Restaurant Review: Majorca, Hartford

★★ [Very Good]

Majorca is the largest of a group of Spanish islands in the Mediterranean Sea, only 130 miles from Barcelona but with the remoteness of a lost paradise. A place unto itself, it is an isle of enchantment with hidden beaches, mountain villages, ancient olive groves, picturesque windmills, a vibrant nightlife and 285 miles of undulating coastline to explore.

Majorca is also the name of a newish restaurant in Hartford.

I began hearing good things about it shortly after I returned from bird watching and food tasting on the island. Could I stay away? Of course not.

Majorcan cuisine is multifaceted and set apart from Spanish cuisine because it is an island facing not only Spain, but depending on where you stand, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Morocco. All of these influences are reflected in Majorcan dishes composed from the island’s own bounty and the sea around it, often in traditional ways  that date back almost to antiquity. After all, in the mythical days of the Greek Argonauts, it was on Majorca that Hercules found the Golden Apples, a.k.a. oranges.As my friends and I drove along Park Street in Hartford, passing restaurants named Brazil Grill N Pizza, China Jade, Antojitos Colombianos and J’s Crab Shack, it occurred to me that this Majorca was surrounded by a different but equally diverse sea. The menu, 12 by 18 inches and chock-a-block with fine type, was a challenge and a thrill. From the top: White orchid sangria. Had to have it, and lovely it was, made with white wine, white peach purée with finely diced fresh pineapple. I couldn’t be sure that the wine was Majorcan and I didn’t want to blow my cover by asking but I do know that Majorcan wines are light but excellent, traditionally the Muscatel and Manto negro. The orchid perched on the rim of the frosty glass was deep purple, not white, but a marriage of the beautiful and the delicious justifies a bit of poetic license.

Cherry-picking our way through the tapas list, my eye went straight to pato con tejas, duck leg confit with herbs and red lentils. I had nearly given up on duck confit, too often dry, stringy, even tough, but we lucked out at Majorca. Here, moistened with a sauce so light it was almost a glaze—buttery smooth, juicy and tender duck meat literally fell off the bone at the touch of the fork. Strewn with herbs and served on a bed of red lentils, it was rich, robust fare, as island tapas tend to be, agreeably so if you plan to make a meal of them. Our plan was to share, so we were delighted when tapas costillitas (at top) consisted of four large, meaty, wildly delicious pork ribs with marinated onions on a heaping plate of Moroccan couscous. Both of these tapas were served in such generous portions they could have been entrées, a bargain because the duck was $10 and the pork $8.

Moving right along, we ordered a baby spinach salad with artichokes, roasted garlic, tomato confit, shaved fennel and sherry vinaigrette. Pleasant enough but what made the dish exceptionally refreshing was a generous supply of tart-sweet-tangy fresh orange segments. Thank you, Hercules.

Small tapas were also offered, ranging from dates stuffed with chevre and almonds to boquerones made with marinated white anchovies, guindilla and piquillo peppers, lemon and salsa verde.Fish and shellfish were abundantly represented and variously prepared: salmon, cod, shrimp, littleneck clams, Cape Cod mussels, squid, octopus and anchovies. Fried squid was excellent but the fries served with it were soggy with cheese and truffle oil. On the other hand, grilled squid with radish, cucumber, jalapeño, garlic and lime got everything right. Croquettes de arroz (above) were rather heavy and short on the chorizo and saffron the menu promised. But Majorca’ s version of berenjenas rellenas—baked stuffed eggplant, goat cheese and hazelnuts with roasted pepper sauce—should please vegetarians and carnivores alike.

For the record, three of the four interesting salads on the menu were vegetarian: The fourth, made with roasted beets, goat cheese, arugula, toasted almonds and blood orange vinaigrette, included prosciutto.

The entrée list—Platos Mas Grandes—was well-named and delivered what it promised. Heaping plates of full-flavored, deeply satisfying, home-style cooking. The lightest, most delicate dish was pan-roasted salmon over warm quinoa served with an unusual salad of charred marinated artichokes and lentils with red wine gastric. Pleasant enough, but what we liked best on the short entrée list (which included chicken and rice cooked with mussels, clams and chorizo, and pollo asada served over warm butter bean salad) were two red meat entrées. My favorite was braised short rib of beef, obviously cooked forever so that every hint of tendon or gristle had melted away and you could cut it with a fork. A layer of fat on top protected the meat from drying out, but it slid right off so don’t be deterred. If you like your short rib big, tender and rich, this one’s for you. Another dish, appealing in much the same way, was a traditional carne con huevo (below)—grilled spice-rubbed hangar steak, prepared medium rare as ordered with the iconic sunny-side up egg on top and a slather of creamy saffron basil sauce. Not everybody will like everything about Majorca. The bar, with seating only on bar stools high tops could be more comfortable. It would be nice to see more fin fish and a few more lighter dishes on the menu. And while the premises were spacious and tastefully furnished, I found myself wishing for something a bit more, well, romantic. But I go for that corny stuff, and the welcome was warm, the service was helpful and the vibe, infectiously relaxed and lively.

We had eaten so heartily, we might have considered skipping dessert, but duty called, we stayed and were glad we did.

When it comes to dessert, a mini-trend these days is for chefs and pastry chefs to borrow a line from vaudeville and “always leave them laughing” with an amusing dessert. It’s an old trick, of course. Baked Alaska. Bananas flambe. Do-it-youself s’mores.But Majorca blissfully goes its own way with desserts that look and taste as if somebody’s Spanish abuela made them from a family recipe in her sweet-smelling Old World island kitchen. No standard issue tres leches cake or flan. Instead, a luscious caramelized pineapple torte (above), chocolate bread pudding spiked with chili and a sort-of tarte tatin made with thick slices of gently baked mango—topped (as granny might not have done) with tangy mango sorbet. But that’s the thing about islands. They make their own magic. 

Majorca 

2074 Park St., Hartford, (860) 231-1003, majorcact.com

Hours: Mon. and Tues. 3 to 9 p.m., Wed. 3 to 10 p.m., Thurs. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Sat. noon to 11:30 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Price range: appetizers $6 to $12, entrées: $19 to $24, desserts $6.

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