Years ago I had a brief culinary experience in Spain. It only lasted a few hours, but it made a big impression.
In Portugal to watch football, we headed northwest on a day trip and entered Spain for a very fresh seafood lunch: I remember a spectacular crab dish and rustic, served in the shell.
But I also remember the weather: it was very, very hot and the sun was very strong and very bright in the cloudless blue sky.
While Preston Towne Center has nothing to do with the Iberian Peninsula, when I walked up to the restaurant the sun was shining very hot on a late April afternoon and shone brightly in the clear sky – and on the sign “ La Lola: A taste of Spain.”
Owned and operated by Vanessa Stankiewicz and Miguel Pastor, La Lola started as a restaurant business in 2019, but, in the summer of 2021, La Lola’s popularity and quality helped it evolve into a charming little tapas bar and bright.
The sun bursts into the dining room that seats 12, splashing across the decor and Spanish art. The name of the restaurant pays homage to the famous Spanish singer and actress Lola Flores, a source of inspiration for Stankiewicz and Pastor.
There’s a dining menu that includes paella, blackboard selections, and imported Spanish produce for sale; a specialty, needless to say, is tapas, the small snack – a bite to munch on while you sip wine – which is a defining feature of Spanish culture.
The concept of tapas has been stretched somewhat from its origins as a small piece of bread or slice of cured meat that covered the top of your sherry glass.
“Typically in Spain, when you order a drink, it comes with a free tapa (i.e. lid), like a slice of cold cuts, which covered the top of the glass. It evolved from there “, explains Stankiewicz.
“The tapa is regional. But I would say that Granada, in the south of Spain, is probably the Mecca of tapa.
Tapas are available Thursday through Saturday, but there’s currently a $5 Tapas Thursday that changes weekly—in this, La Lola is a local Mecca.
Start with the sour and marinated pintxo de boquerones: olives swaddled in marinated anchovies awaken the taste buds.
Thinly sliced brie comes with a slice of bread with mermelada de cerveza (beer jam) – it’s a balance between sweet and tart.
Next, chorizo tortilla is a thick omelet with potatoes and sausages and is a national dish of Spain.
With the meatiest of tapas dishes – estofado al vino tinto – Pastor showcases his marinating powers in bites of pork of exceptional tenderness; the red wine flavors contrast with the creamy starch of the patatas paja – “straw potatoes” – filling.
The star dish, however, was the croquetas de gamba — shrimp croquettes. A perfectly crispy and light batter, not at all greasy, envelops a oozing, luxurious and creamy filling to deliver smooth shrimp flavor and the most pleasing of textural contrasts.
How many one star? Enough to ask for a second order from Pasteur’s kitchen.
Elsewhere on the menu, find Pastor’s bravas potatoes, garlic prawns, Serrano jamon (part of a charcuterie and cheese platter), paella dishes and an excellent cheesecake which is his grandmother’s recipe : It’s rich, creamy and not too sweet.
Sip unique, imported Spanish beers, wines and cava, or house sangria: enjoy La Lola’s simple Spanish space.
Stankiewicz eagerly welcomes the opening of the 24-seat terrace this weekend: it’s almost time to soak up the summer sun and commune over little morsels.
“It’s about sharing and trying dishes with friends and family,” she says. “Tapas are a social experience.”
Andrew Coppolino is a Kitchener-based food writer and host. Visit him at www.andrewcoppolino.com.