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by Jay stevens
Halifax, Nova Scotia
March 21, 2010
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
November 15, 2004
Cantina with a wonderful selection of Spanish food, masterfully cooked and genially served.
Who could turn their noses up at Spanish geniality and masterful cooking in an informal cantina setting? I located the restaurant on the edge of the Red Light District and wandered in.
The restaurateurs have done their best to stave off homesickness in their staff; it reminded me of many a place I have frequented on trips to Spain. A large refrigerated counter inside the door was attractively stocked with mounds of sliced chorizo, olives, and pickled octopus and surrounded by stools for casual tapas munchers. The rear was filled with contented-looking diners and staff doing their best to create an air of genial servitude. Bullfighting posters and crossed estoques shared the wall with large ornamental lobsters and crabs, just in case you had missed the Iberian vibe.
I was found a space on the end of someone else’s table-a common solution to the ‘what to do with the solo diner’ conundrum. To passers-by I would appear to be part of a group and the restaurant would not, therefore, look like a refuge for uneconomical waifs and strays that take up space and don’t linger over expensive desserts and profitable coffees. The menu and bread arrived promptly, setting the tone for the evening. The speed of service stayed just on the right side of hasty.
I chose a mixed tapas starter and "calamares in spicy sauce" from the extensive menu. Several of the options, notably the paella, are for sharing, and the menu is pretty well balanced between fish and meat with bacalau, shellfish, and entrecote making a strong showing.
The tapas, although not disastrous, left me nonplussed. The olives struggled to muster up any flavour, and the octopus leaned towards the slimy. Compared to what was to follow, however, it was ambrosia. I can only assume that, in the Spanish-to-Dutch-to-English translation "watery tomato stew with carrots, onions, and absolutely no spice" got shorthanded to "spicy sauce." The calamari that floated within had given up the fight and succumbed to the blandness of the sauce. My red wine consumption increased in speed and volume to compensate. I kept going much longer than I should have. Couples and families taunted me with their tables groaning under the weight of fragrant, seafood-laden paella. I caught myself scowling at strangers and realised it was time to leave.
When you dine alone, the restaurant is judged solely on your own choice; this impression cannot be tempered by your fellow diner’s more successful decisions. I liked the place, which makes my own experience all the more disappointing. I wandered into the night, seeking solace on a bar stool.
From journal Amsterdam - why I shouldn't go abroad alone