We're at a restaurant in Boca Raton, not Barcelona. And the chef-owner, Bryant Fajardo, was born in New York, not Spain, and raised in Colombia. But from this tiny spot — just 23 seats inside — Bryant and wife Nathalia are turning out some of the most solid, moderately priced Spanish tapas in South Florida.
It helps that Fajardo once worked with José Andrés, the experimental, Spanish-born chef credited with bringing tapas-style small plates to the United States. Fajardo worked at Andrés' restaurants in California and Miami Beach.
When the Fajardos — he's 35, she's 31 — started thinking of their own spot, they chose Boca because of the public schools. They have two children, Samuel, 5, and Sophia, 3.
The best seats at Patio are indeed on the patio, which you can't miss on account of the blue and yellow umbrellas. You look out over the back of a high-rise apartment building, but there seem to always be pedestrians on their way to work and play at the nearby Royal Palm Place.
With Bryant in the kitchen and Nathalia working the front of the house, the menu had to be concise and simple. Bryant says he'll start doing more specials as soon as the restaurant gets busy enough for them to hire more help. Right now, they have just one other server on weekend nights. Together, the Fajardos are a model of efficiency, although I've never been here on a busy night. Some patience may be in order.
You will not be disappointed with Patio's classic gazpacho ($7), a cool puree in which you can taste the high-quality olive oil and vinegar. Same goes for pan con tomato ($3), grated tomato with garlic, thyme, bay leaf and olive on a toasted baguette. It is one of my favorite Spanish tapas and maybe one of the simplest. Chef Fajardo does it very well, as he does patatas bravas ($9), which are kind of the Spanish version of home fries. In this case, however, they're drizzled with aioli and brava sauce, which seems heavily seasoned with paprika.
On to meat dishes. The pork belly montadito ($4.50) starts with lean, crispy pork belly on toasted baguette and finishes with a garnish of pickled shallots and aioli. Order the churrasco ($14), and you will receive a nice cut of flavorful marinated skirt steak, served with a salted marble potato, mojo verde and arugula dressed in tomato vinaigrette. Crispy chicken ($12) is made with not-so-crispy chicken thighs and served with housemade rosemary honey mustard.
The chicken croquetas ($10) are right up there with some of the best I've tried. Finely ground chicken is mixed with béchamel before frying. The resulting croquetas are creamy puffs of poultry.
Diners can order as much or as a little as they want. We overordered with seven dishes. You can start with three dishes and add more if you're still hungry. The charcuterie board ($26 small/$38 large) is great for a crowd. So are sweet-potato chips ($9), served with an interesting yogurt espuma with passionfruit glaze.
Although the restaurant is called Patio Tapas and Beer, the beer list is disappointing. There are just seven beers and only three from Florida: Funky Buddha's Floridian and Hop Gun and Due South Caramel Cream Ale. The equally brief wine list has several nice offerings by the glass, including four Spanish Tempranillos.
For dessert, there are some cotton candy sticks ($6) with fresh fruit, which may be the closest Fajardo comes to Andrés-style experimentation. We ordered crema catalana ($5), which wasn't as sweet as some versions of this creamy creation. That might have been why I liked it so much.
In sophisticated downtown Boca, Patio deserves to have a good, long run.