One of the beloved elements of traditional Spanish cuisine is tapas. While seemingly simple, these appetizers, snacks or small dishes often include advanced-cooking techniques and a passion for authentic Spanish cuisine.
The name “tapas” comes from the Spanish word, tapar, which means to cover. Legend has it that the first tapas were simple slices of bread or meat that were used to cover sherry glasses in between sips. This kept fruit flies away from the sweet scent of sherry. You will find traditional meats that often make an appearance in tapas — items like chorizo or various types of ham. These salty meats drive thirst, so bar owners decided to market them as a way to increase alcohol sales. They came up with various snacks, which helped evolve into the tapas we know and love today. What you enjoy now is built on the initial idea of simple appetizers, but embraces all of the cultural influences Spain has seen throughout its history.
If you can’t get away to Spain to sample some authentic tapas, let Sacramento bring Spain to you. There are a number of spots in town that showcase the Spanish art of tapas. Order a glass of sangria and give one of these five hot spots a try.
Aioli Bodega Espanola
1800 L St
Sacramento, CA 95811
Aioli Bodega Espanola offers a large menu of tapas and traditional Spanish dishes. Must tries include Charcuterie y Queso Manchego — an assortment of cured Spanish sausage, cured ham and cheese from La Mancha, Aceitunas Variadas — Mediterranean cured olives and Salicon de Pulpo — octopus with potatoes, onions, roasted bell peppers and a light sprinkle of red-chili flakes. Some of Aioli Bodega Espanola’s specialties include Salmon con Acento Catalan — pan-seared salmon encrusted with hazelnuts in fresh herb sauce, Chuletas de Lomo de Cordero — lamb loin chops pan-seared with white wine, garlic and fresh herbs, served with roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach and Zarzuela de Mariscos — spicy seafood in a garlic-tomato sauce with coca bread.
Tapa the World
2115 J St
Sacramento, CA 95816
No surprise that with a name like Tapa the World, you will find one of Sacramento’s best selections of tapas. Tapa the World has been a part of Sacramento’s dining scene since 1994 and has won numerous awards for its food. The brother-sister team of Paul Ringstrom and Conni Levis spent time exploring Spain during their college days, learning about the culture and cuisine, helping bring a taste of Spain back to northern California.
Tapa the World is the perfect spot to learn about very traditional tapas. Items like Tortilla Espanola — known as the poor Spanish man’s omelet — appear on the menu. It’s a potato cake cooked in olive oil with onion and egg. Or try Jamon Serrano — Spanish-cured ham with seasonal melon and Gambas al Ajillo — or rock shrimp sauteed in olive oil, garlic parsley, white wine and dried, red chilies. Be sure to order one of the tapas created by the chef at Tapa the World. These include Filet Mignon Beef Tips — sauteed in a spicy plum-and-ginger sauce or Kobe Beef — naturally raised from Snake River Farms, grilled medium rare and served with Spanish Cabrales blue cheese, butter and crispy-onion streamers.
Source Global Tapas
5540 Douglas Blvd, Suite 110
Granite Bay, CA 95746
Head out east to Granite Bay and sample some incredible tapas from Source Global Tapas Restaurant. Enjoy tapas like roasted red pepper hummus and mixed Mediterranean olives, which are both complimentary with wine. Or try one of Sources’ more unique takes on traditional tapas like Boquerones — olive-oil-marinated Spanish anchovies with giant white beans, quail eggs and yuzu zest, or Spanish Paella Balls — five rounds of chorizo and seafood spiked with saffron and a smoked-paprika aioli.
5C E Main St
Winters, CA 95694
If you are looking for a spot that has taken the traditional tapa and turned it upside down, head out to Winters and try Ficelle. Ficelle takes the traditional tapa and infuses it with local ingredients, creating California-style cuisine with a touch of south-of-the-border Mexican flair. Try the Chile Relleno de la Noche — a poblano chili, roasted and stuffed with a chili-cheese rice mixture, baked and served in a house mole and then topped with fresh tomato salsa and cheese, or Canelone del Mar — crab- and shrimp-stuffed pasta baked in lemony Fonitina-leek cream.
Tucos Wine Market and Cafe
130 G St
Davis, CA 95616
Back in 2004, Tucos Wine Market and Cafe opened its doors in Davis and has become a beloved local institution. Tucos does a stellar job of supporting the local economy and utilizing fresh ingredients from local farmers. Its expansive menu of tapas includes Spanish and Portuguese influences. The menu may rotate, but some of the more interesting offerings this spring include Japanese Tobiko Caviar with buckwheat blinis, creme fraiche, sieved eggs and sweet onions; Grass-Fed Meatballs with Cuban mojo sauce, and Black Truffle and Cheese Tamales served with sage and brown butter. Be sure to save room for dessert at Tucos as well. The Bananas Foster Chocolate Souffle and Pineapple Upside Down Cake are both perfect ways to end a meal.
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Erin De Santiago is a freelance travel and food/wine writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. She is a regional membership coordinator for the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and writes for a number of publications in addition to publishing her own blogs. She has traveled to over 40 countries on five continents in search of the best food and wine around the globe. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.