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DINING REVIEW: Tapas Picasso

Shrimp bisque and bread.
Photo by Steven Persitza

On-the-go foodies get a basket full of opinions on where we should dine next. A valued friend recommended Tapas Picasso in Hillcrest. We're glad we listened.

Tapas Picasso is special find in San Diego. Just steps off the beaten path and lost in a world of funky retail, thank goodness we were pointed this way. It's a blink-and-you-will-miss-it establishment. Once inside, you immediately see the Picassos. While none of these paintings are going to fetch a million dollars, the inspired intent is here. The vibe at Tapas is cozy and relaxed. The bar takes up a third of the establishment. The table settings are crisp and precise--red linens and light wood tables and chairs. Plus you gotta love the piped-in Caribbean music. Not sure how that jibes with the theme, but it worked for us.

The great thing about Tapas is not the image or the location – it is simply the food. The menu abounds with numerous delectable offerings. You want diversity, they have it. Octopus, eel, snails, lamb, beef, seafood, chicken--all in varied blends of flavors and textures. Being there mid-day, we checked out the Tapas lunch special that includes an entrée, soup or salad and rice for $9.95. This alone is more than enough food for anyone but the individual tapas are so inviting too. One of life’s little but pleasant difficult choices, and we indulged.

The soups of the day were a rich, homespun cream of corn soup, and deep, robust shrimp bisque. Both were perfect for a cool summer day. The corn soup had tidbits of delight and such a simple, multi-layered flavor that using your bread to wipe up every drop was inevitable. The shrimp bisque had a wonderful creamy, buttery consistency that just melted the taste buds.

Ordering the lunch special plus a couple of side tapas proved to be the remedy for a busy day. Entrees included the chicken in plum sherry sauce and the paella a la valencia with seafood and chicken. The plum sauce completely enraptured the chicken in a subtle, rich flavor. It was simply amazing. Expecting an over abundance of sweetness, the dish manifested itself with just a hint of sweet balanced perfectly with its savory components. Had the chicken not been bone dry, it would have been a perfect dish. The paella was a wholesome feast of seafood and chicken done true to its Spanish roots. The chicken here was fantastic, and although the shellfish was sparse, the broth was killer and made up for the lack. The textures and distinct seasonings made this an inspired, traditional dish. Tapas certainly didn’t go light on the saffron here which is usually the issue.

The tapas soon followed with a chorizo sausage deep-fried (ahhhhh) and lamb strips in garlic sauce. The chorizo was just delicious. Simple toothpick chomping morsels that burst with spicy, zesty flavor. They were little power-packs of brilliance. The lamb had such a unique savory element to it that you just could not stop eating it. Bold, garlicky, piquant and delicious!

The thread of consistency that married the entire meal was the impeccable saffron rice. It was earthy, salty, toothsome and a complete plate of joy. Combining the various proteins stepped every dish up to another sublime level. One could just dine on the rice itself but be sure to share it with the other options because the results are astounding.

Tapas Picasso turned out to be everything our friend had said it would be and so much more. Truly, some of the flavor combinations were so incredible that mere words may not be able to describe them. One word of caution, service at Tapas is not much different than service in Spain…friendly, and very leisurely. A great place to spend a little time if you can just turn off your phone and leave the watch in the car. Slow down, order more than you think you can eat and grab a lovely glass of wine from their reasonable list. All that other stuff can wait. Que Aproveche and Enjoy.

The Good: Flavor, flavor, flavor.

The Bad: Service was iffy. This is such a basic element of restaurants, what up?

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-294-3061
  • Name: Tapas Picasso
  • Address: 3923 4th ave