I was watching 24 Hour Restaurant Battle the other day, and one of the chefs created a lengthy menu filled with lots of little portioned entrées. In Spain they call these tiny meals “tapas,” and it made me think of my favorite local restaurant: Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar, in downtown historic Frederick. Before I go on, one thing: Volt would probably be my true favorite local restaurant, except for the fact that it costs a small fortune to eat there. I’d like to think my favorite restaurant is one that I can visit on a whim any weekend. Volt is definitely a planned visit, at least for my wallet.
The last time I went to Isabella’s was in July for my birthday, with my sister, Josie, and friend, Theresa. It’s a very social restaurant in the sense that you sit amongst dozens of people, yet there’s just the right amount of “room buzz” to keep your conversation private without feeling as though you need to read lips. On this particular trip, we were seated in the back of the restaurant, in a room that typically seats about 50 people in groups of two to six. Not on my birthday though.
That night, there were four tables around the outside of the room, each with two to four people seated at them. And the other 35 people? They were seated at one, large, u-shaped table in the center of the room. The three of us weren’t sure exactly what kind of group it was, but it was clear that they were an organized group of some sort, like a book club or a dinner club. Now, stay with me…. There was The Leader, The Queen (not literally, but they called one woman “Queen so & so”), and dozens of others that all had one thing in common: A copy of some book that The Queen had written. There was an odd air in the room that evening, but three things stood out as extra peculiar and really funny:
1. About 15 minutes after we were seated, The Leader got up on a chair, tinked his glass with a fork, and announced, “A BIG thank you to the people sharing this room with us, and for putting up with us tonight.” The 10 of us all exchanged glances around the room, not knowing whether to nod and smile politely, or burst out laughing. Nodding won.
2. Midway through the meal, a different man, we’ll call him The Reader, called everyone’s attention and proceeded to read an excerpt of The Queen’s novel. I’d tell you more, except a good bit of it was dirty enough that I don’t want to repeat it here! Seriously, in a restaurant he read this! We burst out laughing AND exchanged glances.
3. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought us our dessert and my chocolate pots de crème had a candle flickering in it – the waiter had remembered that it was my birthday from carding me for my glass of wine at the beginning of our meal (bless you, waiter!). One of the ladies in the group noticed, and said, “OH! It’s your birthday! Would you like us to SING for you???”
Theresa and I both politely said, “No.”
Josie chirped, “Her name is Liza, that’s L-I-Z-A.” And the singing commenced – with all 35 participating. I think they were doing harmonies. It was so obscure and bizarre that it was actually hysterical, which is good, because it could very easily have been humiliating.
As it turned out, my birthday dinner at Isabella’s was wonderfully entertaining beyond the tapas, so much so that I’ve not even mentioned the food! Everything I’ve tasted from their vast menu has been delicious, so I recommend trying something new every time you go. But, here are my favorites:
Mejillones Al Vapor Cataluña – Mussels, pan steamed with garlic, crushed red pepper and olive oil
Queso al Horno – Brie baked on toasted bread with port wine reduction and fresh oranges
Cocoa Y Setas – Sautéed mushrooms, roasted garlic, olive oil, and melted cheese on grilled flat bread
Dátiles Fritos con Chorizo – Bacon wrapped Spanish dates stuffed with chorizo on a mild goat cheese cream
And last, but most certainly NOT least, because out of all my favorites, this is my MOST favorite:
Go and enjoy five or six different tapas with your friends; Isabella’s is all about atmosphere, sharing, and good food!