España Restaurant & Tapas
By Michael Gass • Photo by William Raser
España Restaurant & Tapas is a food lover’s favorite. The restaurant is set in a beautifully quaint courtyard in downtown Fernandina Beach, and it is overflowing with the authentic traditional flavors of Spain and Portugal
For more than fifteen years, owners Roberto and Marina Pestana have developed a cozy atmosphere, a friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a lovely kitchen garden. The restaurant’s menu is inspired by their experiences traveling across Spain and Portugal. Highlights include a wide variety of hot and cold tapas, evening specials, seafood, steaks, and homemade desserts.
Recently, in the middle of a busy week, I invited my mother to join me for an early dinner to discuss some upcoming events and share some quiet time together. Our server was gracious, inviting, and very knowledgeable. We decided to start the evening with a salad. My mother ordered the Mediterraneo: fresh mozzarella and tomatoes layered with roasted red peppers and drizzled with basil infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I really love hearts of palm, so I opted for the Enslada Jardinera: fresh hearts of palm and tomatoes tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with onions, olives, and of course, the heart of palm.
Espana is known for their authentic paellas, but after reading over the menu, I wanted it all. I opted to go the tapas route in order to experience as much of the menu as possible, specifically the seafood. I ordered the Pulpo Escabeche and Almejas Borarachas. Mom selected the Cerdos & Higos and the Scallops Ole. We each ordered a glass of Alberino, a Spanish white wine made from grapes grown in northwest Spain. The wine is light, with high acidity and flavors of peach and apricot, and the perfect accompaniment for fresh seafood.
Escabeche de pulpo is prepared much like a ceviche, the ingredients are “cooked” in an acidic marinade, without heat. Puplo, or octopus, must be cooked in advance, however, to tenderize it. The flavors were inspired, and the portion larger than anticipated. The Almejas Borrachas, or “drunken clams,” were slightly sweet and served in a savory and delicious white wine broth with onions, garlic, and fresh herbs.
Cerdos & Higos is Spanish for pork and figs. At Espana, they are a sweet and tart fig jam with goat cheese and serrano ham on croustinis, a tasty treat. Lastly, the Scallops Ole, fresh diver caught scallops fried in a crispy panko-style crust, sealing in all of their cerulean glory.
I always save a little room for dessert, but tonight we hesitated because we each had more work to do before the evening ended. However, when our server tempted us with Espana’s creamy, delicious Flan, I couldn’t resist. We toasted the last of our wine and lingered a few moments longer over the last of our dessert before it was back to the real world and its waiting responsibilities.
Some of España’s other must-have offerings include their Sangria, their fabulous paella, and their wonderfully varied entrees. Be sure to make a reservation, especially on weekends and holidays, as España is very popular. Espana is located at 22 N. 4th Street in downtown Fernandina Beach. It is open every day of the week from 5pm to 10pm.