The Iris of Indian Shores and I pulled in to the parking lot in time for our 5:30 reservations. We walked along the brick pathway to a quiet courtyard with a gurgling fountain.
A hostess greeted us and guided us to our awaiting table in the main dining area resplendent with white table cloths and fresh petals from the adjacent flower shop.
While relaxing with my bella dama and a refreshing beverage, I could not help eyeing a leg of ham resting on the wine bar. This was no simple ham, it was the ultimate long, thin leg of ham with a deep golden hue to its fat with meat that is dark red and marbled with veins of fat. This was a $900, and then some, Jamón Ibérico.
Owner and chef Marcos Fernandez watched me drooling over this leg of ham. He inquired if I knew what I was lusting over. Yes, of course I knew and he asked if I would like a taste. Silly question!
That little sliver of Jamón Ibérico was worth the drive from Indian Shores even if I had nothing else to eat. The meat was indescribably good and the fat simply melted on my tongue. I think I moaned with pleasure.
The Jamón Ibérico is included in the Charcuterie Plate along with chorizo and a variety of Spanish cheeses with mixed olives, but I had my taste receptors set on the Pulpo appetizer, octopus with olive caramel, olive aioli, chorizo chimichurri and fingerling potatoes.
This octopus appetizer was rich and savory with just the right amount of al dente ... it wasn't tough or over cooked. The potato slices were an interesting, yet unnecessary, addition. I ate all of the pulpo with gusto and left most of the potato.
For her appetizer, my bride chose the Croquetas, four delightful balls of Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, quinoa flour, yuca flour, and guava glacé - a common tapa on bar counters and in homes across Spain.
The Belle of Gulf Boulevard seemed to enjoy her ham balls so much that I was not even afforded a bite. She mentioned that the crust had a very pleasant crunch and the cheese and ham interior was moist and pleasing to her palate.
To accompany our entrees, Nick brought us a bowl of freshly baked dinner rolls made with gluten free yuca flour and Manchega cheese - light, creamy and perfect for soaking up sauces from our dinner plates.
It was difficult narrowing down our choices from the dinner menu. There were several that seemed to have been included just for us. I am always excited to see paella on local menus, so I could not pass on the Paella Mariscos - Calasparra rice, chorizo, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels and fish.
and Calasparra rice is a super absorbent short-grain rice grown in the mountains of Spain. It is said to be the only rice fit for paella. For a perfect paella you're striving for a tender, but not creamy result. Unfortunately, this rice was prepared like a risotto, creamy and flavorful but lacking the brown, crisp layer that forms on the bottom of a well-cooked paella, the socarrat.
I have cooked "old clothes" at home on numerous occasions so my dining partner decided to try a different version of the classic Ropa Vieja with slow braised flank steak, espagnole, sherry wine, peppers, onions and green olives, with jasmine rice and plantains.
The shredded flank steak was cooked to tender, juicy perfection and bathed in the espagnole sauce, one of the five "mother" sauces that are the basis of sauce-making in classic French cookery. The rice was prepared in a creamy risotto style. The Belle of the Boulevard said this ropa vieja probably one of the best ever.
I think my version of ropa vieja now sits in second place. And, that is a good thing. If you can cook it better at home, then why go out? Allow me to answer my own question. Sometimes I can do better, but it is still a treat to get out of the kitchen and have someone else do it. That being said, my "old clothes" still sits in the number two spot.
Personally, I was stuffed but Nick came along and tempted my bride with a cheese cake - a chocolate cheese cake that Nick described as being lighter than a New York cheese cake. The Belle said, "Bring 'er on!"
To accompany our main dishes and to sip while tasting the cheese cake, I had requested a bottle of a delightful Spanish red similar to a Pino. Nick said it would pare well with both of our entrees - and it did.
Dinner and beverages came to a reasonable $172.27. We added an optional 20% for Nick's great service.
I can't say I would drive from the Gulf beaches to Lakeland just for dinner again, but if I was there anyway I would certainly be making reservations at Nineteen61. The ox-tails are waiting for me.