By Steven Nichols
A hidden gem that you have probably passed on a regular basis, but may not have realized is there is La Bodega Wine and Tapas Bar. La Bodega is nestled between Milano's Bakery and Al Bacio Ristorante Italiano on Don Juico Ave. How did you miss such a location? Well, operating hours are from 5 to midnight, and during the day you will find only a grand wooden gate similar to what you might expect to see on a castle after crossing the moat. Fortunately, during operating hours the gate opens to reveal al fresco seating along a lighted path to this renovated, historic brick house.
Indoor is an intimate dining area with stained glass windows adding old school charm reminiscent of upscale dining in a renovated neighborhood in the States. The restaurant has a handful of indoor tables and ample covered, outdoor seating to enjoy the night air. The indoor dining area feels like going to a friend’s house for dinner…if your friend is a gourmet chef with a quaint historic place to call home.
The staff make this place even more special. Co-owned by brother and sister Chefs Denise and Deo Tayag, who are also professors at the Angeles City iLEAD Institute for Learning’s culinary arts program, the restaurant maintains only three additional staff members, each of whom is a former student and now graduate of the culinary arts program. Elle, Yugz, and Paul take care of you from the moment you step foot in the restaurant, from seating, to waiting, to cooking, to cleaning. This trio does it all. The restaurant has an open kitchen, much like you might have at home, where you can watch the magic of each dish as it happens.
The restaurant, as the name suggests, does small plates and wine. Each dish provides a tasty treat with just enough portion size to satisfy while leaving room for the next experience. About 2 dishes per person, shared across the table, would be a great way to start your meal. I’ve tried most of the menu over the course of half a dozen visits and have yet to be disappointed. Particular favorites include the Gambas (shrimp) which are about the best I’ve had anywhere in the country. The Salpicao is another winner that delivers an intense flavor with a little bit of heat. To cool it off, I recommend the Lomo Iberico paired with either the Manchego Semicurado or the newly added Raclette with baby pickles. For those who haven’t enjoyed the melted, cheesy goodness that is Raclette, I’d highly recommend it. Finally, those of you who enjoy pâté will find their Chicken Liver Pate with Crostini quite enjoyable. A new addition to the menu, Butter Cookies with Blue Cheese Frosting and Guava Jelly, was an absolutely amazing and unexpected ending to my most recent meal at La Bodega.
Of course, all of this great food calls for some accompanying wine, and La Bodega delivers. I find their wine prices more than reasonable, with pleasant flavors that pair well with their various dishes. Their house red and white are both very enjoyable, unlike most of the swill I find trying to pass as house wine in Angeles City, and are reasonably priced at 80 pesos per glass or 310 by the bottle. Other options are available by the bottle to help you pair more precisely to your tastes. You may need to request your house red wine at room temperature as they have a tendency to keep the open bottle refrigerated, an anomaly that I have found unfortunately common around town, but they are more than happy to pour your glass from a new bottle upon request.
I wholeheartedly recommend La Bodega for a special occasion such as an anniversary, a social gathering of friends like a girls’ night out, or a private party.
If you really want to wow your special someone, the owner will even open La Bodega during the day to accommodate private dining with on request menu items. So support talented local professionals, take a few Instagram-worthy pictures and enjoy the vino. You’ll be glad you did.