Plaza De Espana expands beyond great paella
By Douglas Habecker
Translated by Angel Pu
3, DaYing St, Nantun District
Hours: 11:30 am-2 pm, 5:30-8:30 pm kitchen hours (closed Sundays)
No service charge.
Credit cards not accepted.
William Cheng, the youthful owner of El Meson Plaza De Espana, has been facing the kind of challenge that most restaurateurs enjoy--keeping his customers happy and interested as they return again and again. This happens on weekdays and weekends alike, as his cozy establishment fills up with a fairly cosmopolitan mix of mostly-Taiwanese patrons who have become regulars there.
According to William, many of his faithful customers have lived overseas or travel a lot to Europe, and like his warm European family-style ambiance and tasty cuisine. All this affirms his decision, almost exactly a year ago, to relocate from the outlying Dakeng area to downtown Taichung. Plaza De Espana originally opened in 2004 and quickly became popular for its excellent paella, which the boss learned the hard way over the course of year in Sevilla working at a restaurant whose paella he personally preferred. Since then, the original seafood-and-vegetable Paella De Mariscos (NT$260)--still a best-seller--has been joined by four other options. He considers the chicken/seafood/vegetable Paella Valenciana (NT$980), prepared in a big pan and serving three, to be most authentic flavor he offers. This and the equally-large Paella De Chorizo (NT$800), must be ordered a day in advance, underlining the work that goes into preparation.
The normal menu also has eight spaghetti entrees and plenty of tapas dishes, like the popular Spanish Meat Balls (NT$85), Shrimp with Garlic (NT$100), and Pisto Ratatouille (NT$180), which serves about three. However, to address the previously-mentioned challenge, the chef has significantly broadened his cooking repertoire by offering a variety of dinner sets that are all designed to complement the wines they are served with. One night, I sampled a NT$1,500 set that came with a bottle of wine and started with bread, vegetable soup, salad and a fairly large, very-savory appetizer consisting of tomato-covered fish filets, shrimp-topped mushrooms, and bacon-wrapped asparagus, slathered in olive oil. Then came a variation on the slightly-spicy, well-known Portuguese "African chicken" dish, which is fried and then baked. The main course was a big beef fillet steak served with a red-wine sauce.
In addition to this set, which should be ordered in advance, William also has a couple NT$1,200 set options that also include a small bottle of wine, appetizers like Fried Chorizo with Eggs, and main courses like Risotto with Chicken Leg or Spanish-Style Pasta with Prawn and lemon juice. Plus, he emphasizes that you're welcome to call and ask for a custom-made set meal, based on your preferences and budget. As his loyal customers keep returning, it's clear that William has no intention of letting them down.