In case you hadn’t noticed, restaurants serving a large array of small plates of appetizers and snacks meant for sharing is one of the newer concepts to hit the culinary scene. Coupled with a sleek contemporary décor, buzzy ambience, and interesting cocktails and wines, this fast- rising trend makes farm-to-table and locavore feel so last year.
The just-opened Albariño Tapas & Wine Bar in Shrewsbury is the latest example of this new direction in dining. Walking into a bustling full house, it felt like the place had been there for years, not just a week or two. The large open space with high ceilings, bright white walls, as well as a covered outside eating area, was packed. Although pretty to look at, this design amplifies sound, and allows for a high level of background noise, which may bother some diners.
We chose a variety of dishes to be served in flights of twos in order to enjoy them more fully. Sopa de Calabazzo ($10), an orange-hued soup of Butternut Squash, crunchy toasted pepitas, and a trace of maple syrup, had small cubes of the squash intermixed with the creamy soup base, making for a chunky textural contrast. Empanadas Gallega ($4 each), a round tart of grass-fed beef cooked with sofrito (thick tomato/garlic sauce), and plated with pebre sauce (cilantro based, resembling chimichurri), had a somewhat thick pastry shell that was both flaky and chewy at the same time.
Classical Gambas al Ajillo ($15) was simple but savory; four good-sized sautéed shrimp, sauced with garlic, sherry and pimenton (smoked paprika), were topped with slices of grilled bread for mopping up. I would have liked even more of that engaging smoky pimenton flavor to shine through; it was very good.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Espinaca Catalana ($8); sautéed, bright green spinach was elevated by the addition of toasted pine nuts and pickled golden raisins, which lent a subtle sweetness that worked well. Very enjoyable, especially when paired with the Gambas.
Fans of octopus will be pleased with the Pulpo a la Plancha ($18). Juicy and tender, the seared tentacles were done with small, paprika-dusted potato halves, thin strips of charred red onion, a bit of green olive, and a bright yellow garlic aioli.
Albariño does a nice job with vegetable tapas, and their Crispy Eggplant ($12) is a prime example. Greaseless, with a lightly fried exterior, and seasoned with rosemary and honey, the soft, rich interior of the slices enhanced the mouthfeel of the dish.
Arriving in a large black skillet, Paella Negra ($29/pp, minimum two people) was done with Black Squid Ink Bomba Rice, pieces of fresh lobster in shell, scallops, shrimp and breaded fried calamari, which made for an interesting departure from the traditional recipe. Very tasty, but a little more sear on the scallops to cook them through would have made this seafood lovers dish even better.
Under the Platos Principales (Main Courses) section of the menu, there is a Daily Catch ($24) offering; the night of our visit it was a perfectly cooked chunk of seared local Black Sea Bass plated with a small hill of olive oil mashed potatoes, a stripe of Romesco Sauce (roasted red pepper and ground almonds) and lemon.
The wine list is all Spanish, broad, deep, and very reasonably priced. Other than perhaps, Riojas, Spanish wines are less known here, even to more serious wine drinkers, but happily Albariño has a very knowledgeable sommelier, Nick Arriagada, who is on hand to help diners find a bottle to suit their palates and pocketbooks. Another bonus is the good-sized, thin-stemmed wine glasses, routinely used for regular service. Nick mentioned that he also has “special glassware” for the higher priced “special” bottles.
Although it was tempting to choose a namesake Albariño for our white, I opted for a Godello, a Galician wine from the grape of the same name: 2014 Alan de Cal Pedrazis Sobre Lias Godello ($65) which was aged on its sediment imparting greater richness, while still maintaining acidity to complement the lighter tapas selections. A 2012 Joan Gine Priorat ($70), a garnacha- (grenache) based red wine, was initially light and fragrant, but got weightier and more complex with exposure to air over time.
We finished our meal with Torta de Santiago ($9), Classic Galician Almond Cake, served with Membrillo (quince paste) Caramel, and a dollop of fresh vanilla whipped cream on top. Not too rich and a very satisfying dessert.
Albariño is the real deal – an authentic tapas and wine bar. It is already putting out a wide variety of delicious, creative, small plates early in the game, and the formula clearly works.
Albariño Tapas & Wine Bar
The Grove West
508 Broad St., Shrewsbury
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob. Read his reviews here.
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