Sangria and Spanish tapas in Grand Rapids
The first time I ate Spanish tapas, I was 17-years-old and traveling through Spain.
As a part of the “authentic” experience promised by my high school’s Spanish program, our tour guide took us for a traditional small-plates meal. You should know, I was a VERY picky eater back then. Needless to say, I spent most of the trip hungry. Unless there was a McDonald’s. Thank God for the Golden Arches in Barcelona. By the time we dined on tapas in Madrid, I was two weeks into surviving on Fanta, ice cream wherever we found it and Sangria we sneaked passed the chaperones. I remember looking at an intimidating spread — of food I’d likely eat today without thinking twice — and seeing these large, breaded and fried rings. Finally, something I recognized. Who doesn’t love a good onion ring? So, I take a big bite, and I chew. And I chew. And I keep chewing. Some time passes and this chewing isn’t helping. AT ALL. Eventually, a classmate says to me, “I think that’s calamari.” I had eaten calamari before — most Italian restaurants in America offer it as an appetizer, after all — but NEVER had I eaten such a large piece of rubbery squid tentacle. Eww. It still sends shivers down my spine thinking about it.
While my first tapas experience was less than desirable, my latest one more than made up for it.
My mom and I dined at San Chez, A Tapas Bistro & Cafe, in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., in July. The restaurant came highly recommended by a fellow foodie, so I had high expectations — and, trust me, they were met.
It was a 93-degree day, and Mom and I had been walking around downtown, checking out the nearby sights. I was so thirsty I couldn’t even think about food. Just get me a sangria, I thought. And our waiter obliged. The fruity white sangria was light and refreshing — perfect for a blistering summer afternoon.
With my thirst quenched, I could finally concentrate on the task at hand — sorting through a variety of vegetarian and vegan small plates to pinpoint the three to order and share with Mom.
The first to catch our eyes was the Tostones Fritos. The dish is fried plantains with an avocado relish and jalapeno honey. The plantains were crispy and paired well with the creamy avocado relish and honey with a kick. I would order this again and recommend it to future San Chez diners. San Chez suggests ordering it without the honey to make it vegan. To me, the honey is what makes this dish. If you don’t need to avoid the honey for dietary/health reasons, I say: the more honey, the better.
We also ordered the pan a la plancha, which is grilled bread topped with tomato-and-garlic sauce and olive oil. I’m dubbing it Spanish bruschetta.
My favorite dish that we ordered is the grilled asparagus in a romesco sauce with marcona almonds. We added scallops to our order, too.
Our food was delicious, and the service absolutely superb. I can’t wait to go back to try other dishes on the menu and breakfast at the cafe.
Before you go
Menu: Spanish tapas with special dietary options, including gluten free, nut allergies, vegetarian and vegan
Drinks: Wines from Spain, Argentina and Michigan; Red, white or mixed Sangria; Unique cocktails; Michigan, domestic and import beers
Price: $3.99 for a cup of gazpacho to $21.99 for paella. Most seafood/meat tapas are $10.99-14.99. Most veggie tapas are $6.99-9.99.
Location: 38 West Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Phone: 616-774-TAPA (8272)
Wish you were here,