And you thought Taberna de Haro was authentic . . .
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 16, 2008
4.0 4.0 Stars

The cheese platter ($14) is all Spanish and all terrific. My immediate favorite was Mahon, a cow cheese from Minorca with an orange rind like Muenster. I moved on to the blue cheese, a Cabrales, I believe. It’s a mixed-milk blue cheese with some powerful, ripe aromas, even creamier than Roquefort. Everyone likes Manchego, and the platter had a nicely aged, nutty one sliced thin and served with a bit of honey. For a fresh cheese, there was a white goat — I didn’t catch the name — that was less goaty than some.

The list of beers, wines, and mixtures like sangria is essentially all Spanish. A 2003 Alvear fino ($7) is what most of Spain drinks with tapas: cold, dry sherry. My first one came warm, smelled like oloroso sherry, and was whisked off for a cold one before I could comment. The next one was a little maderized. I think of fino, especially the Alvear — which comes from Montilla, inland of Jerez, and is unfortified — as being cleaner tasting, with a bit of blue-cheese-like “flor.” It’s a special mold that develops in Southern Spain. (If it doesn’t, the wine is aged for oloroso.) The 2005 Bodegas Volver tempranillo ($11/glass; $44/bottle), a stunning red wine, is also from La Mancha (as is Manchego cheese). Right now it has an intense raspberry aroma but quite a bit of acidity and structure, like a great cabernet franc–based wine, such as Chinon. I actually preferred it to the prestigious 2003 Muga Rioja ($12/glass; $24/half bottle), which was more Bordeaux-like and complex, if softer. I’d like to come back to these wines in a few years. On the white side, the 2007 Paso a Paso verdejo ($7/$28) — again from La Mancha — was as lively as a fine sauvignon blanc.

Estragon has a couple of desserts. A trio of ice creams ($7) was unusual: honey-thyme with thyme leaves, caramel with nuts, and nougat ice cream with torron (a toffee-like candy). The honey thyme is not for everyone — great, more for me. The other dessert, a creamy flan ($6), had a strong citronella flavor, perhaps lemon verbena.

Espresso ($3.50) is served in the real Spanish style: a semi-hemi-demitasse of strong and bitter stuff, even in the decaf version. You’re expected to add sweetener. A selection of teas with a pot of hot water ($3) included an excellent “Mighty Leaf African Nectar” based on roiboos. The Red Zinger berryness was somehow refined out, leaving just subtle hints of mango and floral aromas.

Service at Estragon is willing, enthusiastic, and accurate. Plates don’t come in logical or predictable order, which adds to the fun. And fun is as much the theme here as authenticity. This column is hard on loud restaurants, but here the loudness doesn’t distract from savory plates, wines worth savoring, or the total experience.

Robert Nadeau can be reached

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