Wining & Dining
Small Plate Dining & Tapas
10/2/2017 10:54:16 PM
Tapas

The days of the appetizer menu beginning and ending between spinach dip and fried cheese sticks are over. The variety, creativity, and prominence of Tapas, also commonly known as starters, or small plates, is one of the hottest growing trends in restaurants right now, and eateries in Southwest Louisiana are no exception.

While Tapas are of Spanish origin, the food term has become synonymous with almost all small plates regardless of the ethnic origin of the dish. This is largely due to another fast growing culinary trend, fusion cuisine, which has blurred the lines of the origin of many foods. 

In Spain, Tapas can be anything from a small plate of cheeses, to small sandwiches. The term applies to just about anything served on a small plate. 

Small plates and appetizers offer diners an opportunity to explore flavors and ingredients, and give chefs and restaurants a way to introduce customers to the quality of food and inventiveness of their menu without filling their customers up with one particular dish. Small plates are a great way for restaurants to introduce patrons to new or exotic ingredients they might be wary of when ordering an entrée, and in fact this principle created the origin of Tapas. 

Tapas was born in inns and taverns alongside ancient Spanish roads. Weary travelers would stop in to small hotels and hostels for rest and food. Many travelers were from other European countries, and may have been unfamiliar with Spanish cuisine. Tapas allowed the owners of the inn to give their guests a sample of the dishes they had available. 

Similar to Tapas is the Italian tradition of antipasto. Antipasto is the first meal in Italian cuisine. The term is derived from Latin, "ante” (before) and "pastus” (meal). The origin of these small plate dishes goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, but the objective of the dish is still the same today: To get you ready for the amazing courses of food to come. Chef Amanda Cusey and owners Mike and Brenda Sperandeo are doing amazing things to create modern versions of that ancient antipasto legacy at The Villa on Pujo Street in Lake Charles. As Italian food should, The Villa provides a true multi-sensory dining experience, and their small plates and starters succeed in engaging all of your senses for the meal to come. If you’re feeling traditional, try their own wonderful Antipasto for one or two people, featuring the chef’s selection of various meats and cheeses, with crostini, olives and fig chutney. If you’re feeling more adventurous, sample the chicken liver bruschetta, or the prosecco risotto with oysters.  

Small plates, Tapas, and cocktails have long gone together. Many bar owners know that to keep drinking customers happy, it’s wise to also feed them. We’re blessed with many great bars and cocktails in Southwest Louisiana, but some of the most creative cocktails, extensive wine lists and beers on tap reside at Restaurant Calla at Walnut Grove in Lake Charles. Along with their great beverages, they have some cool, more modern small plates. They offer salty favorites like hand-made sweet potato chips that pair well with a variety of their beers on tap. With wine, try their cheese tray, often served with various jams, jellies, crackers and sliced meats. If you’re looking for something more unique check out the Bone Marrow served with onion jam, grilled toast and an herb salad, or the Pork Pate served on a grilled baguette with pickled okra, a quail egg, and buerre rouge. 

Just as Tapas originated on a road-side, Americans too have long added their influence to small plates with road side diner inspired dishes. French fries, cheesy bread, and chicken wings might not sound as fancy as other ethnic small plate traditions, but that doesn’t mean they’re less delicious. True to their name, Sloppy’s Downtown on Broad Street is putting together some great, but messy, menu items in the vein of a good old fashioned road-side diner. Their Poblano Fries are deep fried roasted poblano peppers served with red pepper emulsion. Not sloppy enough? Try the Fresco and Pepper Fries. They’re house French fries topped with queso fresco and roasted poblano. Too sloppy? Their simple but tasty Yellow Fin Tuna Poke Bowl with sushi grade yellow fin tuna, onion and avocado, tossed in a sweet Asian soy glaze and served over white rice should do the trick. 

As this global trend in starters, appetizers, and Tapas grows, you can bet that our local restaurants will continue to carry on this ancient tradition of doing big things with small plates.
Posted by: John O'Donnell | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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