Tapeando in the US—Possible?

Last night, I had the pleasure of going to eat at BARcelona Tapas in Indianapolis with my mother, my father, and a family friend. Obviously, it is a “tapas restaurant.” I was excited to return to the restaurant. I had been there once before, back in 2007, before I ever went to Spain. I wanted to evaluate it now that I knew what the real experience is like.

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[Source]

I wrote a post on tapeando already. Tapeando is, basically, the art of going for tapas. As I said in the earlier post, the point of tapeando is not to stay in one bar. It’s not a sit-down dinner at all. Ideally, you can hit up anywhere from three to six bars in one night, depending on your hunger and stamina. When I go out with Mario and his friends, we all put a set amount of money in the bote and put someone in charge of it. Then, we go from place to place, not worrying about it, as the person in charge will take care of paying. At each place, everyone orders a drink: beer, wine, or water (usually). With this order, we get a free tapa to eat. There are all sorts of tapas, and I don’t have the time to get into all of them, but they can be very, very good and, of course, not so good. You have to know where to go!

In the US, the craze for tapas is just starting. Tapas restaurants are popping up everywhere. Spanish cooking is beginning to get the recognition it deserves, thanks in part to chefs like José Andrés, who as this Wall Street Journal article states, arrived in the US in 1991 with little money, back at a time when basically no one knew what Spanish cuisine even consisted of.

My favorite tapas are usually cheese-related. (Surprise, surprise!) To me, nothing is quite as good as a slice of queso manchego with dulce de membrillo (a type of quince jam, which my mother-in-law makes at home). I also love patatas alioli, smoked salmon with cream cheese and bread, croquettes, and olives. Se me hace agua la boca.

Tapas are great, no doubt about it. What’s so great about them? It’s not just the food. It’s the atmosphere, the fun you have standing up in a noisy bar with your friends, drinking and eating great food. It’s walking from place to place after a few cañas. It’s the shared experience.

With that said, I wonder whether the tapas experience can ever truly triumph in the States. Most of all, it’s because we just don’t have the walkability of Spain—except in big cities of course. But I’ve always had the most fun in a small town, Zamora, because Mario grew up there, and he knew all the best places. We love going to El Chillón, a bar known for its tortilla con salsa de callos (a Spanish potato omlette with tripe sauce. Yep, you read that right. It’s delicious!) I know that in Crawfordsville, my home town, there is really no such thing as walkability. We have to drive everywhere, unless we want to walk an hour and a half to the grocery store. The real tapeando experience would not work here, nor  would it in the majority of US cities.

tapasgrid

[Image from Notes from Madrid.]

Nonetheless, the idea of introducing good-quality Spanish food is a good one. Many people believe (falsely) that Spanish food is similar to Mexican. It is not. Spanish food is not spicy. Many people go to Spain and leave believing that all Spaniards eat is pork. While they do love their pork and other pig-based products, Spanish food is extremely varied and usually delicious. I’m glad that BARcelona Tapas is doing good work. That said, some of my favorites from last night:

  • Alcachofas fritas—Crispy artichokes with Romesco sauce and shaved Manchego cheese.
  • Empanadas de espinaca y champiñón—Spinach and mushroom pastries with cumin garlic alioli.
  • Trigueros con Romesco—Grilled asparagus with Romesco sauce and Manchego.
  • Tres quesos—Manchego, Cabrales and goat cheese with Spanish picos.

What do you think? Will the art of tapeando ever really triumph in the US? Or maybe just the tapas?

BARcelona Tapas

201 N. Delaware
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317.638.8272

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21 comments

  1. I love tapas and I do regularly make patatas bravas at home! We have had many tapas places here in Charlotte, NC and they don’t seem to stay in business long (sadly) because I don’t think we Americans really get the gist of tapeando. We (generalization) like large meals here in America and the thought of snacking for dinner gets lost with us. I am also in agreement with the walkability factor. Guess I’ll just have to go back to Spain again for real tapas.

    1. Yes! Going back is good. :)

      I think you’re spot on with saying that we don’t get snacking for dinner. It’s partly because dinner is our big girl, whereas in Spain lunch is big and dinner is generally smaller (and later)!

  2. Free tapas, ha! I’m almost glad they’re not free here in Seville, or I’d be eating out nightly, and mostly fried foods. I’ve been To several tapas bars in Chicago and, honestly, find them overpriced and not as authentic.

    Oh, and tripe sauce????? Ick! That is thr one thing I can’t do.

    1. Have you trieeeeeeeeeeeed it? I’m serious. I would never in my life eat * callos*, but I swear to you this stuff is heavenly! It’s like cumin and tomato and mmmmmmmmmmmm

  3. Fun! I think the art of tapeando could take off in walkable cities (San Francisco comes to mind). I’ve been to a few Spanish restaurants in LA – one (also called BAR Celona) was about half Spanish and half Mexican which did NOT fly with me, but I have been to a José Andres place which was crazy good and authentic. I definitely think “tapas” should be used only for Spanish food. It is NOT the same as “small plates.”

    I would be happy, though, if 100 Montaditos made it to California :) That would at least be a start, even if it’s not authentic.

    1. Yeah, this place did have Mexican drinks (margarita, anyone?) but the food was Spanish, so I was okay with that.

      I would love to go to a Jos Andrs place someday! Which one was it? And I agree about tapas = Spanish.

      1. I went to The Bazaar with my parents a couple of years ago – it’s out of my price range for normal occasions, but so cool to try. Some of the stuff was a modern take on Spanish tapas, so not the traditional stuff we’re used to, but still excellent.

  4. I have a ton of tapas restaurants around me in Lille and now I am going to request a Tapeando with my lover. How much fun does it sound like?!! Mmmm even the thought of a night like that makes me bouncy!

  5. I’ve tried a few Spanish restaurants in the L.A. area, and there’s only one that tastes authentic, which is a run-down little place in a sketchy area of town. The others are all just…trying too hard, I guess. They take tapas that should be simple and add weird sauces and spices and flavors so that they no longer taste Spanish. I think the real problem is that Spanish food has simple flavors while American food tends to be overloaded with flavor (not a complaint about either, because I love both!), so Americanized Spanish food just doesn’t taste right. And when it’s served tapas style, the tapas are expensive, defeating the purpose of tapas (oh how I love getting a good meal and drink for under 5 euros!). That said, I still enjoy going to inauthentic Spanish restaurants and seeing the cheesy Spanish decorations, listening to the stereotypical flamenco music, and exploring what their menus have to offer (as well as being the snobby expat who says things like, “OHHH well in SPAIN this dish would blah blah blah”).

    1. Oooh you make a good point. I hate when they had all these weird sauces. Even the empanadas we had (which were really empanadillas, but whatever) had some sort of sauce. I’m like, no sauce is needed! I think Americans just love our condiments. (Cat may have mentioned this haha.)

      Mario was looking at the menu with me — you know, to *dar el visto bueno *– and he thought they were expensive. Sigh. They weren’t bad, and they were definitely for 2-3 people, but $5-$8 is just not right!

      I tried to order the stuff with their Spanish name, and the lady didn’t understand me. I’m so pretentious, hahaha. Luckily, my family wanted to know what I thought. :)

  6. Interesting post. When I was in college, before I came to Spain, I worked at a high-end tapas restaurant in my hometown (link: http://mesonsabika.com/). It sounds ridiculous, because “tapas” and “fine dining” usually don’t belong in the same sentence. It’s a popular restaurant in the area, if not quite pricey, and it’s somewhat authentic in the sense that it features some typical Spanish tapas, but it definitely has nothing to do with the Spanish tapeando atmosphere you described. Working there did give me a great base knowledge of Spanish food and wines, however. Though I quickly realized in Spain that authentic tapeando is wayyy more laid back than what I’d been used to in the restaurant… and that’s a good thing. Though I still love going back to eat at Meson, especially since my mom works for the school district and gets a 40 percent discount. Hollaaaaa.

    1. Yes! That’s a good point. In Spain, *tapeando* is cheap; in the US, it’s generally rather expensive. Which … not cool?! I don’t know how you make it less expensive, though, since I find things like fresh produce and meat from the *carnicera *to be cheap in Spain and expensive in the US. Plus, when you know you’ll sell a *ton* of, say, your *pinchos morunos*, it’s okay to make them a bit cheaper. Maybe I’m wrong, though — I don’t really know anything about business.

      Also, the wine list here was *ehhhh*. As Mario said, “Vaya pena de carta de vinos.” Hah!

  7. I think the key to tapeando is time–as in, taking the time to go from place to place, not so much to get full, as to have drinks with good friends and snack on some good food to keep you going and occupied. Meanwhile, Americans are used to going to restaurants to get full, quickly and effectively. Not to mention that when every restaurant here has people practically trained to leave as soon as they’ve gobbled up their meal, I think a tapas restaurant with a “stay here and enjoy your time” relaxed feel would throw a lot of locals off.

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