Some time ago, Dave and I took a fascinating tour of the Oneida Community Mansion House and there discovered a restaurant tucked into a wing of the building: Zabroso Restaurant & Lounge. Alas, it was closed that day and pressing our noses longingly against the glass didn’t get it to open. So we returned home, to spend many months saying, “You know, we have to get out to Zabroso.”
In my role as manager of Puente Flamenco, upstate New York’s only full flamenco troupe, I contacted chef Ruben Lopez to see if our music and dance might be a fit for any events he might be doing there. We arranged for a time when I could come out to talk with him, and it was then that I cleverly suggested to Dave that we also eat there (duh!).
After a really pleasant chat with Chef Lopez, we settled down for dinner. Our waiter brought us a couple tastes of red wines so we each got exactly what we wanted – one glass of an Aragon Monte Oton and one of a Rioja Cortijo tinto. As always, we leave the wine reviews to the experts and generally focus on the food, which in this case was a very good idea.
We ordered one appetizer to share: a trio of roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese nestled next to a bit of frisee salad. The peppers were sweet, ice cold and piquant, a perfect counterpoint to possibly the lightest, creamiest cheese I have ever eaten. It was not airy, yet I thought, “I’m biting into a cloud of cheese!” The thought of it is making my mouth water anew.
To our surprise, a tray of three tapas showed up, courtesy of Chef Lopez. These were real tapas, the kind that are made in Spain, not just any little tidbits. Chorizo sausage in a dark savory sauce were on the spicy-hot side, and Dave ate just about all of them. I come with my prejudices, and one of them stems from the way I ate in the north of Spain in the mid-’70’s. Once you eat chorizo casero asturiano – home-made chorizo in Asturias – it rather becomes your mother. Nothing else is ever quite the same. So I generously gave up most of my share of the chorizo to Dave and launched into the papas bravas. These are potatoes done something like the best home fries you ever had, except much, much better. I honestly don’t know what made them so good, but I’m guessing it was a dose of hot smoked Spanish paprika and, for a sauce, just the right amount of mayonnaise. (I suggest you go there yourself and let me know if I’m right.) “I don’t really like potatoes,” I thought, and then I said out loud, “but these are damned good!”
The star of the trio was the shrimp al ajillo – shrimp in a sauce that stars garlic and parsley. A more respectful treatment of shrimp I have never had. And that means: not over-cooked! Once again, the sauce was brilliant and yet served to bring out the natural flavor of the main ingredient, not overpower it. The garlic was just mild enough so that even our friends of northern European descent can enjoy this exquisite dish. With “just a taste” tasting this good, we will definitely be back for Tapas Thursdays at Zabroso.
I had ordered the Jail Island salmon filet with a crispy olive/herb crust, roasted fennel, sautéed green beans and fennel-tomato vinaigrette. I’d chosen it because I really wanted a bunch of vegetables. So I started with the green beans, long and thin and cooked just to perfection, and the gorgeous roasted fennel in that bright vinaigrette. Then I bit in to the salmon en croute – that “crust” being the lightest wrapping of what seemed to have been just one sheet of filo. The surprise and joy of this first bite was a burst of olive, hiding under the salmon, that instantly brought me back to an olive shop in a small town south of Valencia.
Then something happened that also happened the last time I’d eaten another artistically orchestrated series of true Spanish tapas. It was at Jose Garces’ Amada Restaurant that I bit into something only midway through the meal and I simply began to cry. The sensory overload was equivalent to listening to the “Ode to Joy” after the rest of the Ninth Symphony. I could not contain myself. Oh man… when I bit into that salmon and the olives and the vinaigrette, and after all that had come before it, I just had to stop, put my fork down, and wipe the tears from my eyes.
After awhile it was time to do our usual routine – we switched plates. (How many of you out there do this regularly with your favorite dining partner?) After the crescendo of the salmon, the deep, dark flavors of Dave’s dish were calming. He’d ordered braised Atlantic halibut with wild mushrooms, bacon, and pearl onions, roasted Yukon Gold potatoes with fresh thyme. The onions still had a nice little crunch and good onion flavor. The mushrooms were done right, by God, something that is still too danged rare. Bacon makes everything better, and I got to eat fish “just for the halibut.” But I was getting so stuffed, I have to confess, I couldn’t touch the potatoes.
However! I had to try dessert, not because there was any room at all for it, but because I really had to know if a correct flan could be obtained in these parts. Dave’s eyes were crossing for having overeaten, so, alas, I had to eat the flan all by myself, which was not difficult in the least. It was utterly smooth and creamy, the not-too-sweet custard in harmony with the very sweet caramel. My personal taste is for a darker caramel, just two shades shy of burnt, but then I’m the one who insists on turning her marshmallows into torches before eating them.
I turned to Dave and said, “I don’t like the music.” He continued to look cross-eyed at me, so I figured I ought to explain. “Well, I have to write something negative or nobody will believe me!” So there it is. Half the time the music was delightful Latin American and in Spanish (noted the Spanish teacher). But then some other music came on that just didn’t seem to fit the room nor the food. Dave says it was Jack Johnson. Whatever. It just didn’t do anything for the ambiente. What else could I possibly fault this restaurant for? Ummm… difficult to find the parking lot in the dark (we never did). Er… let’s see… while the service was very good, the waiter could use pronunciation lessons for foreign words. What else? Hmm… the lighting actually was excellent – not too dim, not too bright, quite lovely since much of it came from wall sconces that originally were gas lamps. And everyone was friendly but not intrusive. Dang. Not enough negatives. Sorry. Just go to Zabroso sometime and see if there’s something I’ve forgotten. One thing is for sure, I will never forget the evening we just enjoyed there. ¡Qué sabroso!