Today's Modern Spanish cuisine is not simply exemplified by its use of modern gastronomic components. Steeped in traditional stylings as its foundation, Modern Spanish showcases a chef's innovative flairs within a form of artistry predicated upon the highest quality of products from the highest quality producers. The combination results in exquisitely imaginative dishes that showcase the marksmanship a chef's accuracy while satiating the palate of even the most discerning diner.
There are a lot of factors to consider when opening a Modern Spanish restaurant, but perhaps, none more important than choosing the chef, himself. So when Mahwah residents, Alfredo and Carol Alonso, decided to open Sangria Modern Spaniard Cuisine in their hometown this past October, I'm sure they had a similar concern. Fortunately, the man they chose to take the helm of their establishment was Executive Chef Hank Barrett.
Since the late nineteen-eighties, he has worked in some of New York's most innovative restaurants, including the Union Square Café, which has earned Zagat Survey's #1 ranking as New York's Most Popular Restaurant an astounding nine times. He has also worked under James Beard Award-winning chef, Michael Romano and beside renowned writer, television host and chef Anthony Bourdain.
Today, Chef Barrett, with the support of owners Alfredo and Carol, has created an astounding menu of offerings that blend his love of well-executed Spanish traditions with his flair for modern twists that accentuate his culinary imagination. His dishes are uniquely inventive, and more often than not, the various elements he employs in each plating are reflective of his diverse training.
But perhaps, the one thing that greets you upon entering the restaurant that matters most of all, are owners Alfredo and Carol, themselves. The emphasis they place upon welcoming each patron into their establishment is not only refreshing, but vital in order to make a connection on a community level. It's what separates the good from the exceptional. In kind, the staff is also warmly accommodating, professional and knowledgeable in regard to the menu. Two of the staff in particular, Matthew, a manager, and Katalin, a server, excel on every level and help provide a terrific experience. In terms of congenial, professional service, Sangria exceeded all expectations during my each of my visits.
"Sangria", is a signature beverage from Spain, and under European law, the use of the actual word "sangria" on labels is forbidden unless the product is made in Spain.
Typically, it begins with red or white wine with the addition of various chopped fruits, sweeteners, and other liquors such as brandy, rum or bourbon.
I can say with certainty, Sangria typically isn't one of my favorite dinner companions. It is often far too sweet for my tastes, and in my opinion, can weaken a meal. Not the case here.
The menu at Sangria Modern Spaniard Cuisine is split into essentially four categories - Tapas, Charcuterie & Cheeses, Soups & Salads and Dinner. Each item has been carefully planned and honed under the watchful eye and creative hands of Chef Barrett.
Chef Barrett achieves this same culinary feat repeatedly throughout his menu, but rarely is it more apparent than with his Tapas offerings. Of particular note is the Langosta en Crema Porcini ($15) that pairs warm lobster and braised white beans with smoked bacon, shaved Brussels sprouts and porcini crema. Another of the Tapas menu's standouts is the Chorizo Salteado ($6), a dish that adorns slices of roasted chorizo with caramelized onions, apples and cider glaze. His manipulation of flavor is at times, magical.
For the more adventuresome eater, I highly recommend the Pulpo a la Plancha ($14), which is grilled marinated octopus over toasted chorizo fennel couscous with piquillo pepper romesco sauce or the Bacalao Crouquettes ($6) which couples fresh cod and potato fritters with saffron aioli. Both are exquisite examples of what can be done with broad strokes of flavor upon simple, but fresh, ingredients.
For the heartier appetite, I can offer no greater recommendation than the Paella Cazador ($25). This sliced leg of lamb atop a bed of shaved Brussels sprouts, braised root vegetables, fennel, mushrooms, and saffron Calasparra rice is nothing short of phenomenal. High marks go to the chef for ensuring the lamb is served to the perfect doneness. Succulent and delightful, the dish evokes a rustic charm with subtle hints of the delicate mastery involved in its preparation. The chef paints a masterpiece of flavor upon his edible canvas with this offering.
I like this restaurant immensely and the chef's talents are easily recognized and appreciated. However, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. The basis for this declaration is particularly obvious on Friday and Saturday nights when larger crowds may significantly lengthen the time between the moment your order is taken and the time your meal hits the table. The source of this problem lies in a shortage of qualified kitchen personnel and the lack of a proper sous chef. A restaurateur should never underestimate the value an additional set of proficient hands at a small establishment such as this can make in the overall dining experience. Even so, this is a restaurant I can envision visiting time and again.
CLICK on the link below for more information on artist, Tammy Murray.