You know those days when you just walk outside after class and realize you’re in need of some adventure? That’s how I ended up at Despaña, a Spanish market-café fused restaurant in Princeton.
I grabbed my go-to new-food- place friend (we all have one).We got dressed up in our uppity “Princeton casual” attire so we might fit in among the armchair theorists and housewives, and we hit the road. The good thing about being a student here is that we are only ever about 15 minutes from the best meals students can never afford. But really, Princeton’s got some quality eats.
When we sat down at our table at Despaña, our waitress brought us the water, which came in a needlessly elaborate glass vase, making me think it was composed of the sweat and tears of religious fanatics during La Semana Santa. Also, it was a good sign that we’d be spending quite a bit on our meal, something uncharacteristic of tapas, which are known for their affordability.
We immediately looked at the prices and, feeling around in our pockets for loose change, realized we couldn’t spend much. But with the waitress’s suggestion to simply split three tapas, and our undying commitment to good food, we acquiesced.
First came our salad. It had that fresh, wholesome, flavorful, savory-sweet combination that is so hard to bring to the right balance.
Then the berenjenas fritas, or fried eggplants, arrived. The berenjenas were in long, skinny form and sprinkled with honey and ginger zest. They were essentially healthier, lighter, sweeter French fries. If you go, I recommend starting with these and finishing them fast, because they tasted sort of flat once they cooled off.
Next came the pan tumaca, a glorified bruschetta with a ton more zing in each bite than any tomato-bread combination I’ve ever had. Although when I asked the waitress what the spices were, she responded with, “It’s just salt, olive oil, tomato and bread.” That alone signaled to me the fact that I was engulfing the creations of an expert chef.
Finally was the Alhambra palace of the meal, the true gastronomic venture that should define any Hispanic cuisine experience: the chorizo. Our dish was called the “chorizo picante flambeado and chestnuts,” which also happens to be a prime example of my native language — Spanglish. What the first two dishes lacked in body, the last dish made up for tenfold.
Stuck through with a toothpick, the baked chestnut tasted sweet and earthy, almost as if I had taken a bite out of a maple tree and the syrup came out in solid form. The chorizo added its much-anticipated kick and, to be completely honest, it was a certifiable foodgasm.
The décor was sleek black and red, reminiscent of the running of the bulls. Or, if you’re drunk, it probably looks more like La Tomatina, the festival in Spain where people spend a whole day throwing tomatoes at each other. I couldn’t make that up if I tried.
Three words to wrap this meal up: simple, sweet, gone.