First Look at Cafe España

The rap music playing on the speakers was not a good first sign, nor was the smell of raw sewage that permeated the dining room at Cafe España last week. My dining partner and I threw each other tentative glances as we walked in and were greeted with a lackadaisical "Sit wherever," from a laconic-looking waiter.

This was not going to be the Spanish restaurant that I was hoping would scratch my itch for a good tortilla española.

A tortilla española was the first thing I ate after landing in Spain in 2008. I remember thinking how odd it was that my hosts would offer me a tortilla to eat -- they called it just that: a tortilla -- as if I, a Texan, had never had a tortilla. And why would I want just one tortilla? With nothing in it? Nothing to eat with it?

It was then that I was profoundly schooled on the awesomeness that is a tortilla española: the Spanish version of a quiche, sans crust but with plenty of potatoes suspended in the eggy batter. For the remainder of my visit, I sampled them at every restaurant and bought them at every grocery store. I knew this was not something I could easily get back home (nor make myself) and determinedly enjoyed every single slice.

The tortilla española that I received at Cafe España was, sadly, nothing like the tortillas of my memories. This tortilla was...whole. I'd only ever eaten fat, towering slices of tortilla before. Never an entire disc of it for myself. And this disc was much flatter, much more compact than expected. It was more like a giant version of a frittata than a true Spanish tortilla. And worst of all, it tasted solely of cooking oil throughout.

Maybe the ejotes I'd ordered would be better? No dice. The green beans tasted canned, the potatoes adding nothing except texture. The dish desperately needed salt; you'd think the salty bacon in the salad would have been enough, but no.

My dining companion's sandwich fared the worst of all. From the menu, he'd ordered a #32 baguette: chicken, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, egg and avocado, to which he also added bacon. The baguette came out with one very thin chicken breast and two nubs of bacon no larger than my thumb.

By that point, we were too weirded out by the smell, the awful music and the other customers to send it back. (Two women came in and ordered two cups of coffee, demanding that the cups be microwaved over and over again. Another table had a small, screaming child and a dad that disappeared midway through the meal never to return, leaving the mother to call a friend to come pay their bill.) We just wanted to leave.

But we stuck it out. And I'm kind of glad we did. The dulce de leche crepe we ordered for dessert was wonderful. The crepes weren't paper-thin, and their taste more closely resembled the lacy pancakes at Fountainview Cafe than anything else, filled with creamy dulce de leche that had that deeply caramelized flavor I adore. The crepes were wonderful.

Despite the underwhelming dinner, I do want to visit again soon for breakfast; it sounded excellent even with my reservations. Let's just hope that Cafe España can bring the rest of its dishes up to par with those crepes. And maybe choose some more appropriate music while they're at it.

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Katharine Shilcutt