Food blogging certainly has its perks. I get to flex my creative muscles with my #1 love of writing for thousands of readers near and far. I also get to justify devouring in ridiculously delicious and often decadent cuisine. Even when I am “dieting” or attempting a healthy life-style of Paleo, I can make an excuse or two a week with “Well, I have to eat this cream sauced, meat and cheese filled, carbohydrate loaded plate of scrumptiousness…it’s for the sake of my blog!” But, the biggest perk of all is when I am invited to an awesome restaurant and treated like royalty from the second I walk in…to the instant I push in my chair and prance out.
Recently, I was invited to Café Ole, a Spanish Tapas restaurant in New Tampa. Tucked away in Hunters Green on Cross Creek Blvd, I may have never noticed the Spanish eatery. Practically hidden in a plaza filled with small food joints of every ethnicity, Café Ole has unquestionably fought the battle of restaurant competition. When I walked into the small, dark and very modestly decorated dining room, I had my feelings of doubt. Having been spoiled with extravagant architecture and décor at some other Tampa Spanish eateries, I was slightly skeptical of this humble café.
|Just wait til you read about these little packages of yum.|
Immediately, I was delighted by the sincere and friendly hospitality. The owner kindly introduced himself and made it clear that I should sit back, relax and enjoy my visit. The servers were ever so pleasant, making honest suggestions with their vast knowledge of the menu. The absence of elaborate artwork, fancy lighting and Spanish mosaics mattered no more. These people made me feel right at home.
First to come out was a special of the night- their take on Caprese. Not your typical tomato, mozzarella and basil stack, this plate of refreshments also came with delectably salty prosciutto and sweet roasted red peppers. Drizzled with tangy balsamic, it captured all of the taste buds on my tongue. Stellar Caprese exists here people; funny how adding just two ingredients can take an already tasty combo to a whole new luscious level.
Up next was another special of the night: Crab Stuffed Artichoke bottoms. Glorious. Crab and artichokes= two of my favorite foods in the world. Would these little beauties taste as amazing as they looked? Showing off on the plate, in all their splendor, I gave up on capturing the best angle with my camera. My mouth was watering as threw down my camera and snatched one. Fresh lump crab made its presence known with my first bite. Sitting in scampi sauce, the lemon butter richness only further enticed and delighted my palate.
Without further ado, the classic Spanish shrimp dish made its way to our table. Gambas Al Ajillo brought with it a garlic aroma that hit me square in the nose. Swimming in Olive oil, crushed red pepper and yes, loads of garlic, the plump sea critters were begging to be eaten. Cooked flawlessly, the tender shrimp soaked up the heat from the red pepper and the bite from the garlic, insisting on pure and utter deliciousness.
Because I simply cannot dine at a Spanish restaurant without my favorite sausage on the table, a Chorizo dish was priority. Setas Con Chorizo was only slightly different from the usual suspect of thick sliced chorizo submerged in its own drippings, EVOO and brandy. Sliced very thin and paired with mushrooms, Café Ole supplied a nice change to what I’d usually expect when ordering the famed Spanish sausage. Because Brandy is so divine, it was not left out of the mix. With great depth of meaty and sweet rich flavor, it was a superb Spanish tapas staple.
I thought for sure Café Ole would have a Ceviche selection. Lord knows I am quite the fan of the cold citrus cooked seafood medleys. Nope, I wouldn’t be so lucky to indulge in the good stuff. I opted for a tapas frias that sounded like it’d fit the bill. Salpicon De Mariscos came presented in pretty shellfish form. Towering out from the dish were mussels, clams, calamari, scallops and shrimp, drenched in a Spanish red wine vinaigrette. Complemented with peppers, onions and EVOO, it sounded like it’d be the sure star of the show. Unfortunately, this dish did nothing to enchant my seafood adoring soul. Mediocre, I probably wouldn’t order it again. Probably my one and only criticism of the entire evening- Café Ole needs Ceviche…like stat.
Just when we thought we had made it to our entrée portion of the evening, the chef surprised us with one jaw-dropping, gorgeous creation. Bruschetta like I have never, in my life, seen before. To say this evening’s special was stunning would be an understatement. Brick-thick slices of crostini came topped with mounds of tomato, red pepper, mozzarella, basil, Spanish olives and onion. Topped with shrimp and one generous rain of balsamic and EVOO, it was a showstopper. I so badly wanted to resist consuming the carbs. Far too tempting, I gave into the plate of bread and tomato art. With one slightly un-ladylike bite, I was enthralled. The crostini’s crevices had absorbed so much of the heavenly balsamic but magically remained crispy. The bright tomato mixture found its best friend when it landed on that bread. Downright glorious. Note to Café Ole: Put this on the regular menu. People will thank you.
Since we just couldn’t possibly leave before ordering at least one entrée, a dish of Grilled Salmon in a Mushroom Dijon Brandy sauce (Salmon Al Paco) made its appearance at our table. I am quite finicky with the preparation of salmon. I either love it or detest it. Café Ole plays their cards right in the name of salmon. Flaky and divinely moist, this gigantic filet of salmon was also extremely fresh. Taken off the grill without a single second to spare and bathing in a rich creamy and tangy mushroom brandy sauce, it was some of the best salmon I’ve had to date. I am still in awe at how flawlessly this fish was cooked. Simultaneously making a healthy fish dish dreadfully calorific and insanely scrumptious…mission accomplished.
I was all set to stand up, push in my chair and leave when our server brought out the grand finale: A Grape and Strawberry frothy pudding. Without being overly sweet, this picture perfect post dinner delight soothed our palates and our tummies from one impeccably tasty and heavy Spanish feast.
Café Ole proved itself more than a small Spanish strip mall eatery. For it is so much more than that. Far better than mediocre cuisine, I would hold it up to a challenge against any traditional Spanish tapas restaurant in Tampa. I was thoroughly impressed with the fare- some plates even provoking the standard Leslie moments of eyes closed and sounds of “Mmmm” coming from within. That Bruschetta was from another gastronomic world. The Crab stuffed Artichoke hearts- simply mouth smacking yummy. The Salmon- just impeccable. I would recommend this joint to any Spanish cuisine lover from all walks of Tampa. I assure you, it is worth the drive. As if you needed any more excuses to go, Cafe Ole generously offers their tapas for only $5.55 on Mondays and Tuesdays.