712 E. Washington St. | 407-999-0199 | izatapasbar.com | $
While there’s nothing self-consciously hip about Iza – Rommel Lares and Jessica Barrientos’ inviting little Thornton Park tapas bar – it certainly isn’t shocking to see the small-plate food trend take root in what’s arguably the trendiest neighborhood in the city. That Iza eschews any semblance of pretense and scenesterism might be reason enough to visit, but if the mathematician in you is devising a formula along the lines of: Trendy Neighborhood + Tapas = Meager Portions + Inflated Prices, rest assured Iza is non-formulaic in that regard, and that makes a visit a must.
Chef Antonio’s menu also forgoes the traditional tapas staples of the sort you’d find in Barcelona, Madrid or Seville in favor of a focused selection of pan-Mediterranean and pan-Latin delights. With a glass of red sangria ($7) in hand, we dove into the plato mixto ($12) and its sublime selection of stuffed green olives, cheesy artisan bread, a wonderful strawberry compote, plump red grapes and three kinds of cheese – double-smoked cheddar, Manchego and black-pepper goat cheese. The sizable plate was practically licked clean by the time a rectangular plate of four moist, open-faced Cuban sliders ($9), fashioned from pork shoulder and ham, was strategically placed on our small round table on the sidewalk patio.
Larger tables would help facilitate plate management and augment the tapas experience here; as the night wore on, our table got as crowded as the sidewalk scene a few doors down at Dexter’s. Crisp fried green plantains (not “plantain chips,” as the menu stated) accompanying the Cuban sliders were some of the best we’ve had the pleasure of sampling, and nearly upstaged those not-so-wee sandwiches. We all cooed at how supremely tender the cubes of chicken skewered with cremini mushrooms ($8) were, even with a heavy-handed basting of garlic. A spread of noteworthy tzatziki sauce, on which the two ample spears lay, was plenty garlicky enough.
Just as tender as the chicken skewers were the two skewers of flank steak ($9) – soft, pliant morsels of beef marinated in aji panca, a Peruvian red pepper. The dish was served with a mound of papas bravas (Spanish roasted potatoes) making it a tapas item big enough for a single-person meal.
Same goes for the lamb sliders ($12), a sort of world-fusion dish that we all appreciated. The trio of perfectly cooked lamb patties came stuffed inside warm, doughy naan topped with chimichurri, feta, onions, tomatoes and Bibb lettuce. The generous portions of all the items we sampled not only made us feel like we were getting our money’s worth, it left us feeling stuffed to the hilt. And while we weren’t about to deny ourselves dessert, our waitress reluctantly did. Sweet cappers, like Barrientos’ tres leches cake and crema catalana, hadn’t been prepared on this particular night, so we sour-pussed and made a vow to return.
So they didn’t have dessert. They didn’t have Spanish wines, sherries or any espresso-based drinks either, but we didn’t allow such deficiencies to rain on our fiesta. “Small” is synonymous with tapas restaurants, but at Iza, the flavors, portions and hospitality were super-sized.
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