A food trend that never seems to go out of style is the small plate concept. So it was with pleasure that I shared an evening of noshing with three friends where we sampled three-fourths of the menu at the lovingly renovated and revitalized El Farol. What food! What fun!
The old El Farol had become an institution, famous for late night revelry, flamenco, and booze. New owner Rich Freeman has given El Farol a much-needed fresh coat of paint, and a re-energizing of the staff, menu, and bar. According to Freeman, a few of his hard-core regulars preferred the dressed-down pre-renovation version, but the majority of his customers are thrilled with the transformation.
We order drinks from the eclectic cocktail list, starting off with a round of bracing margaritas: one smoked, one slightly sweetened with pomegranate juice, and one fired with muddled jalapeno. Delish! Chef Shane Alexander comes to the table to see what dishes pique our interest. Alexander hails from South Africa, but has worked in numerous ethnic restaurants in the United States, giving him a keen and imaginative palate. The lengthy menu gives the young chef happy room to experiment outside the realm of the usual suspects of shrimp and garlic, potatoes with aioli, and jamon serrano. His versions of those classics are excellent, but there is so much more to sample.
The tapas are offered in both cold and hot versions. With a vegetarian in tow, we navigate the menu easily to ensure she can enjoy our feast. Table favorites include marinated white anchovies with zippy olive tapenade and tomato vinaigrette; crispy fried potatoes bravas with garlicky aioli; smoky grilled artichokes served with a salty Parmesan-style cheese; crunchy seared Brussels sprouts with balsamic syrup; a crumbed and fried avocado with lime crema—are you hungry yet?
We want to save room for main courses so we hold off on further appetizers. I’m usually hesitant to order paella in a restaurant because I know how long it takes to prepare. Often the chef has to start the rice and then hold it until an order is made, which can affect the rice’s texture. Freeman promises their version is terrific and I concur; the one that arrives, chock-full of shrimp, mussels, chicken, and chorizo (and an interesting addition of lima beans), is spot-on with perfect rice, plump with flavor. Freeman highly recommends the 24-hour braised short ribs and they melt on our tongues, sided with carrot puree and sautéed broccolini—scrumptious. A duck dish, with seared breast confit leg and tender porcini gnocchi, though not necessarily Spanish, wows us.
Pastry Chef Taylor Burns creates some very sophisticated desserts. Her steamed warm raisin cake with toffee, apples, and vanilla gelato—a sort of sticky pudding—is my favorite dessert of the year! Her take on s’mores is yummy, too.
If you find yourself in the company of some real wine aficionados, let them spoil you and order the Lan Rioja Edición Limitada 2013 from the well-planned wine list. It’s a big red that bites back and takes our evening to an elevated gourmet experience (get it quick—there are only a few bottles left!).
Well supped, we vow to return for the jazz and flamenco offered on the music schedule, and to sample the remaining dishes. If you, like me, have made a vow to make sure that in 2018 you enjoy life to the fullest extent possible, heading to El Farol is a great place to start. Living, eating (and drinking) well is the best revenge.
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