La Marcha, a newly opened tapas bar in Berkeley, serves soulfully satisfying yet vibrant Spanish cuisine.
After reading food critic Michael Bauer’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle, I knew I had to try this restaurant. Chef-owners Sergio Emilio Monleón and Emily Sarlatte originally started cooking paellas at events through their catering company, Ñora Cocina Español, before opening up their quaint restaurant last fall. La Marcha’s menu includes cheese and charcuterie, salads, various meat/seafood/vegetable tapas, and of course paellas. They even offer a happy hour menu where for every drink you order, you receive a complimentary mini tapas (great for a snack or to sample numerous items).
The first five tapas were all off the happy hour menu (these are on the normal menu too) and therefore smaller portions than the regular tapas. The albóndigas, wild boar meatballs, were tender and juicy topped with a thin melted slice of Manchego cheese nestled in a delicious sherry tomato cream. The calamaris fritos were perfectly fried, crispy without being greasy, seasoned with garlic and freshly cracked black pepper and served with a creamy squid ink aioli. The pollo al ajillo were also nicely fried with a great crust and served with a pungent saffron aioli and fresh chives. The patatas bravas were coated in a slightly spicy but flavorful sauce but the potatoes could have been fried slightly more to achieve that desirable crunch. The last happy hour tapas was the piquillo relleno, a small bite packed with immense flavor. Sweet soft piquillo pepper stuffed with creamy tangy goat cheese topped with hazelnut crumbs on a bed of bitter radicchio tossed in a honey balsamic dressing.
The last tapas we ordered, the coca flatbread, was the only one off the normal menu and therefore standard portion. The flatbread hit every flavor note; pungent dijon honey cream, sweet caramelized onions, salty Jamón Serrano, sharp Manchego cheese, juicy pears, and crunchy candied walnuts made this dish delectable.
Now the star of the meal was the paella. Instantly, this dish transported me back to Spain with its bright bold colors and flavors. La Marcha has six kinds of paellas and each sounded so delicious and enticing. We tried the paella marinera, an all seafood paella with peppers and peas. The saffron flavored rice was beautifully cooked with that necessary slightly charred crust on the bottom giving flavor and texture topped with tender mussels, clams, calamari, and shrimp. A real home-run. Their other paellas include paella valenciana (rabbit, snails, duck breast, green beans, and rosemary), paella mixta (head-on prawns, chicken, chorizo, garlic, and sweet peppers), arroz negro (squid ink, clams, fennel sausage, peas, anchovy breadcrumbs, truffle aioli, and salmon roe), paella tres cerditos (chorizo, smoked belly, pork chop, leeks, and apple cider), and paella huertana (kabocha squash, cipollini onions, chickpeas, cauliflower, leeks, and peppers). I definitely need to come back to try their other paellas without a doubt.
The desserts were the weakest part of the meal but still tasty. The torta de aceite con helado was a dense but moist olive oil citrus scented cake served with saffron ice cream (could have been creamier) and pistachios. The churros con chocolate were crispy on the outside with a moist center dusted in sugar and served with a warm velvety chocolate sauce.
Overall, La Marcha served scrumptious heart warming Spanish inspired food so my rating is a 8-8.5/10.