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Tapeo: Not Made With UROP Salary in Mind

Intriguing Tapas Restaurant Not Quite Worth Emptying Pockets

By Rose Grabowski

staff writer

Tapeo, Restaurant & Tapas Bar

266 Newbury St.

Boston, MA 02116

(617) 267-4799

Hours: Mon.-Wed., 5:30-10 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri., 5:30-11 p.m.; Sat., 12-11 p.m.; Sun., 12-10 p.m.

Walking down Newbury Street, one is constantly bombarded by upscale extravagant cultural images -- women in stilettos worth more than my mother’s engagement ring, men in jeans with the brand name printed superfluously over the entire fabric surface, dogs with haircuts so unnatural I wonder if they are actually still canine.

And yet the eateries tend to be contradictorily low-key at first glance -- no large plastic backlit signs announcing their presence, but instead small wood carved placards that you would only notice if carefully inspecting the street side. No exception to this dining atmosphere, Tapeo is an understated but ethnically hip tapas restaurant residing in the center of Newbury.

Tapas are small Spanish dishes -- often likened to appetizers -- that are meant to give the diner a variety of tastes while being involved in the social scene. In Spain, tapas are served between meal times to keep people going while talking, joking, and flirting with old and new friends. They are served with wine and sangria and generally part of a fun experience, although not usually replacing a full meal.

In the U.S., tapas have become a fad for lunch and dinner. They are less part of the social “bar scene” than the classy-but-hip dinner scene. As we came upon Tapeo, we seemed to be surrounded by 30-something couples waiting for tables. The outside had a pleasant dining patio with black iron fences and tables, with only one small sign seeming to educate the crowd as to the name of the establishment. If I were to give points for each feature of the restaurant, not on any particular scale or measure, then +2 for the outdoor scene.

Inside, we were ushered downstairs into a small, dark room where the hostess greeted us. The downstairs had the feel of an old Spanish wine-cellar, with large bunches of dried peppers and garlic hanging from above the bar, next to a large, plastic (I’m assuming) boar’s head -- the head deserves a +4. The entire area was paneled with old wood and authentic Spanish tiles. We were led upstairs to our table, where the room was much lighter and there was copper plating matching the tiles and dÉcor all around the walls. The clincher was the consistent European accent of all the wait-staff we encountered -- overall, the atmosphere was consistently European and festive (+2).

Shortly after we were seated, the waiter brought around bread and a tannish spread which he described as “garbanzo beans with garlic, onion, paprika, and oil, pureed to a fine paste.” Alas, apparently this description is more dazzling than what most of us commonly know this dish as: hummus. Minus four for the pretentious description. The hummus was slightly bland, but my friends agreed that it would probably serve well this way as a palette-cleanser between tapas. The bread was excellent and rustic, with a dark thick crust and spongy sour flesh.

Sangria is one of the highlights of a Spanish meal, and Tapeo’s version was appropriately fruity and light. Plus one for the first glass, +2 for the second, and +5 for the third. The Spanish Cappuccino we ordered, however, seemed to be just an espresso shot -- perhaps the Spanish like their Cappuccino without the classic foamed milk, I’m not quite sure. Minus two for the size, about as large as a shot glass.

For the first round of tapas, we ordered a variety of cold and hot dishes, each about five to eight dollars, from “Pork Sausage with Figs” to “Rabbit in Red Wine” to “White Asparagus with Two Sauces.” Plus two for the variety, although that’s a requisite for tapas restaurants anyway. The vegetables were extremely tender, and the rabbit had awesome flavor. A mysterious “Meat Turnover” we ordered, however, lacked a specific meat taste and was wrapped in a pastry crust all too similar to Pillsbury. A theme emerged, with the dish itself tending to be unimpressive but always covered in one or two excellent and delectable sauces that we inevitably would dip bread into later in the evening.

The first round of six tapas was not enough, so we ordered five more. For three people this meant that the average sum of money we had each consumed, not counting the previous beverages or future desserts, was around $28. Undeterred by this, some of our favorite dishes were in this second round, including the “Roasted Red Pepper and Salmon Balls,” which seemed to have the best sauce all night. Be careful about the “Lobster and Crab Ravioli,” as it seems only like cheese ravioli with the slightest seafood aftertaste, and causes me to mark a -3.

Dessert was my personal favorite, especially “Strawberries Wrapped in Sherry Batter,” with two sauces. Imagine giant fruits fried in a sweet batter and doused in cream. Absolutely delicious. Plus ten. As our waiter was clearing away the last round of plates, he suggested a few dishes to us for the first time that night. Minus five for the absolute worst timing to tell us what would be good to order.

Overall, Tapeo has excellent food and a fun atmosphere, although not necessarily for those who want a traditional Spanish Tapas Bar experience. The prices were really too high for what you receive -- as one friend said, this would be a good place to come with a romantic partner after you’ve made your first million with your MIT degree. However, the average college student would be hard pressed to feel gastronomically fulfilled after spending a reasonable amount of money here.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the total came to +20 points, although it was in that “Whose Line is it, Anyway?” style, where the points just don’t matter.