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

Estragon | 617.266.0443 | 700 Harrison Avenue, Boston | Open Daily, 5:30 pm–1 am | AE, DI, MC, VI | Beer and wine | No valet parking | Sidewalk-level access
If you thought Brookline’s Taberna de Haro was an authentic tapas bar, you weren’t wrong. However, a divorce and new partners have put Julio de Haro in the position to open Estragon, a larger restaurant with a 1930s-tapas-bar theme. Nostalgia deepens authenticity, no? So does a line of Basque-type specialties and a gourmet store next door, should you want to try this at home. Estragon has Spanish pop music playing, old family photos on the walls, and as much noise as a Madrid tapas bar at midnight — everything but shells on the floor.

Perhaps most remarkably, they serve the real Spanish bread, in paper bags: miniature, pointy-ended loaves that are softer than, though just as flavorful as, genuine French bread. You can have it with the complimentary platter of olives (including giant, ripe red ones never before seen in Boston) and the excellent extra virgin olive oil with tarragon leaves marinating in the bottle.

The menu is all small plates: some are more clearly the bar-snack “pinchos” or “tapas” (literally “lids”), while others are more like appetizers or units of entrées. For snacking, don’t miss the fried garbanzo beans ($4). Although it’s just a little plate, each chickpea has a kick of paprika and garlic. With a catchy name like “Catalan Popcorn,” this could be huge. Another small plate you’ll want several of is the classic tortilla ($4), a slice from a thick potato omelet, here served with a lemony homemade mayonnaise. Asparagus soup ($5) is creamy, full of chopped asparagus, and topped with shredded Manchego cheese. I also liked a special dish of broiled chili peppers ($8), full of concentrated flavor; a couple of the peppers were a bit spicy, too.

To fill up, get something with a sauce, such as the spiced tripe and chorizo ($8), a richly flavored tomato-based stew in the tradition of French tripe à la mode de Caen. Or try the littleneck clams ($14), eight clams in a loaf’s worth of onion-garlic-clam-broth sauce that just won’t quit. Another gravy-bearing stew is squid rings ($9) with Basque blood sausage (better than it sounds; rather like scrapple); the rings were nearly as tender as fish. Marinated mussels ($8) were actually pickled with peppers, carrot, and onion.

Near-entrées include skewers of marinated Moorish lamb ($11), which are fine shish kebabs with a bite-back of paprika and cumin. Or you could have a skirt steak ($12) mini portion: tender slices of medium-rare meat with a fried quail egg on top. Add a plate of grilled asparagus ($7) with garlic-parsley sauce and a tortilla, and it starts to look like an American dinner out.

Some of the more unusual dishes are Basque-style tapas that other local restaurants haven’t dared to present. Frogs’ legs ($8) — yes, they do sort of taste like chicken wings — are served in a simple garlic sauce, about as easy an introduction to eating frogs as one could want. The house sausage ($8), spelled “txistorra” in Basque, is a spicy blood sausage with some starch to fill up on, and no strong blood-sausage flavor. A special on fried pig ear ($8) tasted like Southern cracklings, with some tomato sauce tossed in.

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