The Review Reviews: Candela

The inside of Candela, an upscale Hanover favorite.

The inside of Candela, an upscale Hanover favorite.

The gang once again continues their quest to conquer the culinary establishments of New Hampshire’s Upper Valley, this time embarking on a long-awaited quest to Candela Tapas Lounge, an upscale favorite of many a Dartmouth student.

It is a particularly windy day as we enjoy Candela’s open, spacious patio. The menu, while small, is padded with an authentic variety of tapas that would bring any true Spaniard back to his childhood. The Sheriff marvels at the extensive wine collection, barred from consuming the nectar of the Spanish vine by his sworn duty to protect and serve. Oral Stanfield enters the scene only a few moments later, confidently wielding the ax of experience as he examines the compact menu.

“The Sangrita™ (Sauza, fresh lime, orange juice, Triple Sec, Sangria, $9) is to die for, but honestly this weather demands a Dark ‘n Stormy (Gosling’s Black Seal, ginger beer, lime, $8.5),” Oral remarks as an ominous cover of clouds descends upon the sunny and hot day, which had been reminiscent of a summer afternoon in Andalucia.

Pip, indulging in the Mango Tango (vodka, orange liquor, orange juice, mango puree, $9), is called out for his love of fruity drinks; a later taste reveals the true daiquiri-esque quality of the beverage, which is too sweet for Oral’s taste. The last of our party, Ignatius J. Reilly, comes in hot, requesting a taste of Oral’s drink. Oral refuses Ignatius’ probing request for a taste of his Dark ‘n Stormy and counters by demanding a reciprocating taste of his Sangrita™, which Ignatius ordered before even taking his seat with the gang.

Across the street, a man power-washes the sidewalk, bringing us back to simpler times in the Azores. Not even this distracting obstacle can deter the gang from their excitement for the upcoming meal. Gazing upon the DEN’s—Dartmouth’s Entrepreneurial Network—physical plant, the gang contemplates Vince Vaughn’s ineffective comedy The Internship as they await their culinary endeavor.

The beautiful and exotic waitress refills Sheriff’s water. “That’s not vodka, is it?” Pip quips. Naturally, Sheriff Rick Grimes is on duty and therefore unable to consume alcohol. The gang shares a hearty laugh as the Sheriff smiles in defeat. As Pip drains his thick and sugary Tango, the first round of tapas finds its way to the table.

First up to bat is the ceviche (shrimp cured in lime juice & Resposado tequila, mango, orange, sweet peppers, chili flakes, plantain chips, $12), which was a tender mixture of diced shrimp, pepper, mango, onion, and the like, and served alongside perfectly salted plantain chips. Unfortunately, however, the ceviche left us slightly disappointed as a result of its underwhelming taste, which generally lacked flavor.

Now having had enough time to enjoy his Sangrita™, Ignatius concludes that the beverage lives up to expectations. It is a very delicate balance of salt and fruit that dances across the palate like Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, of Dirty Dancing fame, engaged in a sweaty tango.

Next up is the yucca bravas (baked and fried yucca root, spiced brava sauce, $8), served in the manner of a thick-cut French fry, fried to a perfect crisp and facilitated by the simplicity of the highest-quality salt and pepper; the gang is in ecstasy. The brilliant spice of Candela’s Bravas sauce transported Ignatius back to humid nights spent in Catalonia’s sultry cantinas in years past. The Sheriff is particularly entranced by this dish and even remarks that the Yucca Bravas is “the erotic French fry I never knew in my youth.”

The wind picks up intensity; the gang’s napkins flutter in the air, like the handkerchiefs of women egging on their paramours at Buñol’s annual La Tomatina festival.

Next up are the spicy guava BBQ albondigas (Caribbean style meatballs in a guava habanero BBQ sauce, grilled pineapple, and goat cheese crema, $13), coated in the creamy barbecue sauce, possessing of a perfectly sweet tanginess. “The sauce is drizzled over the meatball; it resembles a tangy chili with the perfect hot edge,” Ignatius waxes poetic over the balls. Pip remarks about the pleasingly spherical quality of the meat as he enjoys his own. The Sheriff even remarks that he is not usually a fan of pineapple, but the meatballs plopped on top of the thin slices of the tropical fruit successfully capture his full attention.

At this point, the wind reaches an intensity that would match that of any Latin tryst. The gang considers moving inside, seduced by the alluring ambiance within. The atmosphere is upscale but relaxed in this forward-thinking establishment. Oral, however, is not relaxed; a small spider is attempting to weave a web in his hair. He brushes the spider away with a nonchalance that would make Don Quixote blush.

The next round consists of the four artfully presented tacos. Pip and Oral opt for the pernil tacos (house braised pulled pork, fried sweet plantains, jicama, orange & cilantro slaw, $12), a thirst for swine overwhelming them. Oral is overcome. “Our taste buds were matadors, fending off the advances of the insatiable bull that was the flavor in this dish.” Ignatius and the Sheriff opt for the aquatic variety in the tacos de pescado (ginger-soy marinated mahi-mahi, daikon & carrot slaw, fresh mint & cilantro, sriracha aoli, $13), featuring a flaky and fresh Mahi-Mahi likely caught only that morning off the coast of Ibiza. The crisp outside is perfectly complemented by the roundness of its inner juices and flavor. Consumed in unison, these soft-shell tacos stun the group into a very rare, respectful silence not seen since the war.

Pip is forced to leave by an unfortunate prior commitment of the inebriating variety, regretting his imminent departure from this provocative Latin experience. As he rounds the corner, the third round arrives, this time featuring savory empanada de picadillo (picadillo beef, veal & pork, candela sauce, $9) and a second sweet offering of the Sheriff’s dear Yucca Bravas. The final course is consumed swiftly and with sustained enthusiasm. “Eat the empanada before it gets cold,” Oral admonishes the Sheriff, who is too enticed by the Bravas to acknowledge the beef-laden pocket of goodness placed before him.

Sufficiently gorged, the gang refuses to even entertain the thought of dessert. This journey across the Iberian Peninsula (and the odd Caribbean island) brought the gang pleasures aplenty. Candela is a feast not only for the stomach, but indeed for the soul.