A long time ago in... Vancouver (not a galaxy if that is what you were thinking), we would hit up La Bodega on Howe every now and then for some Spanish tapas. A staple in Downtown Vancouver since 1971, the doors closed for the last time in July 2014. Well, there went a dependable spot for us to sip on sangria. But wait, Paul Rivas, son of original partner Francisco Rivas revived the concept with Bodega on Main located right next door to Campagnolo. Since Emily, Jesse and I have been dining on endless Chinese food for the CRA, we felt it was time to eat something very non-Asian at Bodega.
We started things off with the Albondigas (meatballs, tomato sauce and Manchego). Although we enjoyed the zesty sauce that had a nice balance of tang, sweetness and saltiness, the meatballs themselves were a bit crumbly and loose. It lacked a certain meaty texture. The melted Manchego on top provided a nice pungency. Up next, we tried the Pollo Frito (fried free-range chicken drummettes with garlic and sherry). These were lightly crispy on the outside while decently juicy inside due to the brine. Flavourwise, they were mildly seasoned and only marginally aromatic.
Large in portion size, the Costillas de Res or braised beef short ribs were meaty and fairly tender. Of the 2 ribs, one was less fatty, hence being a touch stringy. The other was significantly more moist where it melted-in-my-mouth. There wasn't a punch of flavour, rather the meat was natural-tasting with only a mild amount of seasoning involved. As simple as it may sound, one of my favourite dishes back at La Bodega was the Patatas Bravas or twice-fried potatoes smothered in a zesty dressing. This was just like I remembered with crispy chunks of potato (even with the moisture) sauced with a creaminess spiked with a touch of tang and spice.
The most impactful dish in terms of flavour was definitely the Chorizo a la Pirrilla. The sausage was sliced and then aggressively grilled. Hence, there was a noted smokiness and slightly crunchy exterior (where it was charred). This helped heighten the already potent saltiness and spice of the sausage. I found the smear of mustard necessary to cut through the salt and fattiness of the meat. The flavour train continued with the Gambas al Ajillo (sauteed prawns in garlic, butter, chili and sherry). These were done nicely with a nice snap and completely seasoned by the butter. There was enough salt, spiciness and garlic to go around (including the side of bread we added for dipping).
We also used the bread with the Mejillones a la Marinara (mussels) as the sauce was creamy, briny and slightly spicy. As much as it wasn't a super impactful broth, there was something appealing about the taste (which I kept going back to eat as a soup). As for the mussels themselves, they were fairly plump and large while being buttery and sweet. It was awesome that everyone said yes to the Lengua Estofada (beef tongue) since I love offal! It was braised in a tomato sauce spiked with onions and capers. Hence, there was a natural sweetness accented by the salt of the capers and slight acidity from the tomatoes. The tongue itself was a touch too soft where it was falling apart. However, it was super tender and almost buttery.
The last item to arrive was the Paella Mixta as it required a minimum of 30 minutes to prepare. It was a fairly large portion for $26.00. As much as the rice was firm and still appealingly chewy, there was a bit too much moisture and grease which made the entire paella soupy in parts. There wasn't any rice crust, which hindered the aromatics (the missing chorizo didn't help matters either). With that being said, the saffron really came through as well as the chicken fat and slight brininess of the seafood. As illustrated by the paella, the meal was not without faults, but in the end, it was okay and brought back memories of La Bodega.
- Generally impactful flavours
- Service was on point
- Lively atmosphere and nostalgic decor
- As with any tapas joint, it can add up quickly
- Paella was a disappointment