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Tapastre Somerville....a review

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I went out to dinner tonight in Somerville with my family. Last time I took them out we went to Il Pomodoro, a two story Italian restaurant on High Street in Somerville. The meal at Il Pomodoro was average at best, however, as we were leaving we realized that there was a small tapas style restaurant in the basement. We checked out the menu and decided that if we were in the area again we would give it a try. Well tonight was the night.

When my mother first said she wanted to dine at Tapastre I was hesitant. The meal at the sister restaurant Pomodoro was not that great, and I can't imagine that they would do a much better job at trying to interpret tapas style food in a seemingly second thought style setting under the building. We arrived for a 6:30 reservation and were promptly greeted and seated by a friendly host. The menu presented 5 sections each representing a different country ( Spain, Italy, Africa....) Each section had 5-6 items ranging in price from 4-11 dollars in price. To the eye the choices were very appealing and offered a variety of items from spicy, to tame, to savory, to exotic. The server ( who was very professional and well trained) explained to us that all the portions were small and he recomended that we order 3-4 items each. The wine list was on the table and only boasted 6-8 wines by the glass and a few by the bottle. The choices were not impressive.

We decided to each get three courses and have them served in waves of three. After we ordered we were given an amuse of fried alligator tail with a spicy Morrocon sauce. Now I am not sure as to what made this sauce Morrocon, however, it was quite tasty, The alligator tail was obviously breaded in house as it was studded with bits of fresh herbs and spices. I was a bit confused as to the idea of having alligator tail at a tapas restaurant in Somerville, but hey it was surprisingly good. The touch on the amuse that indicated to me that the chef actually cared about what he was doing was the dressed Italian flat leaf parsley salad on the plate with the alligator tail. The salad consisted of a few pieces of picked parsley dressed in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

For the first course we had; Korobuta Sausage with a braised onion filled with a cannelini bean salad, Bacon "Pesto" crusted sea scallops with blue cheese crackers, and marinated octupus with fried plantain. The sausage was grilled and cooked perfectly. The combination of the braised sweet onions and the white beans complemented the spicy-richness of the sausage perfectly. The scallops were seared and caramelized on top, crusted with bacon and pesto and served over evidently housemade bluecheese crackers. The scallops tasted fresh and were seasoned properly, however, did not need the blue cheese complement. The octopus was lightly grilled and marinated with lime juice, herbs and aromatics, served in a martini glass with a thin piece of fried plantain. Wow, I love octopus, and this was perfect, not too mushy, with a little tooth to spare, seasoned with the proper amount of spice, and presented on a banana leaf lined cocktail plate....nice touch.

For the second course we had foie gras ravioli, poached pear salad and a wild arugula salad with sesame crusted goat cheese. The foie gras ravioli was home made and came in a bowl with two large pieces, it was served with a mushroom duck broth poured tableside upon presentation. The ravioli dough was cooked perfectly and melted in the mouth, however, the filling was mushy and tasted like poorly made pate. The arugula salad on the other hand was a huge success. The goat cheese medallion was crusted with black and white sesame seeds and seared until golden brown, the hot cheese spilled all over the perfectly dressed salad when cut into. The pear on the pear salad was poached to perfection, not too mushy, but not too raw, the dressing was a bit acidic, however, when eaten with the pear balanced out a bit.

For the third course we had lobster ravioli, morrocon duck bysteea, and grilled baby lamb chops. The ravioli once again was homemade and used the same dough as the foie gras ravioli, it was garnished with a thin lobster bisque "style" sauce seasoned with chunks of fresh lobster tail. The duck was a huge hit, and presented simply on a long plate with a single chive spear and two long lines of a vinegar reduction. The duck meat was meltingly tender and seasoned with a touch of cinnamon. The filo ( which I normaly dont like as it is usually dried out) was a perfect vessel to soak up the excess moisture inside the bysteea. The lamb was cooked to a perfect medium rare. It seemed as if the chops were rubbed down with a spice mixture of fresh cracked pepper, coriander, and fennel. The lamb was served over a salad of shaved cucumber, yogurt, spices and vinegar. Phenomenal contrast betwenn the slightly gamy lamb and the acidic nature of the yogurt dressed salad.

For dessert we had the trio of creme brulee and a cheese plate. The creme brulee was served three ways, with a traditional struesal topping, with caramelized brown sugar and with a caramel honey "type" topping. The custard melted in the mouth, with no grainy texture and freshness that indicated it was made that day. The cheeses, while not too exotic or artisinal
(mahon, asiago, humboldt fog, brie de meaux, tillst, and manchego) were served at room temperature, which indicated that the chef knows how to appreciate cheese. They were garnished with dried fruits and served with fairly cliched crackers.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised with Tapastre. The chef obviously knows his food as each element on every plate was treated with respect. The menu offered many choices all with unique flavors and attributes. The final price was 150 for 3 glasses of wine, soda, and 12 different dishes Service was to the point and flowed well. The atmosphere was comfortable with lighting that allowed for a bit of privacy, yet still allowed for diners to read the menu wuth ease. I noticed on the way out that on Sundays the restaurants has $2 beer and $6 martini specials during the football games. The bar was packed all night with couples watching college football. I will definitely go back and would recommend others to give this restaurant a try.

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  1. Thanks for your visit, I'm John, the owner,
    The "mediterranean tapas concept" seems to be working out !!
    I'm working on a new wine list Spain,France,Italy no problem, turning the eastern corner and the south of the Med is a bit more of a challenge.
    The technique with the octopus is to braise it with wine corks
    (ask me the logic next time you see me). We have a new idea to try on Tuesday night I'll post it on the website soon.
    thanks for your feedback..........

    2 Replies
    1. re: jproske

      John,
      Have you ever worked for or with David Burke? Some of your menu items are eerily similar to his.

      1. re: jproske

        Tapastre is one of our absolutely favorite places in Somerville.

        The concept of a tapas bar is absolutely brilliant as it delivers upscale and pampered cuisine choices by country or region. The morsels of food delivered are absolutely delectable. Despite their small size, the preparations take time and consequently, they don't flow out of the kitchen moments after placing an order, especially if the restaurant has a crowd in for the night; however, even when the orders are placed one course at a time, the flow from the kitchen and the service for clearing, refreshing water glasses, etc. makes for a calm, natural progression.

        Tapastre truly succeeds when you want a superb place to talk and socialize with some elegant food spaced over an hour or two. If you go there famished, expecting to find an unending bread basket or all you eat pans of lasagne, you are in the wrong house. But if you go feeling a bit peckish, Tapastre is the sort of place that can restore your belief in some really fine food.

        Admittedly, I was originally put off by the 'limitations' of the wine list, both by glass or bottle, but over the last half dozen visits have gotten very familiar with some of the wines and have come to accept them as simple bistro choices. Don't go expecting to find the latest 90 point Parker review wines but do expect to find and try some very well matched wines that can cross the food boundaries offered by the cuisine.

        My only request, please, is that somewhere, somehow, Tapastre needs to start pairing at least one or two dry sherries. These are some of the most affordable wines that when well chilled, have the ability to deliver a luscious, nutty but dry mouth-filling experience that can ever serve as a starter, aperitif and get you in the mood for a night of quiet revelry. Even just one single Lustau sherry would help gild the lily there.

      2. I had lunch at Tapastre the other day with three other family members. We had many of the same dishes that shorelee reported on and we had pretty much the same responses. The food was delicious, and presented very nicely. I have a couple of quibbles though. I know tapas are supposed to be small plates. But we had never dined at this restaurant before and we weren't sure what "small" meant here or how many plates to order. Our server told us that the lunch portions were actually larger than the dinner portions and that we should figure on about two plates per person. The problem was that some of the menu items were very substantial in size (the baby lamp chops for example) while others were much smaller portions - the sausage and the octopus for example. Delicious, but not very filling. It took a long time for the food to come out so when those of us who ended up ordering two of the plates that were on the very small side of small realized we really hadn't had enough to eat, we just couldn't take more time to order yet another round of plates. Obviously, experience helps here - we would have a better knowledge of the size of the plates if we go back in the future. Maybe a little more guidance from our server would have been helpful too, especially as we had indicated to him from the beginning that we had never been there before.

        The other quibble concerned one of the desserts. It was the "Potted Plant of Dark Chocolate Mousse Profiteroles served with Raspberry Sauce". I don't know what the potted plant part was supposed to be...what I got was 4 or 5 profiteroles lined up in a row filled with chocolate mousse with a tiny bit of raspberry sauce on the side of the plate - hardly enough to dip one bite of the dessert in. The mousse was delicious, but the profiteroles themselves tasted stale. All in all, I have to say that our first experience there was not a completely satisfying one, but I might be willing to give it one more try. But I think I would skip the dessert...