Bodega Highlands features flavours worthy of the long line of family-resto hits
Sharing small plates over a glass of wine is one of my favourite ways to eat, a predeliction cultivated on travels through Spain and Portugal. So it’s a bit of surprise even to me that I’ve taken this long to make it to Bodega Highlands. Just a block west of the legendary La Boheme, it’s a stylishly austere storefront space that’s seen a lot of restaurant action in the past decade-plus and now houses a satellite of the Sabor family of restaurants, which includes a Bodega in the Boardwalk Market and, as of last week, a Bodega on 124 Street.
Co-diner and I know this because, our server informed us, the opening of the new location meant Bodega Highlands diverted some of its supplies that-a-way. Hence, the official wine list was a bit foreshortened—though there were a number of unlisted vintages to choose from—and not all of food items were available.
Bodega’s menu lays on a baffling amount of choice. Still, you don’t want to hear that diners at a different location are eating your proverbial lunch. But then, Bodega has at least levelled the playing field by not taking reservations so that everyone has an equal shot at walking in and getting a table.
A frigid Wednesday night found the place not so full, and I was a bit surprised to see young families among the patrons as tapas and wine have always struck me as a more grown-up pastime. But tasty food is tasty food, and assembling a meal out of smaller, less expensive servings enables not just variety, but ordering exactly the right amount to satisfy everyone.
Spanish wine is superb food wine, and a glass of garnacha seemed a good place to start. Thus equipped, co-diner and I negotiated a meal based on the server’s suggestion that four plates would make a substantial base, then we could order more as needed. Bodega also does bigger plates of paella and Sabor’s famed lobster risotto, as well as a highly regarded brunch.
Our meal started with complimentary montaditos—toasted slices of rustic bread smeared with sardine pate, which reminded me of sunny afternoon repasts in the Portuguese Algarve. Next came a dish of sherry-sauteed crimini mushrooms ($8) topped with a poached egg that spilled its gooey golden interior over the succulent fungus. This called for an order of crostini ($2) for scooping and dipping.
The spicy grilled calamari ($8) had the tender grilled squid rings tossed with tomato sauce and lots of onions, another delectably scoopable and dippable preparation. The bacon-wrapped dates ($8) filled with manchego cheese were exactly as described, but even more delicious for the way the dates melted and blended with the firm white cheese in the middle. I’m not sure they needed the drizzle of barbecue sauce on top, what with all the saltiness, sweetness and smokiness happening in the ingredients.
The most entrée-like dish came in the form of the grilled Angus skirt steak ($12) swimming in Argentine chimichurri, a condiment made with olive oil, parsley, onions, garlic, oregano and red wine vinegar. Cooked just a shade past medium rare, the beef was still tender and the tangy chimichurri demanded sopping up with bread. A diner at an adjacent table told her kids it was “delicious with more delicious on top.”
Not quite sated, we ordered some empanadillas ($6) to round out the savoury part of the meal. Three baked pockets of pastry held beef, lamb and spinach and sundried tomatoes with manchego cheese respectively and comprised discreet little flavour explosions. Co-diner suggested something sweet to finish it all and opted for the port cheesecake ($6), a tidy square lavished with sauce made with the eponymous fortified wine and cherries. It left nothing to complain about.
Even having tried all that stuff, we left large swathes of the Bodega menu—from cheese and charcuterie boards to braised boar cheeks and salt cod fritters—unsampled. As a big fan of Iberian nibblies (and wine!) there’s no question I’ll need to go back, for it seemed certain to me no place around here but Bodega can serve up as authentic a tapas repast.
6509 112 Ave.