Tabella is about tapas – Spanish for “small plates” – and the ability to sample and share an assortment of savory offerings. With tapas, you typically order a couple items at a time to be shared among your dining party. As you finish, you order more, grazing your way through the menu and the meal.
Though tapas is a Spanish word, the “small plates” concept is international, and Tabella’s menu reflects that.
There are 13 options in the tapas section, ranging in price from $4 to $8. Among them: fried green olives stuffed with almonds and feta; caramelized fennel and chèvre toast points; ginger crusted Thai hot wings with a lemongrass dipping sauce; and Chatham cod cakes with basil aioli. There is also a section of 10 larger “tapas plates,” priced from $6 to $14.50, including: venison satay with spicy pumpkin dipping sauce on truffled mash; piquillo peppers stuffed with quinoa, cornbread and chèvre; and New Zealand lamb lollipop with lemon mint crème fraiche on lentil salad.
My husband and I went Friday night just after 8:00, and it was packed – pretty impressive for a place that first opened Wednesday night, was closed Thursday for the impending birth of the owners’ baby, and was now open for its second night with no advertising or fanfare at all. We like to eat at the bar when it’s a nice one – and this one is – and we got the last two seats available there.
The place has a cool and sophisticated feel to it without being intimidating or snobby. The sage-colored walls, attractive lighting, and exposed pipes and ducts below the original tin ceiling create an ambience of new with a character of old. Approximately 20 tables are arranged in a way that is close but not crowded. Decoration is minimal – several mirrors, a couple of whimsical prints – which allows the artful presentation of the food to shine.
Every plate is a work of art. Each element is precisely arranged and complemented with a drizzle or sprinkle of some colorful flavor. When any new plate was brought, a chorus of oohs and ahhs would rise up from that table and those surrounding it.
And did I mention wine? Right below the restaurant’s name on the doors, it says “tapas and wine,” indicating that one is as much a focus as the other. Friday night they were offering 12 wines by the glass, ranging from $6 to $10, but with most at $6.50 to $7.50. Our bartender was Suzanne, who hails from the late Bottle of Bread in Shelburne Falls, and she was eager to offer wine samples, should we be curious before committing.
They also feature an extensive list of bottled wines, ranging in price from $21 to $84, with most in the $20s and $30s.
Four fine microbrew beers were on tap, and even their soda offerings were all interesting.
We ordered our tapas two at a time, to best appreciate each one. We started with the fried green olives stuffed with almonds and feta, and the chickpea fries with lemon-garlic aioli. The olives were delectable – hot and crunchy and very different from your typical olive dish. The almond in the middle made for good texture, and the feta flavor was subtle. The chickpea fries sounded so interesting that we couldn’t resist them, and we were not disappointed. They could have used a bit more of the aioli – there were more fries than the swirl on the plate could handle.
Next we got the caramelized fennel with chèvre toast points, and the fried artichoke with herb compound butter. The fennel toasts were amazing. Chèvre was the perfect flavor complement and the toasts were crisp but delicate. And the artichokes. What to say? That was absolutely the most delicious way I have ever eaten an artichoke, and I think that if I had to rank my favorite item of the evening, that would edge out some fierce competition. They were that good. And they were served with a wonderful warm white bean puree that the menu didn’t even mention.
Finally we had the Grafton smoked cheddar gratin and the grilled regional mushrooms. In my book, you simply can’t go wrong when you combine potatoes and cheese, and this was no exception. The only problem with this dish is that it was a little harder to share than the others – the stack of potato slices doesn’t divide too well. But it was very tasty. We found the mushrooms delicious – their marinade was complex and very flavorful. Another couple we spoke with thought that dish was a little ordinary, but we enjoyed it.
What else did we hear from others? One gave high marks to the fried calamari with red sauce. We got mixed reports on the double chocolate stout braised Wheel View farm short ribs and parsnip potato mash – one pair thought the ribs were just OK, while another thought they were excellent. The potato leek soup had high praise. And we heard good things about the maple crème brulee with walnut drops, but alas, we were too full for dessert, though the options were tempting indeed.
While we were there, the cinema building’s owner and developer Barry Roberts stopped in to check things out. The place was humming, so he must have been pleased with what he saw. We left after 10:00, and more than a third of the tables were still full.
We are lucky to have so many excellent places to eat in town, and with Tabella, we just got luckier. On the front doors, below the restaurant’s name, it says: “a world of flavors right around the corner.” That sums it up nicely. I can’t wait to go back.
-- Stephanie O'Keeffe