By Dylan Bailey
Tucked away on South Fourth Street, España Restaurant & Tapas has been serving up a unique blend of Spanish and Portuguese dishes since 2004. Recently, the restaurant has changed ownership, leading to mixed reviews. However, I decided to take the plunge and see if España still delivers the same excellence it was known for.
As I stepped into España, it was like being whisked away to a different world. The quaint exterior, adorned with ivy, sets the stage for a cozy and intimate dining experience. Inside, the Spanish influence is palpable, with warm lights and rustic decor enhancing the overall ambiance. You have the choice of dining indoors or in the charming patio garden, which offers tranquil views and a relaxed setting.
My server, Omar, was wonderful. His attention to detail and thorough knowledge of the menu was commendable. He was one of the finest waitstaff I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with.
España’s menu will give your tongue a workout, and I don’t mean just by tasting the food. With dishes like “cazuela de mariscos” and “almejas borrachas,” you might find yourself struggling with pronunciation. But don’t fret! The staff are more than happy to help.
To get a comprehensive taste of España’s offerings, I decided to not just stick to one dish. Omar suggested starting with the day’s special empanadas, stuffed with chicken, goat cheese, and corn. The crispy golden exterior contrasted beautifully with the warm, earthy goat cheese filling. It was, hands down, the best empanada I’ve ever tasted. I could have easily eaten more.
Next, I decided to try something I had never had before – escargot. Yes, that’s right, snails! Served flambeed with brandy, garlic, onion, and a rich tomato sauce, the escargot was surprisingly delectable. The dish was served with bread, which was perfect for mopping up the flavorful sauce.
For the main course, I opted for the fresh catch of the day, a dish that changes depending on the available fish. Accompanied by saffron rice and sauteed julienne vegetables, and with a choice of sauces. I chose the “Ole” sauce, a creamy, roasted poblano sauce with sauteed shrimp. The dish was succulent, fresh, and beautifully plated.
My friend, on Omar’s recommendation, chose the cazuela Mozambique, a shellfish casserole with clams, shrimp, scallops, mussels, fresh fish, and calamari in spicy coconut milk and sofrito sauce. The dish was a harmonic mix of flavors, with the spicy, creamy sauce beautifully complementing the various types of seafood.
España’s wine list, while not extensive, is carefully curated. Their Harken chardonnay, in particular, paired beautifully with the seafood dishes.
No meal is complete without dessert. We decided to sample the traditional Spanish flan and the Basque burnt cheesecake. The flan was good but it was the cheesecake that stole the show. Light, creamy, and caramelized, it was a slice of heaven – literally.
Despite the steep prices, España offers an unforgettable dining experience. From the ambiance to the service, and most importantly, the food, everything was top-notch. The new owners, in my opinion, have managed to maintain the high standards set by their predecessors.
Note: Given its popularity, España is almost always bustling with people. Reservations are a must if you wish to avoid a long wait.
España Restaurant & Tapas
Address: 22 S. Fourth St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034