For a couple of years now, I've been shopping at Las Ventas, the South End Spanish gourmet grocery and deli run by Luis de Haro. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Luis's brother Julio is the chef/owner of Estragon, the superb Spanish restaurant next door. Las Ventas has become my go-to spot for La Casera (a citrus soda essential for making tinto de verano, a favorite summertime cooler), and offers a deli case full of beautiful cheeses and cured meats imported from Spain. For instance, Las Ventas carries jamón ibérico de bellota, one of the world's most exquisite long-cured hams, made from acorn-fed, free-range black Iberian pigs, and fully worth its breathtaking price of $150/pound. Most deli items here, as well as groceries like olive oils, jarred peppers, pasta, chocolates, cookies, cookbooks, rices, and pans for paella, carry far more modest price tags.
I recently noticed a queue of doctors and nurses in scrubs on break from nearbyBoston Medical Center, and realized I'd overlooked a key feature here: made-to-order bocadillos (sandwiches). Combining Las Ventas's deli-case treasures with fantastic breads from Cape Cod artisanal bakery Pain d'Avignon (including superb versions of baguette, sourdough, and whole-grain rolls), the results are stunning. Number one with a bullet is the Mallorca ($7.50), layering sobrassada — a soft pâté of cured-pork chorizo colored a fervid orange from rooftop-dried paprika — with soft goat cheese, microgreens, and garlic-spiked alioli. The Las Ventas ($7.50) includes tortilla española (the potato/egg frittata ubiquitous in Spain's tapas bars) from Estragon's kitchen with caramelized red peppers and alioli: unusual, filling, delicious. The lighter Tetilla Grill ($5.95) is grilled cheese, tomato, and EVOO; tetilla is a buttery, mild Galician cow's-milk cheese manufactured in delightful, breast-shaped half-rounds.
The Doña Camila ($8.50) is a good way to taste a less extravagant but still fine Spanish ham: it includes jamon serrano (which retails here for $28/pound), tomato, and EVOO. The Doña Ines ($7.50) includes butifarra, a gently spiced white pork sausage, plus Manchego cheese, greens, and alioli. The robust Extremadura ($7.50) boasts grilled pork loin, caramelized onions, mustard, and alioli. Drink options include iced and hot coffee and tea ($1.50), espresso ($2), cappuccino ($2.95), bottled fruit juices ($1.75) and lemonades ($2.50), and Boylan bottled sodas ($1.75). As its dozen-strong bocadillo lineup shows, all it takes is excellent bread, quality imported meats and cheeses, and the occasional throw-in from your brother's fine-dining kitchen to yield a can't-miss lunchtime option. Who knew the Spaniards could make such amazing sandwiches?
Las Ventas, located at 700 Harrison Avenue, in Boston, is open Monday to Saturday, 11 am–6 pm. It is also open on Sunday, noon–5 pm, except during July and August. Call 617.266.0905.