Saturday, August 4, 2007

Cafe Sevilla, San Diego

Cafe Sevilla
Tapas and coastal Spanish specialties

As I may have mentioned before, there is no shortage of good restaurants in San Diego's Gaslamp district, one of the reasons we love attending Comic-Con there. For Saturday night, we wanted to try to find something a little more special, and since we both love tapas, we gravitated to Cafe Sevilla on Fourth Street, after walking by it several times.

The restaurant has a great brick interior with Spanish artwork everywhere. The lighting is low in the picture, but not so low that you can't see your food or the person across from you. We were told there would be a 45-minute wait for a table for two, but just as we were saying that was fine, the manager said he had a table at the bar where we could be seated immediately. We took that, because sitting at the bar in most places still gives you access to the full menu. It may just be a little moisier and less formal, but that wasn't a problem.

Our waitress was very friendly and eager to explain anything we had questions about. She confirmed, sadly, that the andouille sausage was pork and beef, so I let Mark have all of that when our paella came.

The paella is their specialty. Fortunately, they offer a tapas version of it, which is what we got (the bottom dish in the picture), in addition to chicken croquetas (like crab cakes) and pisto manchego (cheese over stewed vegetables). The menu (PDF) is broken up not only into entrees and tapas, but also tapitas, very small plates all under $5. We ordered exclusively from the tapitas menu, except for the paella tapas, and found that three dishes plus the bread were enough for a meal.

Oh, the bread. We both love fresh bread, and there at the bottom of the tapitas menu is a fresh-baked loaf of French or olive bread. We had to get it, and it did not disappoint. It comes with a creamy garlic aioli, not too strong, and a lightly spiced red sauce. But the bread is good just on its own, the olives rich and ripe, the crust crackling and the interior soft and firm, with a flavor that doesn't get overwhelmed by the olives.

I also ordered a gazpacho, being on something of a vegetable kick lately. Gazpacho is often spicy, but this one wasn't too bad for me, just full of tomato flavor with enough seasoning that I devoured the whole thing. It came with a couple endive leaves for scooping and eating, and a slice of cucumber and half-tomato for garnish.

The croquetas surprised us, but when I say they were like crab cakes I mean that as a compliment. The outside breading provided a good contrast to the soft interior, good flavoring all around, if not particularly Spanish. The pisto manchego we enjoyed, though again nothing stood out about it; it was just good.

And the paella was terrific. In that small bowl they crammed two portions of seasoned rice and about eight different kinds of meat: a scallop, a clam, a mussel, several shrimp, some calamari, some andouille sausage, some chicken, and probably one other kind of seafood that I'm forgetting. We devoured that and then finished off the loaf of bread, and found ourselves stuffed and happy, with no room for dessert.

Mark spoke highly of the sangria; for my part, I got a pomegranate green tea that was very subtly flavored. It was bottled, so I don't know whether they get any credit for it other than picking it, but it was a nice complement to the rich flavors of the meal.

And for all that, the price was very reasonable. Unless you're famished or want something to take home, you probably don't need to order the full paella, but you should definitely at least taste the tapas. And don't forget the bread. You might need to order your own loaf.

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