Where: 7016 Woodlake Commons Loop (Woodlake Commons Shopping Center)
Phone: (804) 639-8099
Highlights: Emilio’s spreads its saffron-infused influence south of the river with a second location, serving tapas, authentic Spanish entrees and plenty of energy. Live music on weekends draws crowds, but sampling and socializing at a leisurely pace is part of the experience.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner 5-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; Bar open until 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Entr?e prices: $8.75-$27.95, Tapas $2.75-$9.50
Check for two: $78 (including three tapas, two entrees, shared dessert, alcohol, tax and gratuity)
There’s nothing like some good ole Spanish hospitality. Forget sweet tea and chicken fried steak. It’s all about sangria and chorizo.
Emilio’s Restaurante somewhat of a secret among Fan-dwelling tapas lovers — has spread its saffron-infused influence to Woodlake with a newly opened second location.
It’s hard not to be drawn to the carefree mentality permeating much of Spanish culture. Afternoon naps are treasured, meals are social events that last well into the night and revelry runs rampant. Rushing doesn’t translate.
Emilio’s at Woodlake embodies this lifestyle. Behind its shopping center fa?ade hides a zesty microcosm of authentic Spanish fare, bright d?cor and instant camaraderie.
On a recent Friday night, the place was slammed. Couples intimately tucked into tall, bar-side tables shared the tiny dining room with a bubbly group of women reveling in a night out.
Chef-owner Emilio Peiro zipped around the open kitchen in his signature red chef’s jacket while co-owners Chad Stambaugh and Yvonne Zienkiewicz did quadruple duty hosting, serving, busing and apologizing for silverware held hostage by the dishwasher.
But no one seemed to mind the waits. Being immersed in the atmosphere was part of the experience.
Emilio’s menu, ranging from tapas to full entrees, is designed for sharing. The idea is to start with homemade sangria (the menu warns one glass is never enough) or Spanish wine ($24-$57), and whittle away the rest of the evening socializing and sampling.
Sample we did. We started with tapas-size appetizers of lamb meatballs, tuna ceviche and one of six styles of bruschetta ($4.25; regular size $7.25). The meatballs were subtle, not gamy, accented by a delicate rosemary- and garlic-laced saffron sauce.
The ceviche, a Latin staple, was a surprising disappointment. Unappealingly large chunks of white onion and tuna overshadowed the pungent zip of lime and pepper.
The bruschetta’s toppings — addictive homemade tomato spread, Manchego cheese and morzilla (blood sausage seasoned with smoked paprika) were bold and feisty. However, we were confused by what appeared to be soggy, store-bought bread.
Some entrees are somewhat Americanized, such as pastas with cream sauce and a N.Y. strip. We found more success sticking to authentic dishes.
Merluza ala Vasca (tilapia in Emilio’s green sauce, $12.95) was skillfully balanced — the mild filet energized, not overwhelmed, by a tangy-sweet paste of parsley, garlic and white wine.
Pollo al Cardinal ($11.95) — chicken stuffed with ham and cheese in a mushroom cream sauce was flavorful but tasted like everyday chicken cordon bleu. Using Serrano ham or a heftier application of garlic and parsley would have helped.
Both entrees came with a veggie medley seasoned with woodsy herbs and less-than-remarkable saffron rice.
Desserts included tiramisu and chocolate mousse cake, but we again found success in authenticity. The evening’s special, orange flan ($4.95), was incredible. I’m talking real live flan smooth, firm and soothing, not some flimsy, unctuous wannabe.
Dining at Emilio’s is about more than food. While the menu has its ups and down, its simple Spanish hospitality creates a spirit of camaraderie that turns patrons, servers and even neighboring tables into instant friends. You’ll wonder how the night and third glass of sangria went by so fast.