We were recently invited to a birthday celebration that was held at La Sala Rosa. Part concert hall, part bar, part restaurant, it's located on St Laurent near the corner of St Joseph. We walked in the door with a Spanish flag waving over the awning to what didn't strike us as a restaurant, at this point we still weren't quite sure if we were in the right place. After a quick look around we noticed a bar to our left, a small dining room on the right and a crowd on their way up a flight of stairs. We found our friends in a dining room by the bar that we had missed on our initial look-around. The mood is lively, and the room if full of people drinking and sharing small plates of tapas. We joined our group and were greeted by a friendly waiter who took our drink order. The rest of our group arrived in the minutes that followed including a few unexpected guests; the restaurant made no issues about accommodating the unanticipated extra people happily providing additional seating which was nice.
Once all the members of our group had arrived and were seated, the waiter took a moment to address the table. He let us all know that since it is prepared to order and requires a thirty minute wait, he would begin by asking if anyone was planning on eating paella so that he could bring those requests to the kitchen. There are several variations of paella available on the menu such as seafood, chicken or vegetarian; we ordered the paella "Valenciana" which is a combination of chicken, seafood and chorizo sausage.
We chose to begin our meal with three plates of tapas from a reasonably long list of available selections. The first was fried goat cheese served with honey and caramelized onions. Rather than being coated in a heavy breading as we had anticipated they might be, four balls of fried goat cheese arrived covered in a thin coating of batter that provided a comparatively light and warm crunch giving way to the tangy soft cheese. They sat in a puddle of honey with a small pile of deeply caramelized sweet onions in the center of the plate. This dish was a terrific way to begin our night.
Fried Goat Cheese with Honey & Caramelized Onions - 9.75$
Next we had a Spanish tortilla, A.K.A potato and onion omelette. The tortilla is a classic tapas menu staple, a solid indicator of keeping with tradition. It's a hearty and simple dish that should be a no-brainer for a kitchen in a Spanish restaurant. This one was cooked perfectly. A golden brown exterior with tender pieces of substantial potato throughout, it was served with a bright tasting side of fresh tomato salsa. It isn't rocket science but it wouldn't be tapas without it.
Spanish Tortilla - 8.75$
Our final dish before the paella was a special of the night, grilled octopus with a side of roasted red pepper salad. The plate was finished with a restrained pinch of smoked paprika and a drizzle of sweet balsamic vinegar. The octopus was tender, cooked very well and finished on the grill to give it just a kiss of charred texture and flavor. The roasted red pepper salad opposite the octopus on the rectangular plate was tossed with sharp, thinly sliced red onion and dressed with a simple vinaigrette; it wasn't overly oily and provided a necessary acidic component to complete the dish.
Grilled Octopus, Roasted Red Pepper Salad - 9.75$
Unfortunately the paella would not achieve the same level of success as the tapas did. We chose the "Valenciana", which includes shrimp, clams, a chicken leg and chorizo sausage. It came served in an individual paella pan ideally sized to share between two people. The smokey chorizo was excellent and the chicken was cooked superbly, juicy on the inside and crisp skin on the exterior. Even the shrimp and clams were cooked ideally despite both being extremely small . The rice itself however, which is the foundation of a paella was very bland - at least we can say it hadn't been overcooked. In the end we ate all the goodies off the top and left the majority of the rice behind. Luckily we now know for next time that the chorizo, which was our favorite component of the paella is also offered on the tapas menu.
Paella Valenciana - 19.75$
When you order the paella you get a complimentary dessert of flan: an inverted custard topped with caramel. You could call it the Spanish equivalent of French crème caramel if you choose. Please excuse the lack of photo, we had a few drinks in the spirit of the birthday we were there to celebrate and dug in before remembering to snap a picture. We could visibly tell that the flan had been cooked at too high of a temperature courtesy of the tell-tale sign of large air-pockets in the custard; this occurs when the oven is too hot and the custard boils rather than gently baking. The result is a less smooth texture than desired and an eggy flavor that's tough to get around in a dessert. Everyone at the table that ordered the paella and received the complimentary flan agreed that it wasn't quite right.
The atmosphere at La Sala Rosa was very casual, the service was friendly and attentive, the drinks were terrifically priced and all of the tapas we ordered as well as those that other people at the table shared with us tasted awesome; after all, tapas are made for sharing. Regrettably though, the paella was not such a big hit and neither was the dessert - at least it was complimentary. We had a fun night at La Sala Rosa, we won't be returning in any hurry for the paella but we would happily recommend it as a spot to grab well made tapas and drinks with friends at a price that represents great value. Our overall impression: skip the paella, keep the alcohol flowing and those little plates of tapas coming and you're sure to be pleased.
La Sala Rosa
4848 boul. St-Laurent