It was in Spain, in a coastal town called Sitges, just south of Barcelona. I was sitting on the patio of a restaurant, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, eating paella, which was the specialty of the house. It was in this idyllic setting that I finally came to an epiphanic realization:
I don’t really care all that much for paella.
Oh, I can appreciate a good paella. I know if one has been properly prepared. But even one properly prepared, and with ingredients that I find quite yummy in other preparations, just doesn’t appeal to me.
So I wasn’t too upset when I dined at Mi Tomatina, a small cafe that actually identifies itself as a paella bar, and the waiter announced that it was a little too early for paella and recommended the tapas menus. Perfect, I thought, though I must say it’s a bit odd for a place that calls itself a paella bar to have a period during normal business hours in which the dish of the house is not available. But there you go.
My lunch guest and I ordered an array of tapas, including empanadas, croquetas, tortilla Espanola, and boquerones. The latter are marinated white anchovies, served on a tiny spear with a pickled clove of garlic. Anchovies are a mainstay of any tapas bar in Spain, so it was nice to see Mi Tomatina offer them to its Winter Park clientele. It earned some points for authenticity.
The croquetas de jamon were my favorite. These little fritterlike fried balls, made with Serrano ham, had a texture like creamy mashed potatoes. The golden crust outside was seasoned just right, and the chive oil made a delightful dipping sauce.
I also liked the empanadas, flaky turnovers filled with chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) and bacalao (salt cod). The tortilla, the national dish that is inevitably described as a sort of omelet made with lots of potatoes, was ultimately a tad dry.
Besides being a paella bar, albeit one that is sometimes paellaless, Mi Tomatina has two others themes. One is its name, which is a reference to a festival, held each August in Bunol, Spain. La Tomatina Festival involves thousands of people in a tomato fight. Not the sort of tomato fight you have at Publix with the produce manager over the obscene prices. This involves throwing actual tomatoes at each other. (Which may have something to do with the price of tomatoes at Publix.)
The other theme is the artwork of Joan Miro, whose artwork adorns the walls of the tiny space. Come to think of it, some of his paintings sort of look like tomato splatters.
On my recent lunch visit, I chose to sit outside on the brick patio under the leafy trees. It couldn’t have been a more ideal Florida day, and it made our lunch all the more enjoyable.
Service can be a bit lackadaisical, and calls to the restaurant may or may not be answered, and the information they give may or may not be accurate which is why one Monday night in December my guests and I circled the neighborhood for a restaurant that was open, as a man who answered the phone a few days earlier told me Mi Tomatina would be.
Maybe they had just run out of paella and figured they should just close early.
Mi Tomatina is at 433 W. New England Ave., Winter Park. It’s open (in theory) for lunch and dinner daily. Friday and Saturday service is until 11:30 p.m. The phone number is 321-972-4881. Here is a link to the Mi Tomatina Web site.