Confession – I like the idea of tapas, because I fall in love with the sound of many things on the menu. Confession – I always overeat because I never order just one or two tapas (even sharing doesn’t overcome the overeating!). Tapa That, in Riverside, has a reputation for being pretty spectacular as a spanish tapas place. Plus, DJ Snugglemonster and I wanted to try out Alewife around the corner, so we made a date of it.
Tapa That has roughly 8-10 tables, with a lounge area (read: a couch) that you can supposedly eat at, a small bar area, and a weird…well “prison cell” up front. We didn’t make reservations, but got there early enough that there were still some tables left. There was no hostess oddly for a place that small, and the sign said to seat yourself, so we sat at the closest comfy looking table (no, I’m not eating on a couch at a restaurant – I save that for Sunday nights at home watching Game of Thrones in my pj’s.). People who came in after us, though, were greeted and sat, so maybe we screwed up. It took some time for a waiter to stop by our table unfortunately. I am not sure if this is due to the self-seating or the fact that there are so few servers (although I couldn’t really figure out the roles of the employees here). When our server did come by, he was great (if not a little awkward), and explained the menu and got our drinks. A word of caution – while the menus suggest that they have “cocktails,” they don’t actually have their liquor license, so they make “cocktails” with wine or beer. As I am not a grown up and rarely find a wine or beer I like, you can imagine my disappointment. Thankfully the waiter let me sample their house made coffee sake. Sound strange? It most definitely was. Super sweet and oddly creamy. I definitely could not do more than a sip or two – a slow sip at that. But I’ll give them points for creativity at least! They do have some good two-for-one happy hour specials (although the waiter forgot to bring DJSM his second before we were ready for the check).
The menu has several sections: their main part, which is their pretty standard, regular tapas that stay on the menu; the “specials,” which are their specials of the week; their tacos section; and (when we went), a “Throw Back Special” list, which included items from their first year that were fan favorites in honor of their anniversary. They also have daily specials that are not included in their menu (i.e., the better options…as well as being the more expensive ones). If you have a vegan or vegetarian friend, this is a great place to take them, as they offer about a 50-50 split on their menu between the carnivore and herbivore offerings. Oddly, most of the items that caught my eye were vegetarian – so kudos to Tapa That for trying to convert a die-hard carnivore! The first item I ordered was the Wild Mushroom Quesadilla. I love mushrooms, I love cheese, so I should love this right? Well…it definitely delivered on the cheese part. Unfortunately, though, the mushrooms got lost and the “stone ground mustard sauce” allegedly in the mix never showed up. The quesadilla came with sour cream and a smoky/spicier version of sour cream for dipping. The regular sour cream definitely came in handy when we were eating all of our items, as most EVERYTHING was spicy or super spicy. The quesadilla, unfortunately, was blah. It tasted like something any fifth grader could make in their own home and all of the special touches the menu tempted me with were either overshadowed or non-existent.
I also ordered the coconut curry cauliflower, on the recommendation of our server, as it was one of the specials and what part of that alliteration does not sound intriguing? Unfortunately, the cauliflower was barely cooked (either serve it to me raw or cook it so it’s not crunchy) and the dish was soooo spicy that it was difficult to eat. One look at the dish and the source of the heat was obvious – red pepper flakes carelessly strewn on top in reckless abandonment. I’d like to say I gave it a fair shot, but I just couldn’t get through the heat to really taste the rest of the dish.
DJSM and I also ordered the octopus that was a daily special for the night. The octopus came on a delicious bed of pureed cauliflower and some great pickled vegetables. However, there was only one tentacle and the cauliflower puree was also wickedly hot. The octopus was cooked fantastically, but it was somewhat on the bland side (especially compared to the spicy cauliflower)…and there was only one piece! I know that daily specials are not on a menu for a reason – they are the best dishes offered by the kitchen that night with the most flavor, but are also the most expensive (hence why they don’t put the price in writing to glare at you). For the amount of food on this one, the going price of $12 was a bit exorbitant.
DJSM chose all the right dishes, however. He gets first prize for menu selection, as usual. He ordered the chorizo taco, which was by all means fresh and flavorful. But, was it anything outstanding or anything I couldn’t get anywhere else? Not really. But hey, it was a tasty $5 taco, so I’m not complaining. The absolute STAR of the evening, however, was the creamy chorizo dip. Cheesy, slightly smoky/spicy, and ooey-gooey, this dish was the best fondu/cheese-dippy thing I’ve eaten in quite some time. I will say that the tortillas could have been larger or crispy, in order to hold up to dipping and scooping into the sauce, that’s a minor complaint, and I’m down to get messy. While it didn’t exactly look the most appetizing, given the layer of separated fat and the color, the flavor delivered. I could have eaten five or six of these bad boys.
Rule of caution when it comes to Tapa That – ask for milk. MOST EVERYTHING is unnecessarily spicy. I had to ration the small amount of sour cream on my quesadilla plate to cool my mouth down. Get anything that has chorizo in it, though, because their chorizo is amazing. Be prepared to pay too much for any off-menu specials as well, and well, be patient when it comes to the wait staff. They are great at their job and super friendly, but it just might take awhile for them to get around to you. I would go back and give it a second chance, if that tells you anything.