Thursday, July 21, 2011
Hartford Food Guy Reviews: Costa del Sol
What we today know as Spain arose out of a patchwork of small Christian kingdoms that served as a bulwark between the rest of Europe and the once mighty Caliphate of Cordoba which dominated much of North Africa and much of the Iberian Penninsular until about AD 1000. In the northeast was Navarre, centered around Pamplona in the Basque region. In the southeast, along the Pyrenees, was Aragon, founded by Charlemagne as a barrier between his empire and the Caliphate. In the center, there was Castile (literally, the land of castles), a wild frontier where Cross and Crescent frequently came to blows. In the northwest was Leon, to which was usually appended Galacia, which is the part of Spain that extends over the northern border of Portugal.
Galacia is home to the most sacred Christian shrine on the Iberian Penninsular (and one of the most sacred in the world), the shrine of Santiago (St. James) de Compostela. It is from Galacia that Pepe Feijoo and his family came in 1966. After 20 years of hard work, he was able to open Costa del Sol, ironically, the name of the region in the far south of Spain, below Granada, on Wethersfield Avenue on the Hartford/Wethersfield line and they have been serving delicious, authentic, Spanish food ever since.
Our meal started with complimentary bread and olive oil so fresh it tasted like it had just been pressed. My wife and I have had a lot of olive oil in our lives and it isn't an exaggeration to say that Costa del Sol's olive oil might have been the best. Costa del Sol's website points out, actually boasts, that "Spain produces 44% of the world's olives".
We started with two appetizers, the Tabla Iberica (Serrano ham, chorizo, salchichón, Manchego cheese and San Simon cheese) $10 & the Pulpo (Galician style octopus with Spanish paprika, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil) $11. The meats and cheeses that comprised the Tabla Iberica were outstanding, particulatly the salchichon (sort of like salami). The octupus was well-prepared (i.e. not overcooked), but it was not outstanding, which was a small disappointment (at least for me), though the Tabla Iberica more than carried the day.
For dinner we elected to have paella. Paella comes from the Valencia region of southeast Spain (Valencia was the base of operations for the great Spanish warlord, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known to us as El Cid) and is made from a base of rice, saffron, and olive oil into which herbs, spices, meats, seafood, shellfish and all sorts of other delicious things are mixed. For those that don't know, one of the hallmarks of paella is a thin crust of rice (which is infused with the other flavors in the dish) that forms along the bottom of the pan (:> x 25).
Costa del Sol has four different versions of paella and we opted for the Paella de la Casa(clams, mussels, shrimp, chicken and chorizo) for $21 each. It was absolutely outstanding. The flavors were well-balanced, the ingredients fresh, and the dish piping hot. Granted, it doesn't sound complicated, and compared to many fine dining meals it isn't, but paella, especially Costa del Sol's paella, is proof of Gordon Ramsey's adage "simple food cooked well."
One thing to note about Costa del Sol's paella, however, is that it comes in at least a double serving, which means solo diners may have to have choose something else. Fortunately, Costa del Sol has a full menu, so the solo diner can choose from a number of excellent dishes ranging from the ubiquitous codfish to pork osso buco to mariscada (clams, muscles, shrimp, fish, and squid in your choice of either a tomato based broth or a seafood garlic parsley broth).
For desert we had the fruit and cheese plate ($7) which was the perfect way to end the meal as the cheeses were amazing.
Costa del Sol has a very nice wine list built around a variety of Spanish reds and whites, though there are quite a few New World offerings (most from Argentina and Chile). Not surprisingly, Costa del Sol also serves absolutely amazing sangria, try some, I promise, you won't be disappointed.
Costa del Sol also has a full range of cordials, including, not surprisingly, a number of ports of varying prices and quality.
Costa del Sol is in no way tacky, hokey, or anything other than a first class fine dining establishment. The interior is heavily Mediterranean in terms of decor, colors, lighting, etc. but it is extremely tastefully appointed.
The service is outstanding. The staff is knowledgeable, hardworking, and attentive, but they do not hover or annoy.
Simply put, Costa del Sol is a great restaurant.