Friday, July 12, 2024

Duck with berry sauce at Dalí in Somerville. (Photo: Yuan J via Yelp)

Tapas, the Spanish culinary concept of small, sharable plates, has become a thing not limited to the Iberian Peninsula. We’ve got small plates at Pagu that blends Spanish with Asian; Gustazo, doing a Cuban-French mix; Orinoco in Harvard Square; and of course Barcelona Wine Bar, nearing its one-year anniversary in the old Temple Bar locale. But the grand cornerstone to all this fine finger food is Dalí, straddling the city line at Kirkland and Beacon streets for nearly 35 years. Dalí is one of those places that, when you go through the door, you feel like you’ve just gotten off a plane and been taxied to the most authentic place in Madrid or Seville. Part of that is the ham hocks, dried fish and peppers that hang above the gloriously blue mosaic tile bar top; then there’s the dripping wall, hand plastered and with a shell-like texture that Dalí describes as “Midas tears.” The whole experience and atmosphere – even a visit to the loo – is transportive and festive. 

A quick look at the menus shows the overlap between Dalí and Barcelona in its serrano hams, grilled octopus, paellas, deep-fried potatoes with tomato sauce, croquettes and so on, but there are differences, starting with Barcelona’s emphasis on cheese alongside its cured meat offerings. The ambiances are totally different and distinct, too, between the unique Dalí and Barcelona, a semi-local chain. As far as the bar goes, Dalí has the best sangria in town – fruity and slaking without being sweet – and the folks pouring it for you have been doing so for years and never forget a face.

The bar at Dalí. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The classics at Dalí are the baked goat cheese in tomato sauce with basil, grilled Spanish sausage with butter beans, sweet, succulent garlic shrimp that come out on a sizzling cast iron pan, and salt cod croquettes, but the thing that always calls me back to Dalí (besides that sangria) are the braised rabbit and roasted duck with berry sauce. The former comes out in a crock, stew style with onions and gravy. There are bones, but the meat has been braised and stewed so perfectly it just falls off clean, and it’s tender and tasty, a real palate change-up from your basic chicken or steak. The duck is flavored wonderfully by the fowl’s fat and a rich – not sweet – berry sauce that adds perfectly to the dark, succulent meat’s natural flavor and melds seamlessly with the juices.

The best thing about Dalí (Barcelona too) is that you can duck in (pun intended) for a quick bite at the bar or make an evening of it with friends. The duck and rabbit you won’t find elsewhere, and that sangria during these summer months is an adults-only lemonade stand. It’s a great time to get to Dalí, as students are out of town; in the fall or winter, even if you get there at opening for one of those quick nosh-and-dash eats, by the time you leave the place will be packed. Due to Covid, Dalí dialed back its days of operation to Wednesday through Sunday.

Dalí (yes, the name was inspired by the artist) was founded in 1989 by Tamara Bourso and husband Mario León, who wanted to bring the flavors of his Basque heritage to Boston. The couple struggled to open the restaurant, but its small plates and lively, otherworldly decor caught on fast. León, a friendly fixture at the door and when checking politely on diners, died in 2017. What the couple built seems strong enough to carry Dali another 30 years. 

Dalí (415 Washington St., Somerville)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.