I must say I like the look and feel of Bulla Gastrobar very much. The restaurant, in the newly opened but curiously named Lakeside Crossing development, can be at once bustlingly busy and intimately comfortable.
Sitting across Orlando Avenue from Hillstone and Trader Joe’s, Bulla’s central bar sits inside the front door and next to doors open to an outdoor patio. It also serves as a buffer from the streetscape for the dining room, which is decorated in rough wood tones, wrought iron grill work, slate blackboards, vintage black and white photos and an open kitchen. (If you can finagle one, get a padded booth or banquette— they’re luxuriously comfy.) There is an essential feel of a Madrid tapas bar, though on a decidedly larger scale than you’d find in Spain.
I wish I could also say that the kitchen was turning out food to match the decor. Unfortunately it’s not, at least not with the consistency that should be in place after nearly two months open, and not for what is the third location for an established South Florida restaurant company.
There were a couple of high points that my party and I experienced on a recent visit to Bulla (say BOO-ya). The Calamari was among the most tender you’re likely to find locally. And I liked the Croquetas de Jamon, although the little frittered balls might have had a bit more of the Iberian ham present.
And I appreciated the saltiness of the Bunuelos de Bacalao even if my companions did not. They were, however, a bit underdone (the salt cod fritters, not my companions).
Not as underdone as the Albondigas. The meatballs, fashioned out of veal and pork, were essentially raw.
Solomillo Iberico, pork tenderloin with wild mushrooms, one of the entree-sized items from the mostly tapas menu, was served cool. It was so unwarm that I had to ask the server if that was how the kitchen intended for it to come out. It was not.
A signature tapas, the Huevos Bulla, fared better. It consists of delicate house-made potato chips topped with deep-fried eggs, Serrano ham and potato foam, which is more of a creamy concoction than it is foamlike, plus a bit of truffle-scented oil. It’s served in a small cast iron skillet and the ingredients are sort of tossed and turned tableside. It’s gloppily satisfying.
If there was any training provided to the serving staff it does not show. Even pouring water seemed a challenge — that is, when anyone bothered to refill emptied glasses.
To his credit, our server did properly report the cold entree and raw meatballs to a manager. And the manager did come by the table to apologize, removing the charge for the two items and even offering two gift cards for compensation.
That was appropriate and the correct way to handle the situation, but how much nicer it would have been to have the food done properly.
Bulla Gastrobar is at 110 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 321-214-6120,