“I’m sorry I guess I just don’t understand your question.” Well, I guess you don’t like new customers do you? Asking a waitress about how tapas dining works is apparently extremely confusing. Fandango, tucked in to Kalamazoo’s downtown district is one of few other tapas restaurants in the city. With broad windows and intimate booths it takes strides to be a more sophisticated Spanish cuisine than the Mexican tapas restaurant Casa Bolero.
The place is bustling with the seventy-five or so people that are seated at the closely placed square tables. Rock jazz, with the bass level too high, lightly booms from the kitchen. The waitresses scurry about in their black attire from candlelit table to table refilling waters and bringing out the next dish that was finished from the kitchen. The moody lighting with deep maroon walls makes any college kid feel like a sophisticated and established “grown-up” with real fabric napkins and no children’s menu. It also looks like the places they send people for e-harmony hang outs, but that is beside the point.
The point is, if you’re looking for a great place to test your taste buds and enjoy the results, this is the place to go.
Tapas cuisine gives each person involved the chance to literally bring something to the table. Once the waitress finally understood the “complicated” question, she explained that each dish was brought out as it was finished and then passed amongst the diners “family style” for each person to try. The Fandango Empanada, for instance, doused in sweet and sour sauce and sesame seed allows each taster to enjoy the tangy of the sauce with the crumble of the croissant: the spice of the peppers and onions with the chicken. If more than a few bites were taken at one time, though, the sauce would seem to win out. The two empanadas arrive on an adorable-sized red plate matching the stack of red and green plates placed on the table before guests arrive. Finding room for all the plates once the multiple dishes begin to arrive, however, can be a challenge.
The largest plate that arrives for the night is the artichoke and spinach dip served with pita chips. The hot plate is unapologetically left on the table for the people to find space for, attempting to pass it along without burning anyone on the heated dip. The taste was exquisite, however, once room on the plate was found. The pita chips were the perfect crunch without being too salty and thick chunks of artichoke comprised much of the dip; while hard to get on the chip, the dip had the golden ratio of spinach, to cheese, to chunk.
Passed around at the same time, was the chorizo and squash crepe cradled in its own white dish. The thin sheet of crepe was topped with various Spanish cheeses, and underneath is a puree of squash and chorizo with a texture that is similar to baby food: if baby food was fiery and delicious. The waitress returned to clear some plates, walking them past the semi-circle, barely lit bar serving out Guinness from a can and fun and flirty seven dollar martinis before bringing back dishes that had been ordered after the initial startup.
The flank steak, cooked medium well, and the smoked salmon arrived at the same time. The steak was a unique take on the traditional manly punch of seasoned beef. Finished in balsamic vinegar, the steak had a more subdued but equally satisfying taste. The smoked salmon arrived with a salad topped with olives that no one ever touched, the fish ribbon shaped like deli turkey. The taste was mature and woody and the cold a striking contrast to all of the spices in the previous plates of food. It was well complimented by the crunchy bread that was placed at the table, however getting used to the temperature difference could take some adjusting.
The crowd favorite seemed to be the Spanish take on what may be considered an “All American” dish: Mac and Cheese. Baked with melted cheese on the top, the thick shell noodles were plump enough to burst in your mouth. It lacked the familiarity of cheddar, but this by no means detracted from the taste. The white cheeses weren’t weighty but were instead the perfect hanging accessory to the noodles’ outfit. It was the perfect casually, yet dressy attire for the Spanish Mac—dressed like most of the people in the restaurant.
Fandango is definitely not a place to go alone. If you do, you’ve missed the point and your wallet will hate you for it. Each dish is reasonably priced, ranging from seven to fifteen dollars so with a large group of people it is a lot of food for your money. If each person orders two dishes from the menu, you will find yourself drowning in the beautiful midst of variety. The only downside is you have to barter with your friends to see who orders what because you don’t want to order the same thing at the table as someone else. It brings to mind the “family style” like a parent asking their child “so what do you want for dinner tonight?” and the kid always answers “I don’t know, what do you want?”
Leftovers are out of the question as well. If you go hungry that is. Not a single take-out box was passed to anyone in the restaurant at any time. Not that you would need one. The six serving plates were taken back to the kitchen virtually empty and at that point everyone was the best kind of full: content but not stuffed.
Tapas dining is a great experience to share with the people you are close to, and Fandango is a nice place to do it. It is the kind of place where you would try something different each time, rather than ordering your favorite item off of the menu. It is a great place to experiment and to get out the box with your taste buds, but still feel grounded in familiar tastes. If you can get past the waitress who is having an off-night and the adventure of trying something new, Fandango is a great time to be had with the people you love.