Tortilla Española, Vegetarian Paella, Croquettes
Occupation: Deputy Attorney General
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Alegrias Spanish Restaurant
Reviewed Alegrias Spanish Restaurant: Sunday, November 23, 2008
Every time I eat at Alegrias, I feel like I’ve returned home — not because I ever lived in Spain, but because I’m treated like family. Owned and managed by two generations of the Faedi family, Alegrias is not one of those trendy Spanish restaurants where anything on a small plate is labeled tapas. Instead, the focus is on authentic Spanish flavors served in a warm, romantic atmosphere.
Vegetarians, who normally find Spanish food off-limits, will be thrilled by Alegrias’ wide variety of vegetarian options. My meal began with fresh bread dipped in delicious Spanish olive oil, and was followed by a selection of vegetarian tapas, including Catalan-style spinach, marinated olives, patatas bravas, and meat-free empanadillas. The spinach was perfectly blanched and beautifully complemented by crunchy pine nuts and sweet apples, and the spicy tomato sauce on the crisp fried potatoes offered just the right amount of heat. My favorite was the empanadilla, which had a rich, smoky paprika flavor, occasionally accentuated by the sweetness of a plump raisin.
The vegetable paella was equally impressive. The rice was perfect, rich with saffron and tomato, and the vegetables had just a hint of white wine flavor. A strong café con leche and sweet caramel crêpe made for a perfect conclusion.
Perhaps the best part of my meal, however, was the friendly, social atmosphere brought about by a shared meal in an intimate setting. The shared experience of food is very special, and the dishes at Alegrias are served with this in mind.
Adding to this warm atmosphere is the fact that Alegrias is very much a family affair, and the Faedis treat long-time customers like one of their own. This, along with the exquisite food and impeccable service, has kept me going back to Alegrias for almost 12 years. I look forward to another 12.
Occupation: S.A.P. Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Borobudur Restaurant
Reviewed Alegrias Spanish Restaurant: Friday, December 5, 2008
Since it was a tapas place, I invited my friends to come, so there were six of us. I made the reservation for 7:30 and arrived on time, although we had to circle the block quite a few times before finding a spot. I was pleased with the restaurant’s decor and ambiance.
The decor is Spanish-influenced — very warm and inviting. Great ambiance with good mix of different kind of people. The rest of my party was late. One of them had to look for parking for 40 minutes before she made it in. The others were stuck at work and had to come late. However, the servers were gracious and did not make us feel bad about it. We were still seated right away, and he offered us drinks, which he also brought almost right away. We ordered sangrias, and it was very good. It was really the best sangria I have ever had. I did not generally like wine because of the tartness, but these sangrias were not tart at all. It was perfect.
We did not start to order until 8:30 pm when everyone had arrived, but the waiters were still all smiles and kept on filling up our drinks. We ordered six tapas and two main entrees to share. Once we ordered, the tapas came almost immediately. Everything we ordered was delicious, but I especially liked the croquettes. These tapas were quite expensive, considering the portion size. The ones that were good-sized were the prawns and rabbit stew. We also ordered paellas to share and those were huge and hearty. They were very generous with the shrimps, chickens, fish, chorizo. We ordered the seafood and the combination paella, and I preferred the combination. The chorizo really added the flavor to it, because otherwise I felt that these paellas could use more spices.
Nevertheless, everything was polished off quickly, and since we were too full to order individual desserts, we ordered two to share. We had the apple crêpes and the bread pudding. The apple crêpes were set aflame when they got to our table — quite impressive. However, it left the crêpes with a burnt taste, so that some parts were quite bitter and unpalatable. We probably left the flame burning too long as we admired it. The bread pudding was excellent. It was custardy and actually had a fruit flavor to it, which was refreshing. My boyfriend really liked it.
We had a really wonderful time at Alegrias, and it was relatively inexpensive at the end. For all that food and two pitchers of Sangrias, the bill came to $193.68. We left the restaurant at 10:30 pm, and I was very impressed at the service at this popular place. They did not rush us or make us feel bad, even though we took three hours of their time on a Friday night.
Occupation: Talent Agent
Favorite Restaurant: Poggio
Reviewed Alegrias Spanish Restaurant: Friday, November 21, 2008
My friends and I had an early dinner at Alegrias on a Friday night. The restaurant décor made for a great first impression; the room had a warm, welcoming feel to it with vibrantly colored artwork and tiles adorning the walls. The music was at a perfect level.
We ordered a bottle of a 2006 Ribera del Duero ($37) based on the server’s recommendation, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. We started perusing the menu, which is divided up into a few basic categories: cold and hot tapas, entrees, and a separate category of paella variations. Wanting to sample as many different flavors as possible, we decided on a parade of hot tapas.
Round One consisted of a few suggestions from our waiter: Empanadillas de Carne ($7.95), puffy turnovers filled with ground beef, onions, olives, and raisins, which were tasty but very rich; Tortilla a la Espanola ($8.95), a standard omelet with potatoes and caramelized onions; Espinacas a la Catalana ($7.50), spinach sautéed with garlic, raisins, apples, and pine nuts; and a beautiful plate of Pimientos del Piquillo Rellenos ($9.95), sweet red Spanish peppers stuffed with lamb. I was quite happy with the peppers, since they seemed to balance and blend several different flavors perfectly. We were all a bit disappointed with the spinach.
Our waiter announced that there were a few specials that he hadn’t told us about. One of them, the Boquerones Fritos ($9.95), was the centerpiece for our second round. I am not the biggest fan of anchovies (fried or otherwise), but these did taste fresh and light. I was much more satisfied with that perennial favorite at every tapas bar in the world: crisp fried Patatas (potatoes, $6.95), although we opted for the less popular aioli-tossed tubers instead of the standard spicy Patatas Bravas. They were excellent — crunchy on the outside and tender inside, and coated with a high-octane garlic mayonnaise. I wasn’t thrilled with the Gambas al Ajillo ($9.95), or prawns sautéed in garlic.
Although we were fairly full by this point, we all agreed to sample a few desserts. The biggest problem was that the two choices we made, the flan ($6.50) and an ice cream dish called the Don Cesar ($8.50), had a head-on flavor collision with the red wine we were still enjoying. Aside from the weird pairings, I enjoyed the flan, but it was a fairly typical presentation you would find in nearly every Spanish restaurant, without much distinction. The Don Cesar would not have been my first choice in the dessert realm; one ultra-sweet spoonful was plenty.
Overall, our dining experience was satisfying without knocking anyone’s socks off. The food was, for the most part, tasty and well-presented, but nothing we ordered had that “Wow!” effect. The service was very professional and non-invasive, and we never felt hurried or ignored. The three of us ran up a tab of nearly $200 (with gratuity), but we wanted to sample lots of food and ordered a second bottle of wine, so prices are very moderate for San Francisco. Parking at Lombard and Webster can be a nightmare, but we lucked out that evening. I would return to Alegrias if I was in the neighborhood and looking for a quiet, satisfying dining experience.