Eats, chews and leaves: Share a Valentine‘s date and a plate at Tapa Bar

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Three main categories of people emerge on Valentine’s Day: those who’ve been together at least a year and are legitimately in love; those who’ve recently started seeing someone and feel obligated to celebrate; and those who are single. I’ve directed this review at the middle category. For those pseudo-couples still in the earliest stages of romance, Tapa Bar could fulfill your V-Day desires.

Unsure if you fit the category? If you were asked out over Facebook or hooked up with someone on Feb. 13, you’re golden.

I visited Tapa Bar with three observant friends who helped me identify every romantic detail in the restaurant. Immediately, our eyes were drawn to the paintings of women in various states of undress hanging on every wall, all vaguely cubist. “Look at all the nipples. Perfect for Valentine’s Day,” noted one friend.

Another pointed out a cocktail on the menu named Blue Balls. We passed on the somewhat depressingly named drink and split a pitcher of red sangria ($20). Everyone enjoyed its fruity flavour. It’s an excellent liquid courage option.

Another friend focused on the lighting, observing the votive candles and low lighting are “so dim you almost can’t see your significant other.” Depending on the level of lust achieved, this may be a pro or a con.

Aside from the decor, we discussed food, as tapas are meant to be shared. Tapa is Spanish for “lid” — traditionally, snacks were placed over the mouths of Spaniards’ drinks like a lid. Now, we use “tapas” to mean snacks or appetizers, and we usually don’t cover our drinks with them. All four of us ordered together.

We went all out (as people should when romancing), deciding on the vegetarian cubanette ($10), grilled eggplant ($9.50), calamari fritos ($10.50), a half-order of the pollo armanda ($11.50) and almond-stuffed dates ($6.50).

The cubanette, an open-faced focaccia sandwich topped with beans, avocado, grilled portabella mushrooms and cheese underwhelmed us all. The beans made the bread soggy, and while I love mushroom and avocado, the constant repetition of soft textures turned me off.

The eggplant, served simply with soft goat cheese and a rustic tomato sauce, spent little time at the table, vanishing within a few bites. The calamari, always popular, had no problem finding love with my friends, but I found the dish uninventive. How many times does calamari have to be served with tzatziki and red onion before it gets reimagined?

My favourites of the night were the dates and chicken. The dates, stuffed with an almond, wrapped in bacon, then drizzled with balsamic reduction and blue cheese, were the perfect one-bite morsel to start the meal. While my friends found the chicken too acidic, I loved the lemon white wine broth in which the grilled chicken, artichokes, capers and tomatoes rested.

We concluded the meal with coffees and pink grapefruit sorbet ($4.50), a palate-cleansing must for those hoping the date really begins when the meal ends.

For an obligatory Valentine’s date, Tapa Bar deserves consideration.

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