When I heard that an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant would be opening in the city’s Shadyside neighborhood last fall, I was ecstatic since I’ve never found anything to be remotely close to what you’d find in Spain. The fact that the restaurant was the brainchild of a native Spaniard (Gonzalo Cembrero ) who had first come to Western Pennsylvania as an exchange student during his teenage years made it all the more appealing. (Cembrero first opened Pallantia in Greensburg, about an hour from Pittsburgh, which he operated for a couple of years until he decided to relocate.)
We ended up dining for us at the rather late hour of 7:30 PM on a Saturday night, although yes, I know from having lived there a semester, any Spaniard would laugh uproariously over me saying 7:30 PM was dinnertime (10 PM and later is more the norm there). I was pleased to see it was crowded but as I said, authentic Spanish tapas are quite rare here in Pittsburgh.
The interior is quite sleek although it does feature numerous touches of Spain (Spanish tokens, sketches of places, bulls-claro que si). In short, it’s not anything like what you’d find in a typical tapas bar over in Spain (i.e. an interior that dates from the 1930s, the smell of smoke that still permeates the air even though smoking in public places has been banned for some time, the viejos congregating around the bar like they’ve been doing for the past half century).
Being a tapas place, we ordered a slew of items so here they are in no particular order.
Tabla de quesos y embutidos ($18)
You can’t have tapas without meat and cheese. This came with Iberico Ham (the blood of Spain), lomo (the loin of the pig), chorizo, and salchihon (a Spanish summer sausage) cured meats along with Mahon, Menorca, and Cabrales cheese. (I hadn’t had any of these before; I’m typically more of a Manchego and Murcia al Vino cheese person, so I appreciated being able to try some new varieties.) Cheese and cured meats are always the perfect starter since you don’t end up feeling full before your meal comes.
Patatas Bravas ($6)
“Fierce potatoes” are one of Spain’s most iconic dishes and probably one of the more well known ones outside of the country. These were fingerling potatoes topped with saffron oil, Manchego cheese, and salsa brava (the last being what makes the potatoes “fierce). You can’t go wrong with a potato dish.
Albondigas de Cordero ($15)
I’m really into lamb so when I saw lamb meatballs as one of the selections from the tapas portion of the menu I was sold. These came in a saffron garbanzo puree, along with artichoke, Manchego cheese (I’m somewhat glad the cheese and meat dish did not feature Manchego cheese since everything else seemed to have it), and a lamb reduction. As the hot dishes went, this might have been my favorite.
Yes, even if you only studied the requisite two years of Spanish in high school, you’ll know that the above means “little hamburgers.” And yes, this is something I don’t think you would find in a tapas bar over in Spain, but hey, this is America. The order came with two hamburguesitas (certified Angus beef), topped with Manchego cheese, Serrano ham (ham is everywhere and everything in Spain), along with sofrito aioli chips. They weren’t bad by any means but I could have probably done without them or ordered something else instead like the roasted baby carrots.
In case you were wondering, yes, there is by all means paella on the menu($36, this is enough for two people).
For dessert, there were only two selections (no menu though, just a verbal telling from our waiter). We went with the leche frita (fried milk). Before you think, umm, okay, trust me when I say it was really good, although I don’t think anything ever tastes bad when it’s fried. The cold milk-pudding center is encased in a warm and crunchy fried shell of flour and egg.
All in all, I really enjoyed my meal at Pallantia and am happy that a little bit of Spain has found its way to Pittsburgh’s door. Service was pleasant and attentive and the food quite delicious.
810 Ivy Street | Pittsburgh, PA |