Overall impression: South Florida fans of Spanish tapas — with large helpings of flamenco — may already know chef Jorge Luis Fernandez. Last year, he sold his downtown Hollywood restaurant, La Barraca, after a six-year run. He's as well known for his traditional Spanish tapas as he is for lively flamenco shows. It all adds up to an authentic dining experience, one I hope Boca Raton will be enjoying for many years to come.

Quote: "I think what happened was my culinary assets were not appreciated very much in the city of Hollywood," Fernandez says. "They were more about drinking and flamenco. I wanted to cook and show off. People in Boca Raton are more demanding. They know about tapas. They are people who travel."

Background: Fernandez, 51, was born in Madrid and raised in Valencia, where he learned all about paella. He spent 16 years in California, where he studied hospitality management before coming to South Florida.

Ambience: It was an easy transition from the former MoQuila Restaurant and Tequila Bar to the Spaniard, which opened in early December. The rustic Mexican details were removed, and Spanish-style chandeliers were added. There are now 120 seats inside and 55 outside. A private room holds up to 50 people.

The menu: Tapas are the stars here, and the menu divides them into five groups: fish and seafood tapas; vegetable tapas; soups and salads; cold cuts; and meat tapas. Another category includes large tapas combinations, and there are six different paellas. I suggest tasting menus, offered for a minimum of four people. At the high end is the Mediterraneo ($55), which includes grilled lobster, ceviche, shrimp, fried calamares with beer, mussels, clams and an assortment of sweets. The Kosher Tasting Menu ($35) contains neither pork or shellfish, but is certainly not certified kosher. It starts with smoked salmon, manchego cheese, walnuts, olives and roasted peppers before moving on to goat cheese and then a combination of wild mushrooms. These are oversize tapas, perhaps in keeping with the American sense of restaurant value. Our tasting menu for four included more food than any of us could imagine consuming

What we ate: We went for the Spaniard tasting menu ($40 per person). We started with a combination of cold cuts and cheese: Serrano ham, manchego cheese, soft chorizo, Spanish queen olives, sweet garlic and roasted peppers. It was presented on several plates with good bread that goes perfect with wine. We then moved on to shrimp in garlic sauce and chablis wine ($10 a la carte), a creamy crock of goodness that was great for dipping bread. An earthy combination of mushrooms gently seasoned with garlic and herbs ($8.75 a la carte) came next. They were chewy, but neither undercooked or overcooked. One of my favorite dishes was Tortilla Española ($7.75 a la carte), which Fernandez calls "Spanish potato knish" — thinly sliced potatoes, sweet onions and egg. I can't imagine anyone not liking this one. A Romaine salad ($9 a la carte) with tomatoes and white asparagus followed. I was a bit disappointed in the canned asparagus. For a main course, we had incredible Paella Valenciana Mixta ($18.95 per person a la carte). Calamari, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and bone-in chicken are mixed with saffron-scented rice. If you've been looking for great paella, it's here at the Spaniard.

A la carte ordering: There's much on the menu worth coming back for, including fried calamari with beer and spicy tomato sauce ($9.75); classic Patatas Bravas ($6.75), potatoes with aioli, smoked paprika and hot pepper; spinach and pine nut croquettes ($7.50 for six pieces); and skewers of filet mignon with pepper sauce (two for $12, six for $32 or 12 for $57).

Sweet! The assorted platter of cake slivers wasn't as interesting as the savory side of the menu, but it will satisfy a sweet tooth. The Spaniard also makes very good coffee.

Liquid assets: The wine list is short, concise and well-priced. No surprise that Spanish wine figures prominently. We were underwhelmed by the house-made red sangria ($32 per pitcher), which seemed a bit watery.

Service: From the hostess to the waiter, great hospitality is on display here. There were a few long lulls between dishes, which ultimately arrived with many apologies.

 

The Spaniard Tapas Bar and Cafe

Palmetto Place, 99 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton

561-347-7000

Facebook.com/TheSpaniardTapas

Cuisine: Spanish

Cost: Moderate-expensive

Hours: Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday, Sunday brunch 1-4 p.m.

Reservations: Required during flamenco shows, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Conversational expect during shows

Outside smoking: Yes

For kids: Highchairs, boosters

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Complimentary valet

jtanasychuk@tribune.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SunSentinel.com/sup and follow him on Twitter at @FloridaEats.