Ed. note: This post originally appeared in my 2008 food blog Fork It Over on the website of the Rochester Insider magazine, which is now Metromix Rochester. Since the old blog is no longer available online, I'm re-posting some of those posts here and backdating them to their original posting dates. Although in most cases they are specific to Rochester, hopefully you'll still find them somewhat interesting! ~Rachel, 6/28/10
Tapas 177 gets crowded on the weekends, but I prefer to go at odd times so that I can savor the candlelit ambiance while dining on small unique dishes and drinking a refreshing mojito. Dessert and drinks became a Tuesday night routine for awhile, a nice way to unwind after one of my band rehearsals. Their mojitos are the best in town, but one evening, I asked the bartender if he knew of any variations, maybe incorporating some kind of fruit. He made a pomegranate mojito for me, and it was amazing. I'd usually pair a pomegranate mojito with the house special dessert, banana xangas, but more on that later.
I hadn't been there for an actual meal in awhile, so I headed there a couple nights ago with my boyfriend, who is finally back from vacation, thus saving me from my odd kitchen experiments (for example, Blueberries + Steak = Delicious?) We got there early, and we had the whole main dining room to ourselves for awhile. The bar is on the main level, and the dining room (as well as a second bar and a patio) are down a narrow, creaky staircase. You'll need a minute for your eyes to adjust when you arrive downstairs. It's almost cave-like, lit mainly by candles. Tapestries are draped over the walls, and several tables are enclosed in private alcoves by velvety curtains. I was seated at a table that has one chair and one seat on a long, cushioned bench. My seat on the bench included a couple of throw pillows for reclining. Here's a view of the main dining room.
Sorry for the blurriness; it was pretty dark down there, and it's probably rude to take out the tripod in the middle of a restaurant :)
To start, Ben got a glass of Chateau Luxeuil Cote du France Bourdeaux, a well-balanced red wine with hints of cherry and banana, and I got my favorite pomegranate mojito.
We were also given a basket of tasty focaccia bread.
Rather than order entrees, we decided to split three tapas and then get dessert if we were still hungry. (Ok, that's a lie. We were definitely planning on dessert, regardless of hunger. The banana xangas is irresistible.) In case you've never experienced tapas before, 'tapas' is a Spanish word that refers to small appetizer-like dishes that can be hot or cold. Outside of Spain, restaurants have popped up everywhere centering around tapas in a slightly different way than in Spain. They're still small dishes, but customers make meals out of them by ordering a bunch and sharing with the rest of the table. Tapas 177 offers a variety of these small dishes as well as some larger entrees. You can find tapas ranging from calamari salad to sushi. Entrees include some fish, pasta, and meat options. If you're feeling daring, try the pan-seared ostrich. A sampling of the menu is available on the Tapas 177 website here.
For our meal, we had the steamed chicken dumplings, beef braciola stuffed with chorizo and gouda, and egg rolls. The dumplings arrived in a bamboo steaming basket with a couple of dipping sauces (soy and spicy mustard.) The filling was made of chicken, cilantro, scallions, and ginger. The best thing about the dumplings is the simplicity. Many other dumplings seem to have lots of mystery ingredients squished together to make a filling, but with these, you can really pick out each flavor, and they come together well.
The beef braciola arrived looking sort of like meatballs in a pool of tomato sauce and oil, but upon closer inspection, we found that it was made of slices of beef wrapped around the stuffing, which was made of chorizo, smoked gouda, wild onion, and roasted garlic. I'm not really into gouda, but I tried some and was pleasantly surprised. The chorizo added a nice hint of spice, and the tomato sauce (actually tomato coulis, according to the menu) had a good rustic taste.
Our third dish was fried Vietnamese chicken egg rolls, which were served with a thick sweet and sour sauce that seemed to have a hint of BBQ flavor. This dish was my favorite of the tapas that we ordered. The egg rolls were delightfully crispy, and the dipping sauce was excellent. Plus, they were pretty thin compared to the egg rolls you might get at a typical Chinese restaurant, so the roll stays together better when you bite into it.
As the plates were emptied, so was my mojito glass. Just about everything on the lengthy martini list was tempting. I ended up settling on the 177 Martini for my second drink: vodka, raspberry liqueur, grenadine, and sour mix. It was very good, I think. I guess I don't remember much about it, because it went right to my head after a sip or two.
For dessert, we ordered a raspberry kiwi crepe and the house special, banana xangas. The crepe, which was exploding with whipped cream and raspberry coulis, disappeared into my boyfriend's stomach before I could try more than a bite or two. The little bit that I was able to try was pretty delicious.
Banana xangas is amazing. I would go to Tapas 177 just for this. It basically consists of a mix of bananas and cinnamon in a fried dough shell, served with ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel.
The bill came to about $70 before tip for the three drinks, three tapas, and two desserts. This was plenty of food for two reasonably hungry people. In general, if you're skipping entrees and getting a few drinks, you should be fine with enough tapas to allow for 1.5 or 2 dishes per person. I left comfortably full (and comfortably tipsy.)
Food can also be ordered at the bar, and free salsa lessons are offered on Thursday nights around 9:30pm. There's live music on Saturdays around 11pm, and there are wine tastings on the first Tuesday of each month at 6pm. Check out the website for more info about events.
Location: 177 Saint Paul St.