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Europa Mediterranean Café & Tapas Bar; Blue Marlin 

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Now about 3 years old, Europa, popular from the beginning, seems to have found its niche. The quarry-tile floor and original brick walls make for a lively room. It's a room open for extroverts, not romantic tˆte-…-tˆtes.

Europa takes the Spanish name tapas for its two-dozen-or-so offerings, but these little dishes, both hot and cold, take their inspiration from all around the Mediterranean. Europa's tapas ($4 - $8) range from a simple bowl of ripe olives to stuffed mussels and seared tuna.

Paella is perhaps the most famous Spanish dish, the Europa version ($39.95) serves two to three patrons; after several tapas it will serve four. Fish and shellfish are compelling main dishes ($14 - $20) here, though meat and poultry have their place as well. The zuppa de pesce is a robustly flavored dish, more stew than soup and redolent with both fish and shellfish and warm garlic bread for the last of the sauce. More delicate are the seared scallops, carmelized and sweet, with polenta and a scatter of green beans. For a little different spin on dinner, grab a group of friends and give Europa a try. — Davis Morton

Europa Mediterranean Café & Tapas Bar
1409 E. Cary St.
Lunch: Monday - Friday 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday - Thursday 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.;
Friday - Saturday 5:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.
643-0911

The menu at the Richmond location of this regional seafood chain offers an extensive collection of seafood dishes that are either deep-fried or served with a half-hearted Cajun or Low Country twist. The entrees, which don't exactly push the envelope on creativity, feature selections like blackened catfish ($12.95), deep-fried seafood items like a shrimp-and-oyster platter ($13.50), a shrimp scampi pasta ($11.95), a few sandwiches, and the mandatory chicken and steak offerings to accommodate the inevitable seafood hater.

It isn't that the food is bad, though a few items could have been a lot better, it's just that none of the dishes — with the possible exception of some desserts — rises above adequate. We've all been to a few places like this that are saved by some other attribute, such as being at a waterfront or having some appealing nautical feel. Not the Blue Marlin. The plain interior is decorated with a little neon and a few prints. It feels like a hotel breakfast room with its beige vinyl booth benches that sink so low you want to ask the waiter for the Yellow Pages. — B. Ifan Rhys

Blue Marlin
7502 W. Broad St.
Dinner: Sunday - Thursday 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.,
Friday - Saturday 4 p.m. - 11 p.m.
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