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Issue Date: March 2009


Turn Up The Heat | Bodega


by John Long
A bodega fits Cleveland Heights’ Coventry neighborhood — a district notorious for the unexpected — like a cork in a bottle. In fact, the real surprise is that it took this long for an eatery with a spirited selection of wines, cocktails and comfort food to come along.

Usually, bodegas are cozy spaces. However, Bodega Restaurant & Lounge on Coventry, which opened in May, comes closer in décor to Miami’s South Beach than anything in Cleveland.

Don’t let that scare you away.

The large, tiered chandelier and enormous lighted wine and liquor racks that give the wall a zebra-striped look will grow on you, as will the discrete lounge tucked in the back of the dining room. Plush white chairs are accented by tables that are just the right size for resting a martini or a few tapas plates. And the comfortable bar, with its wall of liquor bottles, is not a bad place to find yourself at the end of a long workday.

While the décor in the lower-level restaurant doesn’t scream bodega, the food — prepared expertly on a menu divided into tapas and entrées — does.

Patrons can choose from a selection of short, cold and hot tapas, as well as a choice of five to six entrées, depending on the whim of chef Demetrios Atheneos.

Ordering two to three tapas would be the equivalent of an entrée. That’s not to say the entrées are small, but rather that the small plates here are more generous than most. Six shared tapas were a perfect dinner for our group. And even on our second visit, when everyone insisted on their own dinner, our plates were still passed around to give the group a little taste of everything.

Braised short ribs with a soy chile jam ($13) were delectable. The tender, buttery meat paired well with the slightly spicy jam. A whole quail stuffed with prosciutto and gruyere cheese ($13) on a bed of truffled cream corn was a flavorful dish, albeit a little difficult to get all the ingredients on a fork at the same time.

I only had a small taste of the white corn pancakes topped with foie gras and apple compote ($14). I have eaten more than my fair share of foie gras in numerous guises, and this was one of the better ones. A dense tuna tempura roll with a creamy curry sauce ($10) was a near meal, with what must have been 6 ounces of fish.

An eggplant rollatini stuffed with ricotta cheese ($7) and a blackened U-10 day boat scallop with a mango salsa ($9) were all well presented, if not a little understated among the many show-stopping tapas. The crispy sesame calamari with wasabi honey sauce ($8) was a little too chewy, but I still could not stop eating them, if for no better reason than to taste more of the accompanying sauce.

Saving the best for last, the tuna tartar with avocado, mango and black sesame ($9) was simply wonderful. The ultra-fresh chopped tuna with a palate-cleansing note and buttery avocado blended with mango as an accompaniment was tapas perfection.

If you’re looking for a one-platter meal over the multicourse small plates, I recommend diving right into the large bowl of cioppino ($35). This San Francisco dish originated with more humble ingredients than Bodega’s version, but that’s just too bad for the old-timers. This soup fit for royalty was loaded with fresh seafood — big chunks of lobster, jumbo shrimp, mussels, clams and scallops in a perfumed and spicy broth. The price tag may seem steep, but given the bounty of shellfish and quality ingredients, it was a steal.

Bodega, 1854 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 932-3050. Open daily from 4 p.m. - 2:30 a.m.

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