Key West: Santiago’s Bodega a Hidden Gem

Key West isn’t that big; Santiago’s Bodega is a little less than a mile from where my husband Mike and I stay at the Hyatt Sunset Harbor. As newbies I wondered if it was worth the walk in the August heat and humidity. Short answer: yes. Even when you get rained on (okay, drenched) by a passing shower (deluge). By the time Mike and I arrived at Santiago’s, which is in the Bahama section of Key West we were mostly dry (okay, not really). Since we made reservations in advance (make sure you do), we were seated immediately at a table tucked into a corner in the bar area of the restaurant. It was cozy, but dimly lit, which is why the photos of our small plates aren’t that appetizing looking (see, it’s the lighting, not the photographer’s skills!).

The restaurant was busy at 7 pm, but our waiter Alan (Allen? Allan?) was relaxed, informative and friendly. Since this was our first time at Santiago’s he explained the concept of ordering a small plates dinner: order 5-6 for 2 of us; he would stagger the order to the kitchen so that the plates arrived in a series rather than all at once. We could order more plates as the evening progressed if we were still hungry. Mike began with a house-made sangria; he said it was light and fruity.

Santiago's Bodega green beansThe first plate to arrive was my choice: the green beans. French cut and served at room temperature, the beans were served in a light lemon caper dressing. With slivered proscuitto and matchstick pieces of gruyere on top. Mike approached the dish cautiously. I dug in.  The dressing was flavorful, but what really made the dish was the bits of proscuitto and cheese in every bite. I hat to practically wrestle Mike to get the last bit on the plate. The dish was so tasty that I re-created it here at home last night; and everyone loved it!

Santiago's Bodega beef tenderloinNext to arrive table side was the beef tenderloin capped with a blue cheese butter hat; this is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and we were both looking forward to tasting it. We asked for the beef medium and that’s how it arrived; it was tender, tender, tender. Mike loved the beef, but picked some of the blue cheese off. I, on the other hand, ate every bit of cheese with my portion;  am a true fan of blue cheese and this dish didn’t disappoint.

Santiago's Bodega croquettasAfter the beef came the “croquettas,” another choice of mine. Basically pan-fried mashed potatoes, they also had finely ground proscuitto and provolone cheese and a kick of cayenne in them. Mike, a true aficionado of potatoes in any form, was perplexed by the flavor at first. He tasted, chewed, but was silent. Then he repeated the process. Finally, I asked him what he thought of the dish. His reply: I’m not sure. I love potatoes, but these are different somehow. My bar food husband found a potato that was not quite a potato. I think that the cayenne threw his taste buds into a tizzy. I loved the heat and the accompanying scallion-laced dipping cream.

Santiago's Bodega beef short ribsThe next plate — the beef short ribs — was my meat-eating husband’s choice; he loves short ribs. They came to the table glistening and crispy looking in a hoisin and cherry glaze. Mike compared the flavor with one of his fave Chinese food dishes: General Tsao’s chicken. I agreed, and since I’m not a fan of sweet meat I let Mike eat the entire plate…and I ate the accompanying orange miso slaw, which was nice and tangy.

Mike was full (of short ribs, I guess), but I was game for one more plate so I ordered the shrimp and chorizo skewers. The shrimp was pan grilled with garlic. I loved it. And I loved the porky chorizo counterpoint. Together they make one really good dish.

Santiago's Bodeega shrimp and chorizo skewers

We will return to Santiago’s on our next visit. I’ve already got my eye on the puff pastry …

P.S. We took a taxi home.

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