In Spain, tapas are practically the national pastime.
In the evening, people go from place to place enjoying a glass of wine and sharing small bites with friends. Bars and restaurants become known for a particular culinary specialty, whether it’s crispy fried croquetas, a skewered bite or even a single well-prepared ingredient such as marinated carrots or roasted peppers.
In Utah, tapas restaurants have been around for many years, with Cafe Madrid in Holladay and Martine Cafe in Salt Lake City leading the trend.
But recently a growing number of other eateries have added “small plate” sections to their regular menus, and they’re places you might not expect, like a bakery, a deli and a sushi restaurant.
“Everybody is doing small plates now, even chain restaurants,” said Jennifer Gilroy, the chef/owner of Meditrina Small Plates and Wine Bar, which opened about five years ago in Salt Lake City.
“I started that style of restaurant because that’s how I like to eat,” she said. “I like to enjoy a lot of different flavors and options without having to spend a lot to get it.”
While small plates and tapas could certainly be considered appetizers, they can be so much more.
“They can have the same complexity as a main course, just a smaller size,” said Scott Evans, owner of Finca and Pago, both of which serve small plates.
Other Salt Lake City restaurants have gotten in on the act.
Last June, after an interior remodel, Gourmandise — The Bakery began offering a small plates menu along with beer and wine.
“We found that a lot of our customers were coming in later for dessert and coffee and we decided we should offer them something to get them in for dinner as well,” said general manager Sam Lubig.
Rather that just extend the lunch menu or add heavy entrees, the eatery created more than a dozen small plates that customers could share with one another, but still have room for the bakery’s decadent desserts.
Cucina Deli in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood — a favorite spot for breakfast and lunch — added a dinner menu that includes a playful menu of tapas.
And at Dojo restaurant and Sushi Bar, owner Kelly Shiotani started offering the “Izakaya” menu in addition to the noodle bar and sushi. “Izakayas,” he said, “are Japanese drinking pubs that serve small plates, Japanese tapas if you will.”
13 tempting small plates
Part of the lure of tapas is the variety of flavors and tastes that are available. Here’s a list of 13 great small plates you’ll find in Salt Lake City.
Avenues Proper and Publick House • Chicken and waffles served with house-made chicken sausage and a sunny-side-up quail egg, $10.
Cafe Madrid • Roasted Spanish piquillo peppers filled with a tilapia stuffing, $12.50.
Cafe Trio • Roasted beet bruschetta with a pistachio pesto, ricotta salata and citrus, $6.
Cucina Deli • Polenta fries with tamarind-spiked ketchup, $5.
Dojo Restaurant and Sushi• Thai Me Up baby back ribs in a sweet and spicy marinade, $9.
Finca • Smoked chicken croquetta served in a piquillo pepper puree, $8.
Gourmandise — The Bakery • Roasted Brussels sprouts with pancetta, cherries and pine nuts, $7.
Martine Cafe • Port wine poached pear with duck confit and blue cheese, $10.
Meditrina Small Plates and Wine Bar• Mushroom and brie, caramelized in a butter and balsamic sauce, $7.50.
Pago • Carrot tasting that includes raw, pickled, chip and confitted carrots over a carrot mascarpone sauce, $8.
The Rest • Pillowy beignets filled with sweet blueberry compote and served with a side of fresh whipped cream, $7.
Tin Angel Cafe • Espresso-crusted beef tenderloin with gorgonzola and port wine reduction, $4.50.
Wild Grape Bistro • Grape jam and prosciutto flatbread with smoked provolone, blue cheese crumbles, $11.25.
Where to find tapas and small plates
Avenues Proper and Publick House • 376 8th Ave., Salt Lake City; 385-227-8628.
Cafe Madrid • 5244 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City; 801-273-0837.
Cafe Trio • 680 S. 900 East, 801-533-8746 and 6405 S. 3000 East, Salt Lake City; 801-944-8746.
Cucina Deli • 1026 2nd Ave., Salt Lake City; 801-322-3055.
Dojo Restaurant and Sushi • 423 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-328-3333.
Finca • 1291 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; 801-487-0699.
Gourmandise — The Bakery • 250 S. 300 East, Salt Lake City; 801-328-3330.
Martine Cafe • 22 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City; 801-363-9328.
Meditrina Small Plates and Wine Bar • 1394 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City; 801-485-2055.
Pago • 878 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City; 801-532-0777.
The Rest • 331 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; 801-532-4042.
Tin Angel Cafe • 365 W. 400 South, Salt Lake City; 801-328-4155.
Wild Grape Bistro • 481 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City; 801-746-5565.