Newtapas bar opens in Blaine

Published on Thu, Dec 22, 2005 by Tara Nelson

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New tapas bar opens in Blaine

By Tara Nelson

Blaine residents now have the chance to taste the world in the form of little appetizers.

Marienes Johnson, executive chef and owner of Truffles by the Sea restaurant on Peace Portal Drive, has created a new tapas bar that showcases her culinary training from around the world.
What are tapas?Think of them as gourmet appetizers.

“After work, people enjoy not to have a huge meal but to have a snack and drink and socialize,” Johnson said.

Like most great food, tapas were created out of necessity. Often, they consisted of a strip of meat or piece of bread to take the edge off hunger and keep flies out of one’s beverages. They have, however, evolved considerably since then.

The Gambas al Ajillo or garlic roasted shrimp ($7.50), are sautéed in a light olive oil and then topped with lots of roasted garlic and flambéed with a Spanish sherry wine before Johnson deglazes the dish with a dash of cream and pairs them with warm pita.

The warm almond-crusted Manchego cheese ($6.75) is perhaps the restaurant’s most popular tapa. To create the dish, Johnson tops a warm slab of Manchego cheese with a pan-seared garlic and Spanish sherry vinegar reduction sauce, sprinkles it with roasted almonds and ground black pepper.

The Enrollades de Salmon, or lox salmon poppers ($7.50), however, were this reporter’s favorite. The dish was an instant hit with its combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, tomatoes and jalapenos rolled up in a wonton wrapper and deep fried. The crispy, hot rolls are then drizzled with a vinegary garlic chili sauce.

Johnson said although most of her tapas are inspired by Madrid’s famed Puerta del Sol, a huge corridor of restaurants in Spain, her tapas are not limited to Spanish cuisine.

Her taco sushi plate she has planned for January, for example, uses typical sushi ingredients – vinegared rice, tempura vegetables or cooked meats such as shrimp – but is placed in a wonton shell instead of rolled in a traditional sheet of seaweed before it is topped with pickled ginger slices, dabs of wasabi or Japanese horseradish, and nori flakes or dried seaweed.

“It’s unconventional,” she said. “A lot of my cooking, though, is north meets south meets east. It’s so fascinating when you realize the culinary world when you come to see there are so many spices and so many people use them in so many different combinations.”

Tapas can also be a light dish such as a soup or hearty stew and Johnson said she wants to make a baked chili with cheddar cheese and onions; a chicken poblano tortilla soup with avocado and chipotles on top and her Sopa de Pesce; and a South American-style chioppino with fresh tomatoes, red chile flakes, shellfish, shrimp, halibut and a fennel and celery-based broth, which she makes from scratch.

Johnson also said her New Year’s dinner special ($50 per person) will include a choice of an eight ounce tail of cold water Maine lobster prepared with a lemon butter garlic sauce for dipping, prime rib or a chicken cordon bleu, a lightly-breaded chicken breast thinly rolled with black forest ham, gruyere cheese and then baked and topped with a rich béarnaise sauce.

The dinner also comes with a choice of a double baked potato with shrimp and mozzarella, rice pilaf or her famous potatoes au gratin, an unusual and delicious dish layered with thinly sliced russet potatoes and a light egg mixture that creates a custard-like consistency; tomato bisque and house-made clam chowder or a continental salad, with pear, apple, kiwi and grape with grape seed oil and passion fruit vinegrette; and Johnson’s concord cake, a vanilla cake layered with 75 percent dark chocolate ganache and crème anglaise; a lemon curd mousse cake with shortbread crust; or a plate of fresh seasonal fruit.

The restaurant also features daily half-price appetizer specials, as well as drinks and house wines at happy hour prices from 4 to 6 p.m.
Truffles by the Sea is open from 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and can be reached by calling 332-2528.