By | April 3, 2006

2224 E Carson St
South Side        15203
M-Sat 4pm-2am

I’ll tell you straight up, I am a tapas-skeptic.  Every time I have them, the portion is too small and the price too high, leaving both the stomach and the wallet too empty.  They might be delightfully delicious, but most of the time I get the sneaking suspicion that American restaurants inappropriately use the flashy word ‘tapas’ in the place of making a quality appetizer.  “If you say ‘tapas’, they will come.”  But, I am a trooper and I keep trying just in case.  I keep my ears peeled for new places to try, and when my friend Jessica N. raved about the tapas at Ibiza, I listened.  She has good taste (only the best of snacks at her house), but when she went to Ibiza her tab was paid for, and having a meal be free can change your perceptions.  I wondered, did she think it was good because it was tasty?  Or was it because it was free?  Well I had to find out.  I took my ‘baggage’ packed with my tapas-skepticism and my free-food-hypothesis and made my way to the South Side.  Conclusion?  I paid through the nose, but the portions were hefty and the tapas went beyond my expectations.

Ibiza, sister to next-door Mallorca, is a night-out-on-the-town kind of place to go.  The décor is upscale and the diners are too.  It is almost like you aren’t in Pittsburgh.  We were seated in the main front room, but I think there is also an upstairs and a snappy outdoor seating area.  I only caught a glimpse of the patio area, which was open with heaters in the beginning of April, but it looked pretty snazzy and I hope to sit out there some day.  The bar was large and full-service, with a good selection of wines, ports, and special martinis, as well as pitchers of sangria and bottles of beer (no draught).  They even had a little cigar section in the back of the drink menu.  We got three bottles of red wine and two pitchers of red sangria – don’t worry, there were seven of us!  The sangria was tasty, but not particularly strong.  I got the feeling that it was more fruit juice than wine, but it was refreshing nonetheless.  I only tasted the wines via a sip from someone else’s glass, but the two I tasted made me jealous.  At the recommendation from the waitress our last bottle was their best-selling wine, and at 14% alcohol I think everyone enjoyed it.  We also had a bona fide French man with us and he actually has a developed wine palate.  He was all ‘oak’ this and ‘clove’ that, while my taste buds strained to find the same flavors.  (Uht-oh, new hobby!)

But with food, my taste-buds don’t have any problems!  For seven people we ended up ordering and splitting six tapas items and two entrées, in two rounds.  First round was five dishes.  One of my favorites was in this round, a Chilean Sea Bass ceviche that was a special that night.  I usually like my ceviche a little more tart and pucker-inducing, but this ceviche was a real treat with the addition of avocado and sweet potato, melding into a somewhat mellow but nonetheless delicious concoction.  Another favorite in Round One was the ‘Pollo a la Basque’, made of chicken and sausage in a creamy tomato sauce.  The chicken pieces I got were dark meat, which some restaurants can’t manage to cook well, but Ibiza is not such a restaurant.  The chicken was perfect and the sausage was an awesome pairing with the sauce which I probably would have drunk from the bowl if no one was looking.  I was also impressed by the ‘Pan con Champinon’, described on the menu as Spanish Bruschetta.  We spent a little while speculating the Spanish part of bruschetta, but we forgot all about that once we started eating it.  The mushroom topping was so very very good, and even though the bread underneath sopped up the juices, it was still sturdy enough to transport that fungal goodness from the plate to the mouth.  Those three dishes were all better than I expected, but the final two in Round One were a little bit of a disappointment to me.  The ‘Patatas Bravas’ consisted of fried potatoes in a slightly spicy tomato sauce which was a little too reminiscent of the kind of sauce you find canned chiles packed in.  I doubt they literally opened a can and dumped it on the potatoes, but the flavor definitely had some undertone of a pre-mixed ingredient.  Still, I thought the potatoes themselves were done well.  The final tapas in Round One was ‘Esparragos Blancos a la Vinaigretta’, or white asparagus in vinaigrette.  These were just not very exciting and, as Reed said, there was more –ette than vinegar.  I think maybe they put the asparagus on the menu so that they could use their long, skinny plates, which were definitely cool in their own right.

While all these dishes were clearly big enough for seven people to share, we were a hungry set so we ordered three more.  My favorite of these three was ‘Solomillo en Salsa de Champinones’, which was a beef steak with a superb mushroom sauce.  I think I might be able to say that Ibiza knows their way around a mushroom!  The ‘Vieiras ala Parrilla en Salsa de Mango’ consisted of expertly grilled scallops in a mango sauce.  I didn’t find the sauce to be especially compelling, BUT the scallops were pretty darn good.  Not as good as the best scallop I have ever had in Pittsburgh at Vivo, but I would now rank Ibiza as Second Best Scallop I have ever had in the ‘Burgh.  The Ibiza scallops had a wonderful grilled taste and a soft bite.  MMM.  And finally, we ordered a Spanish potato and onion omelet, ‘Tortilla de Patatas’.  While it wasn’t mind-blowing, it was really the perfect compliment to our meal and rounded it out flawlessly.

So now after Round Two we were all fat, drunk, and happy, but in this particular dining group – well….let’s just say we have a hard time not getting dessert.  Sometimes we even have a hard time sharing desserts!  At Ibiza, this was no different.  We literally got one of everything that was offered to us.  The menu claims that the Opera Cake is the best-seller, but from what I could tell by our table’s mmm-ing and aww-ing, the Flan with vanilla and honey was the best.  Personally, I had the caramel apple pie, and though the filling was not spectacularly flavored I did appreciate the giant, firm apple chunks as well as the deliciously buttery crust.

And so it goes.  It may seem like we ordered a lot of things on the menu, but let me tell you that it represents only about 17% of the entire tapas and entrée listing.  There are plenty of dishes left to look forward to on my next visit (carpaccio, more ceviche, fritters, kabobs, mushroom risotto, paella with squid ink…) , and of course we have to go back because the TastyBurgher staff likes to always go to a restaurant twice.  That isn’t the only reason though.  Ibiza proved me wrong about my negativity towards tapas.  Now I know, tapas CAN be well done and worth the price at some restaurants – you just have to know where to go.  Well in Pittsburgh, Ibiza is it.

Something with mushrooms
All the meats we had were very good (from land or sea)

Albino Asparagus

SNEAKY TIP:  Although all portions were good for our group of 7, I do think that perhaps 6 is the perfect number group for Ibiza’s portion sizes.  Ibiza is good for large groups, but you should call and make reservations, especially on a weekend night.

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