What is it about a small Spanish tapas bar that inspires thirst, hunger and conviviality all at the same time? The atmosphere is informal and friendly, the food is simple and ready to serve, the wines are well chosen and everything is modestly priced. It’s fast food for people who care about what they consume.
So why has ‘tapas’ become a pejorative word that evokes a fad several years past its prime?
My often voiced opinion is that the tapas concept has been turned on its head. The word ‘tapas’ has become restaurant code for ‘tiny appetizer’. A round of tapas with friends is a self contained snack while an appetizer is the first course of a full meal. This distinction has been hard to make due to a lack of proper tapas bars here in our part of the world. That is about to change.
Yesterday Daniel Olivella from B44 in San Francisco opened his new Bar Lata on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.
In keeping with tradition the space is diminutive and simply decorated. A long and varied list of cold and hot tapas is well paired with a wine selection that covers all of Spain. A unique collection of “canned” (lata = can) items are made in house and, in homage to the many superlative canned foods of Spain, are served in little oval shaped metal tins (the Lata de Pulpo was a traditional mix of octopus and potatoes dressed with extra virgin olive oil and a hearty dusting of smoked paprika).
Last night, seated in the corner with a view of the entire space I contentedly sipped a glass of cold, crisp Manzanilla while all around me the many wines of Spain, objects of my personal and professional passion, were flowing busily from bottle to glass. On one table a red Garnacha blend from Montsant was passed around amongst a cheery group of six. On another table bottle after bottle of Galician Albariño was happily consumed by an increasingly boisterous couple. Up front at the bar glasses of frothy Cava were handed out to a group of newly arrived patrons.
“This” I said to my wife “is my kind of place”.
In honor of my newfound home away from home, this week we feature a few the wines seen at (or inspired by) Bar Lata that are also found here at The Spanish Table. They have a pretty extensive list so if you go and try something you like, let me know and if I don’t have it already, I’ll get it.
Meanwhile across the Bay: I will be leading a wine class next week in San Francisco on Thursday March 19th at 7 pm at 18 Reasons (593 Guerrero St @ 18th St), a gallery in the Mission whose motto is “bringing the community together through food and art”. The theme the evening is “Spanish Bubbles” and will include a tasting of sparkling Cava, lightly effervescent Txakoli from Basque Country and Vi D’Agulla from Catalunya as well as a sweet sparkling Muscat from Valencia. Background notes on the wines will be available during the event along with discounted purchasing opportunities. Appropriate snacks (dare I call them ‘tapas’?) will be prepared by the 18 Reasons crew. All of this can be had for the extremely tasty price of $10 ($5 dollars for 18 Reasons members). Go to their web site, http://18reasons.org/ for details and directions or call them at (415)-252-9816.
San León Manzanilla Clásica This wine, with an average age of 8 years, is palest straw colored and full of yeasty, saline aroma (like a fresh sea breeze) and toasted almond and chamomile flavors. If you are a Manzanilla lover this is an excellent new wine to add to your list. If you have not yet had a chance to try this most distinctive Spanish wine, this is the perfect place to start. $12.99 (375ml)
Gran Barquero Fino In the hills of Andalucia, just south of Cordoba in D.O. Montilla-Moriles they make fortified wines using the Pedro Ximénez grape. These wines share the same production techniques as Sherry from D.O. Jerez further south. Gran Barquero Fino is pale straw colored, bracingly dry, lean and full of toasted almond aroma. $17.99
Sete Cepas Albariño 2007 This well priced Albariño is pale yellow tinged with green. Grapefruit aroma, lean minerality and light, refreshing texture are all to be found in this young white wine from Galicia. $12.99
Avinyó Vi D’Agulla 2007 Made in the Penedès region of Catalunya, this wine from the makers of Avinyó Cava is composed of Petit Grain Muscat, fermented to dryness and bottled with a bit of residual effervescence. The rich Muscat scent is present here but the sweetness usually associated with this grape is only barely perceived. In its place is tart citrusy fruit character and background flintiness. This wine was originally $14.99 but is on sale while it lasts for $11.99
Can Blau 2007 This dark, opulent Montsant region blend of Cariñena, Syrah and Garnacha is ripe and bold yet balanced too. Judging from the number of bottles of Can Blau that I saw being poured at Bar Lata in Oakland the other night, this is a real crowd pleaser. Personal experience affirms this perspective. $16.99
Senorio de P.Peciña Crianza 2000 Produced from a blend of mostly Tempranillo with small additions of Garnacha and Graciano, this Crianza level wine spends an extended period (2 years) ageing in French and American oak barrels, with an additional year of bottle ageing before release. The bright cherry-like fruit and resiny tannic barrel character that are typical of traditional Crianza Riojas are present here in a finely tuned frame. Serve this wine with sliced Serrano ham or cured Spanish chorizo for a classic flavor pairing. $19.99