By Nick Roumel

It happens every time. I tell someone I went to a tapas bar and they think I said something else. It's like that one Beverly Hillbillies episode where Jethro opened a place called the "Happy Gizzard" and said it would be a topless bar. Later Elly May explained that meant they didn't wear hats.

The Happy Gizzard failed miserably, not because of Elly May's headgear or lack thereof, but because they did not have such toothsome goodies as garlic shrimp, manchego cheese, and grilled octopus. The concept of "tapas" or small plates is a popular one, but in America, true Spanish-style restaurants or taverns are rare. However, I was recently in Evanston, and "Tapas Barcelona" had an entirely Spanish crew, and exquisite, traditional Spanish dishes.

Unfortunately I was in Evanston with two friends who are decidedly not foodies like me. Bruce is more or less indifferent to food (even though we became friends over pistachio nuts), and John was just happy with his hoppy beer and a piece of pork. Making matters even worse was that this was the night before the Ohio State - Northwestern football game, and thousands of Buckeye fans found their way for the matchup, an event that put a serious dent in the collective IQ of Evanston.

I was therefore forced to keep my appreciative moans to myself, over marinated artichoke hearts, mushroom croquets with curry gravy, and patatas bravas. The plates are designed to be shared by up to four people, and the happy hour prices were bonus. The three of us got out of there for a total bill of $35, which I was left to somehow pay despite leaving my credit card at the bar the previous night. But that's another story.

I'm going to give you my own version of garlic shrimp, which is ridiculously easy and fast. Even better, you can substitute almost anything for the shrimp, such as potatoes and - as the Spanish say - Olé! "Here, eat some tapas instead of getting gored by a bull!"

Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp)

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 long, sweet red pepper, diced fine

2 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced

1 tiny super hot pepper like the one from Pearl's garden that made my mouth burn for three days, or red pepper flakes to taste

2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

a few dashes sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar

1/2 lemon

salt to taste

chopped flatleaf parsley for color only

1. Heat olive oil in a large, wide non-stick sauté pan over medium heat--pan should be just sizzling.

2. Add garlic and stir briefly, then the diced red pepper and hot pepper.

3. Add the shrimp, deglaze with the sherry vinegar.

4. Add the tomatoes and paprika, stir and toss quickly until shrimp is pink.

5. Finish with a couple squirts of lemon and dashes of salt.

6. Serve while hot, garnish with chopped parsley if desired.

Patatas bravas? Parboil four medium potatoes for ten minutes, dice into 1" cubes, and substitute for the shrimp.

Serve with crusty bread, assorted olives, and good, aged manchego cheese, and you've got yourself a fine tapas party.

It's up to you whether you invite Elly May.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at

Published: Wed, Oct 16, 2013


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