@GRMAGAZINE: Foodie Crawl

(Grand Rapids, MI) — In the December 2012 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine, we explore a new concept...the Foodie Crawl. Much like a pub crawl, participants walk (or crawl, depending on how much booze you’ve had) from venue to venue, partaking at each stop. We split up our magazine adventure into the logical sections of a meal: appetizer at Reserve; dinner at six.one.six; and dessert at La Dolce Vita. With all the restaurants in our area, many other possible routes are easily plotted. Below is another Foodie Crawl suggestion, though we had a bit more trouble sticking to the three course meal structure...

It is a beautiful evening for a stroll, calm winds and mild temps. Holiday lights have been strung up, making our walk even more festive. Downtown Grand Rapids can be so beautiful at night! We’re a bit nervous since it’s nearly 7pm on Friday, so we expect to run into crowds at each of our planned restaurant stops.

First up is San Chez for tapas. As expected, the dining room is hopping but there are a couple tables available. The host takes us to a nearby high-top, but we spy all the empty chairs against the kitchen counter on the far side of the room. Can we sit there instead? Our host cheerfully leads us over, where we can sit where we like. As we take our seats, the cooks greet us warmly. Ever since eating at countertops in Barcelona—sometimes wedged shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers who end up becoming friends—we’re happy to sit near where we can watch the food being cooked!

It turns out to be the best decision, as servers and cooks show off different plates...a parade of both their talents and a whirlwind tour of the menu. With a bottle of Mont Marcal cava chilling, we’re nearly content to just watch the activity while sipping bubbly. Eventually, though, the enticing smells become too much. We begin with thick slices of bread, slathered with tomato, olive oil, then draped with manchego cheese and thin blankets of serrano ham. Nothing says Spain like tomato bread and cava!

One of our faves is the Pollo y Chorizo a la Plancha, grilled chicken and local chorizo with a side of cumin aioli to dip it in. The meat is spicy, still juicy, but the aioli makes everything sing. The cumin touch makes it so addictive. Another menu item catches our eye: Calamaritos Fritos. Although frying squid can toughen it slightly, adding serrano ham, pork belly, and slightly sweating onions helps offset any dryness. Topping with orange zest and blood orange aioli pushes the envelope. Neither of us has had such a unique presentation or flavor profile in calamari. It only makes us want to sample more of what the kitchen has to offer. (And therein lies the danger of choosing a great first stop on a foodie crawl...you’ll never want to leave.)

Regretfully, we take our leave of San Chez and walk down the block to enjoy fresh air before our next stop. Coincidentally, we run into some friends and have a good chat before continuing on our quest. Tavern on the Square has a table right on their patio, where we can watch the nightlife on Ionia go by as we enjoy some “Yankee Tapas”. Despite the focus on small plates, there are some heavier dishes too. Juliet can’t resist the Fish Tacos, lightly breaded and fried cod with coleslaw and guacamole. She goes at them with a fork, sometimes using the crispy kettle chips on the side as a conveyance for the fish. Jeremy craves beef, so gambles on the Pan Seared Beef Tenderloin served with Stoli olives and goat cheese. Under the perfectly-cooked medium-rare meat is a bed of garlic mashed potatoes. Both choices satisfy completely.

It is getting late, and we are getting full, but a little something sweet to end the evening seems like a good idea. Dessert is at Bistro Bella Vita. The restaurant is in full swing but there is a high-top in the bar. Our waitress is cheerful and not at all perturbed we are there just for dessert. We order a couple glasses of sparkling wine (from a well-known Michigan winery, which turns out to be a bad move; it’s the worst sparkling wine we’ve endured) and caramel gelato with espresso, so we can make a giant affogato. The gelato arrives in a giant martini glass, which catches the eyes of other patrons and we’re obligated to explain what an affogato is. Our dessert is so good, it fills in what few remaining cracks we have inside.

As we head home, we’re thankful for all the options we have in our city to create a nearly unlimited array of Foodie Crawls. We encourage you to invite some friends out, no matter where you live, and create a crawl of your own!

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