Restaurant review

Fantastic bites, super sips at Gables’ Bulla


If you go

Place: Bulla Gastrobar

Rating:* * *  (Very Good)

Address: 2500 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables

Contact: 305-441-0107,

Hours: noon-10 p.m. daily; until 11 p.m. Thursday, midnight Friday- Saturday

Prices: Tapas $6-$16, shareable plates $36-$52, desserts $8

FYI: Full bar; corkage $20; happy hour 5-7 p.m. daily. Metered parking; valet $8. AX, DS, MC, VS.

Special to The Miami Herald

It still looks like a majestic Mediterranean mansion at the corner of Ponce and Andalusia, but it’s a whole new juego de pelota inside the former Por Fin. The white tablecloths have been stripped, the chandeliers traded for filament bulbs and the main bar moved downstairs to the center of the action.

And that makes for a whole lot of bulla at Bulla — pronounced “boo-ya” and translated as the racket of a crowd. The former temple of Spanish-style fine dining has been transformed into a fine drinking establishment with some fantastic bites that transported me to Barcelona.

Often packed three deep, the bar has the congenial atmosphere of a house party. The bartenders mix, muddle, shake and pour cocktails including a gin and tonic made with Martin Miller’s gin and bright, minerally Fever Tree tonic.

With more than 70 wines by the bottle, a solid selection by the glass plus complex sangrias, there is plenty here for grape lovers as well. Add beers from around the world, and no one goes away thirsty.

A stool at the bar, a glass of amontillado, a plate of tangy mahon cheese and slices of only the best Cinco Jotas Jamón Ibérico could make a girl happy. The cheeses go well beyond your usual manchego with such lovely additions as the biting Catalonian Carrotxa and the soft goat’s milk Leonora.

But it would be a shame to skip the signature buñuelos de bacalao, plum-sized, golden orbs that manage to be light and rich at the same time with their sweet, fishy cream filling and a robust romesco sauce. Croquets de jamon are also wonder in their light breadcrumb coating, draped with a fig jelly as sweet and unctuous as honey.

The sepia a la plancha is equally impressive, especially balanced with grapefruit segments and see-through threads of fennel. The classic gambas al ajilllo, snappy thumb-size shrimp laden with good oil and garlic, also won our hearts.

There was balance, simplicity and elegance to every dish we sampled, thanks to chef Luis Quant, who trained with stellar talent Jordi Valles.

From the list of shareable main plates, we adored the slightly salty, nicely crusty paella loaded with tender shrimp, clams, baby black mussels and meaty slabs of local grouper.

One of the few holdovers from the old menu, the patatas bravas — die-sized cubes of crisply fried potatoes drizzled with a gently scorching brava sauce — are a must try. The sloppy Huevoas Bulla — a swirl of potato foam holding together ribbons of Serrano ham and a sunny-side-up egg marred by soggy potato chips — is, on the other hand, a pass.

Unflappable servers and waiters who don’t always get things right work well with the Spanish rock and classical guitar to keep the crowd smiling.

Desserts include a transcendent torrija, a Spanish bread pudding that is crunchy on the edges, custardy in the center and served with a tangy yogurt ice cream drizzled with heavenly honey. The creamy but rather bland chocolate cremoso satisfied but did not thrill.

A lunch menu of snappy sandwiches and nice salads is a hit with local suits. The young and, may I add, handsome owner, Carlos Centurion, has another hit on his hands.

Contact Victoria at Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.

Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.

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