A New Frontier for the Foods & Wines From Spain in the United States
A new dining horizon along the US West Coast opens the door to an expanded presence of the foods and wines from Spain in North America. From San Francisco to Portland, Spanish restaurants conquer US foodies
A new gold rush paints its new way towards the West with the colors of churros, pimentón, extra virgin olive oil, wine, Ibérico ham, saffron and many other products from Spain that move forward to conquer new consumer territories, just as the United States broke frontiers centuries ago to encompass the entire contiguous land that spreads from Atlantic to Pacific, and now makes up the nation.
Boasting one of the largest concentrations of higher-income, more-educated population in the country, the foods and wines from Spain have traditionally reigned in the US East Coast, and particularly its New York-North East axis. But the decentralization of food destinations within the United States, the consolidation of the Hispanic population across the country, the strong tourist drive of states as California, and the media exposure the flavors from Spain have had all over, have helped ignite a new effervescence for the taste from Spain in the US West.
Chefs have identified a territory of opportunity in the West Coast, and this is why some have chosen to settle in the area, where Spanish flavors have become a driving force of new restaurant projects, especially those of professionals who fell in love with Spain’s cuisine when visiting the country or training with some of its most reputed culinary professionals.
One among the first group is Matt Schuster, an American whose love affair with Spain’s cuisine and culture encouraged him to launch Canela Bistro Bar, a restaurant opened in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood some five years ago.
The Chef’s travels through Spain were the origin of a passion that serves on the plate a fusion of traditional Spanish recipes and some California-inspired fare, and refreshes the palates with a wine list featuring wines from Spain’s best known regions.
Also in the Castro neighborhood is Aatxe, one of San Francisco’s youngest Spanish-inspired restaurants, which opened in April 2015 bringing to California the spirit of the Basque country and its tapas bars through a menu of traditional pintxos, raciones, and larger portions. Executive Chef Ryan Pollnow trained for two years under the mentorship of Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz and this helped him craft a menu which blends his cooking experiences in Spain with regional Northern California influences.
Founded by Spaniards in 1776, San Francisco is recovering that important cultural influence from Spain and an old country taste that fits perfectly in the global destination the city has become. American-Italian celebrity Michael Chiarello has been another chef to bet on the taste of Spain for a new project. Inspired in his travels to Spain, he opened Coqueta, a restaurant that has won many accolades since it debuted in 2013.
Located in San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront, the restaurant’s menu adheres to traditional Spanish cuisine, pintxos, cold and hot tapas, paella, sandwiches and family-style plates. Cider and sangría are part of the cocktail selection.
In the midst of the wine country, Brava Bar de Tapas is a Spanish oasis in Sonoma County, Opened in 2013 in Healdburg, Brava is a flavorful trip to Barcelona, its cuisine, and signature tapas from Spain. The restaurant features a “Ham and Cheese Bar”, and a selection of wines and Sherry wines from Spain, along with Spain-inspired cocktails.
Opened in the 2016 summer and also located in San Francisco’s Bay Area, Bellota is another Spanish-inspired restaurants in the city and the creation of Chef Ryan McIlwraith who headed the kitchen of Coqueta. At Bellota he created an eclectic menu featuring a substantial selection of regional cuisines and traditional food concepts with an innovative twist. The culinary offer includes meats grilled on a wood-fired hearth, inventive paellas, Old World stews, fresh seafood, medium-sized tapas, paellas, fideuás, cheeses and charcuterie imported from Spain as acorn-fed Ibérico ham, slow-roasted vegetable dishes, and Spanish-inspired desserts and cocktails.
Los Angeles and Las Vegas
Even though San Francisco can be considered the epicenter of Spanish restaurants Los Angeles has its own prestigious piece with Bazaar, José Andrés’s ultra acclaimed restaurant at SLS Beverly Hills Hotel, with a bar, a café, and a space that celebrates the bounty of Southern California with traditional and modern interpretations of Spanish tapas. At this hotel the chef also runs Tres by José Andrés, a secluded space where the chef serves comfort food with a creative twist.
But this is only one of Spain’s top chef in America’s “Western” endeavors. Adjacent to California is the state of Nevada, best known for Las Vegas, one of the most cosmopolitan tourist destinations in the US where entertainment reigns and hotels are really king-size. It is therefore no wonder that Las Vegas has one of America’s most diverse and captivating dining scenes in which the foods from Spain also have a role to play.
It is precisely at The Cosmopolitan hotel where one can find two of José Andrés’s platforms for the taste of Spain, including one Jaleo restaurant, in which the Spanish chef celebrates creative tapas, beers, and wines from Spain, a selection of Spanish-inspired cocktails and, of course, paella, for which the restaurant features a paella grill, an open-fire wood grill specially designed to cook this signature dish in an the authentic Spanish way. Within Jaleo Las Vegas there is a second restaurant, é by José Andrés, a discrete setting for discerning diners offering a creative tasting menu of avant-garde dishes that allow the best products from Spain shine. And another property, SLS Las Vegas is home to Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, an esteemed restaurant that interprets the Bazaar project with a focus on all forms of meat.
Madrid-born Chef Julián Serrano is another culinary voice from Spain in Las Vegas, a city where he moved in the 1990s after successful stages in California and other states. At Bellagio Hotel, Serrano is at the helm of Picasso, one of the most distinguished restaurants in Vegas. But it is at Julián Serrano Spanish Tapas, in Aria Resort & Casino, where he satisfies his ambition of sharing the secrets of Spanish cuisine.
Just as José Andrés and Serrano, Perfecto Rocher is another chef from Spain who went West to showcase his talent. Originally at popular smoke.oil.salt in Los Angeles, where he made his paellas shine as any Hollywood star, Rocher left California to move North to Washington State, where just a few months ago he opened Tarsan i Jane, a newcomer to Seattle’s dining scene. Valencian cuisine is the inspiration of this restaurant where Rocher determines what each customer eats based on the menu length each diner prefers.
Spanish taste in Seattle and Portland
Washington State is home to Boeing, Microsoft, and Costco, and an increasingly important wine industry. Its most visible city, Seattle, has remained rather discreet even though it boasts a lively dining scene with plenty of flavors from the world. Spain’s have played their role in that scenario where veteran Joseba Jiménez has for years been a highly-regarded Spanish professional whose Basque flavors have charmed the city at The Harvest Vine, opened in 1998. In 2007 he also opened Basque pintxo bar Txori. When Txori closed, some customers purchased and reopened it in 2010 as tapas bar Pintxo.
Just a little below Seattle and also benefiting from Oregon State’s strong wine industry, in the past few years Portland has become one of the most vibrant culinary scenes of the United States and one of its emerging food destinations. This is precisely what attracted Barcelona-born chef José Chesa to Portland, a place to make his restaurant dreams come true.
In 2013 Chesa opened Ataula, a tapas-centric style restaurant in Portland with a modern and welcoming atmosphere and an all-embracing menu featuring regional specialties from different areas in Spain. The menu took advantage of the Chef’s conviction of an untapped niche for tapas that actually transports diners to Spanish and Catalan culture, roots and traditions, refreshed with beers and wines from Spain, including many vintage reserve wines.
Since Ataula’s opening, Chesa has revolutionized the way Portland approaches Spanish flavors, and there has become a highly respected chef who broke patterns early this year with the opening of 180 Xurros, a churro-themed bar serving a variety of churro combinations.
Ataula is not the only restaurant in Portland where the foods and wines from Spain have in recent years attained gastronomic splendor. Some of the city’s recommended spots for Spanish flavors include Navarre, with a solid Spanish wine and Asturian cider list, serving more than 50 wines by the glass. Toro Bravo features a kitchen were to grab a late bite full of flavors of Manchego cheese, cured meats, and other delicacies.
The interaction has been a two way street in which chefs have been able to construct their cuisines thanks to an expanding foundation of foods and wines from Spain available in the West Coast, and at the same time have become motors that have helped introduce more new food products from Spain into the country.
A new gold rush paints its new way towards the West with the colors of churros, pimentón, extra virgin olive oil, wine, Ibérico ham, saffron and many other products from Spain that move forward to conquer new consumer territories, just as the United States broke frontiers centuries ago to encompass the entire contiguous land that spreads from Atlantic to Pacific, and now makes up the nation