"Vale." It's a word we heard throughout our travels in Spain, with no precise definition we could discern, potentially meaning "OK," or "So...," or "See?", or "Voila," depending on the context. Apparently more European (and possibly Castilian, more specifically) than Latin American, it's a word I almost never hear in Miami, despite the abundant Spanish-speaking populations. We heard it almost immediately, and regularly, upon sitting down at El Rincon Asturiano this past weekend. I took that to be a good sign, and I was right.
Rincon Asturiano is a small restaurant in Little Havana near the corner of Flagler Street and SW 17th Avenue, not particularly noticeable from the street. There are several outdoor tables under a covered patio, as well as a small tapas bar and several more tables packed inside, including a narrow bar-height two-top that we squeezed into on a Saturday night (the place was filled). Asturias is an autonomous community of Spain on the northern coast by the Bay of Biscay, a couple hundred miles west of the Basque Country. The region is known for its seafood, its ciders, and most of all for the bean and sausage stew known as fabada. Rincon Asturiano's menu offers some of these specialties (the daily specials in particular seem to focus on Asturian dishes) as well as a broader selection of typical Spanish tapas, together with some heartier main courses and a variety of paellas.
Our server, in between "Vales," spoke only in rapid-fire Spanish and I struggled to keep up as she recited the day's specials. But with my dog-like ability to understand those words essential to my universe, I got the gist of most of it. For instance, I understood enough to know that she disapproved of my choice of wine, and recommended the Muga Rioja Reserva 2005 (at roughly the same price as my original choice) instead. I'm glad I listened, as it was a wonderful wine and a great value (at $36, less than 2x average retail).
As for food, we stuck with the tapas, and ultimately had to do something of a plate-juggling act to make room on our tiny table. We started with Chorizo a la Sidra, with chunks of pleasantly soft chorizo sausage cooked in cider stained bright red from the paprika in the sausage. Like New Orleans style BBQ shrimp, this is a dish that's as good for just dipping bread into the sauce as for the star ingredient itself (and the bread here is nice crusty Spanish style bread). The next item to hit the table was one of the only disappointments of the evening, Pulpo a la Gallega, the traditional dish of boiled octopus with potatoes, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with paprika and served on a wooden platter. But this was solely a matter of personal preference - boiling rather than grilling leaves the exterior layer of the octopus with a very slippery texture, and I prefer it grilled. But the preparation was absolutley authentic.
A slippery texture I do like is that of tripe, and so I couldn't pass up the Callos a la Asturiana. Callos is a Spanish stew featuring tripe and usually other miscellaneous parts. Though for years I only knew from Callos a la Madrileña, I've more recently learned of different regional variations, including a Sevillan version and this Asturian version. While Madrid's version, as I've seen it, often involves garbanzo beans in addition to chorizo and morcilla sausages and various other pig and/or cow parts, in a thick rust-colored stew, this Asturiano version omitted the beans, and had an intriguing spice note to it on top of the paprika - maybe nutmeg or even cinnamon? It was chock full of mysterious unctuous bits and pieces in a densely flavored gelatinous broth. Apparently the Asturians may be even more hardcore about their callos than the Madrileños: it seems that every year in the town of Noreña, they have a callos festival where more than 30 restaurants cook more than 7,000 pounds of tripe for about 10,000 visitors.
But it's not all about the nasty bits. The Patatas Bravas here were the finest I've had outside of Spain, the cubed potatoes cooked perfectly to have a bit of crispness on the exterior, while still being pillow-soft and hot in the middle (presumably the result of a double-frying technique similar to those used for good French fries), and were served with both a pungently garlickly and thick aioli, and a spicy tomato "bravas" sauce. The latter initially came on too sweet and ketchup-y, but that initial impression was quickly corrected by a pleasingly spicy follow-through.
I also liked the piquillos relleños; though the menu indicated they were stuffed with chipirones, or baby squid, the filling tasted to me more like what you'd expect to find in a ham croquette. a rich behamel studded with little hammy bits (and possibly seafood as well), and served with more of that aioli and a dice of roasted and vinegared red and green peppers.
We closed out the evening with a platter of one of the finest foodstuffs ever created: Jamon Iberico de Bellota (the picture you see above). Words fail me. Absolutely worth the $24 for the (already nibbled) plate you see above.
Prices were all generally quite reasonable. As noted above, the wine markups were quite modest, and most of the tapas items were between $5 and $10, stretching out of that range only for seafood items (I regretted not trying some beautiful head-on shrimp I saw in the refrigerated tapas case that were destined to become gambas a la plancha)or the jamon.
Many thanks to @EpicuriousChic for turning me on to this place.
El Rincon Asturiano
225 SW 17th Avenue
Miami, FL 33135