I am a big fan of Ruth Reichl. Why does that matter? Well apparently Tapeo was one of her favorite restaurants in this city. So we tried, curious about how and why she picked this off the beaten track place in Villeray to the top of her list, but not some other fashionable joint.
Worse things first, since I am a whiner. If you have been reading me, you might have realized I like to be overcritical, so be it. The worst thing about this restaurant was the coffee (I guess this is a good endorsement for the food). How bad you say? Pretty (despite the logo Vieille Europe on their cups)... Our allonges were so scalding hot that I still feel that ugly burnt tongue feeling after a few hours. The taste of the coffee was, of course, suffering from overheating/overextraction. But does this matter? Slightly. The quality of the coffee served at a restaurant is more likely to be perceived as a taint on the overall experience we had in there; not a dealbreaker, but a blemish on the whole experience.
The second negative of the night was our wine. No, don't take me wrong, our wine (2004 Casa de Ermita Jumilla) was lovely, I might even get a case of it. But it was one of the worst choices when it came to menu offerings. The only reason I ordered this wine was because I was curious about it. But dense as the sky on a moonless night, it was a really bad match with the springy food in the menu. Still, no regrets because I really enjoyed our wine; but on its own. My concern is that there were very few items in their menu that would cope with this wine (perhaps the bavette, ironically they were already out at 7:30 on a Wednesday night); most of their stuff is citrusy dishes, bright seafood and anything in-between. They have some lighter reds and a limited list of whites, so be wise. Don't make the newbie wino mistake of ordering a good (by itself) wine, just for the sake of it; order a wine that would go well with your food.
Now the food. With our menus were offered some matchstick potatoes which were fine, but perhaps a tad few hours old (amuse much) . There was also some bread with good olive oil. For our order, we shared a Tortilla Espagnola that came on top of two thin pieces of croutonized bread. Each piece of tortilla was perhaps a matchbox size, perhaps less. Really small portion, but worth every penny. Accompanying was two flavorbursting braised cherry tomatoes and a two roasted garlic cloves still in their peel. The garlic tasted really well when spread on the said bread. So far so good. Then we had the apple/sardine salad. The menu listed it as pear/sardine, but our server informed us that pears weren't up to par that day. This was a combination that I would never have though by myself: thinly sliced fennels, onions (or shallots?), canned sardines, granny smith apples and a citrus (i think with some zest) vinaigrette. Definitely highlight of the night. I so wished that I had ordered a wine that could match, this could have made one of those "time stood" movements. Then we had the special tapa of the day: an oyster mushroom dish with peas, sherry and cream; lovely again, and a terrible match with our wine. Last came the ubiquitous fried calamari... I know calamari dishes are so passe, and I feel such a rube ordering it everywhere; but I can't help it. Thickly sliced, with generous (but not oily) coating and came with aioli sauce. We were feeling good.
We inquired about some cheese, no luck. But then finished up with some chocolate and churros (see the photo) It didn't occur to me until that time to take photos of the food so we only have churros as the photo, but rest of the food was equally appetizing. Hot chocolate was dense and fruity (not a bit bitter even though -i think- there were no milk in it), churros were nice and not too sweet (perhaps a little bit over-fried).
Among the other offerings were a Serrano/Iberico duo, some mussels with cauliflower (thought that was a little odd combination), some ribs, an obligatory rapini dish, some escargots, chorizo (might have stood up to our wine), and a beef tartare. Dessert offerings also included a panna cota. Seating is very limited, and when we called earlier during the weekend they were booked; so call ahead.
Overall, it was a good night. With more sensible wine picking, and a teflon tongue for the coffee enthusiasts (well if you are an enthusiast perhaps you shouldn't search the golden shot here anyway), this could be a very very nice night. One bottle of wine ($40 here, $18.85 at SAQ, good markup) four tapas, a shared dessert and coffee came as $98 bucks (without the tip). Not bad, especially for the quality of food; not a cheap night either.
Later we headed down to Havre aux Glaces since I heard that they open late. We wanted to get a pint to take home. Not only they were open late, but some other stores had some keepers on nightwatch as well. Apparently, you can get your tomatoes at 10:00 pm at Marche Jean Talon. It was odd walking around the closed stalls and coming across an odd open one. We bought some stuff for a salad for next day's lunch and headed home feeling happy about our newfounded discovery.