Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sweet Eats: Downtown Historic Fernandina Beach in Florida

Tantalizing beginnings: Berenjena Espana (Eggplant Espana)

Paella Marinera (Seafood Paella)

Can't get enough: Almejas Borrachas (Drunken Clams)

Now it's all about Espana Restaurant & Tapas @ Downtown Historic Fernandina Beach.

I can't seem to kick this Spanish grazing craze. I'd have to say Espana hooked me in with a profound use of one ingredient: cilantro.

I've always loved cilantro - but often enjoyed it served fresh and included in particular dishes to give it that twisted tang.

Espana's use of cilantro is most prevalent in their saucy et sexy seafood paella; the Paella Marinera complete with "clams, shrimp, scallops, mussels, calamari and lobster cooked with saffron rice".

The draw to this dish came from the generous yet perfectly portioned use of cilantro briskly simmered the paella blend. Then, what drew me in all the way is the preparation of the paella as it is traditionally predestined to be prepared: a 'quick draw' sort of way allowing the intimate gems of clams, shrimp, mussels, calamari and all that never ever result in overcooked rubberized flubber.

Perfectly seasoned and with each bite to perfection - it was the cilantro with the saffron that melded the entire dish with a smokey mist.

The only fine tuning necessary in the dish was its plating of the Paella. Bite to bite it was a stunning masterpiece - but some thought into tidying the presentation would have added more eye candy appeal. For 'zample: If the 'sides' of the platter it arrived upon didn't hold remnants of the food swirled about - this would have graced itself to wonder class efforts.

Another must try is the Eggplant Espana (Berenjena Espana)prepared with "layers of roasted eggplant and manchego cheese topped with sauteed mushrooms and creamy white sauce". When this dish first arrived all I saw was a blanket of cheese. I was worried about breaking through yet another Jacksonville cheese barrier, but found myself surprised when this was not the case at all.

The cheese was pillow soft and translucent. The amount of cheese was actually just enough and balanced cohesively with the tart of the eggplant. I highly recommend this dish if you want to savor a bit in the unexpected.

Another appreciation I have for Espana is the dishes arrive with ALL THE INGREDIENTS mentioned in the menu description - thank you for this.

Overall, we walked into a wonderful setting as we arrived from less than a block off the main street. The restaurant had an attachment to the main dining hall that gave it a feeling of dining outside yet shielded by a comfortable porch like setting.

There was outside dining too in their back garden area complete with an inviting running fountain.

Service was warm and personalized.

There was sort of a embraced feeling throughout that reminded me of a noble clandestine setting, yet complete with all the natural elements but hinting maybe something more.....

Dine, wine and visit:

Espana Restaurant & Tapas
22 S. 4th Street
Fernandina Beach, Florida

Tel 904.261.7700

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