Authentic Spanish food in Central Florida is difficult to find. Although I?m sure Juan Ponce de Leon would be devastated, 1513 was a long time ago.
Now, surprisingly, one of the premier locations for Spanish cuisine is the project of a family from Puerto Rico. Rest assured, El Bodeg?n?s menu brags of only traditional Spanish dishes.
Owned by Nadine Lopez and her children, Jacqueline and Alexis, the family has history with authentic Spanish cuisine.
Greeting you at the entrance of El Bodeg?n, stands a golden statue of a bullfighter in his regalia. Opening the large wooden doors, you step inside to the welcome sounds of flamenco guitar.
The restaurant d?cor resembles a bodeg?n (Spanish wine cellar) nestled in the middle of Spanish wine country.
In a small booth near the back of the restaurant, past hanging plates, scattered paintings and wall murals against stucco and faux brick walls, our server, Ricardo greets us. He is a kind and accommodating older gentlemen, dressed in head-to-toe black. Moving at a slower pace to give us all time to look over the menu, he brings water and fresh bread.
Ordering a round of homemade white and red sangrias ($6 per person or $20 for a pitcher), we indulge in a few orders of tapas. The beef empanada special ($7), encrusted in perfectly flaked coating, paired with a small olive sampler and a traditional dish, Chorizo al Infierno ($8), arrives aflame and absurdly delicious stewed in a bourbon sauce with chunks of potato.
Talking and relaxing after our tapas, we order entr?es to share: Jarrete de Cordero a la Castellana ? lamb shank cooked in vegetables with tomato sauce ($22) ? and Bistec de Lomo de Res a la Parrilla ? grilled steak strips topped with onions ($15).
The meat dishes are served with a side of saffron rice topped with peas and tomato. The lamb falls apart even before touched with a knife; tender yet chewy with a savory flavor served on the bone and cooked like a roast doused in brown gravy and vegetable sauce. The grilled steak was served like flank with grilled onion laid on a bed of spinach, topped with crushed salt and pepper. Tasty as it was, the flavor was enhanced when chewed with a heap of the grilled onion.
On a trip to the bathroom (a stop always made upon visiting a new restuarant), one will notice a single stall with a separate door so another guest can be using the sink. How kind. Why do people always feel the need to put pictures of bathrooms, toilets and old-fashioned tubs in a bathroom? There are two, tiny little framed pictures. Odd, but I suppose appropriate. Very clean and tidy. Check.
Thanks to the tapas, we?re not able to finish, so Ricardo boxes up the extras. It?s about 8:30pm on a Friday. The atmosphere remains comfortable, not very loud, low lighting. We don?t feel rushed.
Upon exiting, the restaurant is at full capacity? flamenco and growing chatter waft through the dimly lit room.
Although unable to indulge, we were told the Crema Catalona ?special brulee made with cinnamon and sweet pears? is delectable.
Next time, tapas will be the main course. The entr?es were good but not worth the price. With the help of a coupon we managed to escape with minimal damage: $55 including tip. Overall, the atmosphere, service, sangria and tapas were phenomenal.
El Bodeg?n?s hours are 12:00pm-10:00pm but sometimes later on the weekends (typical of Spanish culture).