Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spanish Food Aficionados: Meet Cafe Ole, Your New Tampa Headquarters

Nothing can humble you quite like the gift of food. Not only is it wholly necessary for maintaining homoeostasis (there’s the bio nerd you’ve been waiting for), but it gives immeasurable pleasure to all who consume. The idea isn’t new, and I’m confident it will stand the test of time; however, that doesn’t change the warm feeling that comes from the sincerity you can taste when a chef is cooking specifically for you. When a dish you didn’t order hits the table, just because the chef was so excited about his creation he had to share it, it feels like a sparkly tiara being placed on your head, despite your face plant during the evening gown round.

Analogies aside, it’s truly special to be able to take part in the intimate experience of eating at a small restaurant, and sharing in the excitement of a small time chef, with a big time imagination, and the skill to execute it. Even more unique, to have that experience in New Tampa in a strip mall next to a gas station. Honestly, there must be some secret to this arrangement, because it has produced some of my best food experiences, and Café Ole is no exception. You’ll have to forgive the lack of my usual, intelligent mode camera genius. Camera was home sick this evening. Not enough wine, I think. So, it was just me and my iPhone for this round of ‘how-many-pictures-can-I-take-of-my-food-before-actually-consuming-it’, a dinner table classic.

Of course, we weren’t alone. Food and community share an unbreakable bond, so it comes as no surprise that I was joined by fellow food bloggers Carlos, Jenn, and Megan. Carlos deserves special recognition; it’s his personal goal to have this restaurant succeed, which is an easy task. If you lead the foodie to delicious food, the foodie will eat, rave, and share. We’re so easily manipulated.

Café Ole’s unassuming location does not do justice to the caliber of food leaving its kitchen. If Spanish cuisine is your bag, and tapas are your coin purses… wait, let me rework that. If you like Spanish food and tapas (ah, there we go), this should reach the top of your list for stomach field trips. That said, enough chitchat… it’s time to stretch the limits of your eyelids.

Prepare yourself for tapas domination. You’d be crazy not to order at least one of their always rotating specials. Our waitress admits, even she can’t keep up with the inspiration coming out of the kitchen, as she reads from a front-and-back list of mouthwatering creations.

I have to start with the standout tapa of the evening for me: moist chicken, surrounded by a salty layer of prosciutto, filled with delicious herbs, and topped with little clusters of gorgeous black caviar, swimming in bacon vodka sauce. This bite of chicken was perfection; I was a little upset I had to share (sorry friends).
As much a feast for our eyes as it was for our bellies, this ripe tomato stuffed with pork, shrimp, breadcrumbs, fresh herbs, and spices, was beautiful and delicious.
We all fell hard for the fresh bruschetta, with its vinegary bite and fresh chopped onions and veggies. It's a fresh take on the grilled bread classic. It simultaneously excited and cleased our palates. 
Another spectacular take on a classic, the bacon-wrapped shrimp were succulent on the inside, crispy on the outside, and paired artfully with an entourage of chilled chopped fruits, and a light fruit sauce. Perfection.

You’d also be crazy not to order some of their tapas staples, available every day on their extensive menu.

Setas de chorizo: slivers of this flavorful, salty Spanish sausage and earthy mushrooms, sautéed in a fragrant sauce of olive oil, garlic, and sherry wine.
Tortilla de patatas: a thick omelet of potatoes, sliced and stacked, and decorated generously with a thick, creamy alioli sauce.
Patatas alioli: crunchy potatoes, covered in the same delicious alioli goodness as above.
Calamares fritos: lightly fried calamari, all freshness and no trace of grease. Served with a tasty tomato pesto sauce, they are a must!

I'm sure you're already exhausted looking at all of these photos; that's a lot of delicious goodness to take in in one sitting... Well, imagine how our stomachs felt! As gluttony has it, we couldn't stop there. Wouldn't you know, it was National Paella Day, and so we just had to taste two of Cafe Ole's most popular takes on the dish. 

The first, and more traditional version, is the Paella Valenciana: a festival of seafood including shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, fish, chicken, and chorizo tossed in valencia rice and a rich, creamy saffron sauce. I forbid you to eat here without ordering this creamy rice dish. Well, at least tell me you did. Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies...
photo credit: Jenn Buggica
The second, more adventurous version is the Paella Negra: whimsical black rice, filled with pulpo, shrimp, calamari, fish, and scallops, tossed in squid ink (what!) and baked until all the flavors are one big, happy family.
If my personal trainer had it his way, we would be ending our meal right here, but I am visiting Spain in New Tampa, and I will not leave Spain without dessert (if you're reading this, let's forget this ever happened). We were all blown away by their Tres Leches Cake. It's made in-house, and may I just say, the labor does not go unappreciated. It's like delicious, vanilla cake soaked up a bowl of decadent, vanilla ice cream. I couldn't quit eating it (oh, shoot... sorry friends). The photo does not do justice. You are going to have to go taste this yourself. 
We were also treated to a delicious ramekin of Crema Catalana and an order of Flan, both delicious in their own rights. I was so transfixed with the Tres Leches Cake, I found it a little hard to concentrate on anything else on the table, so maybe I'll just have to go back myself and have those two again... :)
This meal was wonderful, and I am so humbled by the experience. I don’t know what I did to deserve the beautiful, delicious food, and the amazing service, all at the expense of some good word of mouth. Maybe it’s all those chocolate candies I resist at the office everyday? Luckily, Café Ole has made this one of the easiest endorsements I will ever give. No moral struggle here. The food was delicious and inspired, the service was exemplary, and I would certainly recommend it to you for a yummy, Spanish meal. I hope you go and enjoy the experience as much as I have. Thank you, Cafe Ole. 

Cafe Ole on Urbanspoon


  1. Everything looks and sounds amazing!

  2. Obviously, this is what the cool kids do on Thursday nights. Libations? No sirree. It's blog writing and reliving scrumptious dinners for these girls. I want Cafe Ole in front of me, right now. Gimme some more paella! I think my favorite of the night was the traditional paella. I'm still working my way up for full blown engorgement on the squid ink.

  3. OMG I am so full again. So much fun w/ you all! xoxo

  4. Ah I love your review - glad you had fun yesterday - I know I did :)