Until recently, the building that houses Ibiza was an odd paradox: Both utterly nondescript and, simultaneously, one of the most prominent structures on East Carson Street by dint of its location right at the foot of the Birmingham Bridge. After a remodel that carved out a double-height dining room and added a back patio and a glass-and-steel entry pavilion to the original modest brick house, the building has now become a suitably sleek setting for Ibiza, an urbane wine bar and tapas restaurant run by the proprietors of successful Mallorca next door.
Whereas Mallorca is well within the tradition of the city's most established venues for continental cuisine, its younger cousin Ibiza, while true to its Spanish origins, has a contemporary cosmopolitan atmosphere that sets it apart. The menu starts in Spain but doesn't end there, including delicacies from Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, and other Latin American and Old World countries.
Ibiza's island name suggested seafood, and we followed this impulse to grilled squid off the hot tapas list. We appreciate a restaurant that doesn't feel compelled to recast squid as "calamari"; done right, this seafood has no need of an exotic alias. By any name, most people think of it as tentacles, but Ibiza instead grilled the pulpa -- the closed ends of the squids' tubular bodies. Though some pieces were a bit chewy, most were tender, and all were full of briny oceanic flavor. But the most delightful thing about them was how the pulpa, open on one end and closed on the other, functioned as little edible vessels for the garlic-infused olive oil in which they were served.
Off the cold tapas list, tuna tartare featured buttery chopped tuna, its freshness emphasized by a lemony marinade. Minced shallots and scallions added complementary zing.
Patatas bravas, cubed potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce, were surprisingly like diner breakfast potatoes with hot sauce. Not a bad thing, but we enjoyed them more the next day with eggs than alone. We were more impressed with the grilled quail served atop matchsticks of fried potatoes with an intense yet restrained red-wine sauce. The partially boned and butterflied bird was moist and savory, and the potatoes, crisp even when sauced, were perfect.
Finally, it would not have been tapas without a cheese plate, here consisting of nutty manchego and creamy tatia accompanied by olives and thick slices of salty prosciutto.
Together, all this would have been a supremely satisfying dinner for two, but the entrée we had ordered -- chicken and sausage in a paprika cream sauce -- was yet to come. Because chicken lacks a strong flavor of its own, it has become a sort of tabula rasa for all kinds of restaurant preparations; here, the native mildness of the poultry was enriched by the deeply but mellow flavored sauce, which it put us in mind of a refined goulash. Where the chicken itself stood out was in its texture. The bird had the characteristics of a fine cut of meat. Both white and dark pieces were so moist and tender, we didn't know which cliché to employ first: "falling off the bone" or "melting in our mouths." At the same time, the sauce played off the naturally strong flavor of the sliced chorizo sausage, helping it to blend in with rather than dominate the dish. Softly sautéed peppers broadened the overall effect to include a delicately vegetal note.
It is a little-known fact that food reviewers have evolved an extra stomach for dessert. This adaptation allows us to fulfill our professional obligation to enjoy a sweet ending even to a meal as filling as this one. And thank goodness, because we would not have wanted to miss Ibiza's Opera Cake. This layered confection of chocolate cake, coffee cream and a fudgy icing was everything chocolate and coffee should be: deep, dark, bitter, sweet and rich.
Tapas venues are not new to the local dining scene; in addition to dedicated tapas restaurants, any number of sophisticated bistros offer small plates as an alternative to hearty entrees. But with Ibiza, the tapas experience has finally arrived in Pittsburgh. Accompanied by a wide international selection of wines, available by the bottle, glass or in samplers called flights, Ibiza offers a transportive dining experience in which the Birmingham Bridge leads directly to a Mediterranean isle.
Jason: 3 stars
Angelique: 3.5 stars