Photos by Go Nation

South Norwalk is a robust dining district home to some of the state’s most beloved restaurants. One of its newest additions, Tablao Wine Bar & Restaurant, fits right in. A Spanish- and Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with a stylish design, Tablao opened in May and features great cocktails and a compelling array of traditional and not-so-traditional dishes.

During a recent visit I was treated to a tasting menu by co-owner Galo Aleman. I was immediately impressed by the ambiance. Acoustic guitar-powered Spanish music plays over the stereo system, and the space is open and inviting with exposed brick, dark-wood tables and Edison light bulbs casting a warm glow over the bar and adjacent dining room. It’s nice enough for date night, while remaining casual enough to meet a friend after work for drinks. Modeled, in part, on the cafes and restaurants found in Seville, Spain, Tablao has a European feel.

My party was greeted at the door by Aleman, an amiable host who spends time talking with and welcoming most guests to the restaurant.

Aleman and co-owner Juan “Vinny” Gonzalez have enlisted a talented culinary team to help run the restaurant. The kitchen is headed by chef Raul Gonzalez, formerly of Norwalk’s Meson Galicia, which helped introduce Spanish cuisine and tapas-style dining to Connecticut in the early 1990s. Bar manager Sam Porteus is an alumni of South Norwalk’s Barcelona restaurant.


Tablao
86 Washington St., Norwalk
203-939-9602, tablaosono.com
Hours: Sun.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-12:30 a.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m.
Not wheelchair accessible

A large part of the menu is devoted to tapas, and here, like elsewhere, there are plenty of items inspired by the sea. Our meal started with the croquetas de bacalao, a cod croquet that was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and served with a creamy and decadent aioli sauce. It was the perfect preamble to what was to come, a dish entitled simply Brussels sprouts. Far more elaborate than its name implies, the Brussels sprouts is a salad, of sorts, in which the sprouts come packed above a fontina risotto cake adorned with black truffle shavings, truffle olive oil, lemon and Parmesan cheese. I don’t generally enjoy Brussels sprouts, but this dish won me over; the sprouts were unusually crunchy, and that worked well with the risotto cake.

After that we took a break from the sea and veggies and tried the chorizo Español (smoked pork sausage sautéed with white beans and a fig demi glaze) and the hanger steak served with green chimichurri. The chorizo was a great example of this Spanish delicacy and the hanger steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender and addictively good.

For the main course we enjoyed one of Tablao’s signature dishes: the classic paella, which can be ordered for two, three or four people. It comes with chorizo, chicken, pork, clams, mussels and shrimp, all served over rice, and was a hearty dish that combined many flavors.

Each course of the meal was complemented by the robust beverage program. Though a wine bar at heart, Tablao offers solid craft beer options and more-than-solid craft cocktails. My favorite cocktail was the caipifruta. Made with cachaca (a popular Brazilian spirit distilled from sugarcane juice), this drink had a golden-yellow appearance, deep tropical flavors and was incredibly refreshing.

The meal was capped by several desserts, my favorite of which was the tres-leches, a three-milk cake. A layered sponge cake soaked in three types of milk — evaporated, condensed and heavy cream — and then served with a coconut cream topping. The light and eminently enjoyable cake, like much on the Tablao menu, is a must-order.

This story has been modified from its original version. The restaurant is not closed on Monday as an earlier version of the story stated, and the entrance is not wheelchair accessible.

The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University