A jazzy cocktail spot previews Regina’s restaurant destiny

RESTAURANTS by Aidan Morgan

photo by Darrol Hofmeister

Capitol Jazz Club & Tapas Bar
1843 Hamilton Street
4 out of 5

People sometimes ask me about things that have nothing to do with food. “How are you today?” “Where did you leave your grandmother?” “Will you please put your hands on the car?” As a professional restaurant reviewer, I am bound to ignore all such lines of inquiry and wait for food-related questions. I don’t want to lose my restaurant reviewer’s license, obviously.

Obviously, I’m sometimes asked food questions, too — usually something like, “What’s the best restaurant in Regina?” (it’s a secret, because no matter what I say you’ll immediately tell me about the terrible steak/service/civil rights violation you experienced there), or, “Do you ever get recognized when I walk into a restaurant?” (yes, because by law I must wear a special bib).

And there’s one that’s been popping up more frequently in recent months: “What is the future of dining in Regina?”

I’m here to tell you that the future of Regina dining is pure chaos; an elemental soup of dishes and drinks whirling around your table. The distinction between appetizers and entrees will vanish, and in its place will be left a howling void of multiple small plates and drinks made with egg whites and shrubs. It will be liberating and delicious.

In other words, the future is going to look a lot like The Capitol.

Located beneath the Creative City Centre (printmaking! concerts! bags of potato chips at said concerts!) on Hamilton, The Capitol is a fantastic addition to Regina’s restaurant scene (or ‘restaurantosphere’ as we will say in the future). Clubbier and more casual than Crave or 20Ten, a little more sophisticated than beer-heavy downtown taverns and a little cozier than Flip, The Capitol feels like a perfect fit in the city centre.

I usually avoid new restaurants while they work out the kinks but my curiosity prevailed in this instance and I ended up at one of the Capitol’s ‘soft launch’ evenings with my Knights of Appetite. The Capitol’s menu is mostly tapas, with a few tapas-y sandwiches and tapas-y salads thrown in to satisfy people who inexplicably don’t love tapas, so we went to town and just started ordering plates. And drinks. So many drinks.

I started with the Paella ($9) and the Pork Belly ($7), which I thought would make a nice balance of savoury and sweet. The paella was compact and just the right size for a large snack, with prawns, mussels, squid, cod and a roasted chicken leg on saffron rice. It wasn’t my favourite paella in town — I love the demented flavour overload of La Bodega’s — but it was satisfying and beautifully presented. The pork belly came with an anise maple syrup and a slab of corn pudding; it was too sweet for me to eat the entire dish but hey, tapas is meant to be shared. A glass filled with Rosemary Ale Sticks ($6) helped cut the sweetness as well.

Others at the table tried the Cod Cakes ($8), the Sopa con Pan ($7), the Lobster Roll ($12) and the Patatas Bravas ($6).

Surprisingly, our appetites petered out after a couple of small plates. Even editor Steve, who can inhale an entire plate of Irish Nachos at the Knotted Thistle and follow it up with chicken wings, was satiated. I realized I would have to change my strategy and hurry back for multiple visits.

Which is a thing that I did! I came back for the Veal Saltimbocca ($11), the Duck Crepes ($10), the oysters, the Roma Tomato and Mozzarella Salad ($10), a slightly salty Four Mushroom Toast ($8.50), the delicious Chicken Fricasee ($9) and the Capitol Soba Bowl ($6). Perhaps my only disappointment were the duck crepes, with beautifully done slices of duck breast over sections of vegetable-filled crepe. It was awkward to eat the duck and the crepe together, and the crepe part was overwhelmed by the sour cherry reduction. A minor misfire — the rest of the menu falls squarely in the good-to-exceptional range.

Even if the food at The Capitol isn’t your bag (and why would food of any kind be a bag?), the cocktails are worth checking out. They aren’t cheap but they’re boozy enough to ensure you won’t be downing too many at one sitting. I tried the Bitter Boy ($11), a gin-based drink that more than lived up to its name, needing its balancing garnish of candied ginger. On subsequent visits I went for a Dark and Stormy ($8), a good old Negroni ($8), an excellent Old Fashioned ($8), an inevitable sea buckthorn drink called The Thorny Cobbler ($11) and a Brambleberry Gin Fizz ($12). At some point I’m going to make a small ceremonial bow at my bank balance and order a Sazerac, which looks pricey at $15 but contains three ounces of alcohol swirling around in its bitter and boozy depths. The Capitol puts its own spin on its drinks, so be prepared for a slightly different set of flavours. Or you can dive into the wine menu, which features bottles I haven’t seen anywhere else in the city.

On Tuesday and Saturday nights the Capitol presents live jazz. I leave that bit of information with you and your traumatic childhood memories of unexpected Spyro Gyra concerts pre-empting Wonderful World of Disney reruns of The Shaggy D.A. or The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Oh wait, those are my traumatic memories. Huh. Well, enjoy. Cheers!

The Round Table

WHAT IS IT? The Capitol Jazz Club & Tapas Bar

WHAT’S IT GOOD FOR? Lunch, dinner, a delirious deconstruction of everything you thought had meaning in a dining experience, drinks.

WHAT’S GOOD THERE? Nearly every plate has something to recommend it. Dishes are small and inexpensive, so even a rare dud won’t ruin your experience. Order early, order often.

WHEN’S IT OPEN? According to the Internet (as of Sunday Aug. 2), The Capitol’s hours are thus: Monday & Tuesday 11:30 a.m.-Midnight; Wednesday & Thursday 11:30 – 1 a.m.; Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday 4 -10 p.m. The Internet would also like you to know The Capitol’s hours might sometimes change due to Rider games and downtown events and whatnot.

WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE TAPAS? Then you’re dead to me.

WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE LIVE JAZZ? Then come sit over here next to me. /Aidan Morgan