The Spanish Imposition

We persuaded one friend, who was moodily making do with his Mexican Corona, to have a real motherland experience and order cochinillo segoviano as an entree. We told him how the suckling pig's skin crisps, how the juices ooze from underneath that buttery shell. We shouldn't have been so persuasive. The two ribs he was served were more fat than meat and were layered with a greasy, soggy skin. I couldn't help but compare this cochinillo to the superb version I was once served at nearby Casa Juancho, where it's all too easy to make a pig of oneself.

I can only consider the neighborhood's influence as explanation for the Cuban side dishes. Tostones were thick and crunchy fried green plantains, though we were mystified by the double servings we were given (and charged for) when we had ordered singles. Ditto the platanos fritos, pan-fried ripe plantains, the sweet flavor of which was overwhelmed by a cindered exterior.

I'm not sure why we stuck around for dessert -- masochism, perhaps? Crema catalana was certainly punishment enough for this misjudgment. Tinged an odd orange color, the unpleasant, lumpy custard had clearly been refrigerated, and the browned sugar crust was concave and sodden. A slice of New York-style cheesecake was a vast improvement, firm, smooth, and rich, though hardly Spanish.

Despite all that had come before, I might have returned to Malaga for a go at the tapas menu had not the bathrooms clinched my opinion. Overflowing trash cans and paper all over the floor made me speculate about the state of the kitchen, just as oversalted, indifferent fare made me question the talent within it. The Peraltas may not want to mess too much with the reputation the old Malaga established in this city. But a laissez faire attitude, especially when it comes to cleanliness, could easily obliterate the new Malaga's politically correct standing.

740 SW 8th St; 858-4224. Lunch and dinner daily from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

White bean soup
Breaded steak
Roast suckling pig
Paella valenciana (for two or more)
$16.95 per person
Crema catalana

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