Published January 31. 2013 4:00AM
At the height of winter in New England, warm exotic climes offer tantalizing escape or, at least, the stuff of great reverie.
Take Trapiche, a city and winery in Argentina, land of the tango, the Andes, great wines ? sounds good, right? Shake yourself from that daydream, because the wee town of Chester offers a little slice of that particular heaven at a restaurant with the same name.
Trapiche, specializing in Spanish Mediterranean/Latin-inspired cuisine, is where Lupo used to be on Route 148, not terribly far from the Goodspeed Opera House and darn close to the Norma Terris Theater in Chester. Trapiche's tapas menu could make for great pre- or post-theater nosh, but it's just as good on a regular old Saturday night when we visited.
Charmer No. 1 was the live Flamenco guitar music. Saturday night is Flamenco night at Trapiche, and the soft guitar added the perfect level of ambience with no impediment to conversation.
Charmer No. 2 was the extensive cocktail menu, offering the expected sangria and Caipirinhas alongside more exotic items like Cucumber Mojitos and an intriguing item called the Michelada, a mix of Corona, Bloody Mary mix and fresh lime juice. We kept it simple with a margarita and red sangria, and both were well mixed - the sangria presented what we guessed were hints of cherry or maybe pomegranate - and the margarita made perfectly to order. But the list of more than 10 martinis and dozens of wines will ensure we try something new next time we go to Trapiche.
And we will go back, because the whole experience was lots of fun and the food was reliably delicious. You know a menu is fabulous when it becomes truly difficult to narrow down just how many items you want to order; tapas are great for new culinary adventures, offering hearty tastes of new things without a plateful of commitment.
We started with the fresh-made guacamole ($9). It arrived in a gorgeous cast-iron bowl and the portion was generous - good start. Then we tasted it and the high-fiving began because Trapiche's guac is exactly how we prefer it: infused with lots of lime juice, decked in cilantro and equal parts smooth mousse-like avocado and small toothy chunks of it. The most important ingredient, though, is jalapeno peppers, which amplify the flavors of everything else in the guac. Trapiche nails it and goes above and beyond by pairing the guac with thick, tasty tortilla chips.
We could've easily eaten that guacamole all night, but it would've been a shame to miss out on the rest of our meal - all of which arrived beautifully plated in riots of color. From the tapas menu we ordered Chicken Empanadas ($9) and Serrano Ham-Wrapped Asparagus a la Plancha ($8) for which we gave ourselves additional props for selecting. The empanadas were the best I've had at a restaurant. (Caveat: When you've had them home-made, you get a tad spoiled.) They were wonderful alone, but still better with the accompanying green-chili chimichurri sauce. Crisp and filled with shredded chicken and starchy veg, they had a sort of Asian tinge that worked very well.
The ham-wrapped asparagus were our happy surprise of the night. Grilled to peak flavor-level, the asparagus were delicious all on their own, but the crisp ham, plus a dynamite balsamic glaze, made for a very delicious package.
The taco of the day was a roasted chicken mix on a soft shell ($5 apiece). They look small, but there's so much filling and flavor going on in there, you'll be easily sated if you order just one coupled with other plates. What was particularly nice about the tacos was the layer of Bibb lettuce between tortilla and chicken. It added a layer of texture and a refreshing balance to the sneaky heat that emerged after a few bites. We couldn't quite discern everything within, but tender chicken, softened onions and a red sauce married well.
The most gorgeous plate of the night was the Pork Tostadas con Mole Poblano ($13), which, per the menu, feature "crispy house made Mexican tortillas, mole braised pork, queso fresco and pico de gallo." Now, I've seen plenty of pico in my day, and none of it looks like the fab mix Trapiche's chef prepared that night. It was a zesty mix of veg that went far beyond your usual tomatoes, onions and hot peppers. We couldn't name all the veggie items atop the mole pork, but one was a stunning shade of magenta and another we suspect was jicama. It doesn't matter because it amounted to delicious, and so did the pork, which also was infused with heat that built up by the bite - a perfect match for all those crisp veggies.
Before I discuss dessert, bear in mind we ordered small-plate items in an effort to taste as much as possible. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it. From a dessert tray of about seven options we selected two: bread pudding and house made peach crepes ($9 each). Both arrived with a dainty scoop of hazelnut gelato, which, of course, went perfectly with each item. The very basic bread pudding was fine, but the crepes were quite special. Spice flavors like clove, allspice and cinnamon accented the peaches within the warm crepes - the whole package tasted like Christmas. This is a good thing. Anything too sweet would've put us over the edge.
That seems like a ton of food, but we've only scratched the surface. The menu is expansive and loaded with what appear to be delectable options. We will gladly continue our research at Trapiche, while we dream of warmer days to come.