Restaurant Reina in Cuesta de La Villa
Cuesta de la Villa is the last stop before getting to Puerto de la Cruz on the autopista (or the first one leaving Puerto towards Santa Cruz); so stopping off at the Reina for lunch is as logical as could be, perhaps on your way shopping in Santa Ursula, at Lidl, Mercadona or Hiperdino.
I´m saying this because as well as it being Tenerife News´ home-patch, there´s a great restaurant/cafeteria called Reina located to the right as you turn right onto the old road. It´s a great little place to stop off for a coffee on the terrace, a snack or a meal. On average a three course lunch/dinner will set you back about 12 € with wine so the food´s excellent value.
Restaurante Reina only opened its doors on the 1st December 2012, so its brand new – neat, clean and gleaming. The chrome counters and kitchenware shiny-bright, as is the Maitre D´ Tino. Tino is well known to many British residents as “Tino el Maño” who for many years ran the restaurant “Los Faroles” down on Playa Jardin. If you like nostalgia Tino´s your man, as he proudly shows off the 1960´s black and white mural of the Orotava Valley which takes up the main wall of the restaurant. The giant photograph shows the view from the restaurant of the valley before the previously mentioned autopista was built. Bananas abound, and you can trace your way down to La Paz, the Botanico and up towards La Orotava, and talk of what was where and when.
Tino insists that the Restaurant is not about him, though his charisma fills the place, he´s retiring soon (so you´d better get there soon) – no it’s all about Manolo – the young and brilliant chef, who dresses in dazzling whites and wears a black chef´s hat tilted to one side. Manolo takes great pride in his presentation – not only of himself but also of his dishes, which he calls “innovative Canary cuisine with an international flavour”.
“Let the food-fest begin” – cried Tino, waving Manolo back towards to sparkling kitchen. The team of four (Tino, Manolo, a female kitchen assistant and a waiter) run the Reina Restaurant like a well-knit team, and you can´t help admire Tino´s spirit. “El Maño” as he´s known, gets his nick-name because he comes from Zaragoza on the mainland, and his influence is reflected in the menu. He met Manolo at the Restaurant but despite the obvious age gap they seem to be life-long friends. The menu boasts an excellent variety of dishes. Meat, chicken, fish and seafood all feature in the starters and main courses. However, they specialise in rice dishes.
Being asked to review such a restaurant is a poisoned chalice for an English speaking newspaper. For a start we don´t have many rice dishes – but Spanish rice comes in many different guises and the most difficult to explain is their speciality “Arroces Caldorosos”. The best I can do is “Thick rice broth” which neither sounds good nor does it justice. Arroz Caldoroso is soup-like paella, juicy, liquid stock and exceptionally tasty textured rice. Try it, if you haven´t. Or ask for the better known, drier, Paella, which is also a house speciality.
We started our meal with a “montatdito” literally a “small-mounted-snack” or what we would call a “fancy open-sandwich”. Manolo is understandably very proud of his montadito. He decorates it with quail´s egg and king prawn, and it sits on a bed of fresh lettuce, with plumes of red piquillo peppers that garnish the slice of crusty bread. This could easily be a tapa, sitting at the bar with a beer or a glass of vino. Speaking of which, the wine we tasted was smooth as silk, considering it is locally grown in La Victoria. This house wine, served slightly chilled in an earthenware jug, by the ¼ litre is wonderful (cost 2€). Tino was keen to point out that he had bottles of Rioja and Ribera del Duero and also Zanata and Viñatigo (both from Icod).
What followed was chickpeas and cod. Cod is salted in the Cararies, so don´t expect it deep fried and battered. The small portion that we tried was a ½ serving (una media) and you can often ask for “una media” of anything on the menu. It’s a great way to try things. This dish was very good, and most enjoyable. It consisted of chickpeas in a yellow sauce, with chunky bits of salty cod and rough spinach leaves. The verdict: recommended.
Next came one of Manolo´s innovative specialities: the stuffed potato. A brilliantly presented dish which reminded me of the Spanish flag : flaming yellow sauce with bright red bands of pimientos, dusted with picante smoked pimiento (paprika). The potatoes were boiled, but light and fluffy with a light textured meat filling. The dish was as much a feast for the eyes as for the belly.
The main course was, in my opinion, Manolo´s piece de resistance: the stuffed chicken´s breast. From the first bite it was astoundingly good! A slight sweetness, a crunchy texture and a savoury centre. Again the English only have one word for mushroom, and it isn´t enough to describe the stuffing. “Setas, hongos y champiniones” is what it is… and these different varieties of mushroom, combined with dates, is what makes this “Manolo´s special fried stuffed chicken” absolutely lip-smacking, finger-lickin´, espi-dali-docious! He wouldn´t let us try the sirloin version, insisting that we must come back on another occasion – and you can bet we will. The chicken was accompanied by French fries and a tower of fresh seasonal veggies that included all the favourites, calabacín (large courgette), runner beans, red peppers, celery, spring onions and various other green leaves. This is a five star dish within a roadside café!
We had a six-sweet-tray of “postres” to end with. The pistachio ice cream tart with hot chocolate sauce won 1st prize. The quality of the abundant chocolate was superb and tasted like melted Cadburys buttons. A commendable runner-up was the pumpkin and carrot biscuit desert. There were also 3 varieties of “quesillo” which rapidly passed by and a coffee cake “tira- missed-you”.
The Reina Restaurant is not a posh place to eat, neither is it a traditional Canary haunt. It is what it is: a place you can enjoy lunch (or dinner) every day or any day. The staff are exceptional, the welcome, warm and inviting. The food is innovative, bold and has something to say. But that stuffed chicken…. now that really is something to write home about.