Monday, January 23, 2012

Jamonera: Opening Night

Yesterday evening, Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran—the dynamic duo behind Barbuzzo and Lolita—opened their new restaurant venture Jamonera. Taken from the Spanish word for the clamp used to hold a ham while cutting, Jamonera is a Spanish tapas and wine bar.

Walking in, the first thing we noticed was the creative and modern decor: dark wood and red lighting highlighted interesting art and unique odds-and-ends on shelves (particular knickknacks of note were the authentic fork and knife molds). Overall, the ambiance was warm, inviting, and a bit funky. The small space was cozy, while the tables were nicely arranged to give diners enough privacy.

Tapas, small dishes commonly served at Spanish bars, are meant for sharing. Our server suggested we order two to three plates per person and share among the table. The four of us ordered eight dishes, which turned out to be the perfect size.

Warm Medjool Dates stuffed with valdeon, wrapped in serrano ham, piquillo pepper dressing, marcona almonds
These were one of the standouts of the evening and a great way to kick off our dinner. I’d had dates wrapped in ham before, and on that occasion I had found them sickeningly sweet. The ones at Jamonera were served over a smokey mayonnaise-like sauce, and the combination of this smokiness, the richness of the blue Valdeon cheese, and the saltiness of the ham made for a multi-layered yet harmoniously delicious bite. The sweetness of the date didn’t overwhelm, but came instead as a pleasant aftertaste for this otherwise savory dish. Once we tried this, we knew we were in for a treat as the night progressed.

Papa Frita crispy skin potato, wood smoked garlic aioli, brava salt, house made sherry vinegar-hot sauce
It’s hard to mess up potatoes, but it’s also hard to make them stellar. Fortunately, the potatoes we enjoyed tonight were extraordinary: they were absolutely delicious and one of my favorite dishes of the night. The wedges retained the perfect crispness and were coated with just the right amount of seasoning. Their full-bodied flavor pleasantly enveloped my mouth after each bite. They weren't too starchy, but had the right mealiness necessary for potato dishes. I didn’t find that the vinegar-hot sauce added much to the already delicious potatoes, so I happily enjoyed the patatas on their own. It would have been easy to make a meal of these alone!

Crispy Cana de Cabra fried goat cheese, olorosso infused medjool dates, greens, toasted hazelnuts
Coated with a texturally-satisfying panko crust, the large medallion of goat cheese was rich and creamy. Its characteristic tang was offset by the sweetness of the date compote. The addition of olorosso, a Spanish variety of sherry, to the dates provided dark and nutty depth. Together, the contrasting flavors were the perfect combination. The greens also added color and a light, fresh bite to the dish.

Ensalada de Aguacate avocado, salt cod, shaved fennel, citrus, arbequina olive oil, mint
I had never tried salt cod before, but knowing it is a popular delicacy in Spain, I felt I had to try it at least once. I was pleasantly surprised. Salt cod is not at all as salty nor as dry as I was expecting. In fact, it is quite moist and a bit briny without tasting overwhelmingly of fish. The generous chunks of avocado weaved throughout the dish added some nice creaminess. With the fennel, oranges, and mint present in the salad, the dish was a pleasant palate refresher.

Flamequines jamon and ibores cheese stuffed pork loin, clementine escabeche, smoked ham fat
At this point in our dinner, the larger dishes were starting to arrive. At the same time, we were starting to get stuffed, but continued to power through the meal. I was surprised at the toughness of one of the stuffed pork loin columns, but realized it must have been overcooked, as the other one was much more moist and tender. The cheese combated the meatiness of the dish, but it was still incredibly overwhelming to have pork-stuffed pork; thankfully, the pickled escabeche added a welcome tartness to break the heaviness. Still, this uninspiring plate wasn’t as exciting as the ones we had tried previously.

Fideos wild mushroom vermicelli, olorosso, caramelized onions, turnip greens, garlic aioli
This was the biggest disappointment of the plates. While the mushrooms were quite flavorful and gave the dish a meaty texture, the noodles and overall dish fell extremely flat. It tasted like cheap Chinese food, but not the good kind. Greasy and bland— I'd pass this dish up to try something else on their expansive menu.

Heirloom Pumpkin Croquetas urgelia cheese filled, pumpkin seed puree, green apple, pickled brussel leaves
Like glorified mozzarella sticks (and I mean this in the best, most delicious way possible!), these marble-sized croquettes packed a punch of flavors and textures. The just-crisp-enough breaded exterior gave way to one of the creamiest, fluffiest, cheesiest interiors I’ve ever had. I couldn’t distinguish the pumpkin very well in the croquettes, but it may have been because the cheese took such a strong role in the dish. The tart salad that accompanied the croquettes contributed a nice pungency. Overall, I was quite pleased with this interpretation; I definitely would have eaten many more of these.

Pulpo y Ensaladilla Rusa grilled Spanish octopus, potato, baby carrots, crunchy bonito tuna aioli, pickled chorizo vinaigrette
The octopus was by far one of the clear favorites of the evening. The grilling technique used gave it a nice smokiness without being overly charred. It was also surprisingly tender—the texture was so soft, it was almost reminiscent of scallops—, which is hard to achieve with such a naturally chewy cephalopod. The accompanying vegetables supplied a fresh crunch, while the vinaigrette was a nice twist on childhood memories of fish and chips sprinkled with vinegar; both added a brilliant brightness and perked up the dish.

The Bottom Line
Jamonera is definitely worth visiting. The plates were mostly all hits, with just a couple of misses. However, the hits strongly made up for any of the sub-par dishes. The great thing about tapas is the chance to explore and try new foods without investing in an entree, which Jamonera provided. I would strongly suggest coming with a group to truly explore their menu.

-Nicole and Elliott

1 comment:

  1. My friend & I loved the meal, but I'm sad I missed you guys!!

    I completely agree w/your assessment of the cana de cabra & the fideos. I found the pumpkin croquetas a little too heavy for my tastes, but I thought the contrast between the perfectly crispy outside and the warm gooey cheesy inside was quite phenomenal.

    By far, the breakfast toast was our favorite dish, so you'll have to go back for that. But we definitely saved room for dessert, and both the cake and the panna cotta we ordered were unique and delicious!



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