“Becky,” Cristina, Barcelona?

Posted on November 18, 2008 – 8:38 PM | by beckler
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A few weeks back, after viewing Vicky Cristina Barcelona at Tower, I was craving tapas and red wine (and a threesome with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz). My first thought (for the tapas) was Aioli, but anyone who has made multiple visits there will nod knowingly when I state that the experience can be pretty darn spotty. The romantic and dreamy movie had put me in such a good mood that I didn’t want to risk harshing my mellow. The only other option for Spanish food is Tapa The World, which I haven’t frequented in years.Tapa

If you’re a Midtown dweller, you probably know the deal with TTW and maybe (like me) you thought you’d grown past the simple, garlicky fare offered there. I urge you to reconsider. I present my case: The prices are reasonable. It is open and well-frequented every night until midnight. It is soothingly dark inside, and unlike most newer Sac restaurants it does not have annoying individual spotlights over each table to make you feel like you are in Guantanamo Bay. There is live Spanish guitar most nights. This can be annoying; as it is when “Stairway to Heaven” is strummed (not OK) or, as during one visit, when the guitarist was incessantly working out “My Country Tis Of Thee”, probably with the assumption that no one was paying attention. However, it also lends a touch of authenticity and heightens the lively atmosphere. I’ve spent a bit of time in Spain, and from my experience, Tapa The World is a pretty close facsimile to an average Spanish tapas bar, down to the laissez faire service. Be prepared to have a leisurely meal and be assertive about ordering drinks and getting more bread and you’ll be fine. The bread in the basket (two types: a fresh, crusty sourdough and a dense foccasia-esque bread that is laced with sea salt and fennel) is a free perk worth fighting, nay, dying, for.

TapaOne of the most delightful things about TTW is that they have three kinds of sherry by the glass for four dollars. I’m not talking the sweet, dessert-y type of sherry that your spinster aunt would take swigs of behind the pantry door, I am talking delicious, dry, fino, manzanilla and amontillado sherry-the kind that goes perfectly with salty snacks. And TTW has a lot of salty snacks to offer. The best way to start is with a glass of light and briny fino sherry and the Spanish meat, cheese, and olive assortment. The boquerones (pickled anchovies) are a must for pickle fans. Those two dishes and the tortilla espanola (a layered egg and potato dish) make an excellent meal for two.

Most of the tapas are solid, though the chef sometimes does rely too heavily on the principle that anything tastes better doused with butter and garlic. A tapa of “locally grown Spanish peppers blistered with olive oil” had a piquant and interesting flavor, but every third one was so damn hot that I almost wept. The odd combination of fingerlings and Spanish chorizo in a sweet and oily mint vinaigrette somehow worked well. The empanadas del dia are a reliable choice, but the heavily fried croquetas taste too much like a starter from TGI Friday. The pork skewers are nicely charred and chewy. The mussels themselves in the spicy mussels tapa were not fresh enough but again the rich sauce as soaked up by the delicious bread made me forget all about my small criticisms.

TapaOn three different visits, each time I inquired about a certain wine the servers offered me a taste, and were helpful in steering me towards wines that were to my liking. They have a few crisp and tasty whites by the glass, and some reasonably food-friendly reds. Their draught beer selection is one of the better ones in Midtown, which is a tragically modest claim. The Trumer Pils goes well with the spicy tapas.
Although I am on the record as saying that paella is overrated as a special dish (check your archives for the February ‘07 issue of MidMo), TTW’s version is worth trying. The rice is mildly tart from lemon and redolent of saffron. The seafood elements, as with the mussels, are not top quality, and the canned artichoke hearts are an unwelcome addition. The chicken on the bone however, is delectable. The type of chorizo that they use for the paella is funnily reminiscent of hot dog, which somehow works. The whole dish is permeated with a wonderfully smoky flavor, and that note and all the other tastes meld together into a delicious final product.

The menu at TTW is quite large, but I find that if you stray from the simple Spanish fare you can be navigating troubled waters, and sometimes those waters may be swimming with spongy ahi that tastes like freezer. I don’t mind that because I know to stick to the tapas. I’m perfectly content to sip my wine and snack on delicious tidbits and watch the mixed and happy crowd do the same.

Tapa the World, 2115 J St. # 100, Sacramento,  (916) 442-4353

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