San Chez Bistro
Yup. Going to Grand Rapids on my day off. J talked me in to this one. A few weeks ago, I drove by the mall and noticed signs for a The North Face store. We both heard radio advertisements that the store was opening on October 29 and today was the first day since then that we could make the trip north together.
Before shopping, we needed lunch.
A few weeks ago, J and her mom went to Grand Rapids on a Saturday for Art Prize. My hope was that I could sneak away from work for an hour to go to dinner with them. Of course, that didn’t work out and I got really jealous when I found out they went to San Chez for dinner.
I was tipped off to San Chez when we first moved to Lansing. One weekend, J and I took a trip to Traverse City then came back to spend the day checking out Grand Rapids. We were still pretty new to the area and I asked for restaurant recommendations on my blog. A fellow blogger told me about San Chez, but we were unfamiliar with tapas and got scared by the menu, so we passed. Stupid mistake.
San Chez Bistro is on Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids a few blocks east of Van Andel Arena. The building houses a number of offices, but San Chez Bistro, San Chez Cafe, and San Chez Deli make up the street level space. The building was built in the 1880’s and sort of kicked off a renaissance in downtown when San Chez opened in 1992. When you enter off Fulton Street, you come into a hallway area where you can access all three San Chez options. The Cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch, so by the time we got there at 3:00, we were too late for that, but the Bistro was open.
You come in at a level above the main dining room. A quick flight of stairs takes you to the hostess station and the rest of the main level including a full bar and a seating area that overlooks the kitchen which my wife said was fun to watch on a busy Saturday night.
There are at least two main dining areas in the Bistro. Since we were in during off-peak hours, only the main floor dining was open. It is filled with four tops and larger tables. There’s also an upstairs dining area which is where J and her mom sat. She said there’s a lot more seating for couples in that area.
We headed to a four top near the kitchen and were followed by a waitress who came over with neatly folded paper menus. We were both familiar with the tapas concept, so she didn’t need to explain. We both got Pepsi’s to drink while we looked over the menu and tried to decide where to start.
Most tapas restaurants recommend three plates per person, but our experience in the past tends to run two plates for us. With that in mind, we started with four tapas and figured if we were still hungry, we could always order more.
After ordering, our waitress came over with a loaf of bread and a plate of olive oil and spices. I really wish I could remember everything on the plate, but it was so much better than the typical Italian spices. We polished off the whole loaf of bread which isn’t usually like us, but the bread was so soft and the spice infused oil was very tasty.
The first plate brought out was the Fritos De Queso Azul. This dish is blue cheese fritters with a red pepper aioli and they were delicious. I love almost anything with blue cheese and this dish was ne exception. We got four little fritters that were neatly stacked on a plate with the red pepper aioli. I don’t really like red peppers or mayo, so I passed on that, but J seemed to like. I was more than content with the perfectly golden brown balls of fried cheese.
Plate #2 was a tapa that I ordered pretty much for myself, but was surprised to find that J actually really liked it as well. The dish is called Migas and it’s sauteed bread, pork belly, chorizo, roasted onion, grapes, and a fried egg. Calling the dish a breakfast hash is kind of an oversimplification, but that’s sort of what it is. Everything is chopped into little cubes and the fried egg is served with a soft yolk over the top. J was a little leary of the pork belly but ended up really liking it. There was so many flavors going on in this bowl that I actually overlooked the fact there was onion in it. J ended up eating most of the grapes which she said had a smoky bacon flavor to it and I took the egg which, of course, is a perfect compliment to any pork product.
The third plate that came out was one that we both were really looking forward to. It’s called Fideos and it’s tri-color cheese tortellini served with Manchego cheese, pimientos, and a sherry vinaigrette. To my surprise, the pasta was actually served chilled which makes sense with this dish. J loved it and I couldn’t argue. It was really good.
The final tapas we chose is one of the fall specials, Croquetas De Jamon Y Queso. These were a take on a ham and cheese fritter. The ham is Serrano and the cheese is more Manchego. We realized, again, that we had more than our weekly allowance of cheese which is a trend whenever we do tapas. We got four fritters and it’s served with a aoili that I avoided. I just wanted more deep fried cheese. Seriously, is there anything bad you can say about deep fried cheese? I was expecting a little more ham, but other than that, these things were fantastic.
The cool thing about San Chez is their use of social media. Not only do they tweet, but they actually have a Twitter account set up for “Tweet Ahead Seating” (@scbhost). We didn’t need to take advantage of that since we were one of three parties in the whole building, but what I did attempt to take advantage of was their Foursquare Deal.
I checked in as soon as we got there and it unlocks a special for one free tapa. I showed the waitress my phone before we ordered then we both forgot about it. It’s a very cool idea and I feel stupid now for not looking at the check before handing over my credit card, but I still think it’s cool that they’re so involved with social media and use it to drive business to downtown G.R.
Without the free tapa, our bill for four plates and two drinks was just over $38 and it was more than worth it. San Chez is an absolute gem in Grand Rapids and worth the drive no matter where you’re coming from. It’s a date destination. It’s a special night out destination. It’s a reason to go to Grand Rapids.