Rambling on Camp Street
Rambla is named after a street in Barcelona, a city famous for its tapas bars: The restaurant, which opened in October 2008 in the International House Hotel at 217 Camp St., was envisioned primarily as a tapas restaurant.
Tapas are generally defined by their tiny portions, but in Spain, tapas are as much about the company you keep as the food you eat. In that spirit, Rambla’s single dining room encourages communal eating. Large high tables occupy the center of the room, perfect for passing around the small plates that are Rambla’s main attraction. Similarly high booths line one side of the room, and low tables take up the other.
As in the rest of the International House, the décor is modern and hip –– photographs taken by co-owner Bob Iacovone that have been digitally manipulated hang as tapestries above the low tables, and the lighting is a mix of track, wrought-iron chandeliers and frosted globes. The ceiling’s industrial-gray finish has been left intact, and imposing dark-red columns separate the booths. There is a bar in the rear of the restaurant with a few seats, but the entire space is conducive to having a drink or two.
Scott Maki is the executive chef. Maki is originally from Detroit, and before coming to Rambla, he worked at Emeril’s as a sous chef for a number of years. He’s assisted in the kitchen by sous chef Phillip Lopez, an alumnus of the Besh Restaurant Group who worked at August and Lüke and was the opening chef at the American Sector before being hired at Rambla.
Rambla flirted for a while with a more international cuisine, but lately the kitchen’s sights have been firmly fixed on Spain. Although there are a few dishes that are more typically French than Iberian, for the most part Rambla serves Spanish cuisine.
Because of its association with the hotel, Rambla serves breakfast from 7 to 9 on Monday through Friday mornings and from 7:30 to 10 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Instead of the typical breakfast menu, Rambla serves items such as shirred eggs, tortilla Española and churros with a chocolate-coffee sauce. Sides include patatas bravas, aged Serrano ham, croissants, yogurt and fresh fruit.
Lunch is available from Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu, again, is composed mainly of small plates, and most are fairly traditional. Piquillo peppers are stuffed with an herbed goat cheese, and Medjool dates are filled with Marcona olives and Valdeon blue cheese before being wrapped in smoked bacon and fried. The croquetas change from time to time; when I last dined, the fried snacks with a base of potato were flavored with house-made chorizo and garnished with tomato jam.
There’s a daily “trio of tapas” lunch special for $14 that features some of the menu regulars and often a few off-menu items, as well. A recent selection had albondigas (Spanish meatballs) with a sherry gastrique; the stuffed Medjool dates mentioned above; and a bocadillo (small sandwich) of caponata and morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage. The trio comes with a mesclun salad to start, and it’s a pretty good deal.
When the albondigas first showed up at Rambla, the gastrique with which they’re served was a little too tart. The acid has now been toned down, and the meatballs are very good. The dates are more than good; they’re addictive. The sweetness of the fruit, the smoky bacon and the strong blue cheese combine to make them among the best one- or two-bite items in New Orleans.
If you’re not in the mood for small plates, you can go with the Rambla burger, a half-pound of ground beef served with a bacon jam, foie gras and cherry pickles for $18. The burger is also available without the fancy accouterments for $10. A relatively new addition to the menu is a section devoted to “sliders,” among which are a chile-braised pork shoulder with marinated cabbage; grilled Gulf shrimp with a “Russian” rémoulade and a garlic sausage with sautéed greens and cherry peppers. All of the burgers and sliders come with either fries or a salad.
There are three gazpachos on the lunch menu: the classic rendition with tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic; a watermelon version with basil and queso fresco; and grape and almond, which is traditional in Spain but not much seen in the U.S.
Dinner expands the offerings available. In addition to the tapas available at lunch, the current dinner menu also offers Galician-style octopus over a white bean puree with shaved fennel, veal sweetbreads with a sherry-mushroom ragout and a foie gras torchon served with brioche and grapes. The nighttime menu also features the Spanish casserole-style cazuelas. Similar to the Moroccan tagine, a cazuela is both a clay cooking vessel and the dish cooked therein. The offerings at Rambla include the albondigas; mussels served with white wine and almond butter; escargot bourguignon with charred tomato and Manchego cheese; and the classic Spanish dish gambas ajillo, or shrimp with garlic.
Flatbreads appear on both the lunch and dinner menus: the Cremini is topped with garlic mousseline and goat cheese as well as mushrooms, and the roasted fig flatbread sports Serrano ham and more of the Valdeon blue cheese. Pintxos, which translates as “thorn” in the Basque language, are a form of tapas that are generally served with a toothpick. At Rambla, pintxos are available at dinner and include a Catalan garlic sausage called Butifarra with roasted peppers, fried oysters with pepper jelly and green onions and roasted pork belly with smoked paprika and honey.
Desserts are limited at Rambla, but those that are on offer are good. There is an excellent version of flan, a dark chocolate mousse whose sweetness is tempered by a little Maldon sea salt and churros served with salted caramel. You can also order a cheese plate that comes with six selections and the appropriate garnishes.
Dinner is served at Rambla Monday through Thursday nights from 5:30 to 11, on Friday and Saturday until midnight and on Sunday until 10. You can call the restaurant at 587-7720 to make a reservation or for more information or –– as always –– to tell them how much you love me.