SOUL OF SPAIN

Oys­ters, paella, grilled prawns and an in­trigu­ing wine list are just the start at one of the city’s old­est Euro­pean eater­ies. Mike Peters re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - DINING | LIFE - Con­tact the writer at michaelpeters@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hangzhou is justly fa­mous for its lo­cal cui­sine, but it’s not well-known as an out­post for for­eign fare. So on a re­cent visit to Zhe­jiang’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, we were pleas­antly sur­prised to dis­cover La Pe­dr­era — a Span­ish restau­rant with an im­pres­sive wine list tucked in a cor­ner of a large Chi­nese ho­tel.

Our leisurely lunch got a pleas­antly au­then­tic start with a re­fresh­ing glass of sparkling cava, a bot­tle of min­eral wa­ter la­beled Vichy Cata­lan, a wel­come plat­ter of fresh-baked breads, and serv­ing dishes with a mo­saic edge as col­or­ful as any you might find in sunny Spain.

As soon aswewere set­tled at our ta­ble with this open­ing ar­ray, we were ad­vised to choose a rice dish— that­menu section was la­beled “the most fa­mous” — as these four spe­cial­ties would take 25 min­utes to pre­pare. These are gen­er­ous iron skil­lets to serve two or more peo­ple. We gave the tempt­ing lob­ster rice Cal­doso (298 yuan or about $45) a long­ing gaze be­fore opt­ing for the black-rice paella (98 yuan) in­stead.

We started our meal with a pair of oys­ters from a list that in­cluded four French op­tions as well as bi­valves from South Africa and Tas­ma­nia. The steak menu was even more ex­ten­sive, and we set­tled for an An­gus beef striploin (218 yuan for 280 grams) with sides of rose­mary-roasted pota­toes and a lightly pun­gent con­fit of mush­rooms and gar­lic.

While the chefs were prac­tic­ing their art on the steak and paella, we en­joyed a small raw feast: the Geay oys­ters we’d cho­sen from the in­ter­na­tional oys­ter list and a stun­ning steak tartare. The patty of well-sea­soned beef, served with a duck egg, a big pinch of arugula and thin crisp rounds of lightly toasted fresh bread, made the pret­ti­est dish of the meal.

The taste win­ner, how­ever, may have been the Ar­gen­tine prawns, fried in cit­ric oil and delectably ten­der amid chunks of dried red chili and dev­as­tat­ingly de­li­cious gar­lic chips. The two menu pages of tapas also in­cluded lots of other tempt­ing seafood, from grilled oc­to­pus and Span­ish­style seafood cro­quettes to mari­nara clams.

The paella ar­rived next, well worth the wait with a pair of sauteed shrimps at the cen­ter, seem­ingly locked face-to-face in the rice like a pair of fla­menco dancers. Afloat in the sea of squid-ink tinted rice around them were tasty clams and scal­lops, and a pair of le­mon slices poised like tiny boats of brilliant yel­low.

We were ba­si­cally full when the steak ar­rived, but our ap­petites re­turned as the ten­der beef, per­fectly cooked to our medium-rare or­der, was sliced and sprinked with a bit of freshly ground pep­per and pink Hi­malayan salt. The sides of grilled mush­rooms and pota­toes gave the plate some vis­ual and nu­tri­tional bal­ance.

Among the dishes we passed over with re­gret were a tur­bot stew with baked beans, young gar­lic and saf­fron foam, and grilled oc­to­pus with pota­toes and pa­prika oil. Those temp­ta­tions will have to wait for a re­turn visit.

Some­how, we found room for dessert — in fact, two of them. A fig “bis­cuit” turned out to be a creamy rec­tan­gle that was al­most as dense as cheese­cake; served with tof­fee and sweet cream, it was a sen­sa­tion of tex­tures and fla­vors. More con­ven­tional but per­haps more ap­peal­ing as a sum­mer treat: a vanilla yo­gurt im­preg­nated with sea­sonal fruits: orange, berry and mango.

Be­sides its care­fully sourced and­pre­pared Span­ish fare, the orig­i­nal La Pe­dr­era is well­known for its gin and ton­ics— va­ri­eties in­clud­ing pineap­ple and ap­ple caramelized by a small torch in front of you, fresh herbs and frozen figs. We were too sated with a big meal and a ro­bust tem­pranillo to mi­grate to the bar for more al­co­hol, so a G&T sam­pling will also have to be saved for a re­turn visit.

Shang­hai.

PHO­TOS BY MIKE PETERS / CHINA DAILY

Clock­wise from top left: Steak tartare, An­gus beef sir­loin, grilled prawns and vanilla yo­ghurt dessert with sum­mer fruits.

MIKE PETERS / CHINA DAILY

Re­cent vin­tages from Cal­i­for­nia winer­ies were sam­pled in

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