Its interesting that in tomorrows Sunday Inquirer, critic Craig Leban gives only one bell to Mixto, the Columbia restaurant, based on less than adequate food preparation and abysmal service.
Last night I had a more than pleasant surprise at a similar but, in many ways completely different, restaurant.
Those regulars on the list know that for years Ive been complaining that a city the size of Philadelphia does not have a reasonably priced Spanish restaurant. No, not a Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Colombia or Cuban restaurant. A Castilian SPANISH restaurant. (Now Newark, NJ has practically nothing but Spanish restaurants.
I knew that Mallorca opened on South St. (100 block) about 2 years ago in the newly renovated Café Nola space, but I heard from folks that it was Expensive and part of a chain so, even though its only a few blocks from my home, I never went.
Then this year I bought a gift certificate at a charity auction and decided last night to finally try it. I must say that I was VERY surprised and VERY impressed. And it was not what I expected.
I went on my own, since, I couldnt find anyone else in testing it. It was a Friday night and I arrived at about 6:45. The place is large but there were only 7 other customers at that time (plus 4 at the bar. The Spanish wait staff is more than cordial and all dressed in tuxedos. When presented with the menu I was expecting sky-high prices. What I found was a low of traditional Spanish fish dishes and variations of Paella. Only two of which topped $20.00. On the other side were meat dishes like Broiled Pork Chops in Garlic Sauce ($15.95), and Veal in either a Brandy sauce or with Marsala and Mushrooms ($17.95). A note at bottom said that all entrees come with rice, Spanish fried potatoes (very think homemade potato chips), and vegetables. I was hungry and asked the helpful waiter whether he recommended the veal or pork chops. He said the Veal is good and substantial. So I ordered that.
I saw no salads on the menu but immediately learned that a salad was included. Small plate of greens and tomatoes and pieces of hearts of palm too! with a nice dressing arrived shortly. (Meanwhile I had a large glass of white sangria ($6.95) served in the Hurricane glasses left over from the Nola days). (I digress here for a minute There were NO structural changes from the Nola interior at all. The New Orleans pictures came down and a print of Picassos Guernica went up!).
So now the food arrived. The plate with the veal contained THREE 4 ounce cutlets of Veal, delicious and tender withy lots of mushrooms. It sure was substantial! Then a full plate of Spanish rice, a full plate of the fried potato chips and a full plate of perfectly steamed cauliflower, snow peas, green beans, carrot sticks and broccoli. There was food enough for at least two here. (Remember, this was all for $17.95!).
The waiters (all very professional and friendly) were constantly checking on my satisfaction. I counted at least 15 waiters and busboys last night! The restaurant was slowly acquiring more customers. I watched as one table received their Portuguese Sausage appetizer which is flamed in Brandy at the table while held by the waiter. (Later on, one literally set himself on fire! but was helped immediately and suffered no damage).
The menu is large but the waiters also announce the specials. There must have been 8 different whole fishes (Chilean Sea Bass, Snapper, Talipia to name a few) and steak specials. (I wondered how they can keep such a large variety of fish fresh.). Im always wary of specials because the prices are generally much higher (or in the famous case of the Special Veal Chop at the Saloon, exorbitantly expensive Its over $50. now!). So I cant tell you what a meal using specials will cost.
The music was great too. Various Spanish pop and traditional music. And the noise level was really low. This is a great place for a dinner with conversation (though, in this case, I was talking with myself ).
The restaurant is part of a small chain. I know they have one in Pittsburgh because one of regulars at the bar was discussing with the Maitre D that he was back from working in the Pittsburgh location.
So, it was a great experience and a surprise. The service alone made the night. Im anxious to try the Paella and other dishes. Ill definitely be back. Im still surprised, though, that this is ONLY Spanish restaurant in Philly!
Anyone want to meet there for dinner one night?