Updated: Mar 14, 2019
I have complicated feelings about tapas restaurants. On one hand, I love the idea of having bites of other people's food, but on the other hand I don't want anyone touching my food.
The concept of sharing food is especially shitty if you are a person who doesn't eat meat. If you're the lone vegetarian at a tapas table full of omnivores you face the injustice of not being able to eat half of the food and yet still being expected to share the few veggie dishes you can eat! The best you can hope for is a bread basket so you can fill the cracks in your broken heart with carbs and cold pats of butter.
But small-plate dining seems to the trendy thing nowadays, so I decided to practice my sharing skills and check out my local tapas place joint, Little Donkey.
Little Donkey is a fairly new addition to the weird dining scene that makes up the Central Square portion of Mass Ave. It's been open for maybe 3 years, and is never not packed. I dare you to walk in there on a Friday and try to get a table. Oh, you'll just grab a seat at the bar? Don't make me laugh. There's a waitlist, and you bet your ass you're no where near the top.
But me being the civilized impatient person that I am, I made a reservation for my dinner there! I'll breeze right past the chumps trying to balance their cocktails, purses and jackets while they wait for a bar stool as I follow the hostess to my waiting table.
As are most of my illusions, this one was quickly shattered. Upon arriving and giving the hostess my name, I was told, "It's going to be a couple minutes, because we're waiting on a table who has already paid their bill to leave."
**PSA** People who camp at their table in a busy restaurant after their food is finished and their bill is paid are sociopaths. I don't care if "that's how they do it in Spain", you are a bad, selfish person and you're making people hate you. **PSA**
We ended up waiting about 15 minutes before actually getting to our table. Was this annoying? Yes. But let's focus on more positive things, like the cocktail menu.
Little Donkey's cocktail menu is made up of classic drinks with a subtle Latin mix. Instead of a Pim's Cup they offer an Elote Cup, which features Ancho Reyes and bourbon. We took a leap of faith and ordered "The One in the Grapefruit" which, according to the menu, is made "with the stuff we really like".
Apparently the stuff this mysterious "we" really likes is tequila, cucumber and festive garnishes which, like, who doesn't? This drink was whimsical and refreshing and weak as a newborn burro. Order this drink for the Instagram pic, not the booze.
Aesthetically-pleasing drinks in hand, we focused our attention on the food menu, which Little Donkey has helpfully categorized.
If you're not able to tell from my super dark and grainy photo, the menu is divided into CHARCUTERIE - HORS D'OEUVRES - VEGETABLES & SALADS - PASTAS & GRAINS - MEAT & FISH. We skipped on the carb-y vegetarian hors d'oruvres and went right for the papusa, artichoke dip, asparagus tempura and spicy Thai street noodles.
Shout out to our waiter, who noticed the lack of meat in our selections and asked if we were vegetarian. When we confirmed we were, he told us that while everything else we ordered was "safe", the street noodles contained fish sauce and it wasn't possible to order them without it. Good looking out, bro.
As someone who spent a solid amount of my childhood running through the woods, I am amazed and terrified that we eat stinging nettles. If you even LOOK at one of those sons of bitches the wrong way, you're immediately confronted with your own mortality and covered in burning welts. Vegetarians who eat stinging nettles are like omnivores who eat puffer fish.
But hell, you cover anything in cheese and serve it to me in a cast iron skillet and I'll instantly forget all pain it once caused me. Why focus on the past when there's hot cheese and chips in your future?
There's nothing else to say other than that this was delicious. I burnt the shit out of my mouth because I didn't have the self control to let it cool down before shoveling it into my face. Cheesy, garlicky, gooey goodness. What more could a person ask for?
Let's keep this party going with the papusa!
The fear I have of stinging nettles is equal to the love I feel for squash blossoms. Why? I have no idea. I think I just like the idea of eating deep-fried-cheese-stuffed flowers like some kind of chubby woodland fairy.
This dish had two things in excess; cheese and sodium. I like a salty tang as much as the next person, but this was distracting. The cheese was salty, the slaw was salty, they somehow even managed to make the cilantro salty.
Little did we know, this was simply the warm up for what came next.
The main part of our meal ended with tempura asparagus, served with a side of curried aioli and topped with curried egg yolk. This was one of the saltiest things I have ever put in my mouth. I'm not even being dramatic at this point, the aioli was inedible to the point that I was scraping it off any asparagus it touched.
Even though we were severely dehydrated at this point, we are not the kind of people who turn away a dessert menu when it is offered to us. You have to at least look at it!
Little Donkey offers some pretty interesting dessert options. One of the choices was chocolate chip cookie dough that comes served on a whisk because Little Donkey knows that we're all kids trapped in adult bodies. However, our salt-cured palates were craving something a little lighter, so we went with their vanilla meringue topped with strawberries and Thai basil.
Look at this pretty little thing! The meringue was light and sweet, and the Thai basil worked perfectly with the strawberries. It was like a fancy, Russian version of strawberry shortcake. Decadent enough to feel like a treat, but light enough to soothe the Dead Sea that was now our mouths.
- A truly interesting menu. They somehow managed to combine Asian and Mexican cuisine while incorporating seasonal ingredients.
- A solid amount of menu real estate devoted to veggies.
- A pal of a waiter who saved us from hidden meats.
- This place is not cheap. An individual tapa should cost $12, max. Little Donkey is averaging $14 - $15 for their salt licks.
- Forever overly crowded.
- Did I mention the salt? The food was a touch salty.
Here's the thing; I did not have a pleasant experience at this establishment, but I will probably give it another try. In a town that keeps opening pubs and oyster bars, Little Donkey is a refreshingly funky joint. I've heard that if a restaurant's food is over-salted it means the chef is in love, so while I would never wish anyone heartbreak, let's all keep our fingers crossed that things don't work out.