1239 Route 22 East
Mountainside, New Jersey

Food: Spanish
Ambience: Lively and noisy
Service: Friendly and efficient
Wine List: Limited
Price Value: Very good

Review by NJ Monthly

Mountainside's Spanish Tavern is one of two restaurants owned by the team of Manuel Bazquez, Antonio Bazquez, Manuel Garcia, and Mario Garcia. Their other location, the original granddaddy of Spanish restaurants, is on McWhorter Street in Newark and shares a similar menu. Like its Newark counterpart, too, Spanish Tavern in Mountainside has a lively, convivial atmosphere. Tables are attractively napped with white and burgundy linens and pink napkins. Waiters in black tie add a slightly formal touch, and service is friendly and efficient.

The parking lot here is always full, and it's no wonder, since the restaurant offers great bargains. For example, a homemade soup, rice or potato, choice of vegetable, and bread come with every main course at Spanish Tavern. I like the soups--hearty lentil and caldo verde, a green soup of kale, potatoes, and sausage--which are doled out tableside from large metal pots.

The menu offers traditional appetizers, including a very good, thinly sliced chorizo; decent clams Casino topped with bacon; unpeeled grilled shrimp; and a mound of excellent garlic shrimp. I don't care for the scallops served in their shell and topped with crabmeat and cheese, particularly because their connecting muscle hasn't been removed. But the same crabmeat atop a perfectly grilled Portobello mushroom in a rich white-wine-and-sherry-flavored sauce is delicious. Spanish escargot served in their shells in a spicy vodka broth are unusually flavored and good, as are lightly sautéed calamari rings on a crunchy bed of shredded cabbage and chopped vegetables in a basil vinaigrette.

Like many Spanish restaurants, the Spanish Tavern serves both saffron-flavored rice and thin, crisp slices of Spanish potatoes with each entrée. Two starches are apparently better than one.

I am disappointed with the mariscada salsa verde (seafood in green sauce), which is not very green and a little rubbery, and the paella Valenciana, which contains plenty of chicken, tough pieces of pork, and sausage but not enough seafood. Both, though, are fairly well flavored. A special of clams and shrimp in a light green sauce garnished with a chopped hard-boiled egg is perfectly cooked and seasoned. Large, slightly spicy langostinos, which look like giant shrimp with claws, are butterflied and expertly grilled. But a lobster, which is supposed to come with hot sauce, is accompanied by a very mild and thus disappointing tomato-flavored concoction.

A boneless chicken breast in a mildly spiced brandy-and-wine sauce with almonds tastes delicious but is almost too tough to cut. The half-rack of baby lamb, tender, well cooked, and trimmed so perfectly that only the meaty eye remains, is a bit skimpy and underseasoned. Veal in a wine-and-brandy sauce with mushrooms has an unnecessary floury coating that makes the dish gummy.

The best desserts include a fresh-tasting flan, decent cheesecake and Key lime pie, a chocolate-brownie pie, and a chocolate-mousse cake. --V. S.

1239 Route 22 East, Mountainside (908-232-2171). Lunch: Monday through Friday, 11:30 am to 5 pm. Dinner: Monday through Friday, 5 to 10 pm; Saturday 3 to 10:30 pm; Sunday noon to 10 pm. Wheelchair access difficult. American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard, Visa. Dinner for two without wine averages $60.


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