Edmonton can always use another little hole in the wall that does tapas and select wine pairings. It’s a style of dining that appeals to me because sharing small plates means you get to try a lot of stuff (and have something to drink to go with it) and it’s always interesting to see what a given chef will do with the idea of tapas and its Basque neighbour, pintxos.
Tapavino, tucked into the main floor of the scenic Hardwood Plaza on Jasper Avenue, is one such nook—an apter word would be hard to find. Seating is at a premium within, just a handful of tables to be had and one narrow laneway for the food and drink to travel to their intendeds. The dark wood bar where cocktail dreams come true, overseen by a trio of small chandeliers, dominates the east side of the room and contributes to the sense of snugness.
An unpretentious, eager-to-please vibe hangs over the place, which is all to the good. I don’t mind someone taking pains to make a good first impression. The service was affable and attentive—it may have even been possible to believe our six-top was the only table in the place, had plates of food for other tables not gone soaring over our heads in those tight quarters. And the many items that made up our meal seemed to take the most direct route from order pad to our plates.
So let’s talk about the many items. One co-diner—let’s call him Jerry—declaimed a few items he considered no-brainers: bocconcini wrapped in prosciutto ($12), and the “pulled pork Juan-tons” ($14). Everyone else stepped up with their own non-negotiables and soon we had seven different dishes headed our way, along with beverages of our choice. True to its name, Tapavino provides many wine options to pair with its food, though my pre-prandial Manhattan was also nicely done.
Soon our table was crowded with attractive ceramic triangles laden with just enough of everything that we’d all get a taste. Even the sole vegetarian among us was satisfied with the selection, though amidst the hubbub of food covering much of the available table, a napkin did ignite on a candle.
More than one diner commended the “Juan-tons” as a highlight, despite the corny but not entirely inaccurate name. Wonton wrappers filled with boldly spicy, smoky pulled pork and baked in muffin tins—that’s all it took for most of us to be on board with Tapavino. It was not a huge portion each, but it made a strong impression.
The melty balls of unripened cheese fried in prosciutto and immured in rich tomato sauce were exactly as tasty as they sound. The warm dolmas ($11)—stuffed grape leaves with a snappy feta dip—gave me a new appreciation for the form with their risotto-like filling, and we each had a hard time taking a polite portion of the patatas bravas ($10)—tender potato chunks in spicy tomato sauce, here lavished with house-made kettle-style potato chips.
My one regret is that I didn’t snag the surplus portion of the Spanish meatballs ($13), in yet another delicious tomato sauce dosed with smoked hot paprika. Many of the dishes came with wedges of crostini to, for example, sop up the creamy, anise-y sauce around the plump sambuca shrimp ($18), while the parmesan-crusted tomatoes ($9) with basil and a balsamic zigzag, came right on crostini.
Just to make sure we didn’t leave any stones unturned, we then ordered the hot spinach dip with pita crisps ($12), which is where I think I got the mouth-warming hit of garlic that went home with me, and one of each of the night’s desserts: cinnamon pull aparts, cheesecake with salted caramel sauce, and crepes filled with nutella. These were a little less consistent than the tapas. The pylon of cinnamon bun dough with whipped cream didn’t make much of an impression, and the crepes were a bit undercooked, though they were very, very full of nutella. But the cheesecake with salted caramel sauce was an easy win, thanks to a generous ladling of sauce.
As with everything else that night, our exit—we had a live theatre experience to get to—was gracefully expedited and we were on our way as fast as we could have wished. The play we weren’t crazy about, but every one of us liked the food and enjoyed the time we spent together at Tapavino.
Tapavino Mediterranean & Tapas Restaurant
11011 Jasper Ave., 780.705.1101