Surprise! Some of the Best Spanish Food in America is in Danbury, CT By John Mariani

07/26/2017 09:48 am ET

Last week I wrote about an elegant restaurant on Connecticut’s wealthy Gold Coast named Rebeccas; this week I turn to the far less affluent town of Danbury to write of an outstanding Spanish tapas restaurant in a strip mall that includes a Panda House, a Middle Eastern restaurant called Kibberia and The Secret Hair Salon. Put that aside and enter into a large, colorful dining room with red walls, modern op-art-style murals and the night’s specials posted on blackboards. The tables are black and there is a long bar.

The real color is on the plates at Ibiza, named for the resort island off the coast of Spain. The array of tapas is daunting, many in the traditional style you’ll find in any tapas (or pintxos) bar in Barcelona or San Sebastian, while others are very modern and beautifully composed to be true eye candy.

For two decades now Ignacio Blanco (below) has been a trailblazer in America for modern Spanish cuisine, first in TriBeCa at Meigas (put out of business after 9/11) and other restaurants he’s opened in Connecticut. The current Ibiza, opened in 2013, is one of his finest efforts, and there simply is no more affable host than he, ever passionate about introducing you to, or adding to your knowledge of, a style of food that is, as he says, a way of life in Spain.

For that reason, and since most dishes are under $10, it’s a good idea to put yourself in Blanco’s hands and have him and Chef Gilbert Trejo choose until you cry, “no mas!” The menu is divided into “From the Sea,” “From the Farm,” and “Raciones” (portions). Everything—and this is not usually the case with typical tapas bars—is beautifully presented on an array of china dishware.

Begin with the blue fin tuna with sesame oil, black olives, scallions, diced tomato, lemon and Ibiza sea salt ($12)—an array of flavors—or, if you like marinated anchovies (boquerones), at Ibiza they are embellished with olive oil toast, avocado and black olive tapenade ($8). Gambas are large shrimp with delicate sliced garlic, olive oil, lemon, Guindilla and parsley ($12), while velvety pulpo (steamed octopus; below) takes on the wonderful aromas of smoked Spanish paprika potatoes, extra virgin olive oil and Ibiza sea salt ($13). The calamares are from local waters, with sweet caramelized onions and a Galician vinaigrette ($12).

The “farm” dishes include lomo marinated pork‏ loin, Tetilla cheese, black olives, tomato and scallions on toast ($9.50), and marvelous crispy cannelloni of braised local baby lamb shank, tomato, scallions, black olives and sweet potato puree ($10). The sobreasada Mallorcan sausages are made in house and served with caramelized green apple ($9), and of particular interest—and unusual in a tapas bar—is foie gras and pistachio nougat, tomato marmalade and caramelized mango on toast ($10). There are even hamburger sliders made from succulent short ribs, rib eye and foie gras with caramelized onions and a BBQ aïoli ($10).

Tapas bars are not known for their desserts, but Ibiza does not cut back on its creativity in lovely items like torrija moderna, a crispy bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and sweet and sour strawberry sauce ($9); the dazzlingly rich tres leches cake with banana foam and sweet and sour kumquat ($8); a true Crema Catalana ($8.50; below); and plump chocolate croquetas with crushed almonds, coconut foam and lime gelatin ($8). Even a simple rice pudding is lavished with chocolate mousse and orange foam ($8).

Beer and Txocali sparkling wine is the usual beverage in tapas bars, but Ibiza has an impressive Spanish wine list that marries to its food, with dozens of bottles under $40.

New York City has a few good tapas bars, though they tend to be frenetic, loud and pricey. Ibiza, for all its color and focus on the unusual fitted into the traditional, is to my mind better than any in Manhattan. For that reason a true aficionado of Spanish food should make the trip to Danbury and be amazed.

Ibiza is open for dinner Tues.-Sun.

IBIZA 93 Mill Plain Rd. Danbury, CT 203-616-5731

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