Tapas Gitana

Those with a big appetite may prefer to avoid “small plates” restaurants at all costs, but I find them good places to bring a group of friends to, because then everyone can try many different items for around the same price per person. You basically get a more complete and in-depth sampling of a certain cuisine, and the Tapas Gitana I went to in Northfield did just that when I went to have dinner there with a bunch of friends.

So the very first thing we did when we sat down was order a Valenciana paella. Catchy name, but what we were really after was the full-blown flavour of Valencia. So while the chefs were taking their time to cook it slowly and properly, we ordered a mixture of hot and cold tapas.

From the hot menu came the Dátiles Con Tocino (bacon-wrapped dates), Champiñones Rellenos (stuffed mushroom caps), Empanada de Dos Solomillos (puff pastry filled with beef and pork), Gambas Ala Plancha (grilled tiger shrimp), and Calamares A La Plancha (squid in lemon sauce). First off, I must confess that I always get the dates and mushroom caps every time I come here, and while they are always amazing, I find that the quality of these dishes have declined slightly compared to the very first time I came here to eat. I have no idea why; perhaps they switched chefs, but the bacon around the dates were a little overcooked (i.e. blackened), while the mushroom caps were not as bursting with flavour as I remember them to be. Plus the dishes were smaller than before. So both quantity and quality were in decline, like the state of our current economy. Must be related. Anyway, I’m not saying the food was bad; it was good and tasty, but just didn’t reach my expectations. It teaches me a good lesson – to never set my expectations on anything, as things are constantly changing. It’s an occupational hazard of living in the human world.

On the flipside, the shrimp and the squid dishes were really good! Both were simple, but cooked to perfection. The shrimp was tender, and literally burst in my mouth the moment my teeth broke its skin. The squid was chewy, but had just the right amount of ‘spring’ in it so made it easy and fun to eat. The lemon-based sauce that went with them was also light, yet truly highlighted the original sweetness of the seafood. It’s true: less is more! And these tapas more than proved that. The puff pastry was also very good, filled with ground pork and beef with tomato sauce on the side. Very soft and tender too, with an airy pastry on the outside. It tasted good, but was definitely not as unique or special as the dates or paella.

From the cold menu came the daily special of a whitefish salad, which I totally forgot the Spanish name of. It also had a lemon sauce, but included a mixture of salad vegetables surrounding the fish. What made this dish interesting was that it was served cold, and the fish soaked up the sauce, making it taste more sour than sweet. But it was very refreshing! I only wished our server had placed the order for this dish first, so we could whet our appetites with this dish instead of having it when we were almost full.

As for the paella, it was definitely worth the wait! It had chicken, and a variety of seafood, including clams and shrimp all mixed in with the saffron rice that was piping hot, with a kick to it (via garlic and peppers) that made you keep wanting more. Delish! And everything went perfectly with our sangria, sweet and cold, but gave me the same warmth that any alcoholic drink does. Mmm.

The place was quite calm, but I liked the dimmed lights and Spanish-themed paintings on the wall. It gives off a very cozy atmosphere. As for the service, not stellar, as our waiter was slow and not very attentive, but at least he got our orders correct. He was also smart enough to split our full order into two sets, so our food trickled out of the kitchen instead of arriving all at the same time, which meant we could take our time to eat at our own pace instead of stuffing our faces and getting full before we could try all the dishes. Overall, a classic place to go for Spanish food for an average price of $15-$20 per person. 7/10 stars, and make sure you get gift certificates from Restaurant.com for good discounts!

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