Tapas are the name of the game at Santiago’s Bodega, a Spanish-style restaurant now open in Altamonte Springs.
The atmosphere is cozy and rustic. Various-style chandeliers hang from the planked ceiling, the colorful wooden floors are hand-laid, and the tables and bar are all crafted from reclaimed wood. Two large cabinets flanking the bar feature hand-placed, colorful stained-glass panels that catch the eye. Creative portraiture line the faux-finished walls. Oversize, plush booths provide privacy and comfort, and a generous patio is lined with rough-hewn stone and complete with fans and heaters to suit the weather.
The menu here is as eclectic as the décor. The glory of small tapas plates is that you can order a few and share, giving the diner an opportunity to taste a number of different dishes. Start with a soup (the cold cucumber-based gazpacho is a must-try), or sample a salad (the avocado and pear salad is tossed with pine nuts and a creamy Parmesan dressing, to die for). Cold tapas include yellowfin tuna ceviche, with fresh avocado and mango, or beef carpaccio, topped in truffle oil. While you nibble, sip a libation from the full bar, or opt for a fruity, tasty sangria — choose red, white, or sparkling.
On the menu for hot tapas, try the Brussels sprouts. Cooked in balsamic vinegar and brown butter and topped with pine nuts, these are not your mama’s veggies! The petite rack of lamb is crusted with pecans and thyme and cooked to medium-rare perfection. If you’re a lover of flaky pastries, you can’t miss the spanakopita, stuffed with spinach and feta and drizzled in hollandaise sauce, or the puff pastry, filled with Portobellos and topped with bearnaise sauce. The shrimp and chorizo skewers, pan-grilled with garlic, are delectable as well, and the short ribs don’t disappoint.
The service staff is helpful and eager to make recommendations, but not overly attentive. The idea here is to keep your menu at the table, taste, sip, and order again. Sometimes the food is so beautifully plated that you may not want to disrupt the presentation. But dig in you will.
For dessert, the flourless chocolate cake is beyond decadent. The cronuts (a combination of croissant and donut) are warm, sprinkled with sugar, and topped with almond-flavored whipped cream. You may fight your dining partner for the third one.
Santiago’s also offers a terrific happy hour and an amazing brunch that includes bottomless mimosas and sangrias. Salud!