched high with service and prices to match, others, like this one, focusing on home cooking. What they have in common is an authenticity that had been slipping from the older spots. The same-old will no longer do with Iberian cuisine. And we're glad.
, 9511 S. Dixie Hwy., Pinecrest; 305-740-5858; hours: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and Sun., 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat; prices: appetizers $5.50-$10, entrees $15-$30, dessert $4.40-$5.50.
FYI: Free parking. Reservations suggested. Wine and beer only, with totally Spanish wine list; corkage $20.
AX, DN, DS, MC, VS.
Photo: John Vanbeekum