And now, Scary-Crayon reviews...
La Tasca: Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant
by: Wes

La Tasca: Spanish Tapas Bar & RestaurantI often wonder about restaurant reviews. Like anything, they can be interesting to read, but more often than not they just frustrate me. Consider the concept: someone actually gets paid to go around eating and critiquing places and then tells you to pay your money to go eat at these places -- and for what? Unless there happen to be philosophical quotes dividing the menu sections or you have particularly intelligent dinner companions who delight in discussing ethics and religion -- in which case you could derive these benefits from eating anywhere -- is dining at a particular establishment going to make you a better or more insightful person? Restaurant critics go on and on about the presentation of the food, but is that really going to change how it looks the next morning when you're wiping it from your bottom? (And insofar as it does, does that really matter?) And while pricing is certainly important for those of us on a budget, consider that it's generally cheaper to eat at home than to eat out anyway. A bargain is a bargain, but is a bargain really a bargain when it's more than you would otherwise have bargained for to begin with? "Bargain" makes me think of some lucky schmoe winning the deed to a local pub in a Poker game somewhere out in the dusty 19th century midwest.

The Internet complicates things further. Even if it were particularly important to eat dinner at specific places that came recommended by so-called knowledgeable persons with professional degrees (or the amateur webmaster equivalent) that invests their approval of eating locales with a certain authoritah, the distance between the authors and the members of their audience often renders it impossible for those persons to dine at the reviewed restaurants without paying undesirable plane fees or spending days on Greyhound buses with freaky stoned passengers (to say nothing of missed work time and other neglected commitments). For instance, there's a good chance that you don't live anywhere near Baltimore, MD, so you probably can't skip down to the Inner Harbor and visit the La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant -- and even if you could, I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to eat there. That's not a mark against the restaurant, though. I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to eat in any specific place, and I think that one of the reasons obesity and stupidity are such significant problems in this country is that so many people plan their excursions around food as opposed to other more meaningful and lasting things. Take note, America: A full belly does not equal a full life.

I heart dragon-shaped boats.Sailing, sailing...

However, if you're ever visiting the area (because if you live here you probably already know about this), I recommend spending a day at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. While there's not quite as much to see in terms of museums and landmarks as there is in the nearby Washington DC, there's still no shortage of attractions and shops to visit -- and if you're anything like me, you'll find watching the rippling waters of the Patapsco River to be immensely soothing. Given the tranquil beauty and cool breeze that I experienced from my vantage point on the outdoor seating deck at La Tasca, I didn't even mind that it took my waiter 10-15 minutes to greet me after I had been seated. (The nearby human eye candy also helped.) I did sort of mind, however, when I approached the indoor entrance to the restaurant and was met by an irritable gentleman wearing a t-shirt, baggy jeans, and a white stocking cap tied around his head. Slumped over the podium and chatting into a cell phone pressed against the side of his face, he lifted his eyes and barked, "Whatchoo want?" after I had been waiting patiently for a minute, whereupon I explained that I wanted to sit down. I received acceptable treatment from another employee after that -- I now wonder if the other guy even worked there at all -- but the pleasantness of the outdoors was certainly welcome after this admittedly jarring opening to my dining experience. Seriously, that first guy was rude enough to make me want to enroll in an online school and learn how to make my own flippin' tapas.

I found myself jolted in another way when the waitress arrived, as she was quite possibly the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen in person. (Her appearance almost defies description, but imagine a taller Brenda Song with somewhat punkish hair with a slight reddish-purple tint.) In fact, I had seen her serving the women at the adjacent table and had uttered a silent prayer that she would be my server as well -- not because I derive any benefit from subjecting beautiful women to my whims, but because I wanted the experience of being close to her for even brief moments over the course of an hour. In fact, before she began serving the women nearby, the man who had seated me requested that they go easy on her. I assume that this was because she had recently started working there, but I swore when I heard the words that he expressed a desire to court her later and wanted her to be in a good mood so that she would respond favorably to his amorous advances. And whereas this would be highly unprofessional under any other circumstances, she was so beautiful that no one could have blamed him. When she finally came to my table and introduced herself as my server, I squeaked and introduced myself in turn, unconsciously offering her my hand, which she shook. I then gasped and withdrew it, because who the heck shakes hands with his waitress? She commented aloud that the gesture was "sweet," which is girlspeak for "holy hell somebody get this creepy fucker away from me." I nervously ordered a Sangria Blanca.

Berenjenas fritas con queso cabrales y fritura mixta de pescado. Yummy.The Sangria Rosada. Recommended by goddesses.

"Would you like another drink?" My waitress said this shortly after I had finished my first drink and had put a significant dent in my tapas dinner of berenjenas fritas con queso cabrales (fried eggplant with a cabrales cheese dip -- $5.45) and fritura mixta de pescado (deep fried squid, monkfish, and shrimp, with a dollop of garlic mayonnaise -- $5.95 on the website's menu, though I think this might have been $4.95 at the actual restaurant). It has often been said that waiters and waitresses show up at the most inopportune moments -- when patrons are stuffing their faces with reckless abandon -- and I'd have to say that this was the case here. With the combined elements of the therapeutic breeze and the fantastic view and the greasy eggplant chips sliced so thin as to taste more like delicious batter and cheesy cheesy cheese dip than eggplant and the delectable yet mostly familiar seafood pieces (with the exception of the monkfish, which I had never had before and tasted like fish but had a weird texture not unlike moist pork chops), I was taken by surprise when Her Gorgeousness arrived. In truth, I would have been fine simply finishing the remainder of my glass of water, but then my server delightedly asked me if she might recommend a drink -- and who could resist her pretty, enthusiastic smile? After listening to her praise the merits of the Sangria Rosada, I was practically required to order one, which I did. This girl could charm a diabetic man into devouring a decadent three-layer ice cream cheesecake covered with rich chocolate fudge and strawberry frosting and sparkling blue granular sugar.

But alas, although the waitress similarly expressed her personal enjoyment of the helado de vainilla con turrón de chocolate (vanilla bean ice cream with traditional Spanish chocolate nougat), I was far too full from the tapas and the drinks to consume any dessert. As I waited for my check, I mulled over how large of a tip to leave and pondered the dialogue that would take place between the two of us:

WES: Um, [Name of waitress], wait. I know that this is probably going to sound really creepy, but you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I don't expect anything to come of my saying it, but I just really wanted you to know. I've been sitting here thinking about how large of a tip to leave -- if I could, I would leave you the world -- but if I left too large of a tip that would essentially be paying you because you're beautiful, and I don't want to do that, you know? Certainly people can get by on their looks -- and many do -- but even though I don't really know you and only think so highly of you right now because you're absolutely gorgeous, I don't want that for you. I don't want that for anyone. But I do want to thank you for being kind to me tonight. I mean, I know that you're my server and are supposed to be nice because I'm a paying customer and all that, but all the same. Thank you, [Name of waitress].

[NAME OF WAITRESS]: That's sweet.

WES: Have a fantastic life.

This did not happen. She barely looked at me when she returned my change and quickly rushed off to serve other patrons -- "Have a great night!" was all she said -- and there I sat, heartbroken and staring at the little black wallet thingy with my receipt and change inside and feeling more tipsy than I'd planned on feeling thanks to the second drink. I stared out at the dragon-shaped boats on the river and played the dialogue once more in my head, imagining an idealized version in which I was met with a hug and did not break my neck stumbling down the stairs that would take me to the red brick walkway below. Then I took the receipt, placed the money intended for the hand of the slender goddess into the leather sheath, and descended into the crowd below. Thus concluded my experience at the La Tasca Tapas Bar & Restaurant. Although I would not go out of my way to eat there -- or anywhere -- if I happened to get hungry during a visit to the harbor, I would certainly not be averse to pulling up another chair, ordering some tapas and drinks, and gazing over the yellow railing at the rippling waters of the Patapsco. From that distance, you can hardly see the debris floating in it.

For those of you in the Baltimore area who were planning to read a traditional and slightly less creepy restaurant review, welcome to Scary-Crayon! But to accommodate you, here's the breakdown of my opinion of the La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant: great food, acceptable drinks (I've had better, but then I've also been to Puerto Rico), terrific prices, fair service (but uncommonly gorgeous, at least in the case described here), and wonderful atmosphere -- at least for outdoor dining -- though the latter quality admittedly has less to do with the restaurant itself and more to do with its harbor location and the weather on a given day. On the date in question, it was cool, breezy, and partly cloudy. I like days like that. :)

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