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Tapas: My big problem with small plates

Bahia Social Club is a new tapas style

Bahia Social Club is a new tapas style Brazilian restaurant, located in Long Beach and serving bacalao fritters with a salsa verde and topped with piquillo peppers. (August 6, 2011) Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Don’t get me wrong; I like tapas. I have fond memories of sidling up to the bar in Spain, ordering a chilled glass of Manzanilla sherry and enjoying successive plates of shrimp in garlic sauce, serrano ham, croquetas de bacalao (salt-cod fritters), pan tomate (toasted bread scraped with ripe tomato), tortilla espagnole (potato-studded omelet). But I am growing increasingly sour on Long Island’s nascent tapas culture.

First of all, many of the local restaurants serving tapas don’t even nod in the direction of Spain. A list of small dishes that includes hummus, duck spring rolls, Wagyu sliders and fried calamari is not a tapas menu. It’s appetizers! Nor does every type of food work in small portions. Do not serve me one beef short rib, one tiny New Zealand lamb chop or a ramekin of penne alla vodka and call it tapas. A pizza is not tapas, nor is a mesclun salad with candied walnuts, dried cranberries, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.

I harbor a grudging respect for restaurants that at least limit themselves to small plates. What I find completely baffling are restaurants that serve “tapas” along with appetizers, crudi, salads, soups, side dishes and full-sized mains. Such restaurants often claim to do so in the name of offering diners more choices, but when I am confronted with one of these menus I am often tempted to go straight to dessert.

Proper tapas: croquetas de bacalao at Bahia Social Club in Long Beach


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