"Tapas" Without Tapas & Paella Without Rice

Trip Start Aug 25, 2010
Trip End Jun 29, 2011

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Saturday, May 14, 2011

We were much better at being young and wild last night than we usually are.

Okay, okay, not everyone in our group was young and we weren't exactly wild, but we did stay out past midnight, and we didn't leave for dinner until 7:30, pushing our usual dining time back by a whole hour.

We went to a place called "Tapas" near Dave's Pizza.  We noticed the place a few months ago but had been forgetting to try it.  It's one of only a handful of Western restaurants in Zhenjiang.  Overall, our opinion upon leaving the restaurant was that the food was excellent but that the experience was possibly the strangest we've had yet.

The place was well decorated in a style that reminded me of either Tuscany or Southern California (not that I've been to either).  It had natural stone walls and arches, wrought-iron lanterns, huge wine racks, and a muted color scheme.  In other words, it was very swanky (and out of place) for Zhenjiang.

As is common with upscale and/or Western restaurants in China, the place was empty.  We were there from 8:00 to 9:30 and we were the only patrons.  Granted, the time was a little late for Chinese dinner, but we don't think the time was the issue.  The nice restaurant across from our gate (whose name we still don't know)  and Dave's Pizza are almost always empty when we visit.  We can't figure out how these places manage to stay open, but it's a mystery we probably won't solve.

We were a little disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the restaurant called "Tapas" didn't actually serve tapas, nor was it Spanish.  In keeping with the spirit though, Robert, Charles, Sam and I decided to order four dishes and share.  Among our selection were meat paella and panfried sausages with fries and salad.

In record time, the waiter delivered our chosen dishes, but he mistakenly gave us two plates of panfried sausages and no paella.  We tried to explain but he didn't understand, so we asked him to bring a menu.  We pointed to the paella dish on the menu, and he pointed to one of the plates of panfried sausages.  We told him the sausages with fries and salad absolutely weren't paella.  When he still didn't understand, we flipped to the panfried sausages listing on the menu and attempted to explain that we had two of these when we'd only ordered one, and that we had no paella.  He told us, basically, that the "panfried sausages with fries and salad" and the "meat paella" were the same dish.

We thought it was a lost cause by then, but Sam realized the characters for "rice" were printed under the paella listing, so he tried to explain to the waiter that the meat paella indeed included sausage, but that it also included rice.  The waiter's response:  "Mei you mi fan" (We don't have rice).  

So, to recap, the menu featured an entire page of paella dishes, but the kitchen didn't have rice.  From the way the waiter responded, it didn't seem that the kitchen was temporarily out of rice either.  It seemed that the "paella" was always served sans-rice.

As I said before, we were more confused than we'd ever been in China, but there was nothing else we could do, so we began to eat.  After the blatant menu/kitchen error, we were shocked to find out that the food was delicious.  It was some of the best Western food we've had in China, and it was as good or better than most comparable restaurants at home.  Our confusion still wasn't alleviated.

A few minutes later, our waiter came back and told Sam he was brining something.  We couldn't catch what the "something" was.  But soon after, he brought two tiny plates of mushroom risotto.  Apparently, the restaurant had rice after all, but risotto isn't paella.  More confused than ever, there was nothing we could do but eat, so we tucked into the risotto and found out, again, that it was wonderful.  We don't know where the cook was from or where he was trained, but we thought he must have been trained outside of China.  All the flavors and textures were spot on.

After dinner, we went to the little bar/pub in the Xijin district that we've quickly grown to love and ended up staying for three hours.  During the second half of our stay, we sat with a few Chinese people and played, or attempted to play, the Chinese version of the game Dice.  Charles, Sam, and I never completely caught on, but we had a good time and our Chinese friends generously bought us several rounds of beer, which was lucky because Charles was the only one of us who hadn't run out of cash and there was no ATM in sight.


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