Sunday nights aren’t typically the best night to go out to try a relatively new restaurant. Folks tend to stay in and you won’t necessarily get an idea for the type of crowd a restaurant can’t handle at maximum capacity. That being said, I was still hungry on a recent Sunday night, so I did what I do best. And that is support a local small restaurant with my very discriminating dollar.
I was in the mood for something outside of what the usual chains along the long strip of Kirkwood Highway could offer. My friend suggested Ole Tapas, a restaurant that popped up a few years back that had been under the radar, mostly because I’d been satisfying my craving for this Spanish specialty at the excellent Orillas Tapas Bar and Restaurant in Wilmington for several years. I don’t know what’s kept me away from Ole too long, but with decent specials, prices that are a notch lower than Orillas, I’ve had no excuse. Well, maybe that exceptionally long hike down Kirkwood Highway is excuse enough…
We entered fairly late on a Sunday, around 7pm. There were only a handful of tables filled, so the staff was very welcoming when we arrived. Our waiter brought out a delicious amuse-bouches, courtesy of the chef. Toasted bread with a side of carrot puree. The puree was smooth with sweet overtones. We struggled to figure out which spice was included in the delicious bite. Cardamom was it? We’re still mystified.
We started with a platter of meats and cheese ($18). Included were a delectably sharp and piquant mix of hard and bleu cheeses. The Cheddar was rich and salty, with some spicy notes mixed in. The Spanish Manchego was light, buttery and creamy. And the bleu cheese was all bleu cheese should be. Smelly, crumbly, and deliciously addictive when topped with a fig reduction. The cheeses were paired with a trio of Spanish cured meats, all delightfully greasy and pungent.
We followed this up with an order of the flatbread of the day ($9), a mix of lamb, onions and pineapple on a perfectly cracker-crisp flatbread. The toppings were nicely balanced out with the crust, though I had one complaint. I thought the toppings were a bit too rich. I thought it would have been nice to provide some lemon wedges for the flatbread. A hint of acid would have cut through the richness of the lamb and provided the perfect acidic bite.
Arriving soon after the flatbread were two delicious dishes, both very different in flavor. The first, higos con cabrales ($6) were tiny figs wrapped in bacon served over a frisee salad with a balsamic reduction. The bacon was perfectly crisp and contrasted nicely with the sweet and chewy figs. The salad had a bit of smokiness and we wondered if they’d grilled the greens lightly before serving. Served alongside was perhaps my favorite dish of the evening, lentejas morunas, a vegetarian Moroccan stew that was kicked up with all the spices you’d expect from something in the region: pepper, turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. The lentils were perfectly cooked in a thick sauce with vegetables. On top of this steaming dish was a drizzle of lime yogurt, which added a nice viscous creaminess to the broth. My partner and I actually picked up the bowl and drank from it to get at all that delicious broth.
Though I was pretty full, I couldn’t resist dessert. My partner finished with a fairly basic house salad topped with (she thought) too many red onions and a good amount of oranges. I finished with the wild berry bread pudding. It was tasty, but I thought the custard could have been a bit denser. It was paired with a too-small-scoop of vanilla ice cream, which melted beautifully over the pudding while I munched.
Ole Tapas has a menu that includes full meals as well as the popular tapas. Steaks and paella round out the main courses, so consider Ole next time you’re driving down that endless Kirkwood Highway.