MALLORCA | Pittsburgh City Paper


Years ago, I went on a cheap package tour to Spain with a gang of working-class Brits who complained mightily about the food -- chiefly the lack of hamburgers and pork 'n' beans. Their ignorance, their loss: To this day, I remain awed by what I saw in a supermarket there -- an entire aisle of tinned squid and octopus prepared with dozens of sauces. So I was a little disappointed that on the evening we dined there, Mallorca had no multi-legged sea creatures on the appetizer menu.

Instead I began with an adventurous-sounding soup, sopa de ajo, or garlic soup. I like garlic, but I don't like too much garlic. No worries here -- while unmistakably garlicky, the soup wasn't overpowering: a little sweet, a little creamy and wonderfully fragrant. A whole egg was poaching in it, and crunchy croutons floated on top.

My companion debated the Spanish sausage or, on special that night, a Portuguese sausage. The difference: The Portuguese sausage was 100 percent pork tenderloin, the Spanish only 90 percent. He chose the Portuguese. It arrived doused with booze and the waiter set it on fire right beside our table. Once the flames were out, the sausage was cut into a dozen bite-sized pieces. A totally lean sausage may be better for you, but while this one was just-flamed hot and flavorful, it was a bit dry without the naughty fat.

The side salads of crunchy Romaine, shredded carrots and red cabbage, tomatoes and watercress drizzled with a tangy creamy dressing (a bit like a French dressing) were fresh, but a trifle cold.

On offer here are steaks, veal, chicken and pork as well as fish and shellfish dishes, including Spain's famous paella -- a single pot dish combining shellfish, sausage, chicken and saffron rice. The menu doesn't have much description of the dishes, so it behooves the curious or picky diner to ask. I pondered the flounder a la vasca -- which translated means "in the Basque fashion" and as a description is still not very helpful. A waiter was happy to detail the preparation but when I heard "hard-boiled egg," I decided to shift my interest to the monkfish.

So I had the monkfish en salsa verde -- four large portions of fish sitting atop a light sauce made from cream of asparagus, parsley and white wine. I found this sauce to be a little light for the heartier fish. My companion had the mariscada, a big iron pot filled with chunky shellfish: scallops, mussels, clams, baby lobster tail and shrimp, all floating in a Spanish brandy-and-wine sauce. The scallops were soft and buttery, the other shellfish worth the digging. The sauce was especially good -- light, slightly sweet and spicy, and graced with the warmth of the brandy.

Mallorca subscribes to a team service dynamic. Half a dozen waiters tended to our needs, which in the early stages of the meal seemed numerous. The waitstaff pad about quietly; I was often surprised when someone materialized to my left to fill a water glass and then appeared moments later to my right for some clearing task. However, once the entrees are served, one is left alone to enjoy the food at a leisurely pace, as is the custom on the Continent.

The portions are huge. My companion, who rarely leaves a crumb, called, "Tio," and had the rest of the mariscada boxed to go. I donated two remaining pieces of monkfish to his box, and for good measure, we threw in what was left of the Portuguese sausage. And then there were the three communal side dishes which we'd barely touched: a platter of unremarkable broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans and a solitary snow pea; saffron-accented yellow rice with a pretty garnish of diced carrots, red peppers and peas; and plate of fried potato chips. I couldn't resist picking at the greasy chips -- I have some deep evolutionary drive for fried potatoes in all forms -- and they were much tastier with ample salt and pepper added.

Yet there is always room for a dessert like flan, that light egg custard that slides down easy and hardly takes up any room. My companion and I had a mild disagreement on that evening's flan, which had been lightly flavored with an anise liqueur. I liked the little extra bite; my companion maintained that flan by its nature should be pure and unadulterated. Naturally, the flan was gone before that discussion could be settled definitively. We both agreed that the dollop of extra caramel on the side of the plate was quite simply delicious. ***