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Tapas ... hit or hype?

I'm looking for some feedback here because I can't believe I'm the only person that cringes when I hear a restaurant's menu described as tapas style. It's been around for a number of years but I've yet to be impressed. Disappointed describes my feelings better. The prices are the same but the plates just got smaller. I feel that it's a clever way for the restaurants to increase their profit margin. Come on! If your are going to serve sampler plates, they should not be at lower prices. For some reason, people think they are getting better food when the portions are smaller. Tell me what you think. I don't mind being proved wrong .. but I doubt I will.

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  1. It's a "hit" for me. Pretty much all my dining out is now of the small-plate variety. Where I live (Vancouver BC), small-plates are definitely the best way to eat (IMO). (tapas, along with tasting menus, izakaya, sushi, dim sum, charcuterie, etc.)

    I like the variety and freedom - and best of all - small plates are (usually) designed to be shared. Furthermore, the mix-and-match synergy with wines by the glass (..& beers, sake, etc.) can't be denied.

    >>The prices are the same but the plates just got smaller.

    That isn't my experience here.

    >> If your are going to serve sampler plates, they should not be at lower prices.

    Is there typo in that sentence. Did you mean: "should be" at lower prices?

    1. My experience has been that eating tapas can get pricey, but you get a greater variety of food. And if you order with price in mind, you can keep within a budget. What I hate is when I go to a "regular" restaurant and am served an "entree" that is the size of a small appetizer - and it costs $25!

      1. Tapas, Hit. Tapas Style, ripoff.

        Real, authentic, tapas are relatively inexpensive and very good. Usually they are made with the lesser priced cuts of meat and small fishes and seafood.

        The tapas style dishes are usually expensive and may be hit or miss in quality. It all depends upon the place.

        1 Reply
        1. I am not a fan of Tapas restaurants. I wouldnt call it hype, since others seem to enjoy this style of dining, but for me, give me my own entree, and I will be happy.

          1 Reply
          1. re: swsidejim

            Frustrated Chef, it had to be -- gasp -- twenty years ago that I first tasted tapas at a nuevo hip chic restaurant (can't remember the name) in the Tribeca area of Manhattan. Koch was mayor and the restaurant Odeon was 'in'.

            I don't remember the prices, but I bet they were steep. My brother, on the other hand, had tapas in Spain years ago, where they were priced as they should be.

            I don't know what Spain has done with their tapas pricing, but I do know that tapas have now caught on in Westchester NY. In fact, an overpriced tapas place has just opened in a new overpriced hotel/condo complex in White Plains and all the rich and oblivious are rushing to it, declaring it the 'new best' thing.

            Long story short, yes you are correct. As someone who eats only appetizers, I don't mind the sizes of the tapas, but of course, they are waaaaay overpriced. However, they are overpriced in this area because the market will bear it.

          2. Tapas are a Spanish or a Spanish-derivative small serving in jfood's opinion. He would never consider one ravioli or a small piece of gefilte fish a tapa plate. And jfood really likes the traditional tapas.

            That being said he basically ignores "hype" words. An Italian Tapas resto is a basic yawn. Jfood goes for the food not the nomenclature.

            7 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              I think if the US could adopt tapas in the way they were actually intended to be served it would be much more interesting. Each place specializes in one type of tapa and perfects whatever it is that they make. Its impractical I know but it much better.

              1. re: mexigaf

                I doubt that will happen in the U.S. In Spain, it is an important cultural tradition. But the tradition usually involves alcohol. People wander from tapas bar to tapas bar, and eat and drink along the way. With the American car culture, I think this would be very unsafe (unless you could get a designated driver). I have to say, I have never walked so little as the time we spent two years in the States. I put on a lot of weight in the States. Some of it came off when we returned home and I started wlaking everywhere again.

                1. re: moh

                  Haven't US bars always served 'tapas' - that is, snacks and salty items that encourage patrons to linger and buy more drinks?


                  1. re: paulj

                    Yes you are correct, but I guess I don't get into salted peanuts, pretzels, popcorn, buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers and other fried products, nachos in the same way I do spanish tapas. Don't get me wrong, I love all those bar foods, but they don't inspire me to wander from bar to bar to try them out.

                    1. re: moh

                      moh, quite true. The happy hour foods or the pretzels/chips at the bar are NOT tapas.

                      I've never had tapas in Spain, but imo, America doesn't know how to properly DO tapas. Or, they're too greedy.

                  2. re: moh

                    >> With the American car culture, I think this would be very unsafe.

                    Excellent point moh. I believe that the "crawl" is part of the overall experience (one or two plates plus a bottle, then move on). Serving a singular meal "tapas-style" at one single restaurant is just not the same.

                    Barcelona's Ramblas is the exemplary example of this.

                    1. re: fmed

                      Oh the Ramblas.... Are you trying to make me cry Fmed? And the old city was fabulous too. Oh the jamon iberico pata negra....

              2. I personally love good tapas menus. I just wish that everyone would just miniaturize their normal mediocre food and call it a tapas menu. However, I think that is more dependent on the restaurant rather than on the style. Besides, I like the option of smaller portions (something that is getting harder and harder to find...)

                1 Reply
                1. re: wildfire

                  Yeah, me too. Not everybody can eat a full-sized entree (especially from a place like Applebee's where they tend to be supersized). And I also like to try different types of food in one sitting.

                  I do agree that a lot of the tapas-style restaurants overprice the dishes. However, I don't think it is as much as one may think it is. Just because you reduce your portion size by a certain amount doesn't mean that the price reduces by that factor as well.

                2. Spent part of my honeymoon in Spain (Madrid), and really enjoyed the tapas concept. First, my wife and I weren't prepared for the Spanish lifestyle (i.e. dinner isn't eaten until after 9:00 pm), and we were often starving at 6 pm. The ability to go in, have a glass of wine, and sample three or four different plates was a god-send.

                  Of course, the plates were priced appropriately - usually between $1-2/plate, unless it was shrimp or octopus, which were a bit higher. A bowl of olives, some jambon, some potato, and some calamari made for a tasty, filling snack for two.

                  The best potatoes we had were at a place called "Souffle". Here, the house specialty was potatoes cut into an irregular octagon, and deep fried twice. When fried the second time, the potatoes puff up like little pillows. Drizzled with salt, they were like the world's most addictive potato chip.

                  1. I like tapas--not as a regular meal but as an option. A lot of times restaurant entrees can get monotonous after a few bites and appetizers can often be more inventive than entrees. Tapas allows you to have a more interesting, varied meal (although sometimes protein heavy and not very well-rounded). Tapas can add up, but I don't have a huge appetite, so I can often eat at a tapas bar for less than I'd spend getting an app and entree at a regular restaurant.

                    1. I really like Tapas, I like traditional Spanish/Mediterranean style best. But I enjoy eating small bites so I can taste a lot of different things without being full, but I find here they are normally priced so I spend about as much on a selection of small plates as I would an entree/starter or just entree.

                      I also love tapas in Spain and I like the way they do them in a more casual way. I also like that DC has a tapas happy hour place that reminds me of Spain the way they do tapas.

                      1. I've always loved appetizers and so going to a Tapas restaurant (at least in my town) is great...but you have to be in the mood for trying different items and not wanting a main meal. That's what I think has always attracted me to appetizers.. being able to eat different things & having a variety. However, it can get very pricey, which doesn't seem fair. A lot of restaurants in my area are doing the 'small plate' trend, so if one is in the mood for a full meal and not a variety, it's important to be familiar with the restaurant before you choose it. I remember one xmas eve, my mom had decided to make appetizers for dinner, thinking it'd be easy and leave time for preparing xmas dinner and then my family could just nibble and watch movies. She made stuffed mushrooms, steamed clams, chicken wings, etc. It was one of my most favorite xmas eves'! Unfortunately, making so many diff. things ended up taking a lot more time than my mom expected!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: lilyalli

                          "Unfortunately, making so many diff. things ended up taking a lot more time than my mom expected!"

                          Is it possible that this is the reason tapas costs are more expensive than regular mains? Lot more prep, more variety, etc.? Although this doesn't explain the more reasonable costs for tapas in Spain.

                        2. Tapas works in Spain & does not work elsewhere, IMO.

                          It is the cultural thing of having a drink and a tapa in this bar; a drink and a tapa in that bar. I have had great evenings in Andalucia (and next day hangovers to match).

                          Tapas meals are tricky, even in Spain. Had two good ones last week in Tenerife. One lunch brought two platters with 16 different tapas to share (16 Euros for 2 people). Dinner at another bar/restaurant was more fun - owner sits down and explains what he has to offer (having a modest amount of foodie Spanish helps here); suggests you order three or four then split a main between the two of you. Great prawns. Great sardines. Both probably landed at the harbour 10 minutes walk away. Cost about 40 Euros.

                          1. one thing i like about tapas is that if you are dissapointed in a dish, it's just one of many....you haven't wasted your entire meal (and belly space) on it. Plus you get to try so many remarkable flavours, provided it's a good restaurant.

                            I'm sure the experience is very different in Spain, but some of us are weenies and kinda don't like to fly, or can't afford it ;) Eating at diverse restaurants is one of the ways i "travel the world".

                            1. Do you mean real tapas or "tapas style" ie. small plates.

                              Small plates at reasonable prices is my dream when it comes to dining out, with the exception being when I just want a big bloody steak.

                              Like more and more young Americans Im the child of immigrants from a culture where its very uncommon for people to eat in the usual American Applebee's style of one large main dish with hunk of meat, starch, and serving of veggie.

                              Sometimes yes I do just want one plate of one type of food but usually this seems weird and boring to me.

                              Besides I dine out so I can taste a variety of foods I dont usually get to have. I really like being able to sample from a restaurants repertoire.

                              Im willing to pay a small premium on small plates since they require more attention from waitstaff and more dishes and more washing but I usually stick to places where I can get them at prices I think are fair. I wont pay $10 for a small dish of the house marinated olives or whatever.

                              Comeon, everybody likes dim sum right? Small plates...

                              As for real tapas. Of course I enjoy them. But you cant do all the cultural aspects of tapas here, only the food. Same probably goes for meze and all those other cultures traditional versions of small plates.

                              OK one thing I do hate. Every restaurant these days seems to be jumping on this bandwagon since the trend finally tricked down to the masses (well maybe not, I dont see Cheesecake Factory or IHOP doing all small plates yet.). But not all of them are capable of the execution. Its very hard to do a lot of inventive or at least consistently tasty small dishes. Its also very hard for waitstaff to manage the constant back and forth flow. As opposed to taking just one dinner order, delivering it, and mostly disappearing afterwards.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: delicion

                                >>Small plates at reasonable prices is my dream when it comes to dining out

                                Mine too. I don't expect it, ever, in my dining area, though.

                                1. re: delicion

                                  I agree, and I am the anthesis of a “young American.” Your choices are why I love a multi-course “chef’s tasting menu.” I want to experience many flavors and preps.

                                  Over the last 5 years, I have had only one complaint, regarding serving sizes - too many are too large! Since I travel 35 weeks a year, I do not want “doggie bags.” Do not give me enough to feed a family of 6, when it’s just my wife, and me. We can’t take it home. Give us tastes of all that you do. Wow us with the flavors, the presentations, the prep. Do not give us 15 lbs. of food! If I want that, I’ll head to the local chain “family-style” restaurant, which I do not do, of my own volition.


                                2. I think that if you typify "tapas-style" with "small plate," there is a trend.

                                  For tapas in the US, I have been disappointed though. I feel that too many restaurants are trying to catch "lightening in a bottle," and use this as a marketing term only.

                                  Now, I obviously have not tried ALL of the tapas bars in the US, and may have just had poor luck. Still, I think that most are in it for the marketing.