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Santiago's Bodega

Santiago patio

Eleven months after it was first announced, Santiago’s Bodega has opened in the space formerly occupied by Logan’s Bistro on Virginia Drive in Orlando. Actually the place takes more than the Logan’s space. It has incorporated the storefront next door and has produced a new brick porch/patio in front. For all its newness, Santiago’s has a well-worn look that makes it immediately likable and comfortable.

The Bodega is on one end of a small group of businesses that includes, on the opposite end, a bar called the Matador. Given that Santiago’s logo features a bull, I hope there isn’t any trouble between the two.

The bull and the Spanish name are clues that this is a tapas restaurant. The very tiny portions are another indication. Although Santiago’s is new in Orlando, this is a second location for a restaurant in Key West. So the concept isn’t new and neither is the menu. Still, the restaurant was struggling the night I visited as hordes of curious diners descended on the place and overwhelmed the staff.

Mistakes were made, most of them accountable to the vagaries of a new operation, new location and a staff unfamiliar and shell-shocked. Those things can be ironed out.

My main complaint was the cost. My check came to over $68 for five tapas and one glass of wine. (We had two other glasses of wine but the server said they were on the house because of some problems at the beginning of the meal; otherwise the check would have been over $90.) That isn’t a tremendous amount of money for a night out, but the cost-to-quality-to-quantity ratio is way out of whack.

Santiago sprouts

Consider the Brussels sprouts. Take a look at the photo to get an idea of the serving size. I didn’t actually count them, but at $9 for this dish of vegetables it just may work out to a buck a sprout. You can also see in the photo that they are beautifully caramelized. You can also spot that the stems haven’t been trimmed off, so the first bites were of woody bits that were wholly unpleasant. Sure, I could cut the stems off myself, but certainly that $9 includes a labor charge for someone in the kitchen to do that.

Santiago croquettes

The croquettas, nicely fried patties of mashed potatoes with ground prosciutto and provolone cheese, were delicious and had a delightful spicy note from cayenne pepper. Just try not to think about the $8.50 you’re paying for the two patties.

Santiago lamb

We got three lamb patties for $10, served with a stack of cucumber and feta that was more garnish than it was salad, as the menu suggested. As is a problem with lamb, the patties were very dry. A sauce would have been nice.

The beef short ribs were delicious, if small ($11 for two). The meat was perfectly tender and fairly leapt from the bone. The cherry hoisin glaze was subtle but good.

Yellowfin tuna ceviche ($14) was also wonderful and had large chunks of the tender fish (actually much larger than usual bite sized pieces found in ceviches).

Santiago interior dining

The walls of the restaurant have a weathered patina and hold various styles of paintings and other works of art. The floor is a gorgeous multicolored wood. The tables are a bit crammed together, but that adds to the conviviality. One thing apparently overlooked in the opening: the front windows are still smeared with what looks like the detritus of construction. Windex, please.

Our server seemed to know the basics of service and was striving to rise above the chaos. But apparently too many of the other staffers weren’t as well versed, and they were bringing the overall tone down with them.

I know, you’re thinking, “Give ‘em a break, Scott; they’re still new.” I gave them over $80; they should get better. Fast.

Santiago’s Bodega is at 802 Virginia Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The website still lists only the Key West restaurant, but the menu is pretty much the same. Note: the parking lot for the strip is ridiculously small and you’ll probably find yourself roaming the surrounding neighborhood looking for empty curb space. Park in the lots of surrounding businesses at your peril. The phone number is 407-412-6979.

Santiago bar

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Monday, 1st September 2014

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