Mixed Grill

Santiago’s Bodega offers tasty tapas in an inviting space, but some kinks need ironing out.
Tapas, that plosive little word that means “cover” in Spanish, has evolved from an Andalusian specialty into practically anything on a small plate. Everything from sushi to mini pizzas, ravioli to crab cakes—and dishes we used to call appetizers—are now listed on menus as tapas.

So even though the folks at Santiago’s Bodega include French onion soup, Italian meatballs and Greek saganaki on their “tapas style” menu, the fact that they are serving dishes of a Spanish inspiration is cause for celebration.   

There’s an inviting feel to Santiago’s. The owners, Jason Dugan and Angelo Belcher, who have had a twin location in Key West since 2004, planned on opening last November, revamping two spaces that formerly housed Logan’s Bistro and a series of other stores, but construction wasn’t completed until June. The brick and wood front patio, facing busy Virginia Drive, is captivating. The revamped interior is a refreshing departure from modern and industrial; here, multicolored wood floors and an artfully dappled paint scheme make the rooms feel comfortable and Old World.

Settled in and happy to be in such a pretty place, I anticipated dinner at Santiago’s with joy. The reality, with a few flaws, was mostly good.

To start; soups, A+. A rich consistency was shared by the spicy shrimp bisque and the lentil soup (each $7 a bowl). A perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp (tail on, an awkward item to fish out of thick soup) swam amidst the cream-based soup, enlivened by peppers and citrusy notes. Welcome additions of mushrooms, hot jalapeno and chopped cilantro complemented and contrasted the complex curry-spiced lentil soup. 

And then we waited. An hour passed with just a bowl of soup for comfort before our waiter remembered we had already ordered, and hastily volunteered that he would rush our dinner out. Which may explain the undercooked state of the beautiful-looking roasted Brussels sprouts ($9), topped with pine nuts and shredded Parmesan and chewy to the point of distraction. We had already waited 60 minutes; 5 more wouldn’t have hurt.

After that, courses arrived quickly. A pillow of puff pastry ($7) enclosed sautéed mushrooms and onions in a cream sauce and made for an all-too-quick bite. Likewise the tiny goat cheese tartlet ($8), peppers, onions and garlic with a classic French herb mix flavoring the cheese. More substantial was a skewered trio of grouper chunks ($11), nicely cooked but overpowered by a crunchy fennel seed and coriander blackening.

I had to try the classic tapas dish, patatas bravas ($7.50). Unfortunately, that meant coming back for lunch, since our dinner order never arrived (lunch service was far better). Fried potato chunks are drenched in a spicy, pepper-based sauce, traditionally accompanied by a heat-quenching shot of brandy. I particularly liked the combination of hot sauce and vinegary capers. Lunch also brought a cold gazpacho ($4 by the cup), the pureed vegetable base garnished with a brunoise of tiny diced peppers, tomatoes and onion (superb knife skills in this kitchen, by the way) and cilantro microgreens. Chicken skewers ($9), nicely flavored with lemon zest and aromatic rosemary, were a small but good lunch dish.

The “small plate and share” experience gets expensive quickly. While the patatas bravas was a starchy bargain, three dollars for two sourdough rolls is a bit much; a two-inch square of puff pastry with a smear of cheese for $8 is a high-end starter, not a bodega tapa. And for an experienced business, service should be as sharp as the knives in the kitchen.  

Gathering Place
The stained glass-bedecked bar in the main room is impressive without being imposing, and has already become a go-to for the local after-work and after-dinner crowds. A playful addition to the extensive list of Spanish wines is house-made red, white or Port sangria, available by the glass or pitcher, perfect for an autumn evening on the patio.

Santiago’s Bodega
802 Virginia Drive, Orlando
Menu: $7-$16


Categories: Reviews