My friend, Tom, and I wanted to go to downtown Durham the other day to have lunch. We were headed to Dames Chicken and Waffles, but it was closed due to a problem with their air conditioning unit. So we started to walk down Main Street and just a couple of doors down was a new place called Taberna Tapas Diner. So, we decided to give it a try. The inside of the restaurant was really attractive, with exposed brick walls, chandeliers and a really nice wine bar that is yet to open as the place is waiting to get its liquor license. Our waitress said that for now, people are welcome to BYOB.
We didn’t know what to expect, but we were in the mood for a little adventure. Our waitress recommended a couple of dishes to try, so we took her suggestions and ordered the bacon wrapped dates to start out our meal. The bacon was nice and salty and complimented the sweetness of the dates, that were stuffed with a pecan and some Manchango cheese. It is very similar to an appetizer I sometimes serve around Christmas. I love these, but beware, because they are very addictive!
Next, we each had a salad. Tom ordered the Arugula salad, which was served with very thin slices of Serrano ham, almonds, goat cheese and drizzled with some honey as part of the dressing. Again, it was a nice blend of sweetness and saltiness. The Arugula is a little bitter, so these flavors were a great compliment to the green.
I had what would have been the Friseé salad, but they were out of Friseé, so they substituted Arugula for the Friseé. It was served with pine nuts, artichoke hearts, a little bit of thyme, shredded Zamorano cheese (which was much like Parmesan) and a hard-boiled egg. It was a pleasant salad, although I think Tom’s was the better choice of the two salads.
Our main course dish was the Valencia Paella. It was a plate of saffron rice with pulled chicken, slices of chorizo, grilled shrimp, zucchini and summer squash, a dash of sautéed onions. The rice was a short, chunky rice that was well cooked (neither too sticky nor too chewy), though I wouldn’t call it saffron. There was very little saffron in it. The shrimp were crispy and firm on the outside, yet soft and sweet on the inside. I could have eaten about three servings of this and I am not usually a shrimp lover! Of course you can’t go wrong with chorizo either. It adds a bit of spice to the dish. This paella is not as traditional as some that I have had in the past, that would have a lot more seafood in it, but it was a tasty dish. The price was a bit high, in my opinion, but that seems to be the case at most tapas restaurants.
By the time we ate the three courses, we were both too full to try out a dessert, but I’m sure the desserts were probably as good as the tapas.
Our waitress told us the owner, Chris Estrada, is the person who created the menu. He is not classically trained as a chef, but came up with the dishes remembering what his mother used to make. His family is from Spain.
As we drove off, we noticed there is another tapas restaurant just down the street. I hear it is managed by the folks who own Vin Rouge, so it will be interesting to see if both places can make it. I think Durham is big enough to support both. Time will tell!
Taberna is located at 325 West Main Street and is open Monday – Thursday from 11am-8pm, Friday from 11am-10pm, Saturday from 10am-10pm and serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10am-3pm. You can like their Facebook page.