Spanish Cult Classics and New Things at Stagier

A long time has passed since my bachelorette trip to Mallorca back in April, and many things have happened since then. I got married, for one. As I think back on that trip now, it’s all a blur of excellent wine, one-on-one’s with four of my favorite people, endless gin tonics and hungover brunches with tortillas and jamon, saunas and steam rooms and “relaxation rooms” when we needed them the most… There was a moment, on our last night all together, where I truly felt like we were all fully there. After a flawless dinner at Vandal Palma the night before, followed by a full a day of pampering, next on the list was Stagier Bar, truly my kind of spot.

Mexican Chef Joel Baeza runs this fresh, young and daring little restaurant in the Santa Catalina neighborhood of Palma with his Peruvian wife Andrea The premise? The name “stagier” means something like “apprentice” in French and refers to the grand tradition of young chefs doing temporary (and often unpaid) trials at fine dining restaurant to hone their skills. The concept of this little restaurant is as clean and clear as day. A menu that brings together Baeza’s own creations with the chef’s distinctive versions of signature dishes at each of the 21 restaurant he’s worked in as a stagier. Outside Stagier, a chalkboard displays a map of these restaurants in Basque Country, Catalunya, Madrid, Andalucia and Mallorca. The dishes are categorized into 5 sections. Tapa Tradicional includes some of the most traditional tapas from across Spain, while Tapa Mundo is a list of dishes from around the world in tapas format. Tapas de Autor are dishes by Baeza, while Tapa Homenaje are the flagship dishes of the restaurants in which he’s apprenticed. There are also Tapas Dulces for those who have space left (We didn’t).

Next up, a dear old friend from the Tapa Tradicional menu. I think anyone who has ever lived in and moved from anywhere in Spain can sympathize with the pain of missing unlimited access to cheap but oh-so-delicious croquetas, preferably on a terrace with a caña of beer and some olives. The crunch of a palate-grating, golden-brown panko crust gives way to a gush of tongue-coating, viscous béchamel, this one flavored with touches of smoky, salty ham on the interior. Ah, croquetas… Whenever I’m Spain, I just have to have you.

An Andalusian classic from the same list: fried eggplant served with honey. In this case, the eggplant was cut into bite-sized chunks, probably precooked a bit before being battered and fried. The result was a beautifully grainy exterior and a perfectly soft, smooth center. They were dressed with cane honey, which contributed a much earthier, molasses-y, restrained sweetness than the traditional floral honey. A highly satisfying version of a simple classic, which especially hit the spot for my vegan friend who is often hard-pressed to find anything that she can eat, apart from a side salad, on a restaurant menu.

Another ode to the classic Spanish tapas were these patatas bravas, topped with an unctuous and glossy house-made aioli and spicy red bravas sauce squeezed on. This is another thing, besides croquetas (and maybe pimientos del padron) that you kind of just have to have when enjoying a tapas spread. Potatoes were great, cut with smooth edges and fried to a beautiful golden brown.

Another signature dish by Baeza was his Zamburiña a la Brasa, heavenly scallops cooked whole (with the bright pink roe sack kept on) on the half-shell. They were topped with a kind of green herb mash (basil?) that melted over, providing tons of flavor. I also remember there being a kind of spicy touch on these, maybe the oil they were cooked with had been infused with some chilli pepper before. A very small bite but a memorable one indeed.

Tender, juicy confit artichoke hearts came in a pool of frothy Indiazabal cheese cream, whose naturally nutty, salty flavor went nicely with the earthy sweetness of the hearts. To add a zing of acidity and a pinch of pleasant bitterness to this otherwise very cozy combination were bits of lemon preserved in some kind of brine.

I have nothing but good memories of our dinner at Stagier, which we paired with an organic Masia Salat Cava and a Chardonnay-Riesling blend Foravila 2016 by Blanca Terra in Mallorca. We left perfectly satiated, entertained and in sync, ready for the night ahead.

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