Tapas takes shelter in Casa Blanca

Jamie Gajewski

As Paul Jackson and I were told to abandon our steaming plates of Latin food in order to view a damaged restaurant’s interior, I knew this was not going to be a normal restaurant review. Naturally, Paul and I had chosen to dine last Thursday evening at the only restaurant on College Avenue that has neither a glowing neon sign nor a floor at the moment. What luck.
Ever since returning from a semester spent eating tapas in Granada, Spain, Paul and I had wanted to visit the restaurant together. The appetizers known as “tapas” get their name from the Spanish verb “tapar,” meaning ‘to cover.’ Traditionally, small portions of food were served with drinks at Spanish bars and these appetizers were just the right size to cover the top of the beverage. Tapas are served free with drinks, making them an essential part of the social scene in Granada.
Despite the lack of sign, boarded up second floor window, and charred exterior, Paul and I assumed that Tapas would be open. We peered into the restaurant and Paul yanked the door handle. Locked. Before either of us could react, we were accosted by a drunken Irishman just three doors down who waved at us, approached, and then began talking to us about the Lawrence University Physics Department. In an act of fight or flight, Paul and I ducked into Casa Blanca and discovered that Tapas was actually still alive.
About two weeks ago, a fire caused by an overheated power strip started in the apartment just above Tapas. The blaze caused the evacuation of the restaurant as well as others nearby such as Señor Tequila’s. Since that night, a lot of business has been lost and in an effort to preserve Tapas, its menu has temporarily been combined with Casa Blanca’s list of Latin cuisine.
As Paul and I stared at Tapas’ bleak interior, the owner, Alejandro Lopez, told us that he expects Tapas to be opened again in about two weeks. Until then, Alejandro is using his own money to reconstruct and redecorate his beloved restaurant. He even asked us if he should change the name to “Las Tapas” or something else, like Excalibur. While he likes Casa Blanca, he prefers the ambiance of Tapas.
While Paul and I did not get to experience Tapas together this week, we did enjoy its food served in Casa Blanca. From the flat screen digital aquariums to the corner of plush lounge sofas, Casa Blanca is swanky elegance with a Latin twist. Frank Sinatra and Latin rhythms coupled with an intimate table for two made us look and feel like lovers, again. With this ambiance, anyone could forget that Flanagan’s is just across the street and that the world of academia is calling for books to be read and papers to be written.
We began the meal with cucumber and lemon infused water and Paul opted for a Californian red wine, which was poured from a carafe into his wineglass. The first part of my meal was a cold, tomato-based Spanish soup from the Casa Blanca menu called Gazpacho Andalú. Paul nibbled on a delicate salad and we shared a plate of bread and fried bananas drizzled in a zesty orange sauce.
As the lights dimmed, our unlit candle was replaced by a different, lit candle. My main course, a pair of tapas, came from the Tapas section of the newly combined menu. I thoroughly enjoyed the Gambas al Ajillo, four tender, gargantuan gulf shrimp sautéed with a garlic and tomato sauce. However, I disliked the Hongos a la Plancha, a plate of grilled mushrooms with garlic and olive oil because their lack of strong flavor. Both hot and cold Tapas are offered and cost between 7 dollars and 10.50 dollars each.
Paul ordered an Argentinean seafood dish from the Casa Blanca menu called Pescado a la Chimichurri. His meal consisted of a tilapia filet served with a chimichurri marinade. A variety of urban legends have been connected to the name of the sauce, most of them involving locals mistaking a British name ending in Curry or the phrase “give me curry” for chimichurri. The marinade is made from parsley, oregano, garlic, paprika, olive oil, and onion.
Paul’s dinner came with sautéed vegetables, choice of soup or salad and the choice of a side. Paul chose Pure de Bonitas, mashed cinnamon butter potatoes from Peru, as his side dish. Casa Blanca meals are a bit pricey, ranging from 16.95 dollars for Vegetarian Enchiladas to 32.95 dollars for Filete Oaxaqueno, a filet mignon from Mexico.
If you’re looking for a romantic meal and you’ve just gotten your paycheck for two weeks of hard work as a Briggs Hall Monitor, waltz, or better yet, tango on over to Casa Blanca or Tapas. Either way, your taste buds will have you speaking Spanish like a native as you exclaim, “Qué rico!