Over the past several years Tapas restaurants, those serving small plates, or several appetizers to form a meal, have been popping up all over Boston. Not surprisingly, I think that this is a great concept. Several small dishes, all of Mediterranean descent, to be enjoyed by the table. Its a great way to get something for everyone at the table, enjoy many different tastes and flavors and walk away completely satisfied. It also doesn't hurt that Tapas places are notorious for having Sangria, wine based drink often spiced with brandy, enhanced with fresh fruit- an absolutely fabulous concoction. Saturday night, I headed to Bar Lola on Commonwealth Ave in the Back Bay to indulge in some tasty tapas, and copious amounts of Sangria.
It is usually advised to order 2-3 plates for each person at the table, so for two people, 5 plates would be a perfect amount. We decided on Boquernes, Calamares Rellenos, Somillo al Cabrales, Albonigas al Jerez, and Palmeritos. The Boquernes were the first to arrive. These were anchiovies served over what reminded me of an Italian bruschetta but containing more vinegar than oil, and then spooned over toasted bread. The vinegar was able to cut the saltiness of the anchovies so the dish tasted meaty, and well balanced. The Calamares Rellenos were calamari stuffed with crab meat and shrimp. Whenever I order calamari under any other preparation than fried, I am always reminded of a horrible meal that I had at Franklin Cafe in the South End a few years ago where the calamari were served basically naked on a bed of arugula, but had been over cooked and were very rubbery. Since that experience I have had a heightened sense of good calamari and the dangers of overcooking it. By its nature it has a rubbery texture to it, however this can be somewhat mitigated. Bar Lola did a nice job on this. I would have preferred a bit more flavor to the stuffing, but all in all it wasn't bad.
Somillo al Cabrales is one of my favorites at Bar Lola, beef tenderloin, grilled and then served with a Cabrales-goat blue cheese sauce. I think that grilled steak paired with any of these tangy cheeses is a perfect pairing. They both provide perfect showcases for the smokey charred taste of the steak, or the cutting, yet creamy taste of the cheese. A second favorite of mine are the Albondigas al Jerez, which are basic meatballs served in a sherry and raisin sauce. I adore using sherry in my own cooking (Ive added it to mashed potato's- fantastic addition) so when I see it on a menu, I get rather excited. Sherry adds a sweetness to dishes that you don't normally find, and combined with the sweet fruit raisins, you get a sweet sauce with just a hint of the bite of the cooked off alcohol. Served over the meatballs, its a perfect compliment to their earthy taste.
Finally, I got to try Palmeritos, dates wrapped in bacon. Dates are sort of a fun fruit, used for stuffing or for eating just as they are, they are definitely a very sweet fruit, and I was excited to try them matched with the smokey/salty bacon. Unfortunately, they will not be added to my list of favorites. The preparation had made them a bit too sweet, and the bacon wasn't enough to cut it. I found them rather mealy, and just too much. It was a sad end to the meal of good tapas.
We ended our time at Bar Lola with glasses of sipping sherry. I love a good port to end a meal, and have always wanted to try a good glass of sherry, so I was very excited for this idea. Being a virgin sherry drinker, I found it pleasing at first but with a difficult after taste. Apparently, sherry is meant to be served cold, which would absolve that aftertaste and make it a very pleasing drink all around. It would seem to me that a place that would have it on their menu ought to know the proper way to serve it, therefore I have to chalk this up as a disappointment to Bar Lola.
Despite the dates, and the warm sherry, I do enjoy Bar Lola quite a bit. The ambiance is what I would anticipate for a Mediterranean feel, dark and cozy. They can accommodate large parties which is definitely a plus in Boston proper and are conveniently located. I wouldn't say that this is my favorite tapas place in Boston, there are others that nudge out the food, but it is enjoyable over all.
Sadly, I left off a dish from the above review. We also had white asparagus with a romesco sauce. I have a sneaky feeling that I forgot about this dish because it just didnt make enough of an impression. To be fair, I do not have a lot of experience with white asparagus. However, I normally enjoy my vegetables a bit al dente so that they remain somewhat firm. The asparagus held no firmness to the point that it was slightly difficult to cut. The sauce was light and well seasoned, but I had a difficult time getting over the over cooking of the asparagus. So I blame my forgetfulness not on the Sangria, nor the bachelorette party at the table next to us, but simply on my discontent with the dish.