The sharp, percussive and rhythmic sounds of flamenco floated in the air as I entered the Gaslamp's Sevilla, the best venue in San Diego to enjoy this delightful and now popular art form.
When I visit, I am always reminded of my personal time in Madrid, where I fell in love with the music. Years ago, during cool summer evenings, I meandered from one "cafÈ cantante" to another, never getting enough of the magic sounds and flowing, brilliant colors of the dresses of the dancers. My shirt was usually stained red from the streams of sangria, a red wine-fruit combination that missed its mark when I squeezed my "bota," a goatskin wine bag.
Many listeners of Spanish music think of flamenco only as a particular style of guitar playing. In fact, though, flamenco consists of three parts to the performance, all coming together to create a song. There is the singer, who is usually telling a sad story in the lyrics. The dancer beats out a staccato pattern by tapping with shoes, body movements reflecting the story as it is sung. The guitarist provides the music for the piece, using an instrument that is usually made of a lighter wood for improved percussion and with a plate on its body for tapping with the fingers of the right hand.
The sounds of flamenco emerge from sadness. They were the songs of the gypsies, Jews and Moors who were persecuted, forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity. The music originated around Jerez, the same area where sherry was first developed. The sounds are plaintive, often mourning, and seem to be able to touch the souls of listeners. Yet, the rhythms are stirring and exciting, often compelling listeners to tap on tabletops to the sounds of performers clapping hands and stomping feet. Listening to flamenco for the first time can be the beginning of a great adventure in musical appreciation.
Sevilla offers more than music of Spain. It also features the foods of Spain, particularly a good selection of traditional cuisine -- most notably, tapas and paella.
Tapas are small, appetizer-size dishes, served hot or cold. Usually, they precede a meal, although some diners will make meals out of an assortment of tapas. In Spain, where the evening meal is usually eaten around 10 p.m., people gather earlier in their favorite bars for tapas and wine.
The origin of the custom is said to date back to the time of King Alfonso, who ate small meals with wine because of illness. He decreed that no wine should be served in taverns unless accompanied with a bit of food. So, cups of wine were covered with morsels of ham, cheese and other foods. The tradition has continued to this day. Tapas are now served on small plates, though, rather than on top of a glass.
Sevilla features a good number of hot choices, such as Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp) or Cordero Madrid (lamb chops), or "cold choices" such as Tortilla Espa"ola (egg, onion and potato tart) and Alioli y Salsa con Pan (bread with oil and salsa).
Paella is a dish that is made using different ingredients in diverse sections of Spain. It is a combination of rice with locally raised ingredients. Paellas from the coast of Spain contain seafood whereas paellas from the interior of the country will contain more chicken and vegetables. The term "paella" refers to the cooking utensil in which the dish is prepared, usually a large, flat stainless steel pan that is circular and relatively shallow. The cooking is slow to bring out and to blend the flavors of the ingredients. Saffron, an expensive spice, is usually added for flavor. It gives the dish a distinctive yellow coloring.
Sevilla serves Paella Marinera, a seafood dish that contains shrimps, scallops, mussels and more. Paella Rupestre is the meat version, with pork, lamb, chicken and more. Paella Valenciana is traditional (the dish probably was developed in Valencia hundreds of years ago) and mixes everything. It has both meat and seafood items.
The full menu features a large selection of seafood and meat entrees, even rabbit. They are best accompanied by sangria or other libations from the extensive wine list and martini menu.
Flamenco shows are performed on Friday nights. A "Gypsy Fusion" show is performed on Saturday nights, with some of the same sounds. But there is something always going on at Sevilla. Mondays feature Latin hip hop. Salsa music, dancing and even dance lessons are offered midweek. Sundays feature Brazilian music, including the samba.
Sevilla is open until 2 a.m. and offers late-night dining. It is an excellent place to visit after attending a concert or the theater.
Sevilla is one of the most interesting restaurants in the Gaslamp, where one can dine on unique cuisine and enjoy a variety of music and dancing. It is strongly recommended that tickets be purchased in advance, as shows often sell out. Prices are moderate to expensive but well worth it. And, if you're not familiar with flamenco, get set for what could be a life-changing treat.
Sevilla is located at 555 Fourth Ave. Call 619-233-5979 for information, tickets and reservations.
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. Send comments to the firstname.lastname@example.org. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.