Olé Tapas Lounge
1126 Capitol Trail, Newark, 224-9378
Shared dishes $22-29
Artichokes wrapped with Serrano ham, piquillo relleño de bacalao, Pulpo a la Gallega, fried bronzino
Olé Tapas Lounge sets out to make a statement—and a bold one at that. From the inside, you’d never guess you were dining in a strip center in Newark. The front dining room is dressed in sun-soaked hues of blood orange, avocado green and cinnamon gold. Stylish half-moon booths hug one wall, and a nook is the ideal spot for cherry red sofas, which sit under a blackboard framed by a matador’s rippling cape.
The menu is just as vivid as the decor: chorizo roasted with cider, pumpkin hummus, bacon-wrapped figs with Cabrales cheese, Segovia-style baby pig and white bean-potato soup scented with truffle oil.
The restaurant is heavy on tapas, and that is a very good thing. Unless you’ve been living under a serving platter, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that small plates have long had a presence on area menus. But until Olé, Delaware had yet to host a true tapas restaurant—at least one with staying power.
Tapas is purportedly the invention of Spanish bartenders, who placed a piece of Serrano ham and bread atop a glass to keep flies from nose-diving into the drink. Patrons liked the salty treat, especially after siesta, so the concept evolved into a cultural tradition—and a much needed one at that. Some Spaniards don’t eat dinner until 9 p.m.
In this area, the tapas guru is the affable Jose Garces, who whet diners’ appetites in 2005 when he opened Amada on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. He followed up with Tinto, which showcases the Basque version of tapas.
“I had a chance to work with him a couple of years ago for the Share Our Strength benefit at Harry’s, and he is just amazing,” says Ivan Torres, executive chef of Olé, who owns the restaurant with partners Juan Manuel Aguinaga and Joe Tis, whom Torres met when they were both sous chefs at Harry’s Seafood Grill. “Garces learned it from the best and worked with Douglas Rodriguez.”
But Torres, who is from Mexico City, and his partners did not want to copy Garces—or anyone else, for that matter. Olé’s decor does not resemble Amada’s Spanish-inspired design, and the food is just as distinct.
After talking to Torres, you soon realize that tapas requires as much preparation and labor as full-size entrées, if not more. You have to pack a lot of flavor in a small bite.
Consider a seemingly basic dish such as artichokes wrapped with Serrano ham. Marinated with extra virgin olive oil, the artichokes are cooked with parsley and garlic. Torres then wraps them with paper-thin slices of Serrano and pops them in the oven to produce a slight crispness. A bed of frisée gives the dish a textured flourish. It was the perfect finger food.
Speaking of greens, I could have eaten an entire plate of the garlicky sautéed spinach that cushioned two tender baby lamb chops, which crossed each other on the plate like swords on a wall.
Piquillo relleño de bacalao was a treat. Scarlet envelopes of spicy-sweet red pepper were packed with salt cod, which Torres soaks for three days in water that’s changed every six to eight hours. He purées the cod with olive oil, butter and cream to create a paste, which is tucked into the pointed pepper envelopes. A visit to the oven releases the pepper’s flavors, letting them mingle with the smooth-as-silk filling. It was not chewy, nor was it salty. It was just right.
Chopped vegetables would simply not do for the escalibada, a medley of roasted market vegetables. Torres roasts them in a pan with olive oil, removes the skin and carefully hand-pulls the vegetables for what he calls a rustic appearance. “I want to do it myself and take my time with it,” he says. “I put some love into it.”
Page 2: Olé! continues…
I didn’t love the eggplant’s rosemary and orange zest, but I did appreciate the accompanying squash and tomato. (For winter, Torres has added more seasonal offerings such as beets and butternut squash.)
Pulpo a la Gallega, by all accounts, is an unusual dish for our area. Few of us would think to combine octopus and fluffy mashed potatoes sprinkled with paprika. We’re more accustomed to a Greek octopus dish. And that is what makes tapas creations so fun to try.
Torres, who tenderizes the octopus with a kitchen hammer, three times drops the meat into boiling water infused with lemon juice and bay leaves. (Leaving it in the hot water would make it shrink, he says.) In Spain, the dish is often served on a plank, which lends a smoky flavor. Torres aims for that dusky effect by throwing the octopus on the grill.
Talk about a contrast. The marriage of chewy octopus and the airy potatoes is undeniably interesting, the octopus providing more texture than flavor. No wonder the Greeks douse it with lemon, herbs and olive oil.
I am hesitant to admit that I felt the same about the Segovia-style baby pig, which was over-the-moon tender—the porcine version of veal—but failed to wow my taste buds. When the restaurant opened in August, Torres served the pig whole, which made some diners squeamish. Many also disliked picking through the bones. Yet this is a celebrated Spanish dish that the owners did not want to lose. So they decided to de-bone the pig, douse it with parsley, rosemary and garlic, then roll it up for roasting.
I don’t doubt that Olé is delivering the real deal. You want melt-in-your mouth? You got it. You want zest? Let’s just say there are livelier things to sample, including anything on the tapas menu and the excellent whole fried fish, which lately has been bronzino, which Torres adores.
“It’s flaky, white meat,” he enthuses. “It has a nice, mild flavor, and the oil in the fish makes it so great.” Frying seals in the juices. He is right on all counts. I’ve had fried fish in Chinese, Thai and New American restaurants. Olé ranks among the best. Torres grabs the fish with tongs, then holds it against the frying pan to give it a lovely shape and open the gills. The meat is wonderfully sweet and easy to pick. A heftier spritz of salt would have made it perfect.
Torres makes desserts in-house, and even something as well-known as crispy churros gets the executive treatment. He stirs a crème Anglaise into rich chocolate, served in a small cup for dipping.
Olé offers some fun cocktails made with cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, and there are four cavas offered by the glass. The wine list featured selections from Chile, Argentina, Rioja and Montsant. It is here that Olé can stray from the Latin theme. The prices are on the steep side, considering the affordable tapas, which run from $4 to $15. I saw no wines under $30. You could opt for a $25 pitcher of sangria—red, white or rosé. Or, like me, you could order a glass, which comes in a sleek, slim glass. When in Madrid…
If you visited Olé in fall, go back. The restaurant significantly expanded its tapas selection, creating two columns of offerings. There is not one I wouldn’t try. Olé proves that good things definitely do come in small packages.
Page 3: Go Weist, Young Man | Jamie Weist didn’t disappear. He simply moved–very quietly.
Jamie Weist didn’t disappear. He simply moved—very quietly.
Chef Weist was a folk hero in Northern Delaware after guiding esteemed restaurants such as Amalfi Restaurant in Greenville, Sal’s Place and Ristorante Curruci in Wilmington to culinary greatness through the 1990s. After leaving Amalfi in 2000, some feared he dropped off the map.
But Weist is still around—and closer than you might think. He runs Daddy O’s Restaurant in Fair Hill, Maryland, and his catering business, Chef Dujour. Perhaps his greatest Delaware contribution these days happens behind closed gates inside five W.L. Gore facilities. “When I quit my job at Amalfi, some of my clients were extremely angry,” Weist says. “I came down to the Elkton-Fair Hill area and opened my place, which is a little different. But it’s really been the right decision.”
The Gore cafés offer everything from salad-and-sandwich shops to higher-end fare like Chilean sea bass. Between the cafés, his restaurant and his catering business, he’s one busy recluse.
“Now if I could only clone myself,” he says. “I think I’ll have Gore work on that.” —Matt Amis
Page 4: Around the Blend | These local roasters aren’t your average (cups of) Joes.
These local roasters aren’t your average (cups of) Joes.
Cruel is any month that forces you to get up for work while it’s still dark. One remedy is a piping cup of fresh roasted java, provided by a friendly neighborhood roaster. Here are a few of our favorites.
Pike Creek Coffee Roasterie (3 Cauline Court, Newark, 731-5187), headed by Peter Stiles and Carol Allston-Stiles, imports green, unroasted coffee beans from around the world, then churns out blends to Fa-Sol-Latte Coffee House, Back Burner Restaurant and Pamela’s Gourmet, among others. The roasterie makes its popular Rise and Shine Breakfast blend out of Arabica beans from South America and Indonesia.
Delaware City Coffee Company (704 Fifth St., Delaware City, 832-3303) sells commercial roasters and equipment, as well as green, unroasted beans. Places like Dolce Bakery in Milford use the Breakfast Blend, a combination of beans from South America, Africa and Asia.
Oby Lee Coffee Roastery (722 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6278) culls beans from 52 countries. “Kenya AA is big right now,” says owner Oby Gale. “So is Sumatra Mandheling, which is known for its zero acidity.” The best seller is Oby’s trademark Delaware Daybreak, a blend of dark Viennese and Italian roasts.
Notting Hill Coffee Roastery (124 Second St., Lewes, 645-0733) imports an impressive number of Fair Trade and organic coffees. The roastery also carries bird-friendly, Smithsonian-certified and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees. Overkill? Not with homemade blends such as Seattle Sunrise and the butterscotch toffee brew. —Matt Amis
Page 5: Eat like the King | Celebrate Elvis’ Birthday with these local treats.
Celebrate Elvis’ Birthday with these local treats.
Elvis Presley, famous for his appetite for life and fried peanut butter sandwiches, continues to inspire. The King, who would’ve turned 74 this month, has even altered the course of cuisine in Delaware.
Customers love the Elvis cake at Harry’s Savoy Grill (2020 Naamans Road, Wilmington, 475-3000). Pastry chef Erica Ferguson assembles a banana chiffon base with a crunchy peanut praline layer and tops it with creamy peanut butter mousse and a dark chocolate glaze. Caramelized bananas decorate. Era: Late Elvis. “Early Elvis would’ve had just a sandwich instead,” Ferguson says. Song: “Love Me Tender”
Flying Elvis ice cream at Sweet Lucy’s (3201 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 477-0777) is the creation of owner Ted Brackin and Woodside Farms Creamery. The banana ice cream, peanut butter swirl and chocolate chunk combo is named after the skydiving impersonators of Las Vegas. Era: Late Elvis. Song: “A Little Less Conversation.” Brackin says the Flying Elvis is all action.
Angelo’s Luncheonette (1722 N. Scott St., Wilmington, 658-8625) and Helen’s Sausage House (4866 N. Dupont Hwy., Smyrna, 653-4200) are known as much for their Elvis memorabilia as their ample portions. Angelo’s is decorated with an Elvis cutout, clock, phone and an original “Jailhouse Rock” movie poster. Era: Early Elvis. “He would’ve loved eating here, since we’re from back in his era,” says August Muzzi, owner of Angelo’s. Song: “Can’t Help Falling in Love”
The Elvis burger at 2 Fat Guys American Grill (701 Ace Memorial Drive, Hockessin, 235-0333) was born when chef-owner Tom Craft experimented with a peanut butter and jelly chicken wing sauce. The result is a half-pounder topped with peanut butter and bacon. One customer loves it so much, he eats two to three a week. Era: Early Elvis. “The Elvis burger isn’t for the faint of heart,” Craft says. “So it’s more like that ambitious, younger rocker Elvis.” Song: “Stuck On You” —Matt Amis