This week's topic on 90.7 WMFE is tapas: what they are, where to find them and how they're not just for Spanish restaurants anymore. You can hear my spots on WMFE Fridays at 5:45 p.m. and again Saturday mornings at 9:35. Or you can find the podcasts at WMFE.org/dining.
It used to be that when you were talking tapas you were talking Spanish. But the concept of “small plates” has spread to other cuisines and nationalities lately. I approve of it. For the most part, restaurant portions are much too large, more food than most of us are meant to eat in one sitting. And yet we try to force ourselves. If you don’t want that much to eat, you’re usually limited to ordering off the appetizer menu or else lugging a leftover container home -- not always convenient, and, if you’re not headed home right away, subject to spoilage.
The concept of tapas is that you can have smaller bites of things that aren’t necessarily considered appetizers -- maybe small samplers of entrees. The other advantage is that you can try a variety of things and not be locked in to just one selection. A small group can order a veritable feast. And because the plates are smaller, the prices are too, generally speaking. But be careful: don’t get carried away and order too many items. You may find yourself with a hefty check. And, quite possibly, a takeout container.
Here are some recommendations for tapas of small plates. If you have some other suggestions, leave them in the comments below.
Ceviche: this is probably the most authentic tapas bar in the area and the one that comes closest to resembling the ones I know from Madrid. You’ll also find some of the more typical things you might try on a tapeo, or tapas bar crawl, such as tortilla Espagnole, a sort of egg and potato omelet, and jamon.
Mi Tomatina: Cute little spot in Winter Park’s West Side. Paellas are a specialty, and not likely to be part of the tapas menu, but you’ll find other goodies, such as anchovies, a staple of any authentic Spanish tapas menu.
El Bodegon: This is the charming restaurant in Winter Park that shares a driveway portico with Rocco’s. El Bodegon has wonderful food, and if you haven’t tried it before, you really should. You’ll find full-sized entrees, but the tapas are tops.
Cafe Tu Tu Tango: This funky little spot on International Drive was headed at one time to be a national chain. Now it’s the only one left. It still has an artist loft’s feel, and you’ll find artisans painting or maybe breaking into song. The menu is a bit more American than Mediterranean.
Hawkers Asian Street Fare: Here’s an example of taking the tapas concept to a new region. Hawkers serves small plates of Asian specialties such as you’d find on the streets of Hanoi City or Bangkok. One plate is usually more than enough for two people to share.