The word escabeche, incidentally, is thought to have a Perso-Arabic derivation, and that's a reminder of the long Moorish presence in Iberia.
Pan a la catalana ($10) was marred, but only slightly, by the toughness of the tissue-thin slices of jamón serrano laid like bolts of carpet over a subfloor of toasted bread rounds. Better were the albondigas ($8.50), a clutch of buttery little meatballs in a garlicky tomato sauce. And then there was the roasted-garlic soup, which, despite its modest role as an opening act for the paella, was distinguished by a haunting richness similar to, but less sweet than, that of French onion soup. It was also lighter than its Gallic cousin, using a paprika-tinged vegetable stock instead of beef broth. As if to balance the twinkle-toed soup, the post-paella sweet, a chocolate torte ($8) plucked from the dessert cart, had an almost fudge-like denseness. To balance that: slices of kiwi and mango on the side.
The restaurant is part of the Union Español, a cultural center established in 1923 and resident at its present Excelsior District location since 1985. The building casts a strong spell; the main dining room has straw-colored walls, a cathedral ceiling supported by exposed beams, and a floor of earth-colored ceramic tiles. It's handsome without straining to make a statement other than, This is a nice restaurant. Could there be a lesson here for us hyperactive and attention-seeking Americans?
The building was formally dedicated in 1987 by King Juan Carlos I, who bears the impressive surname de Borbón y Borbón. The Bourbons succeeded the Hapsburgs as rulers of Spain several centuries ago, though neither royal family can claim credit for kicking out the Moors. Note to the king and other prospective enjoyers of Patio Español's roasted-garlic soup: chew a coffee bean.
Dinner: Wed.Sun., 59:30 p.m.
Brunch: Sun., 11:30 a.m.3 p.m.
2850 Alemany Blvd., SF