Friday, December 23, 2011

Say Hello to Hola

For foodies residing on the South Shore, why travel to Boston’s acclaimed Toro when one can feast on well-prepared, innovative tapas and scrumptious flatbreads at Marshfield’s Hola? Tucked away in a rear parking lot in Library Plaza just off of busy Route 139, the restaurant feels like a secluded dining spot that – like a glass of fine Jimenez sherry – you can enjoy just for yourself.

And yet, upon entering into this warm establishment through a set of curtains, you quickly realize that you can’t have Hola all to yourself. Even on an early Thursday evening, Hola’s social scene is already in high gear. Hand-painted walls create a relaxing, fun ambience (there’s also a large fireplace on the outside patio, perfect for late summer/early fall visits).

The only evident drawback of the evening is Hola’s substandard cocktails. A mojito arrives with far too much rum and virtually no sugar (although our server politely brings back an improved version), a Dark and Stormy is equally overwrought with rum, while on the other end of the spectrum, a white sangria – which should be considered a staple at any tapas establishment – is excessively bland in taste (lemonade and wine do not a fine sangria make) and possesses nary a hint of fruit. For concoctions ranging from $8-9, one expects better. Instead, sample more authentic drinks hailing from Spain like the addictive Licor 43 (a vanilla liquer), Pedro Ximenez Lustau sherry (very sweet), or a subtle, light, highly drinkable glass of Rioja Crianza ($9). There are roughly 30 affordable varieties of wine hailing from Spain, Argentina, Italy, and California, about two-thirds of them red, nearly half available by the glass (most between $6-8), and the majority coming in at under $30 per bottle.

As for the food itself, Hola confidently hits its stride with its unique cold tapas. One of the most pleasant surprises of the evening, an option not even on my radar, was a delightful dish of spiced grapes (laced with cinnamon), marcona almonds, goat cheese, and anise crisps ($6.50). It’s a dish packed with many seemingly off-kilter ingredients that somehow strike a balance between texture and flavor. Charred rare beef with sherried figs and blue cheese ($9.50) is also solid, blending together sweetness and tartness. Ceviche-style tuna ($9.50) – which when done improperly can come off as tasting excessively fishy – is perfectly seasoned with mango vinegar, chili aioli, and accompanied by spicy cabbage for a crunchy contrast.

Hot tapas fare almost equally as well. The most noteworthy dish of the evening that had everyone in their seats wondering aloud: How did they (the kitchen) do that (in terms of flavoring)? was the fried calamari with hot and sweet chili vinaigrette ($9). The calamari were perfectly crisped on the outside, succulent on the inside, and possessed some of the best sugary-spicy seasoning I’ve ever experienced with any dish. This was an absolute knockout, and had me clamoring for more once every last crustacean was devoured. Almost equally as good were the curry fried green beans with a lemon aioli dipping sauce ($6) to counter the curry’s heat. Other standout dishes included addictive roasted dates and bacon ($7) with – yes, once again – that sensational mango vinegar, each of which I dreamed about popping into my mouth late into the evening if only I was afforded the opportunity. Grilled shrimp with smoked paprika and lemon ($9), while less adventurous, was a well-executed dish, as were chicken empanadas with corn and black beans ($7.50). Succulent lamb was perfectly cooked and memorable.

A potato torta (akin to a Spanish omelet) with romesco sauce ($6.50) was a disappointment, laced with far too few potatoes, too much cheese, and topped with an unflattering looking dollop of unremarkably flavored romesco sauce. While the coffee and chipotle rubbed steak with fried potato wedges ($12) was decent enough, there was not enough coffee in the rub itself to elevate the dish from merely good to great.

Flatbreads were also exceptional for the most part, just light enough and perfectly crisped to allow for sampling several versions. Noteworthy, innovative selections included smoky garlic shrimp/roasted peppers/scallion and saffron aioli/queso fresco ($11.50), spinach/red onion/hot cherry peppers/asiago ($9), and my personal favorite with figs/prosciutto/gorgonzola ($11), a dish that winningly combined sweet and salty elements. The only misfires here were an unflatteringly tasting eggplant/roasted red peppers/fried garlic/queso fresco ($9.50) and a surprisingly bland mushrooms/butternut squash/manchego/truffle oil ($11).

The evening concluded with a decadent duo of desserts, beginning with Рwhat else? Рanother flatbread, this time layered with cr̬me anglaise and fresh berries. Churros were prepared in an untraditional, yet inspiring fashion. In lieu of arriving in long, narrow strips, they were served beignet-style, each with a wonderfully hot, crispy exterior (other versions suffer from excess amounts of doughiness) resting atop a warm, gooey chocolate sauce.

With its courteous, attentive, eager-to-please wait staff, reasonable prices, and eclectic, frequently exciting cuisine, you’ll never want to say goodbye to Hola.