It was my first date with Brandon – my friend Yanna’s adorable 3-month-old. Yanna lives in Atlanta, and Sean and I wanted to take her and her sister, Cinthy, out somewhere great for her last night in town.
The Retreat Tapas Bar in Evans was a bit of a stretch for an infant – but I was really excited about trying the lobster mac and cheese I’d spied on an online menu, and Yanna was game, especially once she heard it would be tapas.
The wait staff didn’t miss a beat. Once they heard we had a baby coming, they sat us conveniently toward the back of the intimate restaurant (roughly eight tables plus a separated bar) and swiftly flipped a high chair upside down so Yanna could set down the car seat holding a sleeping Brandon.
It helped that the interior was also restful. Dark sage green and cream walls set off the dark wood furniture – and the walls were decorated with images of actors and actresses from old Hollywood. Ol’ Blue Eyes smiled down on us as we settled in with the menu.
But first, drinks. One of the specials was a watermelon martini, which our server highly recommended. I ordered one for us to try.
The menu is divided into fried, including fried green tomatoes and collard green eggrolls; a daily soup and she-crab soup; two salads; teasers, including tuna tataki; pizzas; share plates, such as a baked crap dip; and four mini entrees. Prices varied widely, from $3 to $19 a plate. One disappointment: the lobster mac and cheese was no longer there.
The descriptors confused me a little – especially when I asked how large the mini entrees were, and our server assured me they were entrée size.
At most tapas restaurants, about six dishes would satisfy our usual groups of four, so after discussion, we chose the steak nachos (share plate), duck quesadillas (appetizer); beef satay (teaser); antipasto pizza pie; and the Lowcountry shrimp and grits (mini entrée). For good measure, Sean added a cup of the she-crab soup for himself.
“Are you sure?” our server asked doubtfully. “That’s a lot of food.”
“Oh, yes,” we said with confidence. “We’re pretty hungry.” Famous last words.
Our martini came first, heavily frosted with a salt rim and with a square of watermelon prettily balanced on top. It was better without the salt, since the strong martini itself was delicious, with a great fresh watermelon flavor.
The steak nachos hit next: blue corn tortilla chips loaded with melted cheese, beef tips, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeños and a cilantro sour cream. The beef was nice and tender, and the cheese tangy – a bit like my favorite cheese dip. The best bite came when I made sure to get a bit of the jalapeño; the heat really made the dish.
Just as we finished the nachos, our next four orders hit at once – and that’s when we realized our mistake.
Although The Retreat calls its food “tapas,” which technically is Spanish for an appetizer or snack, these were not snack-size portions. Outside of the cup of she-crab soup, the $11 beef satay was the smallest plate, with three skewers of marinated beef. Our other choices were definitely entrée portions.
First the soup: The real crab meat on top was a nice touch, and it had a good seafood flavor, but it was perhaps not quite as smooth and elegant as other she crab soups I’ve had.
The duck quesadilla was my selection, so I was excited to sample it – but the duck meat was very salty, which even the sweet port fig salsa (more like a thick sauce) couldn’t cut.
The antipasto pizza pie was a pleasant surprise, especially since at first glance it just looked like a puddle of cheese. The crust was a flatbread, topped by good vegetables such as asparagus, squash, tomatoes and zucchini. It wasn’t very crisp, but the combination of the cheese and veggies with the sweet balsamic was interesting.
The marinated beef satay was tender and had bright Asian notes of ginger, onion and soy. It came with a sweet chili sauce, but definitely didn’t need it.
With my first bite of the cheesy grits, I thought, “Uh oh, underseasoned.” But I revised that once I took a bite with the shrimp, bacon, andouille sausage and sauce. The grits became the perfect foil to those assertive flavors – and we unanimously agreed it was our favorite dish.
The three girls – and Brandon, who had woken up and been given a bottle – were stuffed, but Sean had his eye on a dessert – apple cobbler with ice cream. I promised him I would take one bite – and was tempted to take two when our server set down the hot dish with its scents of sweet vanilla and caramel. The apples were piping hot, and the ice cream and caramel sauce along with the crumbly cobbler crust were terrific.
When our server came by with to-go boxes and our check, we asked about the portion sizes. “We call it a Southern spin on tapas,” she said with a laugh.
We probably should have guessed the portions would be larger based on the prices – but despite the big bill, I was glad we got to sample a lot of dishes.
While we were there, the owner stopped by a couple of times to check on us – and every table. It was a nice touch – a very welcoming, and Southern, way to end a great visit with friends.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: The Retreat Tapas Bar, 4446 Washington Road, Suite 20, Evans
HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.
SECOND HELPING: (706) 250-3717, www.facebook.com/RetreatTapasBar