January 28th, 2013

España Tapas House

Friday night, January 25th, we went to España Tapas House for dinner, and had a very good meal.

On this outing we came for tapas, although the restaurant also has full meals such as paellas and other entrees on the menu also.

We started with the Plato de Embutido Variado con Frutas Frescas (Serrano Ham, Prosciutto, and Lomo with Fresh Fruit) which was three different dry-cured meats, accompanied with slices of apple and pineapple and blanched almonds. All three meats were very flavorful with subtle differences. I was somewhat surprised by how chewy the thin slices were, especially when compared with domestic commercial hams.

Next, we had the Tortilla de la Semana (Tortilla of the Week), A traditional Spanish Omelet, which, in this version, contained onion, potato, and more ham. Initially,it came with shredded Manchego cheese on top (which hadn't been part of the description) so we had to send it back due to Georgie's allergy, but the staff was very nice about it and quickly provided a cheeseless replacement.

Then, we had Patatas Bravas, browned potatoes chunks served with a smoky-flavored, piquant, tomato sauce, almost barbeque sauce-like. These were very good and an unusual flavor combination.

Next up were the Croquetas, crisply fried croquettes with bits of chorizo, and manchego, served with the house aioli. We knew ahead of time that these had cheese in them, so I ate all of this dish. They were very good.

After that, came the Vieiras a la Plancha, two delicious grilled sea scallops with a citrus saffron sauce.

The final tapas entry was Costillas Rioja Cortas, which was red wine braised short ribs served with roasted garlic and paprika mashed potatoes. We got a sizeable serving of very flavorful meat--an entree worth at many restaurants, and a generous scoop of the mashed potatoes. There weren't any rib bones in our serving, which didn't matter since the braized meat was literally at the falling-off-the-bone stage.

We accompanied our tapas with glasses of the España traditional Sangria. This was less sweet than many sangrias, and fortified with brandy, which made it noticeably heady. Very good, but drink with caution!

The dessert tray offerings were an eclectic collection of Milwaukee favorites: "New York" cheesecake, tiramisu, crème brûlée, and flourless chocolate cake were all represented. However, we opted for the flan, and for an interesting bread pudding with fruit. The bread pudding was a bit drier than expected--it does not have a sauce as many do--but still very nice. On the other hand, the flan was just marvelous! Smooth, light, creamy, and topped with an exquisite caramel.

Everything we had was delicious and well prepared. The restaurant has a nice ambiance, and the service was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive.

España now has a lunch menu, and has live entertainment Tuesdays and Saturdays (Spanish guitar) and Thursdays and Sundays (flamenco dancing). We will be going back for paella and flamenco sometime soon.

España Tapas House is located downtown at 800 N. Plankinton Avenue (Plankinton and Wells). http://www.espanamilwaukee.com

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The Oscar buzz reminded us that we had wanted to see "Lincoln," so we got out to see it on Sunday, the 27th. We found it every bit as good as the critics had said.

Most of the film takes place in January of 1865. Abraham Lincoln has been re-elected for a second term, and decided to risk all his "political capital" on ramming the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) through the House of Representatives. This is a tough job: although the Amendment has passed the Senate, it failed once already in the House the previous summer. The canny Lincoln calculates that, due to the Democratic Party, which is generally against the Amendment, having lost a thundering 60 seats in the House in the November election, there may be enough lame-duck Democrats with nothing to lose who can be persuaded to vote in favor. (Although Secretary of State Seward and others calculated that the Amendment could pass in the heavily Republican incoming Congress, timing was everything to Lincoln, who both wanted the Amendment to be seen as a bipartisan measure, and rightly feared that if the war ended before the Amendment was passed, it would die as being not presently needed.)

If the number of researchers and archives referenced in the credits (numbers we usually see only for special-effects programmers, these days) is anything to go by, the movie seems historically sound, and could be used as a textbook case on how to legislate by wheeling and dealing. Not only did Lincoln have the Democrats to deal with, he also had to hold together the fractious wings of his own party: the Conservatives, who would also have preferred to see an end to the war before amending the Constitution; and the strongly abolitionist Radicals. In Lincoln's speeches to his cabinet and confidantes, Day-Lewis does an effective job of selling to us the emotional intensity and intellectual urgency of Lincoln's obsession with finishing the job.

The performances of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln are definitely Oscar-worthy, and it is to be hoped that this noble film will garner more honors. Of course, Day-Lewis has been deservedly sweeping all before him in the "Best Actor" category, but it would be nice to see Field and nominated supporting actor Tommy Lee Jones (firebrand Congressman Thaddeus Stevens) win the statues also.

There is an excellent supporting cast, featuring David Strathairn as William Seward, Bruce McGill as Edwin Stanton, Hal Holbrook as Preston Blair, and Jared Harris as Ulysses S Grant, among many, many others.

The film has also been nominated and won prizes for cinematography, costume, art direction, script, and score, and they are all worthy.

It is sometimes a hard film to watch. We know how it is going to end, of course, and getting there, the tremendous stresses Lincoln and his family are subject to, from within and without, are played with raw honesty. Nevertheless, I think it is a movie every American should see.

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