The Tapas of Seville
Spain is probably the best country in Europe for the solo diner. With an abundance of tapas bars, one can easily get variety and quality in a casual setting at reasonable prices. Seville is my favorite city in Spain, and it's a great tapas town.
I had previously visited Seville for five days, about fifteen years ago, and fell in love with the city. For me it has the quintessence of what I really appreciate in a foreign city: manageable size, well-preserved history, a distinctive local culture, an abundance of cultural attractions, great food, and people who live life to the fullest. Though I love big cities like Madrid, Paris, Rome, London and Hong Kong, with their energy and endless attractions, for a New Yorker the smaller cities that have a real sense of individuality are a special treat. For me, the American city that best fits this description is San Francisco. Some European favorites in this category are Strasbourg, Arles, Bergen and Verona.
This time I only had two nights in Seville, and the better part of one day was devoted to a visit to Cordoba. But I know I'll return to Seville, where the beauty of the women and the smell of orange trees and frying fish are additional seductions.
I did get to three tapas bars this time in Seville. I returned to my favorite one from my last trip (2 or 3 visits; it was that good), Cervezeria Giralda, and it was as stellar as ever. It's high-end for a Seville tapas bar, but the difference is in the premium ingredients and preparation, plus by New York tapas standards it's a steal. Most of the tapas cost 3.5 Euros (just under $5 at the current exchange rate), and at the places I know in New York tapas of this quality would probably run $8-12 each. Tapas at more humble bars are more like 2 Euros.
Running a close second was the magret de pato (duck breast), with a fruit glaze, shown at the top.
Bar Las Teresas, which was a stone's throw from my hotel, is another excellent tapas place with most items at about 2 Euros.
Spain is a great place to try Iberico ham, which is prohibitively expensive in the U.S. It's not cheap in Spain either, but you can buy a taste for a song. At Las Teresas I had lomo Iberico (cured pork loin) as well as the ham.
I was a bit disappointed with the champinones a la parilla (grilled mushrooms) as they were white mushroom caps, perhaps my least favorite mushroom. For me the accompanying carrot salad was actually the highlight of the plate.
Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style octopus) is a dish you find all over Spain, in tapas bars and some more formal restaurants. It's cooked octopus in olive oil (sometimes warm, sometimes cold), topped with smoked paprika, one of the world's great spices. The version at Bar Las Teresas was respectable, though not extraordinary.
Bodega Santa Cruz (also known as Las Columnas) may well be the most popular tapas bar in Seville's Barrio Santa Cruz (where all the places I ate this time are located). Perhaps its popularity is due to the low prices, or perhaps it's that crowds of young people attract bigger crowds of young people. I went on a Saturday night and the crowd of mostly young people was spilling way into the street. I managed to find myself some bar space and ordered a number of items: tortilla Espanola (the national snack of potato omelette), boquerones fritos (fried anchovies), a montadito with carne mechada (a mini-sandwich with pot roast), and a fried shrimp dish (I forget the description) that had a heavy breading--similar to Chinese fantail shrimp or Vietnamese beignets de crevettes. Everything I had at Las Columnas was either too salty, too greasy, or both. I suspect all this stuff goes down just fine with heavy-drinking students, but I was very disappointed.