It was in Seville that I set out to find the ultimate tapas place, the one where the locals go after Mass on a Sunday, before heading home for lunch. A painstaking research brought me to an old place right behind the imposing cathedral, from where worshippers were pouring out decked in their Sunday best, some women wearing Sevillian attire, long colorful skirts, intricate petticoats and veils pinned to their hairdo.
The Spanish tapas experience is a far cry from what it has become to mean in Los Angeles – yes, it’s still small bites of food meant to be had with some wine but, typically, there will be no sitting around, tables are not an option. One elbows her way to the counter and, in my case, flails her arm, shouts her best Spanish hoping to impress the very un-impressable bartender and does a lot of finger pointing towards the food displayed in a glass case. It works better if you are local. I still got to taste an array of jamons, tortas, anchovies and sausages. It was a pretty memorable experience.
I love tapas when I am hungry but cannot commit to a particular dish and I was thrilled when Joe Miller opened a tapas bar on Santa Monica Boulevard, one block from the ocean. The owner of the 20-year-old and always reliable Joe’s on Abbot Kinney must have had multiple offers to open outposts during the last two decades but he stuck to his kitchen until tapas must have made him change his mind. When it first opened, Bar Pintxo (pronounced pintcho) was good but not great. It took the crew a little time to find their footing, expand the menu and get the vibe going.
On my last visit, the place was “bopping”, with people waiting to be seated at the small wooden tables, surrounded floor to ceiling by wine shelves. The chef and two cooks finish and prepare the tapas from a tiny open kitchen and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Wines and beers are strictly Spanish and the wine selection is wide. A tasting menu is also offered but I was feeling like traditional tapas and I ordered as if eating my last meal.
The tortilla Espanola is a thick and fluffy frittata with potatoes and caramelized onions, served hot while, traditionally, it’s served cold and much more oily. The croquetas de pollo are perfectly fried and crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside and the patatas bravas are matched with a spicy tomato sauce.
My favourite dish, hands down, was the grilled octopus, served on a smear of saffron aioli. The jamon serrano (aged 18 months) and the jamon iberico (aged 24 montsh) are cut thick and accompanied by warm baguette drizzled with olive oil.
As I was going all out and downing a Spanish lager I was going to regret later, I also ventured into dessert, attracted by a sage flan which I thoroughly enjoyed: dense and creamy with the perfect hint of sage that marries splendidly with the burnt caramel juice of the flan. The special, a sort of thin oreo cheesecake, served with a quenelle of cream and berry compote was also good but more run of the mill.
The bill for three came to around $136, which included two beers and three white sangrias. Not as cheap as Sevillian tapas on a Sunday morning but you will have saved the airfare and you will most definitely be sitting.