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Jan 27, 2009 05:36 AM

Tapas: Revelation or Rip-Off?

I'm noticing a mini-tapas craze going on around New England (and probably around the country). Many new restaurants feature tapas and established places are adding new tapas menus, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Small plates can be most creative, flavorful, and, in theory, it's a fun way of sampling a number of dishes. I was first introduced to tapas in the late 80s at Dali in Somerville MA, when it was one of the only tapas places around. The dishes were standard "appetizer" size, and a couple could make a meal out of 3-5 plates.

Having tried a few of these places lately, I can't help but wonder if this new tapas push is due to a realization in the industry that some people will pay a lot of money (relatively) for VERY little food, if, it's couched in the trendy tapas genre. I've eaten at several local restaurants serving tapas lately, and, for 8-11 bucks a plate, 2 people are served barely 2 fork fulls of food, and that's no exaggeration. Yeah, it may be tasty and pretty to look at, but these portions are laughable. I hate to sound so cynical and think that the chefs are out back chuckling to themselves about what they can get away with. I suppose the market/economy will dictate the survival of the latest tapas craze, if people are willing to pay more for less, the trend will continue. Has anyone else noticed the downsizing of tapas?

EDIT: I should note that the places I've eaten are in NE suburban Massachusetts and not in and trendy high-end Boston restaurants or nightspots.

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  1. There's still a craze? I thought it ended a few years ago, the exception being wine bars and the like simply serving up small bites, which they have always done, and priced accordingly.

    I still love real tapas, and haven't found many places better than Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, Chicago (in business over 20 years) outside of Spain (where I learned that if I didn't order any food, small plates would start showing up. The moment I actually ordered any food, the free bites stopped). Tapas--small portions, racionnes, large portions. My father would probably disagree with the serving sizes (he never gets full at sushi either), but an order of paella to split usually evens things out.

    The older Spanish places in Manhattan (30+ years old) have always been a little pricey, but their racionnes are well sized and usually more than a single person ought to eat when it comes to chorizo or gambas ajillo, but perfectly sized for the hard clams in sauce and other less fatty (but fattening) dishes. This was also true in Newark.

    If you're going to trendy places, you'll be charged accordingly.

    1. Well, there has been a rather odd crazein England. I've tried tapas a couple of times, and it tends to be fairly plain stuff - bowl of anchiovies, patatas bravas etc etc, and for a fair amount.

      It really would be much better if it was just free like it is in Spain. the stuff I've had is not really worth it IMO - 5 plates for £10 (and now it's gone up!)

      1. I haven't been to New England in about 10 years but you guys are very out of it if tapas are new to you.

        They have been popular in major metro areas for at least 10 years now.

        I like em...they usually have big flavors and, being small portions, you can have a great variety.

        1 Reply
        1. re: filth

          Tapas are not new to New England. Dali, mentioned by the OP, is going to be having their 20th anniversary this April.

          However, more and more restaurants are definitely offering "small plates" (some call them tapas, some call them mini-apps, some call them small plates) - perhaps because they realize they *can* get more money by offering more choices of smaller portions. I haven't paid attention to the actual sizes of the small plate portions, as I don't order them (except when I'm at Dali).

        2. I'm metro Boston and I too have noticed an expansion of many restaurant's apps/tapas offerings over the past few years. I also suspect that it is driven by the economy (less for more!) but I really enjoy it - I get to taste a wider variety of flavors/dishes. It also makes a better sized meal since most entrees (still here in Boston) are WAY TO LARGE. (BTW - separate rant - I hate a 'good review' that emphasizes that quantity of food served)

          5 Replies
          1. re: alwayscooking

            I just like being able to try things and/or have a variety at one time. I will often order apps at a non-"tapas" place for this reason alone.

            1. re: alwayscooking

              You bring up a good point: the problem of worth being assessed solely through the quantity of food. I don't mind if a dish is smaller if the flavours and quality of food is there. Most dishes offer more than a person can eat anyway.

              1. re: Lizard

                I've heard that's true in the US, not so much in England.

                1. re: Soop

                  Are you speaking from England? I, too, live in the UK, and I'm finding portion sizes to be pretty huge.

                  1. re: Lizard

                    I've read in a few places that UK sizes are nearly on par with US sizes.

                    In Salisbury 2007, I ordered the ploughman's lunch, and the plate was 16" across (no joke). We have a photo somewhere of my husband in comparison, as it was about the width of him seated.

            2. One ofthe restaurants on jfood rotation is a Tapas bar and they went this past weekened with friends. When M&M jfood go as a deuce they order ~6 tapas and they have a great dinner for about $50, can;t beat that if FFD county, CT. When they go with another couple they normally order 6 Tapas and then the shared entree for 2 that includes a steak a huge pork steak, a half a chicken with chorizo and sausage. Plenty of food for 4 and about $65/couple. And if you pace it correctly the table is yours for a good 2 hours. Plus the vibe is great and the company is better.

              Other places have changed their small plates concept over the last 2 months to a normal app/entree offering though. So the "craze" is over in jfood's experience for all but traditional cuisines that serve Tapas.