Thank Goodness for Little Feasts

At Le Rouge, one small plate leads to another and another.

The seared scallop and chorizo sausage are served on a bed of fresh corn.

I’m sure this has happened to you: Some fancy dish you’ve never tried in a restaurant has a wonderfully evocative description, or the combination of ingredients suggests the promise of romance between you and your food. But the plate that arrives isn’t what you thought it would be, and you’re stuck with a stack of something that fails to impress with either its appearance or taste. The romance is not to be.

I have the answer: Tapas! Appetizer-sized plates of food that make only the slightest demand on your time and taste buds, and if you don’t care for it, give it to your companion and move on to the next plate.

Le Rouge Wine Bar & Tapas has such a menu. Real Spanish tapas have recipes revolving around the local products of Andalusia—ham, seafood, olives, salt cod and sausages—made to be eaten with casual company and a glass of sherry. Le Rouge is liberal in its interpretation of the word, but it certainly understands the spirit.

The list of hot and cold dishes offers a lot of choices. Spicy Ahi tuna sliders ($10) combines tiny diced onions, wasabi and hot siracha sauce with a raw tuna burger. The fish is a great combination of taste and texture, but I’d like to find out who mandated that every slider bun in Orlando be a sweet brioche and rap their knuckles with a ruler. Likewise, the Kobe beef sliders ($13), with a wonderfully grilled little piece of ground beef, juicy inside, browned and slightly crisp outside and topped with caramelized onions, melted cheese and Spanish piquillo peppers, is placed on another sweet roll. Stop it.

The plates kept coming: nicely blackened fish tacos ($11) layered with flavors of avocado, cabbage and pico de gallo salsa; a perfectly seared and moist scallop ($9), layered with meaty chorizo sausage atop fresh corn; a plate of shaved Serrano ham, air-dried bresaola beef, smoked gouda and soft Port Salut cheese ($24) served with fig jam, pepper-spiced almonds and dry apricots that was the closest thing to an authentic and delightful tapa. The Prince Edward Island mussels ($9), served in a tomato, basil and cheese sauce, was the dish I pushed away.

Le Rouge is pleasant in a somewhat industrial, refined bar-hangout kind of way, with one wall hung with rough stone, the other painted deep burgundy and all lined with wine bottles. Diners can sit at tables, along the bar, or nestle in low white leather couches, ideal for a semi-private party and the occasional snuggle. The drinks list is long, with a very nice selection of wines by the glass that are happy houred for $5 on weekdays between 4:30 and 7 p.m.

There’s plenty of competition in this shopping plaza section of Sand Lake Road, with Seasons 52 a few feet away, Roy’s on the other end and the Lebanese restaurant Cedars, with its own collection of little plates, right next door. Le Rouge, with a combination of flavorful treats, casual surroundings andgood wines, is a great laid-back alternative to all of them.

Le Rouge Wine Bar & Tapas

ADDRESS 7730 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando
PHONE 407-370-0909

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