Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Finicky Foodie: On Tapas and Timing

I’m in the Portland area and one of the local foodie trends is tapas. Qué son las tapas?

Well, to start with, tapas are Spanish bar foods. Tapas are small plates, perfect to enjoy with a drink or two. And many Spanish tapas bars expect you to stand while enjoying your tapas. It's a social experience.

A tapa can be about any type of food… from a piece of fish to a light salad. Traditionally the Spanish have their main meal in the afternoon from 1:30 to 3:30. When I visited Spain, shops would close and families would gather for a meal together followed by, perhaps, a short nap. Later, the shops would re-open and stay open well into the evening. And life went on well into the evening.

Tapas are ideal when paired with a creative cocktail like
So doesn’t it make sense that tapas would make for ideal sustenance in the evening? You can have a light evening meal, or cena… or, make the rounds of the bars and tapear (go eat tapas), enjoy drinks and conversation with friends.

There are some amazing tapas bars in the Portland area. I recently enjoyed tapas at the new Urdaneta on Alberta Street. Chef Javier Canteras’ Urdaneta is the latest restaurant in Portland to feature tapas. Chef Javier prepares the dishes of Northern Spain and the Basque region where he is from. He also is the mastermind behind the Basque Supper Club pop-ups, now taking place in the Urdaneta space.

But our tapas were very different from the heartier Basque fare that I am used to. The dishes were small, and consisted of the kind of food that is often prepared using tweezers. As I looked at the menu, trying to develop a plan for dinner, it hit me that I was trying to fit eating tapas into a clearly American social construct. We went at 5 p.m. for an early dinner. Wrong! We should have had our main meal in the early afternoon and we should have created a list of local tapas bars to hit later that night for a more authentic tapas experience.

At Urdaneta, you can watch your tapas being created
But we were determined to sample the offerings of Chef Javier Canteras’ kitchen, clearly visible to all diners in the intimate restaurant. The menu offered choices of tapas in a format familiar to those of us who dine out for a main evening meal. There were appetizers, tapas primeros, tapas segundos and postres. But what different from the traditional American dinner was that they were all small plates.

The gazpacho was amazing.
I was on a budget and was determined to make the most of it. I chose to start with Ajo Verde, a cucumber almond gazpacho with pickled grape and topped with sunflower seeds for $3.00. I, being the Finicky Foodie, enjoyed a lovely glass of Tempranillo rather than investigating the intriguing menu of cocktails. My friends decided to go “whole puerco” and ordered many tapas with the goal of sharing them. It gave me a chance to see what was on the menu (such as things in bowls with tentacles) without actually indulging, myself.

The gazpacho, served in a small glass, was creamy and rich with a hint of sour from the pickled grape. It was ideal for a warm evening.

I'm just not a tentacle person.
Well, unless I am visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium!
 As my friends delved into the never-ending flow of tapas delivered to the table, I awaited my second choice, from the Tapas Segundo list… a beautifully plated filete de culotte romesco with leek marmalade and valdeon foam to balance the romesco sauce for $14.00. The Tempranillo was the ideal pairing for this protein. The sliced filet was melt-in-your-mouth good. I savored each bite. It was rich enough to satisfy.

The filet was so good that my tapas-sharing friends
wished they had ordered one just for themselves. I'd definitely return
for this!
In my desire to stick to a budget I skipped desert but would recommend that others who want to make a meal out of tapas, select three items from the menu per person…not two, as I did.

On my way out I enjoyed watching the chef plate this
delicate combination of foods.
I really liked Urdaneta. The atmosphere was simpatico, the staff very knowledgeable and accommodating, and nothing beats a delicately plated dish served right from the hands of the chef.

But try tapas the Spanish way… late in the evening.  I can also recommend places for a heartier Spanish or Basque dinner, served in American style courses.

More Information
3033 NE Alberta St.
Portland, OR 97211

Other Places for Spanish Tapas in Portland
Toro Bravo