Once primarily the purview of the Spanish, the tapas/small plates trend in American restaurants has been with us for a while now. Unfortunately, small plates aren’t always synonymous with small prices. To wit, Zola: a small plates restaurant with prices so high customers said, “No, thanks,” and the place was gone in a matter of months. A coworker of mine calls the tapas trend “small plates for stupid people.” And indeed, there is often much smoke and mirrors where small plates are concerned. But not at Eva, a cozy new restaurant on Main Street downtown, in the space that was briefly home to Lazy Dog Pizza.
Eva’s fair and reasonable prices encourage experimentation. You might think twice about ordering a $23 entrée of glazed pork ribs with arugula and Marcona almonds in a standard restaurant, but at Eva, that small plate of three glazed ribs is priced at a mere $6—and it’s delicious. There are a dozen or so small-plate items at Eva priced in the $3-$6 range, a couple more that sell for $8-$9, flatbreads and pizza for $7.95, and $9.95 pasta dishes. The most expensive selections on the Eva menu are priced lower than starters/appetizers in most restaurants. The point is that, while not exactly risk-free, the sting is significantly less painful ordering a less-than-perfect dish priced at $5 than one priced at $25.
Like much of the food at Eva, the restaurant itself is stylishly simple. The smallish rectangular dining room feels larger than it really is, thanks to high ceilings and a smart use of space; a leather banquet runs the entire length of one wall while individual tables line the opposite wall, which is painted a deep, soothing eggplant color. There’s local art hung, but not so much as to look cluttered, small vases with fresh flowers and a votive candle on each table, and lighting that’s never too dim or too bright. Service is casual and friendly, with zero intimidation factor or attitude. I really like the scale of Eva, a comfy restaurant where you can always find your server without having to use GPS. And the in-house music mix—programmed in part by Charlie Lewis, aka Ted Dancin’—is simply tremendous.
I have visited Eva many times, and each visit has been enjoyable. That’s not to say there haven’t been ups and downs. My first meal—perhaps before the chef and servers were completely “dialed in”—was made especially memorable by the inedible artichoke-stuffed ravioli ($9.95) that was doused in so much lemon, my tastebuds went on strike. The accompanying “pan fried braised” (which one?) octopus was so tough and chewy, we actually thought we might be biting into a crab leg with shell still on. The signature pizza at Eva’s, called Eva’s Pie ($7.95) was more-or-less satisfactory, with good flavor—an 8-inch thin-crust pizza with gruyere, mozzarella and Parmesan—but the crust was bland and wimpy, not at all what I expected from a wood-fired pizza oven.
However, those dishes were offset by truly sparkling ones such as a simple but delectable lunchtime orzo salad ($4) with five or six plump, tender shrimp and light vinaigrette. Another terrific lunch menu choice is the “steak sandwich” ($8), which I’d expected to be, you know, a sandwich. It turns out it was much better than a normal sandwich: an open-faced “sandwich” of grilled flatbread topped with tender, juicy tri-tip, nutty-flavored arugula and shaved ribbons of fresh Parmesan cheese. It’s a sandwich to eat with a fork and knife, but I licked my plate clean. By the way, regardless of what else you order, be sure to try the luscious, crispy fries ($5), cloaked in a mixture of garlic with fresh rosemary and Parmesan.
If you think you don’t like brussels sprouts, you just haven’t tasted chef/owner Chuck Perry’s: thinly shaved, flash-sautéed and tossed with cider vinegar and toasted hazelnuts. Even the kids will like these. Other very good dishes—and remember, these are small portions, usually a few forkfuls—include flash-fried calamari with sherry cayenne aioli and sea salt ($6), and a mac & cheese “Carbonara-style” with minced bacon, a light cream sauce, toasted cheese on top and, unfortunately, too many frozen peas. The wood-fired flatbread with white bean hummus and truffle oil is quite appealing if you’re fond of truffle oil. During a recent Downtown Dine O’ Round dinner (three plates for $15, through May 30), the only real sour note was the spring vegetable tapenade that accompanied otherwise tasty boneless chicken wrapped and roasted in phyllo, called chicken tiropita. The tapenade was bland and watery.
As with the food, drink prices at Eva are reasonable, and include everything from $2.50 Buds and Pinkus organic pilsner ($5.75) to Toree di Luna grappa ($6), sangria, and wines fairly priced both by the glass and bottle. On one visit, we tried a bottle of Red Bicyclette Chardonnay for $19; on another, Firesteed Pinot Gris for $21. Eva’s wine list won’t win any awards, but it perfectly fits the scale and mission of the restaurant. I do wish, however, that someone would train the service staff how to uncork a wine bottle.
It’s painful watching servers wrestle with bottles that don’t have screwcaps. Even with those uncorking issues and a few uneven dishes, little Eva holds great promise. It’s already becoming a favorite spot for downtown diners looking for good food, friendly service and honest pricing. I just hope success doesn’t go to Eva’s head; price creep is dangerous. Don’t go there. We like you just the way you are.
317 S. Main