My latest professional/ personal development project: I am taking a Food and Travel Writing course with UBC’s Continuing Studies Program this Summer!
If you’ve always dreamed about sharing your observations about food and travel with a wider audience, this course is for you. In this informal workshop, well-known Vancouver journalist Don Genova introduces you to the exciting world of writing about food and travel as he explains how the freelance writing process works and offers tips on generating ideas and expressing them in query letters to editors.
Don posts a new topic every week with reading materials, panel interviews and course assignments. I’ve been submitting some entries based on my recent Competitours – European Amazing Race experience and excited to get feedback on how to write about it in a more compelling way!
Last week’s assignment was on writing Restaurant Reviews and A Weekend In… and I knew just the place to review for my restaurant: España, since Eric and I had just dined there twice in the last month with two different groups of friends!
Enjoy a variety of Spanish flavours with tasty tapas at España
Any time you see a line outside of a restaurant it’s a sign that good things lie beyond. Unlike those pretentious nightclubs on Granville Street that are just creating an illusion with their line-ups to appear trendy, most restaurants welcome more patrons and want to turn over tables. So, the clustering of people outside is the perfect visual street cred to show that the masses are willing to wait for something that’s special on the inside.
España doesn’t open its doors until 5:00 pm, so during the day it’s easy to miss this hidden gem as it blends into the other cafes and restaurants that line Denman Street in Vancouver’s casual West End neighborhood. With its intimate setting and cozy atmosphere, España is a perfect date spot that stands out as one of the finer dining establishments amongst the neighboring bubble tea houses, comfortable sushi joints and kebab restaurants.
The West End is known for its array and abundance of Asian cuisine with many popular Japanese Izakayas serving up small tapas plates to share. My friends and I used to regularly frequent Guu, Hapa Izakaya or Kingyo and enjoyed sharing multiple small dishes in a traditional family style setting. It was always amusing to me how the tapas concept of small bites had Spanish origins, yet each of us locals associated tapas with these Japanese restaurants instead.
With the establishment of España, there was finally a place to try traditional Spanish tapas. Tapas originated in Andalucia, a Southern province of Spain and the word “tapa” translates as “cover”.
España doesn’t take reservations so unless you arrive close to the 5:00 pm opening, be prepared for a wait. I’ve often opted to have a glass of wine from their vast Spanish wines list and have also sipped on some sherry while waiting for a seat.
A long bar takes up the majority of the space which also makes España great for catching up over a quick drink and cocktails. Several tables are positioned on the opposite side of the narrow restaurant while some high stools are provided at the front by the large open window – perfect for people-watching and tracking the tourists flocking to English Bay. At the very back of the room is a striking image – a huge leg of cured meat which reflects the extensive selection of charcuterie options on the menu. A small icon of this leg is also pictured underneath the España logo on their menu.
The menu changes frequently depending on what’s in season which is fantastic for regular patrons like my partner and I who enjoy a bit of variety, but the downside is when we are set on a dish we love. So much so that we return four weeks in a row just to have another taste of their crispy pork belly served on a bed of creamy white beans and topped with a bold, nutty romesco sauce that glistens from the roasted red peppers that have been crushed to create this. It was tragedy when they removed this from the menu.
On one particular evening this month, we had three other guests with us, which meant we could order more dishes than usual and sample an even larger variety of tantalizing flavours. Their daily tortilla is a staple of ours – a tiny wedge of pure deliciousness comprised of a quiche-like base with creamy cheeses and vegetables. Today’s tortilla had roasted peppers, goat’s cheese and mushrooms and as a bonus, it was gluten-free.
Becoming gluten-free has become a trendy phenomenon with books like Wheat Belly and celebrity endorsements causing people to give gluten-free diets a try. Where this becomes problematic though, is when you’re dining with your friend, the Anesthesiologist, who is certified celiac and needs to know that his food dishes are not only absent of gluten, but also prepared in separate pans and dishes.
Here is where the service really shone: contrary to the slightly aloof hipster attitudes displayed by some of the servers, this particular server tonight was very clear on which items could be made on a separate pan or grill and presented each dish as a celiac dish or not upon arrival at the table.
We shared the piperade on toast with smoked olive oil ($7) and ordered several of the meat and seafood dishes ($10-$13 each). The grilled hanger steak and roast ling cod each were served beautifully on their own plates with colourful vegetable sauces. The fish rested gently in a tangy, mint green gazpacho puree while the steak was cut in thick strips, served with octopus and garnished with crispy croutons. The grilled octopus hit the right combination of chewiness and tenderness the way pasta can be done perfectly al dente.
After raving about the daily tortilla to our guests, we were initially disappointed to learn that it had sold out. However, halfway through our meal, our same celiac-aware server presented us with one last slice of tortilla knowing how much we loved ordering this and as a complete surprise, added that it was on the house.
To round up the night, we often order their churros for dessert, which are an absolute must-try. These crispy, chewy fried-dough pastries with their distinctly cylindrical star shape are popular in Spanish and Latin Countries. They are already an amazing creation on their own but here they become a true indulgence where you get to decide between dunking them in a container of rich, smooth chocolate or a pot of creamy yogurt with sticky dulce de leche at the bottom. Or don’t choose between them and order both accompaniments!
Even in a group, everyone is able to enjoy their own churro with a savoury spoonful of each dressing – just enough to try it and leave you wanting a little bit more.
With a menu that has a great variety of appetizers, mains, vegetarian options and otherwise, but not so many options that it overwhelms you, España over-all leaves you with a taste that lingers and keeps you coming back.
Next assignment: Inspired by my recent weekend in Vegas with my sister just this past week, I’ll be posting my next assignment on “A Weekend In Vegas” (like a local)”.
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