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Not Your Typical Tapas: Spanish Restaurants

Vastly different from the tapas eateries that raged in the '90s, Spanish restaurants trending today focus on Mediterranean authenticity. While these menus incorporate traditional Spanish ingredients, techniques and recipes, they take a more modern approach through local and global flavors.

 Q&A with Ashlee Aubin, Executive Chef of Salero, Chicago

FE&S: How is Salero's cuisine different from the tapas of the '90s?

AA: Spanish food has, in the past, been made generically, with the same dozen dishes being done over and over. Salero and other modern Spanish restaurants are taking a new approach, using our local ingredients and seasons as inspiration and combining that with the Spanish pantry and tradition.

FE&S: Why is Spanish cuisine trending right now?

AA: Spanish cuisine fits well with people's lifestyles today. It is light and fresh, with less dairy and gluten. People see Spanish cuisine as a refreshing change of pace from the overwhelming number of Italian restaurants.

FE&S: What are your favorite Spanish ingredients to work with?

AA: We use an amazing amount of olive oil, Jamón ibérico, smoked paprika, anchovies and olives. These ingredients truly make up a great part of the food at Salero, and they provide integrity to our cuisine.

FE&S: How do you incorporate local foods and flavors into your Spanish-influenced dishes?

AA: As many of our proteins and vegetables as possible are sourced from our local friends and farmers. We believe the Midwest produces some of the best food in the world. In Spain, restaurants source locally, and we respect that tradition here as well.

11.9% or €30 billion

The increase in Spanish food exports to the rest of the world in 2012, making up 16 percent of Spain’s total exports (Gastronomy of Spanish Trade and Investment ICEX)

Closeup: Spanish Sherry

Salero's Wine & Service Director Christopher Fisher talks about the increasingly popular, fortified wine made from white grapes. To be labeled "sherry" the wine must come from the Sherry Triangle in the province of Cádiz, Spain. Fisher describes different sherries and their pairings at Salero, from light to dark.

  • Fino and Manzanilla — bracingly dry, these sherries made from the palomino grape are a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, or any other light bodied, high acid white wine. Pairings: Jamon Iberico, mackerel, lobster (Fino); marinated olives, uni toast (Manzanilla)
  • Amantillado — fuller in body, nutty, very dry, this palomino grape wine pairs well with fowl.
  • Oloroso — rich, nutty, with flavors of maple and caramel, this palomino grape version is still dry. Cabernet or merlot drinkers might enjoy Oloroso with steak or game. Pairings: hanger steak, lamb chops
  • Moscatel — made from the muscat grape, this sherry is sweeter with flavors of orange, vanilla, and honey. Pairings: Arroz con Leche, flan
  • PX — an abbreviation for Pedro Ximenez, the grape used to make this sherry is on par with port in body and sweetness with hints of raisins, caramel, and concentrated, dark berry fruits. Pairings: churros, chocolate cremeux, cheeses