DeTAPAS Spanish Gastrobar
A taste of Barcelona in Westport, Connecticut
Photography by Jessica Gordon Ryan
The last time I was in Barcelona, I lost myself in a banquet of cultural delights. Whimsically tiled buildings, bold and brilliant, line the streets there in eye-candy fashion, thanks to the fantastical dreams of one particularly whimsical architect, Antoni Gaudi. World-claass restaurants, 30 of them Michelin-starred, tempt with tapas, perfectly proportioned; paellas, one-pan wonders, seafood rich and “ricely” done; croquettas stuffed with impossibly delicious Jamón Ibérico; Patatas Bravas, stud spuds always applause worthy; and a parade of traditional and modern dishes, distinctive to the city for centuries. Bars welcome in the night with sangria, fruit soaked and fragrant; glasses of cava keep the conversation flowing; and mixed drinks and coffees promise spirited camaraderie. And its iconic neighborhoods, nestled along pedestrian-only las Ramblas to the winding lanes of Barri Gotic, enliven with a real sense of community and opportunities to mingle with the locals. All of which makes Barcelona one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world and one of my favorite places to be.
Imagine my surprise when I found myself dining at DeTAPAS Spanish Gastrobar in Westport, Connecticut, only to be transported back to Spain’s colorful Catalan capital through the ambiance and appetizing Spanish fare remarkably recreated by owner, Carlos Pla, who moved away from his hometown of Barcelona more than a decade ago.
“For me Barcelona is not just one of the greatest cities in the world, it is home. It is modern, dynamic, and cosmopolitan with an amazing quality of life due to the weather, the mix of historic architecture with modern buildings, its services and more importantly, the personality of the people. We enjoy a lifestyle that is based on spending a lot of time outdoors, doing things with others, meeting friends around a table with plenty of shared food and drink,” explained Carlos.
“All those factors played a major role in the restaurant design and menu” he continued. “The restaurant design is modern and casual, like Barcelona is. My food is based on authentic Spanish flavors, both classic and contemporary. The combination of all of that is what makes my customers feel that they are in Spain when they are at the restaurant. This is the best compliment I can have. My goal is to make sure everybody experiences a real taste of Spain through its food.”
He took great pains to get it right. Drawing from his business experiences in corporate America and in high finance at a private equity firm in New York, honing his cooking skills at the Culinary Institute, getting his feet wet in hospitality as a restaurant host and as the hands-on manager of chef José Andrês’ Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards, he opened DeTAPAS just as diners were venturing out to public dining venues after being shut out for two pandemic-crazed years. He designed his eatery with an open kitchen concept so guests can see them make their tapas. Seating arrangements vary too, with a lounge, high-top bar tables and traditional tables to cater to his patrons’ preferences.
Every day since has been a new experience for him and his now repeat loyal customers, of which I am happy to be one. His menu, a blend of tried-and-true treats and weekly specials that are uniquely innovative and irresistible, caters to patrons who know good food – and will travel to find it.
“Most of my guests have been to Spain at least once, and they all comment on how the food reminds them of their visits to Mallorca, Seville, you name the place. It is so rewarding to see how the memories come back to them while they are dining at the restaurant and they love to share them with me.”
Homespun and healthy, Spain’s food culture is all about fresh local ingredients, with seafood, jamón and tapas taking starring roles. Spanish gastronomy is designed to let the quality of the ingredients shine through, simply and distinctively, and nowhere is that demonstrated more than in tapas fare, a fiesta of flavors in bountiful bite-sized bursts.
Carlos knows his tapas and his menu showcases the ones both he and I savored in Barcelona. His croquettas,, crafted with Ibérico ham and creamy white bechamel sauce and served on a sculpted pork plate, promise to melt in your mouth and leave you wanting more. Shrimp fans will literally dive in the Gambas al Ajillo, sauteed in garlic and brandy sauce and served sizzling. Yes, he has hot Patatas Bravas, a spicy staple on a Spanish tapas table, made with potatoes dressed in tomato sauce and alioli (Spanish garlic mayo), as well as Pan con Tomate, lightly grilled bread painted with fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and salt, both must-tastes if you want to recreate the flavors of España.
Hungrier appetites will find fulfillment in the heartier plates, like I did with the Albondiga Morunas, Moorish lamb meatballs with homemade curry sauce, almonds and currants, the Steak “al la Plancha,” classically prepared with Romesco sauce and sea salt, and my all-time favorite Contramuslo de Pollo con Duxelle de Mushroom & Jamón ibérico, a.k.a. braised chicken thighs with creamy mushroom duxelle, ibérico ham and truffle oil, tender and tasty in all the right places.
And if you’re still game for Spain’s most iconic dish, paella, Carlos has made sure he has one for every palate, from Seafood paella with monkfish, mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops to classic chicken or steak as you like. His paellas call for bomba rice simmered in saffron and aromatic sofrito like the ones he enjoyed back home, but if you’re a noodle lover, you may opt for his Fideuà Negra. Similar to rice-based paella, this signature dish of Barcelona is prepared with a short, thin noodle-pasta called fideuà. Carlos adds shrimp, calamari and cuttlefish ink that color the dish and flavor it with briny hints of the sea.
What do you drink as you celebrate food rooted in Mediterranean magic? DeTAPAS’ sangria is sublime, a true taste of the fruit of the vine on every delicious level. I knew I was a fan the first time I happened upon this Westport gem and ordered it, and when I brought my sister, a true connoisseur of Spain’s fruity wine-based cocktail beginning with her time at the University of Madrid and several Spanish restaurants since, she was a convert at the first sip.
Twice as nice the second time around, we ordered the Flan for dessert, enjoying the chef’s secret ingredient – Brie cheese – in a custard affair that sweetened our evening like no other.
You can feel Carlos’ passion for his Mediterranean homeland in each of the dishes he serves with pride, not all of them have been mentioned here. It’s worth a trip to Westport to discover the rest.
“The tapas culture is a way of enjoying a memorable and fun culinary experience, but it is also our tradition, an expression on how we share food with others. This ‘culture of sharing’ brings people together, making this experience a joy on every level,” he said, adding “that my guests often thank me for bringing this experience to Westport. And I know their comments come straight from their hearts.”
Ideally located at 180 Post Road in a walkable downtown Westport, steps from Main Street, the kitchen at DeTAPAS Spanish Gastrobar is open daily from 4:30 pm to 9 pm on weekdays, until 10 pm on Friday and Saturday, but lingering later is part of the fun. Reservations are suggested if you want a seat at the table! ☐