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December 13, 2009

The tapas trap

TTeatro.jpgLast night we ate at Tapas Teatro in Station North before seeing the play at Everyman. Wow. I don't know if the place is always that busy, or it was just Saturday night, or because there are no outdoor tables this time of year it seems to be extra crowded. But it was jammin'.

I like their solution of letting you wait for your table at a table in the Charles Theatre lobby.

They bring you the menus and a little bowl of olives, and you can order a glass of wine while you wait. You just can't order food there. ...

It's very much more civilized than the tiny bar (although people were having fun at the bar; you just couldn't get within shouting distance of the bartender if you didn't have a stool).

Anyway, when we got our table we ordered various small plates to share. It didn't seem like a lot of food so we kept ordering, and I kept eating, and by the end I was struck by the fact that I had eaten about twice as much as I normally would -- or that I would if I had ordered a dinner with meat/fish and two sides. Tapas are tricky that way.

Of course, it didn't help that I polished off Tapas Teatro's panna cotta, made in house, with a chocolate shell coating the glass it's served in and salty chopped Marcona almonds on top. In my opinion, it's the best in town.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 7:56 AM | | Comments (16)


Love that place! Have yet to go there when it is not jammed . Fun to people watch while you wait

hey DW, Mom & I were there for the same reason, before catching Irma Vep at Everyman, but we were there Friday night.
Antonio is a great chef, and a good soul, and Mom, who is not an adventurous eater, loved it. We got there just after 6pm, hate to rush a meal. The potatoes with aoeli were delish, and the pea fritters are our new fav. Enough SoCal talk. {PS, Irma Vep was fantabulous! Loved the actor reaction whenever they cracked open the tome on Egypt ;~}

The one and only time we have ever seen empty tables at Tapas Teatro was last 4th of July when we decided to skip fireworks and see a movie followed by dinner. Plenty of tables around 9 p.m.!

With all the success of Tapas Teatro, it is a wonder they don't just buy the old Chesapeake and expand operations.

I've seen more than one restaurant ruined by an expansion. My first favourite Lebanese restaurant went from a crowded, scruffy, funky little spot ruled by Fatima with an iron hand and a lung capacity envied by opera singers to just another fancy Lebanese joint with hookahs on the wall. Granted, the food was still great, because Fatima wasn't changing for anything, but it wasn't the fun it used to be.

Then they started opening branches. At their height, I think they had about 30 restaurants. The food became more Americanized and the quality slipped. Then the FBI got involved.

Sad, very sad. I still miss the original place.

(Ye gods, Captcha is apparently trying to analyze me and give me advice - "repersonalize identity".)

EL: What kind of tapas did you have?

earplugs sonfish (my steel guitar blues band name)

Fried vegetables, chicken with cumin mayonnaise, eggplant/tomato/yogurt, potato soup, too much bread, olives (twice), flan and panna cotta. It doesn't sound like much when I write it like that, but it was all high calorie. EL

movement muzak (my earplugs sonfish groupie name).

The first time we went to a tapas restaurant [Firefly in Las Vegas], we had no idea what to expect. the four of us in the party were all tapas virgins. Small plates meant small, so we each ordered 2 items to share. Well, the table barely held everything because it all showed up at the same time! We know the staff laughed at us all night, but the food was good and we had a great time. And learned a lesson about ordering and pacing.

captcha -- 62 cupolas, a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I have to admit -- again referencing my Spanish travels this Fall -- that even the most authentic tapas joints in town have our American eating habits sort of working against them.

On one hand, it seems the bulk of tapas places in town have had to adopt full-sized entree plates to accomodate unfamiliarity or expectations.

The practice of tapas in Spain seemed a more relaxed venture than most every tapas joint I've been to in the States -- from Baltimore, to New York, to Boston to DC, to Miami, to Los Angeles.

It's probably to Tapas Teatro's acclaim that they keep a really fast pace. Being adjacent to the Charles, so much of their business is in a theatre rush. I suppose it can seem downright rushed to the uninitiated.

What is the trap?

The "trap" Little men, is that Americans just don't when the heck to stop.

Tapas traditionally in Spain was a "snack" or a little dish of something you used to literally "cover" you glass of wine (by order of the king!). It was not even a knosh the size of an appetizer.

It evolved in Spanish society as a kind of very light fair you ate standing up at a bar, socializing, usually before or after dinner at 10:00 p.m.

Of course once Americans got hold of it, we had to

a. make it "cool" by forcing the issue of people thinking it was some form of hip and arcane European culinary tour de force


b. stuff ourselves silly on tapas.

The Spanish laugh. (Just as the Mexicans laugh at us getting drunk on Cinco de Mayo.)

Tapas was like cocktail peanuts. It was little fried squid in sauce, then drinks, THEN dinner.

It was NEVER supposed to be a thing in and of itself.

So there's the trap.

We Americanized it--and lost it--all at the same time.

Tapas? Go to Bilbao. Go to Barcelona. Go to Madrid, for Pete's sake.

Then talk to me about tapas.

flooding Legakis (my Polish Olympic swim team name)

No offense to anyone who attends Tapas Teatro.

I'm just sayin'...

York suturing (my Dark Ages barber name)

Cleatus: You got my itinerary pretty spot on.


In my defense, some of the pintxos in Bilbao's Casco Viejo were downright Cheesecake Factory-sized.

At least one or two of my European friends have started to complain that portion-flation has started to catch on over there.

El Gen:
I hear you.
It's the Applebee's Syndrome.
We could set the pace for the industrialized world.
We could lead, but we choose to loll.

shires chapter (my Lord of the Rings name)

I agree totally. WE as Americans take everything we find in other cultures and super-size it. I only hope that the smørrebrød I enjoy so much in Scandinavia Especially at Ida Davidsen's at Store Kongensgade 70 in Copenhagen.
These dainties would never survive super-sizing.
Interesting Captcha, maybe Cleatus' Yukon wilderness name
Oliver mukluk

Spam at 5:57 AM! (This one is apparently shilling work-from-home schemes in India.)

He posted at 2 a.m., too, which I deleted early. Persistent little bugger. EL

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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