Basque Food Takes Root on Giralda
One of the welcome additions this past year to Giralda plaza – now a veritable international smorgasbord of restaurants with outdoor cafes – is Mara. If you’ve gotten tired of the Thai, Vietnamese, Peruvian, Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern and Japanese food on Giralda, then it’s time to try authentic Basque cuisine.
The Basque country is an autonomous region of northern Spain, on the Atlantic Ocean right at the elbow of where France meets Spain. You may have heard of Bilbao, its largest city, now home to the world-famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao of modern art.
The Basque are proud of their cuisine, which is heavily influenced by seafood from the Atlantic – especially cod – and by meats and vegetables from the fertile Ebro valley. The Basques also have unique ways of preparing and sharing food.
Mara does a great job delivering the unique flavors and tastes of Basque food. As you would expect, their cod is superlative. If you don’t order the cod entrée with Vizcaina sauce, then go for the tapas version, the “bocaditos de bacalao” (bites of cod) with the same wonderful red sauce, which is made from red onions and choricero pepper, not tomatoes.
Speaking of tapas, the ones served here are not your typical tiny plates, but rather a larger dish meant to be communal. This is part of the fun at Mara – unless you are the kind of diner who does not like to share.
But share we did, ordering tapas of garlic shrimp (very garlic), scallops carpaccio (sprinkled with tiny slices of asparagus and bits of Iberian ham), and two uniquely Basque dishes. The first was meatballs in creamy tomato sauce – the flavor brought out by Basque guindilla peppers – topped with “paja” shoestring potatoes. The second was the “heuvos estrellados trufados,” fried eggs with truffle oil, potatoes and squares of acorn-fed Iberian ham. Your waiter tosses it for you, and the result is a deeply delicious Spanish comfort food.
We also tried several entrées, and found them well-cooked, well-presented and flavored in the Basque palate. These included a perfectly grilled salmon, served with asparagus, a spinach cream sauce and the roots of the Ebro. Our favorite: The beef oxtail in a rich brown sauce served with a Basque Idiazabal cheese risotto and sweet red pepper; another example of a peasant dish taken to new culinary heights.
As for ambience, there are really two Maras. One is outside, where you can sit at a linen cover table on Giralda Plaza. Delightful in the cooler weather. The other is inside, where the motif is mauve, with inset chandeliers and large round tables for families. So, if this is a date, sit outside; if you are bringing the parents, they will feel quite comfortable inside, where on weekends you can hear either flamenco singers or a piano player performing songs like “La Vie en Rose” and “Cuando, Cuando, Cuando”
Overall the vibe of Mara is very Spanish, with a unique Basque twist brought to you by Tamara Fernández, who is both master chef and maître di. This is her first restaurant, following years of study with chefs Alvaro Garido and Nacho Manzano, both of whom run Michelin-rated restaurants in Spain. (Mina in Bilbao, and Casa Marcial in Asturias, respectively). Mara is a strong debut for this budding chef/restaurateur.
Mara Basque Cuisine & Lounge
112 Giralda Ave. (Plaza)