Vancouver, BC – Espana (Spanish Tapas Restaurant)

Restaurant: Espana
Cuisine: Spanish/Tapas/Seafood
Last visited: November 20, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End)
Address: 1118 Denman Street
Transit: NB Denman St FS Pendrell St
Price Range: $10-20 ($4-10/tapas)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4-4.5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 3
Value: 4
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Spanish inspired
  • Seasonal menu
  • Tapas style
  • Seafood/meat
  • Meat & cheese
  • Affordable
  • Intimate/cozy
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Sherry/Wine list
  • 45 seats
  • No reservations
  • Open late
  • Mon-Thu, Sun 5 pm – 1 am
  • Fri-Sat 5 pm – 2 am

**Recommendations: Duck Liver & Anchovy Pâté, Housemade Morcilla, Octopus

Okay, so I’m not totally out of the loop. Follow Me Foodie to Beijing, Follow Me Foodie to Bali, Follow Me Foodie to Hong Kong, and Follow Me Foodie to Montreal meant being away from the Vancouver dining scene for the last while, but I’m back and ready to eat! I am fully aware of the highly raved about new hot spots – Wildebeest, La Pentola, Forage, and then Espana, just to name a few and curious I was about these for sure.

Espana opened in September and while many like to rush to the newest thing, I actually like to wait at least a month if not more before I go. It takes time for a restaurant to settle down, adjust their menus and discover their clientele, so I prefer to wait. On the other hand once you open for business, you open for business and it’s all fair game. I’ve heard nothing but rave “reviews” and feedback from trusted palates, so it was easy to go in with high expectations although I tried to remain neutral.

Espana. It specializes in Spanish tapas in Vancouver. Wait, what? Spanish tapas in Vancouver? Or better yet, Spanish tapas in Vancouver! It pretty much “wins” based on having almost no competition. We have less than a handful of Spanish restaurants in Vancouver and maybe 1-2 I would call “authentic” (which means not Latin/South American/Mexican… at all) and even then I’m not sure worth getting excited about. I admit, with the name Espana they are committing to a lot, especially to someone who knows nothing about it. It’s easy to assume it embraces all things that are authentic to Spain but it’s not really the case. It offers classic Spanish tapas and then modern ones with Vancouver flair.

The word “authentic” is a bit tricky because in the context of North America, let alone Vancouver, almost nothing ethnic will ever be. The available ingredients and tastes are different and not everything can be easily sourced which affects the overall flavours of the cuisine. It puts a damper on things, but there is a brighter side. Generally in North America it is much more open minded when it comes to straying away from “authentic” because it’s so multi-cultural. Drawing inspiration from local ingredients and various cultures is the beauty of what we have to offer.

It’s no doubt Spain has a strong hold on today’s culinary scene and while I’ve been to Barcelona and Madrid, I’d love to visit other places like Seville, Granada, Valencia and Majorca. Whether it’s enjoying authentic paella on the beach, or visiting Michelin rated restaurants, Spain is a culinary paradise. If you want food, paradise and relaxation then Alcudia holiday resorts offers authentic Spanish food without you even needing to research or plan.

So if you’re looking for traditional and “authentic” Spanish tapas then maybe going to Spain is your best option, but if you’re open to a Spanish inspired menu with a nod to local and seasonal ingredients (although not all local) then I welcome you to Espana.

The ambiance didn’t really do anything for me, but at least it wasn’t cheesy like many ethnic restaurants that try way too hard on Denman. Espana feel a bit like La Brasserie on Davie and it even made me miss Mis Trucos (modern Mediterranean tapas). The room, romantic lighting and candle-lit tables were fancier than the menu lead on, but I’m always “food first” so that didn’t bother me.

The menu had a good variety accommodating all appetites (meat/fish/vegetarian/meat/cheese/light/heavy) and yet it wasn’t exhausting to go through. There were no smears, foams, fancy cocktails or small plates, and while I can appreciate those, I found this refreshing. It was simple, but done well and great value. With an under $10 menu and most tapas ranging between $6-8 I considered it very good value especially for the quality of the food and the area. Most tapas style places add up so quickly, but this one was very reasonable.

The food was very simple and honest with small, but sophisticated touches. The majority of the items were approachable with a few tapas that were perhaps challenging to Vancouver tastes. Chef and co-owner Neil Taylor comes from CiBo Trattoria, a well received upscale Italian restaurant in downtown, so the menu comes with experience (perhaps not Spanish, but who cares when it’s good?) and yet it is not pretentious. The presentation was basic, portions fair, and flavours clean.

There is a lack of tapas and Spanish cuisine in Vancouver, so it really satisfies a void in the market. I appreciated it as a restaurant serving simple food well rather than as a creative restaurant. I found everything very good and it was a solid experience with no misses, although some things could have been better. There were a few minor details, but the bigger picture was there. They are classic flavours and familiar recipes, so if it can keep consistent with its seasonal menus then I’m confident it will succeed as a quickly rising local favourite.

On the table:

Alvear Asuncion Oloroso Sherry

  • About $9-11/glass
  • This one wasn’t on the menu.
  • It was a dark amber colour, off dry and rich with a long finish and molasses flavour.
  • They offer sherry tasting flights as well (3 dry sherry for $11 and 3 sweet sherry for $16 – 1 ounce of each).

Espana-5**Duck Liver & Anchovy Pâté4/6 (Very good)

  • $4
  • This was a generous portion and it’s hearty and substantial.
  • It was equal pâté to bread and both were pretty thick.
  • This was regular duck liver and not “foie gras”, so it was not force fed and didn’t have that foie gras texture or flavour.
  • I’ve had ethical and sustainable non force fed foie gras before though, so it does exist – see a natural feeding duck farm I visited here.
  • Some argue foie gras is only made from goose livers, but it can be made from both goose and duck livers.
  • Goose liver has a more seductive quality and flavour than duck liver and it is more expensive.
  • Regular duck liver is almost like chicken liver in flavour and texture so this tasted like an indulgent chicken liver pâté.
  • It was a very meaty pâté and almost a bit mealy and I’m not sure if it was intentional or just over cooked liver.
  • It wasn’t buttery smooth like a classic French “foie gras pâté”.
  • It was puréed with onions and anchovies and little cream and I could actually taste more olive oil.
  • It was rich with a hummus like quality, but I was biting into little crumbles of what seemed like ground pork, chorizo, or maybe just the liver (?).
  • I could taste the salt coming from the anchovies, but it wasn’t pungent in anchovy flavour and the fishiness was a bit stronger than tuna fish salad.
  • It was savoury, tangy and a bit sweet and it had umami, although I prefer a smooth texture.
  • The flavour I actually really enjoyed, but I’m on the fence with the texture.
  • The toast was a thick, fluffy and chewy type of focaccia like bread and while it was semi crispy, I would have like it on olive oil and garlic rubbed crostinis.
  • It’s French, but I also recommend the Smoked Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait from Le Parisien also on Denman.

Espana-4Endive and White Anchovy - 4/6 (Very good)

  • Soft egg, piquillo peppers, caperberries $6
  • This was very simple, but effortlessly smart, fresh and well done.
  • The endive isn’t native to Spain, but there are some Spanish salads which use endive.
  • The endive was very natural and perhaps soaked to remove some of its bitterness.
  • The leaves were fresh and crunchy and easily dressed in fruity olive oil and perhaps some lemon juice.
  • I would have loved an even highly quality olive oil, but this was still good.
  • I liked that the dressing wasn’t a flavourful vinaigrette because all the salt and acidity was coming from the ingredients on top.
  • The plump and juicy, salty and sour caperberries, sweet piquillo peppers, and salty anchovies were enough to carry the salad alone.
  • The soft egg seemed sous vide they were so tender and the yolk was almost gel like and creamy.
  • I loved the egg and it reminded me of the amazing Sweet Crystal Eggs at Delicious Cuisine.
  • There was no gloppy dressing, a good ratio of ingredients and the white anchovies were cured nicely without being too salty and still carrying an umami.
  • The salad was small to carry such large ingredients that packed such big punches of flavour, so I wouldn’t have minded one more aromatic ingredient to break things up.
  • Quail eggs and smaller capers might not have carried a big enough impact and I liked the wholeness of the ingredients.

Espana-9Crispy Squid3/6 (Good)

  • Chili jam, yogurt and mint $10
  • Calamari is such a favourite all across North America, well almost deep fried anything is.
  • I enjoy it, but I’m not obsessed with it although I won’t pass up a recommended one.
  • This one was simply battered with flour and the batter didn’t detach from the squid which I liked, but it was also quite standard.
  • It was about 5 pieces and each piece was a decent size.
  • It was crispy and not too greasy and well seasoned with salt, but I still found the batter too thick and it overwhelmed the squid flavour a bit.
  • The squid was tender, but I couldn’t taste much of it, and after I dipped it in the sauces I really couldn’t taste it.
  • The sauce was unusual, but not bad. It was tangy, sweet and spicy and I would have liked it for perhaps potatoes.
  • The chili jam was sweet and it tasted like a mix of Ketchup and sweet Thai chili sauce. It was a bit Ketchupy for me.
  • The house made yogurt was thin, but I couldn’t taste the mint.
  • There was a lot of dip for the calamari given.
  • Personally I find grilled calamari underrated and harder to make, so it would be nice to see some fresher flavours of Spain.
  • I would have loved some squid ink aioli or even a squid ink marinated grilled squid.
  • It’s apples and oranges, but on the topic of squid I also recommend the deep fried squid at Phnom Penh, Dockside Restaurant, and Cotto Enoteca.
  • For a grilled version try the stuffed and grilled calamari at Pasparo’s and in the summer the one at the Richmond Night Market.

Espana-16Salt Cod & Potato Croquettes3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Orange Aioli $6
  • Croquettes or croquetas are one of my favourite Spanish tapas.
  • I went to town on these in Spain. Locals would recommend you to never order them at a restaurant because most are frozen and factory produced.
  • It’s one of those dishes where everyone thinks their mom makes “best” and it’s hard to find non-frozen ones.
  • These could be frozen (apparently not though – see comments), but they were still good and home made.
  • I learned the recipe from my friend’s mom in Spain so I make them at home.
  • It was 5 stubby Buñuelos de Bacalao (salt cod) or Croquetas de Bacalao.
  • The key to good croquetas is a crunchy outside and a creamy soft inside.
  • The outside was very crunchy with a Panko batter instead of a traditional breadcrumb which I didn’t mind and liked even more.
  • I found the filling quite dense though and I could taste the flaky salt cod, but also a lot of starchy floury potato.
  • It wasn’t too salty and quite lemony, but it just seemed like gourmet fish sticks to me.
  • In Spain they sometimes serve them as round fritters and I liked them lighter, fluffier and creamier.
  • I usually prefer my croquetas as is, but this one needed a dip.
  • I couldn’t taste the orange in the orange aioli so it just tasted like fat, but I love the twist from lemon.
  • I could have used a garlic aioli and/or more orange and a higher quality of olive oil to make the aioli.
  • Outside of Vancouver my favourite croquetas were at Boqueria in New York – see Croquetas CremosasMushroom CroquetteSerrano Ham Croquette.

Espana-13**Octopus5/6 (Excellent)

  • Potatoes, chorizo, endive $8
  • I loved this. I really enjoy octopus too.
  • It was a version of Pulpo Gallego or Pulpos Con Patas served in Spain.
  • It was the tentacles and the body of the octopus.
  • They were incredibly tender and not chewy or overcooked and it almost seemed braised.
  • I loved the alternating textures of sautéed endive leaves and octopus and both were cut almost the same size.
  • The were sautéed in lemon juice, parsley and olive oil with perhaps a bit of chili and pink peppercorns for aromatics and mild spice.
  • The lemon juice and mild bitterness of the endive were a great balance to the richer chorizo and potatoes.
  • There were a couple buttery and browned creamy fingerling potatoes which is traditional to the Spanish recipe.
  • The crispy fried chorizo deserves as much attention as the octopus even though I don’t think it was made in house.
  • It was almost like a meatball rather than a sausage and it was seasoned with garlic and paprika and they were only slightly spicy.
  • It wasn’t that fatty and still very juicy, and there was a nice sweetness to accompany the savouriness.
  • I would have loved more garlic, or charred octopus and charred endive leaves, but I was still happy with this and it was balanced.
  • The original Spanish version doesn’t even have the endive leaves or chorizo and I liked this version better.
  • I would have loved some of that chili jam from the Crispy Squid with this octopus or chorizo and something sweet would be nice.
  • Again totally different in styles, but I also recommend the octopus from Fraîche, Cioppino’s, and Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie.

Espana-7Iberian Ham Croquettes3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Lemon $8
  • This is a house favourite.
  • Again, croquetas are one of my favourite Spanish tapas. See my Salt Cod & Potato Croquettes description above for my further comments.
  • Again, it’s one of those dishes where everyone thinks their mom makes “best”.
  • The jamon version is perhaps the most popular kind along with roasted chicken and you can make them ahead and freeze them.
  • There is a potato version and a béchamel version, but I’m for the classic béchamel version, which is much creamier and lighter.
  • Usually it is made with Serrano ham, but in this case it was Iberian ham which is a higher quality.
  • It would be a waste to use very high quality Iberian ham in this though.
  • The Iberian ham was firm and a bit hard and not as finely minced so I found it a bit distracting from the melt in your mouth creamy centre.
  • I think it was fried and infused into the béchamel sauce so it lost some of its flavour and the ham got a bit chewy.
  • Again the exterior was super crunchy with Panko crumbs instead of traditional breadcrumbs and the inside was ultra creamy, but also a bit gummy.
  • It’s supposed to be a rich creamy béchamel sauce and this one just needed a bit more milk because there was too much flour and roux.
  • The béchamel had good savoury flavour though and the inside was well seasoned. It would have been great if the milk was mixed with ham hock stock.
  • There could have been some melted Manchego in this and although it wouldn’t be traditional to add it, it had a cheese like quality which was good.

Espana-10Crispy Pork Belly4/6 (Very good)

  • White beans, romesco sauce $10
  • This is another favourite and I really enjoyed the pork belly, but not so much the starch.
  • This pork belly was melt in my mouth tender and I could twist the falling apart shreds of meat around my fork like spaghetti noodles.
  • It came with a crunchy caramelized piece of perfect crackling.
  • The crackling was meat candy which literally got stuck in my teeth… saving it for later.
  • There was a decent ratio of meat and fat and not just all fat.
  • The fat it had was super creamy and not gelatinous or chewy at all.
  • The piece of pork belly was very natural in flavour and not too salty and the fat was well rendered.
  • The romesco sauce (roasted red pepper and almond sauce) was very well made and nutty with a sharp and sweet acidity of sherry vinegar.
  • The sauce is traditionally eaten with fish so it was different to have it with pork belly.
  • I think it was meant to cut the richness of the pork, but perhaps a salsa verde would have worked better.
  • I did like the sauce, but I’m not sure if it enhanced any flavours or played a role in balance. It was the only strong flavour on the plate though.
  • The beans I found were slightly overcooked, mushy and a bit starchy, however there were some random firm beans.
  • I’m not sure if a new batch of beans were added to a previous batch, but they did lack a bit of flavour and I could only taste the parsley.
  • The beans I found a bit flat and I could have used more lemon juice, salt and extra virgin olive oil.
  • It’s Italian, but I also recommend the Fagioli Alla Toscana (White Tuscan Beans with Sage) from Yaletown L’Antipasto.

Espana-18**Housemade Morcilla5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Golden Chanterelles, fried egg $8
  • Calling it “Morcilla” instead of “Blood Sausage” was smart.
  • Vancouver isn’t a “blood sausage” scene. It’s a calamari scene.
  • Personally I enjoy blood sausage and I’m so glad I ordered this. It was my favourite tapa.
  • I have a rich palate and I tend to like indulgent food like this. I love lighter stuff too, but it doesn’t put me to bed like a baby.
  • It was a generous amount of perfectly cooked sauteed golden chanterelles which kept their crunch.
  • The mushrooms and egg were dripping with a luscious chanterelle pan jus reduced with chicken stock and perhaps white white and lots of brown butter.
  • The sauce was savoury and rich with umami and meat drippings and I almost licked the plate especially when I mixed the runny egg yolk into it.
  • Anything with an egg and I’m there – see my Runny Egg Yolk Series.
  • Again it didn’t seem like an organic egg though, but for $8 and that much chanterelles I’ll take it.
  • I could have this for breakfast and the plate was good for 2-3 because it was so rich that it would ruin it to over indulge.

Espana-19

  • Black sausage, black pudding, blood pudding, red pudding, blutwurst, or bourdin noir… it’s delicious, but it’s hard to make well.
  • The blood sausage was “the best” blood sausage I’ve had to date. British, Spanish, Asian or Latin you would be proud.
  • I hate saying anything is “the best” because it’s all relative to what you’ve tried, so I guess it was my favourite to date.
  • It resembles burnt spam or a burnt hashbrown patty, but don’t be turned off, it’s fantastic!
  • It can be made from almost any animal blood, but this was likely pig’s blood and pig fat.
  • In Spain it would be traditional to have Morcilla sausage simply cut in chunks and fried with olive oil and eaten with bread.
  • This one was fried, but not crispy and it really had that pudding like texture.
  • It was super soft and creamy and almost like meatloaf and it had no sausage like characteristics or snappy casing.
  • It was falling apart tender and melt in my mouth moist, rich and buttery.
  • The white specs are actually bits of pork fat.
  • Although I could have used a bit less of them, they were melt in my mouth creamy and giving it that indulgent texture.
  • It was made properly and mixed well so it didn’t have a strong pork blood flavour which can be a bit copper or metallic-like.
  • The flavour is almost like bone marrow and it’s very rich, oily and meaty and a bit mealy as well.
  • This one tasted like a blood sausage with chocolate mole seasoning and it was nutty with sweet and warm spices of  paprika, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa powder.
  • I could almost spread it like dark chocolate meat pâté and I scrambled it together with the fried egg and mushrooms and it was like a blood pudding sauce.
  • I usually like some raisins and apples in it for some sweetness, but this one didn’t need it.
  • Sometimes it might have rice, but this one just had onions and no rice. I like it better without rice usually.
  • I would have loved something crispy for texture, some veggies or some acidity to cut the richness, but I would still order it again and recommend it.

Espana-21This is for those unfamiliar with blood sausage and are curious to see the inside.

Lustau Emilin Muscatel Sherry4/6 (Very good)

  • Intensely sweet, raisins, molasses, leather $11
  • It was mahogany in colour and it was quite sweet and ideal as a dessert wine.
  • It was honey-like and fruity with orange and raisins and it would have been great with fruit cake.

Espana-24Churros2.5/6 (Okay-Good)

  • With rich and thick hot chocolate $8 OR Housemade yogurt and dulce de leche $8
  • Yes, I had both, but one order would come with 2 churros and one dipping sauce.
  • The dessert menu offered 3 desserts.
  • There was a trifle which isn’t Spanish, a catalan custard which I found a bit boring like a pre-made Crème Brûlée at a French bistro, and then the churros.
  • I don’t get too excited about churros because it’s just deep fried dough, but it was recommended and popular. I had to see the hype.
  • The trifle was also recommended, but it’s not Spanish and I wanted to stick to the Espana theme even though the menu didn’t.
  • In Spain Churros are eaten for breakfast, snacks or desserts and they are great dipped in Spanish coffee.
  • I liked the dipping sauces, but not really the churros here.

Espana-26

  • The chocolate sauce was good quality chocolate, but not great. They give you a lot though and it was served warm.
  • I think it was melted chocolate mixed with cocoa powder and it wasn’t oily or greasy and perhaps 60-65% bitter sweet chocolate.
  • I prefer darker chocolate and this was a bit sweet for me, but still good.
  • In Spain the chocolate that comes with churros is like pure drinking chocolate.
  • The housemade yogurt and dulce de leche I actually liked better and I found it a nice change.
  • The tart thin yogurt cut the sweetness of the thicker dulce de leche which I often find hurt your teeth sweet.
  • It was thick, good dulce de leche and I would have loved some vanilla beans in it for better flavour.
  • I’m surprised they didn’t put salt in the dulce de leche, but the “salted caramel” thing is overdone anyway (still good, but overdone).

Espana-27

  • The churros were very dense, thick and bready and not that appetizing in presentation.
  • I prefer the traditional short fluted ones they have in Spain.
  • They were sprinkled with more sugar than cinnamon, but I couldn’t really taste the cinnamon and the spice seemed a bit dead.
  • The dough itself wasn’t sweet or oily and I’m glad it wasn’t sweet since there was so much sugar anyway, but the texture also wasn’t ideal.
  • It was sort of crispy, but I prefer lighter churros with a soft and tender centre.
  • In Spain they are sometimes fried until crunchy, but I like the softer middle.
  • I would love to see Torrija y Helado, polvorones (almond cookies), on the menu or some other Spanish desserts.
  • In Spain it’s more typical to have fruit instead of desserts after dinner and pastries during the day.
  • I’m sure they could come up with some inventive twists to traditional Spanish desserts.
  • Being in a location surrounded by desserts I’m not sure if they’ll even bother, and sticking to their sherry list might be good enough.

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10 Comments

  • KimHo says:

    Two notes… I am not sure how a salad can be “shareable” and I am sorely disappointed they don’t have torta española in the menu. >_<

  • Mijune says:

    @KimHo – I swear on this blog that I wrote about wishing how torta española was on the menu in my intro, but then I took it out. Well technically I called it “tortilla patatas”, but same thing. I took out the comment because 1) I thought it was a bit unfair since they can’t offer everything… and also it’s a super hard tapas to ACE and I think if you can’t do it well then don’t do it at all. It’s a “mom makes it best” dish and more often than not I find restaurants can’t do it justice. And 2) is because my post was getting way too long lol.

  • Bow says:

    Very nice, the food looks good and I love Lustau sherry. I would’ve opted for the Morcilla, too’ as a fav…yummy ! Can’t argue over the pricing; let’s hope Espana has a long run.

  • Mimihui-Pak says:

    I love….. Espana (Spanish Tapas Restaurant)..it is very good for our body~

  • Linda says:

    i’ve never really been a fan of tapas but i can totally see the appeal now… variety variety variety! i’m the type of eater that likes ordering a ton of dishes and trying everything and now that tapas are such a huge thing in vancouver, maybe it’s time for me to venture out and try a few places! most of the things on this menu are very reasonably priced but some things i can’t see the real value of… i’m mainly speaking of the churros and the crispy squid lol

  • GOODGHANDI says:

    A few notes. One Great Piece on this spot! .Two Espana is a wonderful place. while the rating you have given it is fitting, I think you have somewhat over analyzed and underestimated it. Let me explain. Im a HUGE foodie. From what I know about espana, no small detail is missed (no ketchup to be found). They have no room to freeze anything let alone Croquettes and The chef doesn’t use any modern equipment. Its all very focused on the amazing ingredients and more “interpretive” cuisine than actual from the country . I ate at Espana recently and had many of the same things. Including the Tortilla (which is on the menu now!) and it was fantastic!!! And just a heads up, I asked the chef. No batter on that squid….just love and simplicity. Flour and milk. ps. The chocolate sauce was sooo delectable and just to correct you. chocolate mixed with cocoa powder doesn’t give you chocolate sauce….. Anyway the vibe there is great i will defiantly go again.

  • Mijune says:

    @GoodGhandi – thanks for the comment! Very fair and thanks for checking with the chef/staff. I was careful not to say the croquetas were frozen, just in case, but I can edit out the “likely” part. Anyway it is true though that most of them are frozen in Spain so it would still apply to that comment. Happy to know the Tortilla is on the menu now, that’s great. I will have to go back and try it… if I’m still allowed in :)… just kidding. And when I said the squid was “simply battered with flour”… that’s what I meant… just flour :) I guess it’s not really a “batter batter”, but it’s not fried naked. The bottom line to that was that I still wanted to taste more squid. And lastly the chocolate sauce thing… yes, but the chocolate sauce had a powdery texture so it could be the quality of chocolate being used (that’s why I made sure to say “I think”). Thank you for sharing your comments though and being so passionate about the restaurant.

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – i remember that!! I’m so happy you’re easing into tapas! Variety is the best part because I love trying everything too!

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