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Bring an adventurous group of friends to taste Europa's Mediterranean-style tapas.

Sampling Spain


On one of those rare Richmond summer evenings when a breeze was blowing and the early evening sky was clear as a wine glass, Europa in Shockoe Slip was a good place to be.

The French doors of this old refurbished warehouse were open to the cool night air. The sidewalk was busy with tourists and townies all looking for summer revelry. And Europa was pleasantly filled with the happy sounds of an amiable crowd and the fragrance of good food.

Now about 3 years old, Europa, popular from the beginning, seems to have found its niche. And the location doesn't hurt — convenient for the ever-growing office population in that part of the city and for adventurous tourists and restless townies who seek to sample Richmond's urban night scene.

This conversion of warehouse space is particularly successful. Repeating arches of wood throughout the restaurant add visual interest and warmth while unifying the two levels of the dining room. It's understated in its sophistication, cool without being cold. The quarry-tile floor and original brick walls make for a lively room. It's a room open for extroverts, not romantic tˆte-…-tˆtes.

Call them snacks, noshes, hors d'ouevres, antipasti, or tapas — the world loves to nibble. 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. They can be the basis for a lunch or supper or as traditional starters for a dinner. The more people, the more tapas you get to sample. And who would think of not sharing? These small portions mean only a bite or two for, say, four people, so it's a great time to explore foods you might not want to make a big commitment to but are willing to at least taste. There are also salads and soups for those who favor less gregarious beginnings.

This time we were conservative, choosing a cold plate of sliced sausages, ham and cheese — a simple but satisfying beginning — then we enjoyed a wedge of warm frittata, a kind of crustless quiche of fontina cheese and spinach. On previous visits I've enjoyed the fried calamari, the more exotic lamb meatballs, and the potato-and-chorizo-sausage combination. It's easy to linger over the delicious nibbles, but if you order main courses, the servers will move you along.

Paella is perhaps the most famous Spanish dish, and it has been on the menu of Europa from the beginning. Not a dish to make for one and not one that can sit on the steam table, it's rarely found on restaurant menus around here. The Europa version ($39.95) serves two to three patrons; after several tapas it will serve four. While you won't find a lobster, you'll find lots of shellfish around and in the rice. 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.

Desserts are not an afterthought — and shouldn't be at $6. A mint-flavored version of the popular crŠme br–lée was an interesting if not convincing idea.

The wine list is extensive and interesting. Our server was efficient and helpful, and though it was a busy Friday night, the kitchen kept the pace.

Michelle Williams, founder and owner of the restaurant, also owns the popular Hard Shell next door (along with the Hill Café in Church Hill). Jason Alley, recently coming to Richmond from a stint in Atlanta, has taken over the kitchen at Europa. For a little different spin on dinner, grab a group of friends and give Europa a

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