Mike Madriaga 1:14 p.m., Feb. 19
La Gran Tapa: Great Spanish Omelet, but "No Tips Accepted"?
“NO TIPS ACCEPTED."
It's the first thing you notice when you get your check.
But what does it mean?
This is at the oldest of tapa joints in our fair city, the Café Bar Europa – La Gran Tapa (611 B Street, downtown, 619-234-8272).
Paul Dobson, the bullfighter and downtown restaurant pioneer (he still has Dobson's at 956 Broadway Circle), opened it in 1984.
It really does have an old world Spanish feel (not that I’ve been to Spain) with its black and yellow and woody color scheme.
Actually, I came in for the tortilla. That’s what the Spanish call the Spanish omelet.
First kinda eye-opener is that this “tortilla Española” is a sunset tapa dish. Guess I'm more used to the idea of eggs at desayuno. But given as how it's probably nice and salty, I think I might jes' take to it as a tapa.
Truth to tell: Only reason I’m actually having it is because I spotted it on the happy hour tapa list. (Happy hour’s from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily.) And Don the barkeep...
...is getting me a (also happy hour) beer from the wild shores of Nova Scotia, and I need a munchies to go with it.
The beer’s an Alexander Keith India Pale Ale. Never heard of it before. Three bucks.
I’m sitting at the bar (you need to, if you want happy hour prices) next to this clump of gals. Glenda, Wendy, Genail, Pamela, and their lone male buddy, Todd.
They’ve ordered a swag of HH tapas. Marinated beets ($3), caprese salad...
...the meats and cheese plate, and the tortilla Española ($4 each). So $15, plus drinks. Not bad.
Me, it’s the tortilla. They say it’s the single most popular tapa in Spain. That it’s been the poor man’s belly filler for centuries. It’s basically a thick omelet of eggs and spuds cooked in olive oil.
Mine comes with two wedges of omelet and a little mess of red peppers and onions in the middle.
It’s good and filling. I mean, no taste zingers in it to send you pirouetting to the ceiling and back, but solid country food.
The beer, too, good solid beer.
Okay, wimpy wimpy wimpy compared to the craft IPAs like Arrogant Bastard around San Diego, World Headquarters of Real IPA.
When you’ve been spoiled, you get picky.
But now I'm hearing how Alexander Keith could be the oldest brewery on the North American continent that has never closed its doors (thanks to it being in Canada, which never got whacked by Prohibition). Alexander Keith, turns out, was a Scot who survived the stormy seas to Nova Scotia and started his brewery there way back in 1820. Wow. Still going.
Except, uh, now it’s owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. So that dents the image of Wild Canadian Beer for Trappers. And maybe explains the mild taste.
But who’s quibbling? The company’s good. This horseshoe bar practically guarantees that. And now we’ve got a live guitarista making you feel the suffering of the gypsies who created the flamenco music he's playing. Edward Fishwick.
He actually went to Spain and learned in the countryside in places where you sit in a circle and pass the guitar from hand to hand, and you’d better have a song ready to go.
And it better not be Kumbaya.
Man. Food, wine (okay beer, but the HH wines are $4 a glass), and free transportation to Andalusia.
The beer and tapa cost $8.87. That includes 64 cents’ tax and a 17.5 percent service charge. Oh yeah. That’s why the check says “NO TIPS ACCEPTED.” Because you've already tipped. They’re doing European-style mandatory tipping.
But the check also says “Expect excellent service! Please let us know immediately (or by email) if this was not the case. Manager will credit your check or issue a gift certificate.”
Can’t say fairer than that.