Tortilla de Patata, Grilled Calamari, Flan
Favorite Restaurant: Esperpento
Reviewed Esperpento: Thursday, September 14, 2006
Esperpento has a lively atmosphere that makes it a great place to join friends for an evening of sharing good food and companionship. Our party of four arrived at 6:00 on a weeknight, and we were promptly led to a table. We ordered some nice sangria, and the waitress brought us some bread while we perused the menu, which boasts a large array of Spanish tapas and traditional Spanish specialties. We decided on tapas and proceeded to order a variety of the vegetarian, meat, and seafood offerings.
We started our meal with Tortilla de Patata (potato and onion omelet), Alcachofas a La Plancha (grilled baby artichoke slices), Calamari Fritos (fried calamari), and Cazuela De Pescado Con Almejas (snapper and clams in Spanish sauce). We also ordered the Aceitunas Rellenos De Anchoas (olives stuffed with anchovies), but they were out of them, so we settled for the pimento-stuffed olives that were offered as a replacement. The small plates (to be shared by all) began to arrive almost immediately it seemed, but the food was hot and tasty. The Tortilla de Patata is a thick potato pancake served sliced into six slices. It is touted as the "most popular Spanish tapas" and everyone enjoyed it. The calamari was very nicely seasoned and very soft in texture. Along with this came the sliced artichoke, which was sliced very thinly and grilled with garlic and olive oil. Last out of the kitchen was the Cazuela De Pescado Con Almejas. The clams and broth were very nice, although the snapper was a bit “fishy” for my taste.
Finishing the first round of food only left us wanting more. Figuring we would need around 2-3 plates per person for a full meal, the waitress had thoughtfully left us a menu. We decided to try Patatas Bravas (spicy potatoes), Judias Verdes Rehogadas (sautéed green beans), Gambas Al Ajillo (garlic shrimp), Pescado Rebozado Con Ali-oli (deep fried snapper strips), Pollo Adobo (spicy chicken), and the Ropa Viejo (beef, chicken, and chorizo stew). We also opted for a second pitcher of sangria at this point. Once again, the dishes started to appear as if by magic. The Pollo Adobo was the star of round two. The tender chicken pieces were served in a spicy chili sauce that was delicious. The Patatas Bravas were crispy potato wedges also served in a light, spicy sauce, and the fried snapper was a hit. The Ropa Viejo was a stew of delicious sauce, which seemed to be mostly peppers and onions. Lastly were the shrimp, which turned out to be slightly larger than cocktail shrimp and served in a thin garlic sauce that was somewhat lacking.
Somewhere along the second round of food we noticed the mariachis gathering outside the restaurant. A man appeared inside the restaurant and began to play guitar and sing in Spanish. He was very talented, and it added to the fun ambience of the restaurant.
At this point, despite being stuffed to the gills, we decided we should sample a couple of the desserts. We decided to go with the traditional flan and the Crema Catalana. The flan was great. It was light and creamy in texture and disappeared very quickly. The Crema Catalana (touted by the waiter to be "like crème brûlée") was a bit of disappointment. In contrast to the delicate flan, the custard had a gritty quality and the sugar crust had a distinctly burnt taste to it.
All in all, we had a fun time at Esperpento enjoying the food, music, and the company. Here you will find a comfortable atmosphere you can enjoy with any size group of people. It is a social dining experience to be shared by all.
Occupation: Social Work Supervisor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Jardinière
Reviewed Esperpento: Tuesday, September 12, 2006
This comfortable and welcoming local restaurant provided a fun and tasty dining experience. The waitress was accommodating and friendly, giving us time to settle in and review the wine list before ordering. She helped us in negotiating our selections of tapas, and indicated when we seemed to be over-ordering more than we could eat.
The environment is pleasantly painted and decorated with yellows and abstract designs on the walls and tables. There are copies of paintings and portraits that relate to the meaning of the restaurant’s name. Esperpento is a Spanish literary form depicting stylized portraits intended to ridicule institutions, as a small sign on the wall explains. There is a wall display of fans, and women’s shawls are hung in overhead windows. The music is flamenco and Spanish, although at times it is too hard to hear. This does allow one to converse easily with fellow diners. There is an upstairs, which was closed at the time. The main floor seats about fifty people, in comfortably spaced tables. Unlike many restaurants, this is a spacious location.
The food and the wine were very good choices, matching each other well. The entire experience was very pleasant. Unlike other tapas restaurants, we felt the portions were fairly sized for the cost. The artichoke dish, the calamari, and the potato torta were outstanding. Four dishes had a sauce that just made the dish fantastic. Much use of garlic and olive oil contributed to this. The two other dishes also had excellent sauces, although the beef in the ropa vieja was tough. Service was fast, and included bread and butter, and a pitcher of water on every table. A neighboring diner was licking her fingers from her choice of the grilled quail combination plate and gave it two thumbs up when I asked her for a recommendation.
I would definitely return to this Mission district gem.
Occupation: Architectural Administrator
Favorite Restaurant: Trattoria La Siciliana
Reviewed Esperpento: Tuesday, September 19, 2006
It is refreshing to know that one can still get a great meal for reasonable prices. This was the case at Esperpento in the eclectic Mission District. It has a lively, energetic décor with colorful shawls and wonderful art. I ate there on a Tuesday evening and by 7:30pm the place was packed. There was a large birthday party in the center of the ever-so-small restaurant. If seated with one's back against the street, one is transported to Spain.
I ordered from their tapas menu the Almejas a la Marinera: clams in Spanish marinera sauce made with sautéed onion, garlic, parsley, and white wine. Unfortunately the promise was worth more than the delivery, the clams were small, and I wanted more flavor present. Next the garlic chicken and Patatas Alioli, which included house made garlic mayonnaise. My dining partner exclaimed that she could put the mayonnaise on cardboard and eat it all, so yummy. The flavors of the garlic chicken were mouth-gasmic as well. I gobbled up the Repollo Rehogado: cabbage sautéed with garlic and paprika, the more garlic the better, I always say. I finished off the meal with an Insalata Mixta and the light vinaigrette perfected the salty olive and flaky tuna.
For dessert flan -- I can’t remember the last time I had flan and it wasn’t at some fancy restaurant for $12. The flan at Esperpento was perfect and was under $4.
Last I would like to recommend everyone in the world to venture to the Mission District, fight against the parking gods, and drink as much of their SANGRIA as possible. It alone was worth the price of admission, which was less than $30 per person with beverage and tip. Salud, amore, dinero! (health, love, money).