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Tapastrie brings small plate dining to South Bend

There’s a new restaurant in the heart of downtown South Bend.

Tapastrie opened to the public Monday night, Nov. 16, and officially Tuesday as Mayor Pete Buttigieg joined the owners for the ribbon cutting Tuesday morning.

Chefs Tony Nafrady and John Bulger are in the kitchen. Longtime local bartender Wally Ruston is behind the bar. Seasoned servers are handling the front of the house. Manager and co-owner Tom Welsh is overseeing the restaurant that will offer tapas from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

Several successful soft opening events last week paved the way for the opening and now the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. 

Tapastrie has a big menu and wine list.

Cold plates include a flavorful and light provencal carrot salad ($6.50) with fruit and coriander. Tuna cured with spiced rose tea is served with pickled vegetables and tabouleh ($12.50). Jamon Iberico, considered one of the finest hams in the world, is also on the cold plate menu.

103 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend

HOURS: 1 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday to Friday and 4:30 to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 4:30 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. The kitchen could stay open until about an hour before closing.

Shishito peppers are originally Japanese, but Welsh says they’re eaten like popcorn in Spain. The dish on the menu ($6.50) is simply the blistered peppers and black sea salt. Croquetes made with salt cod and potatoes ($7.50) are flavorful without being as overpowering as salt cod can be other places.

Perhaps the best thing on the menu is the roasted chorizo-wrapped Medjool dates ($8). The dates mix sweet and savory, soft and crunchy, in marvelous ways.

The grilled Halloumi cheese wasn’t remarkable at the soft opening Saturday night and the chicken on the shish-kebab was so-so, but the merguez, a lamb sausage made in-house, was more flavorful.

Gambas al Ajillo ($14) could have had larger shrimp, but the garlic and oil they came in was superb. The romesco sauce with the lamb meatballs in the Albondigas ($14) was amazing.

On the dessert menu, the Valencia orange flan ($6) and Marcona almond oIive oil Cake ($6) were solid dishes, but the terrine of quince jelly and house-made ricotta with crystallized ginger shortbread ($6) was the winner of the three.

Soft opening events let a restaurant practice on customers. Food was offered at a discount to encourage tasting and feedback. The service was even, though the food came out all at once rather than being spaced out over time as most tapas restaurants adopt as a rhythm. The explanations from servers were good, too.

The food was really good overall. Nafrady and Bulger have had time to practice for this and were solid chefs to begin with. I also hope the restaurant adapts portions based on the number at the table. If there are three people, there should be a number of bites the group can split or the server could ask. But again, that might come with time.

Fans of Kelly Jae’s Cafe in Goshen already know and love this style of eating. With the small plates, you can sample widely, though it might take a few visits to figure out both favorites and how to get a handle on the pricing.

The restaurant interior, designed by co-owner Carol Meehan, is lovely inside.

A wine dispensing machine offers pours of two ounces to six ounces. A card logs your purchases and adds it to your bill. Drinking wine in such a way offers the ability to sample widely, but when you do this for the first time, keep in mind what you’re spending.

My advice? Take a group with whom you’re comfortable and share a lot of dishes.

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