Sep 27, 2009

Tapa v. Tapa: La Bodega

Our recent experience at tapas restaurant Extra Virgin left us wondering just how much competition it gives perennial KC tapas favorite La Bodega. With more beautiful early fall weather in front of us and a hard week of work behind, our minds were thinking happy hour come 4:00 this Friday, giving us the perfect excuse to ramp up the competition by heading over to La Bodega.

We wasted no time, immediately rattling off all our HH favorites for our slightly alarmed waitress who was simply expecting to take drink orders. Service coming back from the kitchen was equally fast. With a set list of HH tapas, the kitchen has many plates ready/waiting to churn out the highest volume possible in this daily period of cheap prices.

Diving right in, top honors went to the Pimientos Rellenos de Piquillo - roasted red peppers stuffed with ahi tuna and rice. This chilled plate of stuffed peppers is served as a little roll diced into three beautiful lipstick-red segments - almost like a Spanish sushi roll. Savory, but refreshing at the same time due to the sweet roasted bell pepper, I always love this dish. Never done it before, but next time I think I'm going to order it twice. That good.

Our other favorite is Queso de Cabra al Horno, a round earthenware dish filled with a pool of beautiful tangy tomato sauce around a pillow of goat cheese, baked and served hot with small slices of garlic toast. Spoon some of the brothy tomato pulp and creamy goat cheese onto the toast and enjoy the two perfect bites that follow.

The Pintxos de Higo - bruschetta of goat cheese and roasted red peppers with a fig coulis - have a lot of the same pleasing qualities and a similar flavor profile as the Pimientos, but the sweetness from the fig coulis is a scrumptious addition. Almost like apple butter, it's a delicious sort of condiment I'd greedily smear on all kinds of things.

The Tortilla Espanola is nothing like a Central/South American tortilla (great reference here). It's a tall, filling pie of egg and thinly sliced potato... actually, more potato than egg. The La Bodega version comes topped with a slightly spicy, creamy red pepper aioli that compliments the plainly flavored, yet delicious egg and potato fluff nicely. At $4 during HH, this is a must-have if you're concerned with keeping  your bill down (and let's face it - it's Happy Hour - so you are).

Coming literally from the Mediterranean - talking seafood here - is Calamares a la Plancha. Usually a solid choice, this time the squid segments and tentacles were either undercooked or over-marinated, with an unusually mushy texture. The texture is normall one of my favorite things about the cephalopod - a little chewy, but in a fun way, if that makes sense. Overcooked, it can be inedible, so there's a fine line between perfect and yucky. I'm also questioning whether maybe the dish was assembled early in the day and then warmed slightly before serving. This could have contributed to the disintegrating squid. Served with yellow rice, cucumber and a delicious olive oil, lemon and garlic sauce, it's normally a solid bet, but maybe not a good HH selection.

Bringing up the rear were the Albondigas Caseras: simple meatballs in a spicy garlic sauce, served, too, with small pieces of garlic toast. A "safer" choice on the menu, the meatballs are very simple and unoffensive. And the rich, slightly creamy garlic sauce has a great level of spice. A fantastic sauce one would eat on almost anything. Do a biscuit slathered in this sauce and you've got a fantastic garlicky Spanish version of biscuits and gravy! (Okay, I may have lost some of you on that one.) Yes, count on the sauce to be great, but also count on the meatballs to be overcooked and hard as a Super Ball. Especially at happy hour.

In the end, we determined this to be an unfair tapas comparison. Some of our favorites, we think, were submarined by the fact that they were prepped ahead, kept warm too long or rushed altogether for happy hour service. We also didn't order some of the very best dishes because they aren't on the happy hour menu (read: Solomillo con Cabrales).

Given past experiences that were wonderful, I'm comfortable giving La Bodega a rating of three napkins, equal that of Extra Virgin. But look for a future review in which a direct Tapa v. Tapa comparison crowns one of these restaurants the true King of the Mediterranean.

Rating - three napkins

La Bodega on Urbanspoon

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