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Like Dim Sum, Except Spanish
Barcelona comes to Fullerton via Lizarran Tapas
For lack of a better term, I've been known to throw around the word "tapas" to describe any food that's smaller than an entrée, but not quite an appetizer. Dim sum, for instance, is the Chinese version of tapas that's eaten for breakfast. Izakaya dishes are served in small portions, so naturally, they're "Japanese tapas."
But I'm not the only one guilty of exploiting the word. Takeshi Abe himself labels the food at his Izakaya Zero as "Japanese Tapas."
310 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832
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The irony here is that there are now more izakayas in Orange County than tapas bars. And it turns out, not as many people as I thought actually know what tapas are. This dawned on me when I asked someone if she knew about the new tapas bar in Fullerton. The look on her face was one of horror. She thought I said "topless bar."
Lizarran is the long-awaited but forever-delayed tapas place opened by a restaurant group based near Barcelona. And tapas aren't the only things offered here. You'll also find fruit-laden pitchers of sangria, traditional Spanish dishes and pintxos (actually a Basque word pronouned "pinchos"), which are substantially hefty hors d'oeuvres served on thick slices of crusty bread with toppings ranging from the ultra-savory to the tooth-achingly sweet.
All pintxo pieces are anchored by a toothpick that is its namesake ("pintxo" literally translates to "spike" or "thorn") and an accounting system. After the meal, the sticks are counted and multiplied by $1.75 to calculate your total.
It's exactly how it's done in Spain, where plates of pintxos are usually set out like a buffet for customers to grab with one hand, a wine glass in the other. Here in Fullerton, Lizarran's pintxos are stored in a countertop, refrigerated sushi-display case, possibly to placate local health officials. But diners are still free to top off their plates at any time. Batches of freshly made pintxos are also brought out and offered around the room by a roving server like, well . . . like dim sum.
And just like dim sum, the idea is to get a taste of everything.
Be on the lookout for the sausage that looks like a Slim Jim, which has the same jerky chew and chile kick. And if you spy breaded planks of fish exiting the kitchen, make a mad grab for them. Delicately crisp from the fryer, decorated with a stripe of aioli and a strip of bell pepper, they're everything a Gorton's fish stick should be but isn't.
At the bar, pick up stuffed peppers bursting with oozy tuna salad, or shaved Serrano ham paired with potato chips, or salty smoked salmon topped with pallid baby eels as soft as noodles. If your intention is to make a meal out of pintxos (which is perfectly acceptable), then the dense potato-pancake wedge is your weapon of choice. With the bread, this will weigh you down and fill you up.
If it's the tapas you're after, start with the gambas al ajillo—shrimp cooked to a pink jiggle, soaking in extra-virgin olive oil so rich it can double for drawn butter, and flavored with sliced garlic so sweet it poses no danger to your breath. Or, if you hadn't had breakfast, order the revuelto de gambas—essentially the same dish, but with less olive oil and garlic and more scrambled eggs.
For something out of the deep fryer, the fried calamari has a batter lighter than helium, and the croquetas—bite-sized bullets of mashed potato—are filled with bits of ham, chicken or cod. Another potato-based dish called the patatas bravas de Madrid is similar to the home fries you doused in Tabasco for yesterday's breakfast, but much more complex and exciting.
Those who aren't stuffed by this point should forge ahead with the seafood paella, served fuming with steam in its metal baking pan. It won't be the best you'll ever have, but it's teeming with tooth-tender calamari strips, shrimp, mussels and clams.
One of the more satisfying entrées, bacalao a la Vizcaina, is cod drenched in a warm, chunky sauce made of red peppers, tomatoes and onion. But just like the tapas and pintxos, it's a dish OC has rarely seen. Get your friends to try it and the tapas by telling them Lizarran is just like a dim sum restaurant, except in Spanish. If that doesn't work, just tell them they can also get booze.
Lizarran Tapas, 310 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-9009; www.lizarrantapas.com. Open Sun.-Wed., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-midnight. Dinner for two, $20-$50. Beer and wine.