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Palate: Small Plates, Big Flavors

The Spanish word “bulla” (pronounced “boo-ya”) equates to “buzz,” and Bulla Gastrobar generates a lot of it as it sits in the Lakeside Crossing shopping center on the corner of Orlando Avenue and Morse Boulevard in a new trendy area of Winter Park. It is the brainchild of the former owner of Por Fin in Coral Gables, Carlos Centurion. The Centurion Group  now  has  three  Bulla Gastrobars  in Florida with Winter  Park being the newest under its culinary umbrella.

The Winter Park location is led by managing partner Jose Santiago along with executive chef Felix Plasencia, a Cuba native with a notable pedi- gree in Spanish cuisine. Plasencia spent five years in the kitchen at the Michelin-rated Taberna del Alabardero in Seville, Spain, before joining Por Fin and, later, helping to open Bulla. His menu at Bulla is full of vibrant yet simple food with an arti- sanal twist. To stay ahead of the curve, Plasencia makes the trek to Spain twice a year to discover new ingredients and methods to help keep Bulla’s offerings as authentic  as possible.

At Bulla, plenty of warm woods abound, but it is as bright as it is cozy. The open seating with its plush benches and chairs  is richly comforting. There are windows on three sides, doors that open onto the outside (weather allowing), a patio that fronts Orlando Avenue, and fashionable clusters of teardrop-shaped lights that hang from the ceiling. The bar is the central focus of the space, and the closely set tables facilitate conversations between guests. The kitchen is open, the hospitality is warm and the music leans toward Spanish rock from the ’80s and ’90s, which put my wife and I in the mood for some cocktails.

All the craft cocktails at Bulla appeared to be well thought  out  and inventive. The Bougie Palmer ($12) is a mixture of Tito’s vodka, lemon, peach syrup and lavender. It was the kind of refreshing thirst-quencher  you could spend an entire summer’s day sipping on. The La Madrileña ($12) blended Old Forester 100, sherry, apple cin- namon-infused syrup and undeniably delicious filthy cherries. I have had many a bourbon craft cocktail before, but this one was the tastiest. I haven’t stopped telling anyone who would listen about these drinks since my last visit. To top it off, Bulla has a 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour every day that features half-price cocktails. Yes, I said every day.

As you do with tapas style, we ordered a few of the small plates to start. I decided the Chorizo de Cantimpalo ($6.5) and the Canarian Cheese dip ($9) would be a nice pairing. The smokiness of the chorizo sausage blended well with the mahón cheese-based  dip that  was  rounded out  with smoked paprika and chili peppers for a bit of a kick. The Pan de Cristal con Tomate ($5.5)— toasted bread brushed with fresh tomato—and House Marinated Olives ($6) also caught my immediate attention. As all these plates hit our table, I began to systematically devise a plan of attack and came up with the ingenious idea of dip- ping my chorizo into the marinated olives and then placing it  onto  the  tomato  bread. This  was exquisite and I recommend this technique highly. The Sautéed Garlic Shrimp ($10) also didn’t dis- appoint. The large shellfish were cooked to perfec- tion and soaked up every bit of goodness from the accompanying garlic butter.

My wife’s entrée of sautéed Salmon ($21) came with a light lemon cream with baby spinach and chickpeas. The dish was delicate and richly balanced and the nice-sized portion of fish was cooked to a perfect medium temperature.

I opted for the Churrasco Moruno ($24), a cumin-marinated skirt steak with mojo verde and a sweet potato terrine. The protein was grilled to a tender medium and with a bit of the cilantro-based green sauce it became one of the evening’s highlights. The terrine was a surprising star as well, showcasing both an earthiness along with a sweet- ness that really hit home.

As our server cleared our plates and tended to our every request, he had some highlights on the dessert menu he thought we would enjoy. The Churros con Chocolate ($8) featured approximately eight finger-sized pieces of the fried dough along with dulce de leche or chocolate sauce. The churros were light and crisp with just the right amount of cinnamon sugar. We also took the server’s  recommendation of  the  Cremoso  de Chocolate ($8). It is a three-layer chocolate genoise with vanilla ice cream, chocolate mousse and Maldon salt. The salt really played well with the richness of the cake. It was light yet decadent and quite frankly, spectacular.

Bulla Gastrobar has created a buzz for itself in a wonderful area of Winter Park that has transformed into a competing retail and dining area to Park Avenue. The atmosphere at Bulla is just as tantalizing  as any other upscale eatery in the area and the food doesn’t miss a beat. We will be back, we will bring friends, and we will eat and drink plenty.

Bulla Gastrobar
110 S. Orlando Ave. | Winter Park
(321) 214-6120