Some friends who make a point of patronizing local Excelsior establishments invites us to dine at Patio Espanol last night. Now, Excelsior is not rich in memorable dining, unless you desire memories that you would rather expunge, so I was, well, dubious. Patio Espanol turned out to be the dining hall of the Spanish American cultural center, located between a used car dealer and a Chinese grocery store, with nary a restaurant anywhere near. It is a large, bare hall with a few Andalusian wrought-iron decorations adorning the very white walls. I had an uncomfortable premonition of a dining experience richer in immigrants' memories than flavor, a la Basque center in San Bruno. I was very wrong.
We started our meal with some excellent margaritas (not very Spanish, but still). The menu had about a dozen and a half of hot and cold tapas and a few main courses, both fish and meat. There was also a daily specials list. The wine list was exclusively Spanish, rich in Riojas, and very inexpensive. Not being excessively hungry, we opted for a meal of tapas and wine.
From the specials menu we chose monkfish with potatoes and garlic with saffron sauce, which was fresh, delectably unctuous, and very garlic-y. From the regular menu we had wild mushrooms with garlic, which was delicious, rich in porcini flavor in the thick sauce, with much coarsely chopped garlic, and just delicious. The grilled prawns were served in a rich tomato sauce, and were a little more cooked than I particularly like, but were a hit at the table nonetheless. These were followed by crisp, delicious fried calamari for which we had to separately ask for a plate of aioli. The calamari looked like they were salt-packed before frying not a hint of grease under the dry, crisp outside and a chewy moistness inside. This was accompanied my chorizo manchego fried Spanish chorizo with peppers, onions, and more garlic in a rich tomato sauce. The sausage was fatty and great, and the sauce thick and delicious. The closing course was Jamon Serrano with pineapple. I am no judge of authenticity in Spanish cooking, and dont know how traditional the pairing was, but the ham was just as it should be rich, salty, and paper-thin. The wine we ordered and greatly enjoyed was Marques de Arienzo Ciaranza 1999, a wonderful light red Rioja.
We did not sample any of the main courses, which included such promising items as rabbit, sweetbreads, two kinds of paella (a bargain at $18-19 per person), grilled fish and chicken, quail, and steak. The meal was a very reasonable $95 for four, tip not inclusive. I am definitely going back. Patio Espanol is at 1850 Alemany Blvd.