Sunday, January 11, 2009

Me gusta Aioli

Aioli Bodega Espanola on Urbanspoon

Hmm. I hope that my Spanish is right. Gotten a little rusty and need to brush up before I go to Guatamala next month. Meanwhile, we had a 'trip' to Spain by stopping at Aioli Bodega for dinner. We decided upon it by default - it was Sunday and all the restaurants we had gift certificates for were closed. After three attempts we ended up by Aioli, saw they were open, and settled in out of exhaustion.

It's been years since I last paid them a visit and it's been years that they've been there. My recollection was they've been there as long as I've been in Sacramento, which is 20+ years. Turns out that's pretty much right. They've seen Sacramento grow up and around them. Although all those years have rolled by, I don't think their interior has really changed at all. The simple, linen draped tables with votives were mostly empty and a lone gentleman sat at the bar.

We were handed a lengthy menu. There was the standard menu of tapas, a entree specials menu, and another specials of the day with a mixture of entrees and tapas. We decided on variety and selected four hot tapas plates which were followed by two desserts.

We were given a bowl of crusty bread cubes to dip into the house aioli. It was a creamy, mayonnaise-like version tinted with pimento. My friend enjoyed it as something different than butter or oil/balsamic but I thought it lacked any zing and ended up dipping in aioli and then into salt to bring out more flavor.

Our first appetizers came out as two of the four. We had each selected two. His was the Pollo Andaluz, chicken in a paprika and garlic sauce and mine was the Bourek de Casa, pastry triangles filled with ground beef.

The chicken arrived as a brothy bowl of bites of chicken breast that were tender versus dry. I've been having a bad streak with paprika, though. I just don't get the appeal of that spice and always feel that paprika based dishes are lacking any real flavor. Still, the broth was a great one for soaking the bread cubes in.

Out of the first two I preferred my choice of the meat pastries. We received three medium sized pastries. I bit into one and the pastry was flaky and light so that it melted in my mouth. The ground meat was lightly seasoned and simple and yet, with the awesome pastry, was a perfect morsel.

We had a short wait and a change of fresh plates and silverware (rather unnecessary) and then the beef short rib(s) with chimichuri and side potato salad came out. I put the 's' in brackets because I thought we were getting a couple of ribs and only a single one came out. The rib was grilled and super tender, but probably due to it being very fatty. What made it was the chimichuri, a condiment that I enjoy for that added zing of flavor. I just wish it had more of it. My friend did not care for it but did enjoy the side scoop of potato salad that was full of chopped onion and parsley and with plenty of garlic.

We had a rather long wait between three and four. This would be my only complaint about the service. Why were the four tapas served so spread out? And why was our last plate, of Ravioles de la Moda, so delayed? I decided in the end that it was because they were making the raviolis for us to order. They were spectacular and worth the wait. The raviolis were made of giant squares of homemade pasta, stuffed with herbs & cheese, and drowning in a fresh mushroom brown butter sage sauce. I don't care for mushrooms so I grabbed two of the three raviolis and allowed my friend to scoop up all the mushrooms and sauce. Mushrooms may not be my thing, but I don't mind them used as flavoring and the sauce was full of mushroom flavor that was balanced perfectly with the right amount of sage. (And I would know because I had sage overload last week in an experimental dish I tried at home - ick.)

We were stuffed by this time but had eyed the flan on the menu from the get-go. I had made my friend a flan convert a few years ago and they just couldn't say 'no' whenever they saw it on the menu. I opted to try something new and different and ordered the Pastel de Almendras, almond cake with honey and orange flower water. My friend won on 'who picked the better dish'. The flan was good, but on the light side. This is definitely a matter of personal preference, though. I happen to like a heavier, denser flan. It was definitely creamy, almost more to a creme brulee consistency than custard. Both desserts came out as generous large servings that could have been shared between two people. My almond cake was, in fact, too much. We had two wedges soaked in honey and sauce and topped with a large dollop of unsweetened whip cream. The almond cake seemed to be home-milled almonds as the cake was noticeably on the gritty side. I found it oversoaked and only took a few bites and left more than half behind. The flan, on the other hand, was completely devoured.

We were happy with our default dining pick and to be reminded of this long surviving Sacramento gem. I think I will be back again sooner rather than later.
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