Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spain Restaurant and Toma Bar, Tampa, FL

So...I've had tasty enough meals at Spain in downtown Tampa for lunch (in a high school cafeteria kinda way) featuring a hot line you slide your tray down while making your selections, with a self-serve soda setup just before you hit the cashier and carry your food into the relatively stark dining room. I have heard rumors of it morphing itself from a casual caterpillar into a sleek, urban butterfly after the sun went down and wanted to check it out.  Those rumors were not unfounded...the evening version of the restaurant was almost unrecognizable from its utilitarian daytime visage.  UD and I, along with our foodie friends "Meredith" and "Wayne" (aka Mary Beth and Wade - inside joke), found real epicurean serendipity in Spain-after-dark and dined like royalty for around $100 per couple including plenty of wine, sangria and mojitos for all.

We were all the mood for a tapas-style experience and our wonderful server Yesenia coached us through the menu, advised us on how much of each dish we needed to order for four people and offered several improvisational suggestions on how to help make the non-tapas items we wanted to try work better for sharing.  She did a fantastic job and greatly contributed to our enjoyment of the meal.

There was no way we were going to pass up Jamon Serrano, Queso Manchego and Cured Spanish Olives...almost like being in Barcelona again!

The Empanadillas de Carnes (spicy meat-stuffed mini pastries) were to die for, and some of the tastiest and most authentic I've had in this country. Crispy and muy rico!

Wade wanted to try the paella, and thank gawd he did because it was some of the best any of us have ever tasted.  Our veryfine server offered to bring small plates for everyone at the table so we could all share in this lovely offering, which was uber-saffrony and laden with really fresh-tasting shellfish.
Being the ordering fools that we were, plenty more tapas plates found their way to us.  Filete de Res sounded great on paper (sauteed filet mignon with onions, mushrooms and sherry) but was kind of unspecial in real life. The beef was very tender, but lacked flavor.  The mojitos rawked, least Wade said they did.
Pimientos de Piquillo (pimentos stuffed with crab and shrimp in a spicy pimento sauce) were a real crowd pleaser at our table, albeit not my fave of the night.  The sauce was rich, creamy and delicious, but I thought it overpowered the seafood just a bit...not that it stopped me from eating them or anything crazy like that.  Others disagreed, however (the spousal unit proclaimed them "one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth") order with an open mind.
Snarfing onward, we shared an order of the Tortas de Cangrejo (crab cakes with chutney sauce) which were awesome...big chunks of lump crabmeat barely held together by random, stray breadcrumbs.  Really nice!
Undeterred by bursting seams, we demanded MORE.  Ceviche (which is not one of my favorite dishes) was deemed delish and fresh-tasting by the group.  I'm not a raw seafood lover, but it really did look pretty.  Look how generous the serving is...loaded up with shrimp and scallops marinated in lime and cilantro!
We also tried the Pulpo a la Gallaga (octopus with olive oil, garlic and paprika served over potatoes) which sadly didn't photograph all that well.  I really enjoyed it...the meat was sweet like a scallop with a more muscular texture similar to conch and the paprika gave it a zesty kick.  The rest of the gang thought the chef had been a little heavy-handed with the salt and spices, though.

Shockingly, we were not too full for dessert after this tapas overload.  I needed the Chocolate con Churros and they did not disappoint!  Far from the mushy churros you get at the Target cantina, these guys were deep-fried to uber-crisposity (Is that even a word??) on the outside and were tender and delicious on the inside.  And that chocolate dipping sauce....*thud*.  Amazing sweet finish.
The lure of Filloas Gallegas, which were crepes stuffed with Spanish cream, Grand Marnier and orange sauce, could not be resisted.  Ridiculously good.  Photos really do not begin to do justice to either dessert (your friendly photographer was getting slightly buzzed and over-relaxed when they were taken...notice how things become more and more out of focus as the evening wears on?). 
I totally underestimated this place.  I expected the food to be good, but I didn't expect it to "wow" me. It was a fantastic dinner, Spain's evening ambience was surprisingly nice and our service was low-key, friendly and excellent.  Good times!

Bummer...we've officially reached our gastronomic limits.

Spain on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.


  1. Looks great! I'll be going there for dinner with my family tomorrow :)

  2. You can get a $25 dining cert for $6 today using the promo code SCHOOL. Just sayin'. ;)