By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Worldly foods and beers create an international delight
Step slightly outside the Gaslamp Quarter and into Broadway Circle and you’ll encounter Tapas & Beers, a casual yet stylish restaurant specializing in Spanish, French and American dishes. The cuisine is represented by flags of those countries looming from an interior front wall.
There are also 20 beers on tap. Their lines and coils are encased in a tubular sheath of exposed ice that partly runs the length of the bar. It’s a unique focal point, and on hot days especially, nobody can resist touching it.
High-top tables dominate a dining room distinguished by tall ceilings, big front windows and walls clad in brick and wood. Situated in the same historic building as Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant, the space shows off classic architectural details both inside and out.
Owned by two French guys — Francois Patanchon of Bordeaux and Nael Chami from Lyon, which he calls “the city of food” — their menu hopscotches between modern-day Spanish tapas such as chorizo deviled eggs and herby whipped goat cheese to French sausages, assorted flatbreads and crafty sandwiches.
You’ll also find seafood paella, roasted chicken, and mussels strewn with prosciutto in shallots and white wine.
Without complaint, a friend and I consumed sinful amounts of brie cheese imported from France, only due to our lack of foresight while chatting non-stop during this busy lunch hour.
As an appetizer, we encountered the buttery cheese melted over a medley of earthy crimini mushrooms and sautéed onions draping fingers of toasted baguette bread. Though listed as “from Spain” on the menu, the construct tasted gloriously French.
Of the two soups we tried—one of them an ultra-creamy lobster bisque—the restaurant’s signature mushroom soup was luxurious thanks to a heavy lacing of brie melted into it. So incredibly rich, it could’ve passed as fondue.
We shared the “California burger,” named as such because there’s avocado and bacon on it. But it makes landfall in France as well given the generous puck of brie cheese crowning it. This is one of the tastiest burgers I’ve had in a while, due also to the charred flavor it adopts from flame grilling. (I’m growing weary over the greasy, fried patties served everywhere else.)
Baby back ribs served in a cast iron pan were exceptionally tender. The tangy barbecue sauce cloaking them reminded me of the vinegar-based versions common throughout eastern North Carolina. As far as baby backs go, these were larger and meatier than most.
At the last minute, we put the kibosh on a trio of assorted crostini, realizing they’d be redundant to the mushroom-brie toast we previously ordered. Though on a return visit, I’d eagerly encroach on the salmon with sun-dried tomatoes, and the strawberry with burrata cheese and basil. And despite our brie overload, the crostini with brie and roasted red peppers would end up on my table too.
As they do in France, said Chami, everyone orders dessert at the end of a meal, whether it’s lunch or dinner. “But Americans, not so much” he noted.
So we opted for key lime pie, which held no similarity to the classic version born in the Florida Keys. This featured a neutral custard set inside a round pastry shell. The citrus element was scant, and the buttery graham cracker crust was sorely missed. But it’s otherwise a fine creation provided you’re not expecting to be blown away by limes.
I’ll revisit on a day off to indulge without consequences in the accommodating beer list, which features seasonal releases and established brands from a host of local breweries such as Ballast Point, Latitude 33, Belching Beaver and more.
For many in the room, sipping suds on a workday wasn’t an issue. There were plenty of brews flying around among folks dressed in business attire. Beer is half the experience here. Though for me, even after one pint in the early afternoon, I’d burn and crash soon after returning to my desk.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.