Where I Was
Albariño tapas | wine bar, in Shrewsbury, NJ
Friday, February 16, 12:43 p.m.
Where I Sat
At the bar, of course. Facing directly into the kitchen but had a good long view toward the front of the restaurant where there is a large table tucked away for a more private dining experience. There’s also a lovely outdoor area sure to be packed in the warmer-weather months ahead.
Who Served Me
Michael. Funny, snarky, and originally told me his name was Alex just to mess with me! He’s been employed “since the beginning girl!” (Apparently meaning October 2017.)
Bartender’s Favorite Bite
“Pork belly,” said Michael. “Originally it was only supposed to be a special but I loved it so kept personally selling it from the bar. One night I sold 18 of them! They [the kitchen] hate me cause it takes a long time to prepare it—someone drove an hour once to eat it and it wasn’t on the menu, but they had the ingredients so told them they had to make it. It’s now on the menu permanently!”
The Vibe & My Vantage Point
California sunshine. Bright, clean. Bulbous, glass lighting in gorgeous shades of blue, a stunning map of Spain consuming a full wall inside the dining room and the bar—made of predominantly white marble was properly dressed with hooks for bags, and accented with fab, modern stools covered in soft denim fabric. A whimsical chalkboard sits atop gorgeous glass shelves stocked with a diverse collection of spirits and is fantastically illustrated with an octopus (a delicacy of the Albariño region of Spain), with other interesting intel about the place. A fab terrace off the long bar offers a great outdoor option!
What Quenched My Thirst
Another great perk about this wonderful new gig is that everyone wants to join me for my next article. So on this lovely Friday I grabbed a colleague and headed for the bar.
Poquito Picante, $12
Jalapeño, cucumber, Cointreau, tequila
Now, mind you, this was not my initial choice. I went with the grapefruit first, but my trusted companion had her wits about her and went straight for this one. Trust me when I say I will never make that mistake again!
I can hardly describe the joy I feel when I sip this divine cocktail. The description boring when compared to the magic and balance of this simple yet complexly delightful flavor profile, and I really loathe Cointreau!
First, the bartender, to whom I now affectionately refer as Alex Michael Alex, hates to make this drink because it’s incredibly time consuming. Here’s his process: he muddles cucumber, cilantro and a touch of a secret not sure what, and the ingredients above. Then he carefully strains out everything and serves it neat in the perfect martini the glass. It’s donned with a sliced English cucumber and a single, hot red pepper floating amidst the gorgeous pale green shimmer of the drink itself. The flavor is amazing—cool, crisp, fresh, and finally leaving a bit of heat on the tongue. It goes down a little too easily so having a designated driver is a public service announcement you can thank me for later. Now go get yourself one!
Grapefruit Cooler, $12
Grapefruit, honey, mint, vodka, Peychaud’s bitters
While I debated for about a minute between this and the poquito to start, it didn’t take long to settle on the Grapefruit Cooler. The presentation is stunning: again, served neat, in a short-stemmed champagne glass with floating, brightly colored edible pansies in yellow and purple dancing atop a subtly frothy, slightly foggy concoction. As a lover of grapefruit, I expected a tart welcome for my taste buds, yet I was surprised to find the floral notes of the Peychaud’s bitters was a bit too forward for my liking. A great drink nonetheless, yet my true love remains with the Poquito Picante for sure!
What Fed My Soul
Braised pork belly, $16 (gluten free)
Slow-poached egg, crispy brussels sprouts
You had me at pork belly and brussels! Then I realized the magic of Manny’s approach and his masterful balance perfected—prepared the way a pork belly should be—slow, intentional, precise. The first order of business was piercing the gorgeous egg that sits stop the four pieces of pork belly, which is laying on a mound of crispy, deep green sprouts. The silky yolk ran across the golden skin, which, once in my mouth, proved the perfect crunch and crispness around every edge, balancing the buttery softness of its fatty center, which melted against the smoky char on a sprout. Then—POW!—a surprise to the palate with something like cardamom. It felt like a refreshing slap to the senses offering something refreshing and powerful. I simply couldn’t get enough. I suggest you cut the pork belly into quarters, then halves so you can get the perfect bite every time. Run, don’t walk!
Crispy eggplant, $9 (vegetarian and gluten free)
Visual splendor is what captured my attention first about this dish. Bright splashes of purple against the green of rosemary tendrils laying on high quality, gorgeous, golden honey. I literally wanted to pick it up with my hands and thrust it into my watering mouth but, alas, I was with company! So I cut into the crispy eggplant, which was cut on a bias about a half inch thick and clearly coated in panko to ensure a dry, light, crispy texture. The salty, smooth taste of the eggplant married with the earthy strength of the rosemary was immediately calmed by the honey drizzle. I was enamored. A hearty, happy-making, tapas delight!
Charred brussels sprouts, $8
I just love these little balls of crispy joy with a web of melted cheese, I really do! They make me remarkably happy, especially for being just little balls of cabbage. These were topped with a shredded Idiazábal cheese, which I had never encountered before. It’s a pressed cheese made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk. (The sheep used for this cheese are, for the most part, from Latxa and Carranzana in the Basque country and Navarre, Spain, near the French border.) Silly me, I thought it was Manchego as it lent a similar, nutty essence to the dish. Subtle and yummy!
Pulpo a la Plancha, $18
Portuguese octopus, paprika-spiked potato, charred red onion, saffron aioli, green olives
Another beautifully presented plate of color to behold. Rustic, heavy, bright white plate with a navy-speckled rim was plated with the luscious russet and white color of the octopus against a smear of saffron-colored aioli and mixed with microgreen wisps, crispy paprika-dusted mini potatoes and carmelized shiny purple onions with the drab green of the fresh olive slices. A picture of perfect freshness—and screaming Mediterranean goodness. The octopus was really cooked beautifully, tender and slightly charry at the ends. The super mellow saffron aioli was really hard to decipher at first, a welcome respite to the typically over-garlicked aioli chefs too often ruin. The paprika baby potatoes were scrumptious and light against the freshness of the green olives. Another lovely dish indeed.
Traditional fried dough, cinnamon spiced hot chocolate sauce
A wonderful surprise from our lovely Michael, these delightful and freshly fried dough sticks were a lovely end to the perfect experience—hot and light and accompanied by a perfectly light sauce of deep, dark rich chocolate and a final whisper of spicy cinnamon to add one last spark to this lightly decadent, yummy treat! Important note: I normally do not accept gifts from restaurants for my reviews but Michael insisted; thank you Michael!
Beyond the Bar
Albariño, meant to represent a regional wine in northwestern Spain, boasts daily specials and seasonal changes. A lovely outdoor, covered terrace provides a picturesque al fresco experience when the temps warm up. A massive wine list (more than eight pages); amazing selection of sherry and is available for private events. This lovely gem is part of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group, which prides itself on committing to “taste of place.”
“Uncorked Sundays” offer diners the chance to take a bottle of wine home from the retail library when one is purchased with dinner! Now how cool is that?
When to Show
Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday and Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Weekend brunch coming soon!
Know Before You Go!
Prices, hours, and menu items are subject to change. Please check the restaurant’s website for the latest information available.
The Grove West
508 Broad Street
This article was not paid for, nor influenced by, the restaurant/bar featured in this column.