802 Virginia Drive | 407-412-6979 | santiagosbodega.com | $$
Last week, we assessed the pan-Mediterranean fare at Carmel Café. This week, we look at the pan-Mediterranean fare served at Santiago’s Bodega. Both spots serve tapas, but they couldn’t be more different in terms of style, sophistication and cuisine. Carmel’s bright space, boisterous clatter and modern cuisine offer a contrast to Santiago’s moody digs and its emphasis on European-style conviviality – and, as the bull on its logo indicates, traditional-leaning tapas renditions.
I’m no HGTV Star, but I will say this: The former Logan’s Bistro space has been gutted, transformed and revitalized into one of our most attractive dining spots. The gorgeous bar’s stained-glass windows, unique chandeliers and original artwork mirror the decor of the original Santiago’s Bodega in Key West (this is the restaurant’s second location).
Sitting at a four-person high-top near the bar, we noted the hushed lighting – also, how difficult it made it to read the menu. Flashlight apps were employed, bringing to light a rousing, if pricey, selection of plates to share.
Because of the room’s size and the close proximity of some of the tables, servers and patrons were constantly banging into the backs and sides of our chairs. It was an annoyance until halfway through the meal, when we noticed that the table behind us had moved an acceptable distance away, much to our delight.
Also delightful: the short ribs ($11) coated in a cherry-hoisin glaze we were indulging in when we noticed the newfound calm. Leading up to that moment, a number of cold tapas dishes – thick, garlicky gazpacho ($7); beef tenderloin carpaccio ($13) with smoked sea salt and truffle oil; and an earthy beet salad ($8) with crumbled chevre, walnuts and puff pastry – allowed us to suffer through the irritation in as blissful a state as possible. Then came the yellowfin ceviche ($14) with its hefty chunks of tuna, avocado, red onions and mango. It was as simple as traditional ceviche, yet the rustic approach was unlike any ceviche we’ve had. Certainly it was one of our favorite orders of the evening (and one I hunger for as I write this).
In between bites, we chatted and people-watched the 30-somethings over a carafe of red sangria, priced at a dumbfoundingly European $28. A sudden tableside flaming of saganaki ($12) got our attention, but another Greek delicacy, patties of house-ground leg of lamb ($10), were just too dry to really enjoy. After polishing off the quartet of bacon-wrapped baby portobellos ($8) served with basil aioli, we craved a starch and some greens – and spicy pan-fried patatas bravas ($7.50) and oven-roasted brussels sprouts ($9) sautéed in brown butter then finished with an aged balsamic did the trick. (A quick pan-fry of the leftovers the following morning gave our breakfast a bold edge.)
Our conscientious server insisted we try the bread pudding made with croissants ($7), and this buttery ending, served with blueberries and glazed with a caramel-bourbon drizzle, was fully worth the stents I’ll inevitably need inserted into my coronary arteries. The stacked lemon-vanilla crepe ($7) was outdone by its side of Wimbledon-worthy strawberries and cream. The crepes, unlike most of what we sampled, may not have wowed us, but Santiago’s Bodega is where you’ll find me running on a regular basis. No bull.