This April, we tried something a little different and visited the recently opened Albariño Tapas & Wine Bar in Shrewsbury. Albariño is the latest offspring of the Terra Moma group, a well-respected Princeton-based brand which includes Eno Terra, Mediterra, Terra Momo Bread Company and Teresa Caffe. Albariño is named for the wine grape grown in Galicia in northwest Spain, and this restaurant celebrates the small-plate tapas culture of European establishments with an American precision and sophistication. Albariño is an uptown chic kind of place – something you would find in New York or Jersey City, even Asbury Park. It’s bringing a new energy to historic Shrewsbury and is well-placed near the stores in the Grove.
The Terra Momo group explains their philosophy as a “taste of place,” meaning that food should speak eloquently of the people who nurture it, and “we regard the farmers and artisans who produce our food as partners in the creation of a great culinary experience.” The group also carefully selects each wine it offers. That control spills into their coordinated, careful interior design. There are high ceilings, with low hanging industrial-style lighting. One side is glass windows, the other a large bar. The back wall is dominated by a vintage map of the Mediterranean region, and it captures the intentional old-world-meets-new energy. Albariño may not be the first choice for a family meal with grandpa and junior, but it is a great meeting spot and a warm and urbane place for small groups.
We began with four appetizers. The thinly sliced Crispy Eggplant is lightly fried with rosemary and honey. It was light and bright with just a touch of sweetness, very typical of Spanish cuisine. We also had one of cheeseboards of the several Charcuteries they offer. Ours came with a persimmon like chutney and cranberry walnut flatbread. The strongly flavored cheese went well with a glass of house-made sangria which comes in red and white, and we asked for several refills of the tasty cranberry bread.
We also had the Pimientos Padrón, which is a bowl of blistered shishito peppers. The mercurial shishitos always have their own voice, and we got very lucky with this mildly sweet batch. We rounded out the apps with a bowl of Aceitunas Alinadas which are herb-citrus marinated olives. They were very tasty, but these olives have pits, so be careful on that first bite.
Now for the entrees. In keeping with the tapas feel, we each shared each other’s entrees and shared the same opinions on the dishes as well. You may feel comfortable doing the same if you wish.
Diner one selected the Baby Kale Salad, featuring a colorful mix squash, Valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese), dried cranberry, Marcona almonds and a clever quinoa granola with a maple vinaigrette. The summery, just-picked flavor made us forget it was below freezing outside. Those crunchy quinoa granola nuggets gave the dish a grounded feel and were a lovely surprise in this well-assembled salad.
Diner two chose the Ricotta Gnocchi, which is completed with Portobello mushroom, caramelized onion, Brussel sprouts and a butternut squash reduction. This is a deep, dark dish, almost woody in color with an earthy taste to match. The gnocchi were firm enough to support the developed flavors without being too stiff. It’s a good vegetarian choice as well.
I tried a Merluza en Cazuela. It’s a big bowl of gulf shrimp, clams and mussels with a generous portion of Chatham cod taking center stage, surrounded by fingerling potatoes, cherry tomato, leeks, peas and saffron butter. The cod was a really a nice, perfectly cooked piece of fish, and the dish was enjoyed by all. I was so enamored by the gold broth; I came close to using the serving spoon as a soup spoon. In the end, we asked for bread and dipped as much into the delicious liquid as we could. I wanted to try the 12oz Certified Black Angus NY Strip Steak that comes with sautéed spinach, crispy rock potato and shishito salsa verde, but it was Ash Wednesday, so I walked the line. I did visit with a table that was sharing a steak. It looked terrific, and they both said it was very well prepared and done to their liking.
Time for the desserts. We tried two. The Earl Grey Date Cake which came recommended by our server is a compact square of a dense cake, topped with a sticky toffee-caramel sauce, dusted with cocoa nibs and whipped cream. We also tried the cinnamon-dusted churros with a spiced hot chocolate sauce. It’s a friendly little ender. The 4-inch churros are served upright with the dipping sauce on the side. Neither dessert was overly sweet, and it’s your call whether to add them to your visit.
Cost – moderate
What we liked – The creative selection on the menu and the stylish plating of the dishes. The tableware is nice, and the service is informed and attentive. The cork-covered menus feel great in your hands, and the impressively decorated space is visually stimulating, hip and sophisticated.
What could be better – This is not really a family-friendly place, so no real choices for kids. It also gets quite loud when it’s full.
We give it 4 and a half J’s
Albariño Tapas & Wine Bar is located at The Grove West, 508 Broad St. in Shrewsbury. 732-852-2640. AlbarinoRestaurant.com. Albariño is open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 am to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 11:30 am to 9 pm. They also have a happy hour, Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 pm at the bar.