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Vizcaya Restaurante in Carrollwood: A Spanish Tapas Dreamland

Tapas.  You perfectly portioned components of serious smorgasbords.  How I adore you so.  With only two beloved dining destinations for the popular “small plates,” it was time to venture off to new lands.  When both Groupon and Living Social showcased the same restaurant in just one week, I knew it was meant to be.  Vizcaya Restaurante, located off of North Dale Mabry Blvd. in Carrollwood could go overlooked with the slight blink of an eye.  Such a shame, too, since I have been hearing rave reviews about this understated small Spanish eatery for months on end.  Could they possibly stand up to the praise?  Would I find a new joint to enjoy some glorious Spanish goods?  

The 8th Wonder of the World- Bacon wrapped Dates Stuffed with Serrano

       Walking into the dimly lit dining room, guests need no tour.  For this place is compact and cozy with a “no frills” kind of ambiance.  No complaints on my end- solid fare needs no compensation from elaborate restaurant décor.  Clean and comfortable, the dining room and outside patio were more than sufficient for two evenings out with my beau.  Did I mention we took both Living Social and Groupon up on their generous offers?  Two nights=two times the tapas.

    I find that Spanish restaurants often have overwhelmingly huge menus that read like novels.  Not the case with Vizcaya.  A perfectly trimmed down tapas and entrée menu ensures easy menu selections.  Yet, every dish promoted mouth-watering.  My only criticism lies in the absence of vegetables.  With the exception of a few salads, this place is cooking for ravenous carnivores.  Although I am a lover of carne, I most certainly enjoy my greens too.  A night of cholesterol spiking indulgences it would have to be. Compromising with Chris, we chose a handful of tapas on our two visits.  I was already impressed with the delivery of the bread.  Paired with a balsamic, hummus and roasted red pepper puree painted olive oil, it was a unique spin on the usual uninspired bread course.  

      We were under very strict orders to try the Datiles Con Panceta…ahem, Bacon Wrapped Dates.  These luscious little pops of food pleasure were absolutely decadent.  Serrano ham and Manchego cheese come tightly spun in a sweet and succulent date, only to be wrapped in bacon and deep-fried to a flawless crisp.  With a honey aioli drizzled on top, these dates are officially one of the great wonders of the world.  Sweet, salty, tangy, crispy, chewy food insanity at its finest.  

    Next up was Vieras Con Chorizo- seared scallops and chorizo in a sherry Buerre Blanc sauce.  Absolutely breath-taking.  The scallops with their golden seared crust, cutting so smoothly with a fork…the chorizo and all of its zesty, meaty goodness along with the icing on the shellfish- that heavenly rich and aromatic wine reduction.  Yet another taste bud victory for Vizcaya.  

      Chris insisted we order the Albondigas but I was a bit hesitant.  How tasty could a plate of meatballs really be?  The Albondigas Catalanas were more than tasty.  They were fork-licking scrumptious.  Swimming in a pool of tangy Spanish red sauce along with wild mushrooms and pimento, these suckers didn’t stand a chance.  Once the meatballs were devoured, the remaining sauce was soaked up and eaten with some crusty bread.

    We took our server’s suggestion for the best Ceviche in the house and ordered the Salpicon De Langostinos Y Alguacate…or simply stated: Shrimp and Avocado ceviche.  This dish was plated stunningly.  In awe of the colorful arrangement of jumbo shrimp, avocado and red onion, I was expecting greatness.  What I actually ate was mediocre.  The shrimp were tender and fresh and the creamy avocado added superb texture contrast.  The flavor?  Not exciting in the slightest. The Sherry Vinegar dressing was all too pungent, overpowering the mild sweetness of the shrimp and the subtle rich flavors of the avocado.  Moving on.

    To wrap up our first experience at Vizcaya, we selected the Cream of Wild Mushrooms Soup, drizzled with White Truffle Oil. I’m sure I had you at “truffle oil.”  The soup was luxurious in all of its components.  Earthy mushrooms pureed with cream fraiche and Manchego cheese and then topped off with oil from the gods.   Perfection in a bowl.  I could drink this blend before bed.  

      Just one week later and we were back.  Having had such an amazing first experience, I was so anxious to try some more tapas.  No doubt they’d be as equally outstanding as our first round.  There was not a chance we’d forfeit the bacon wrapped dates.  These beauties are of a fantastical world.  

       Craving the juicy red Spanish sausage, we ordered an entire bowl of it.  The Chorizo Gratinado- a mound of sliced chorizo baked with béchamel and Spanish cheeses was sure to be glorious.  Not the case.  The chorizo was tough- so tough, in fact, we couldn’t even savor the succulent sauce it came cooked in.  Our wonderful server graciously took the tapa away and apologized profusely for the error in preparation.  

     I really, really didn’t want to do it…but…the Cazuelita De Conejo (Wild Rabbit tapa) was calling my mouth.  I felt awful with every splendid bite.  Not the slightest bit gamey, falling off the bone moist and cooked in a rioja wine reduction along with mushrooms and fire-roasted peppers, I was in love with ole Peter Rabbit.  My only complaint?  Given the price tag, he didn’t have near enough meat on his bones.   Persecute me now PETA.

    It was finally time to wrap up our meal with a creature from the sea.  Frituritas De Mero would be the grand finale of fried fish galore.  Gulf grouper came coated in a mixture of grains and pan fried.  Fish sticks for adults, they were not the least bit greasy and were paired with a delicious creamy aioli for dipping. The fish was noticeably fresh and the coating of grains was pleasantly interesting in both texture and taste.  Not one of their finest menu items, it was still a very appetizing ending.  

      Vizcaya is a gem hidden in the overly commercialized area of Carrollwood.  Passion in the preparation of their cuisine is evident and the service is sincere and efficient.  With several more tempting tapas to taste, I will be back.  But let me make one thing clear.  Those cheesy, sweet and salty, double the meat (double the pleasure) dates will be devoured every single time. 

Vizcaya Restaurante & Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon

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