3 stars for fantastic bites and super sips at Coral Gables' Bulla Gastrobar

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

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.

What Worked

  • Cheeses that go well beyond your usual manchego, including lovely additions like biting Catalonian Carrotxa and soft goat’s milk Leonora
  • Signature buñuelos de bacalao – plum-sized, golden orbs that manage to be light and rich at the same time with sweet, fishy cream filling and a robust romesco sauce
  • Wonderous croquets de jamon with a light breadcrumb coating and a fig jelly as sweet and unctuous as honey
  • Impressive sepia a la plancha especially balanced with grapefruit segments and see-through threads of fennel.
  • Classic gambas al ajilllo – snappy thumb-size shrimp laden with good oil and garlic
  • Slightly salty, nicely crusty paella loaded with tender shrimp, clams, baby black mussels and meaty slabs of local grouper
  • Must-try patatas bravas — die-sized cubes of crisply fried potatoes drizzled with a gently scorching brava sauce
  • Unflappable servers and waiters who don’t always get things right work
  • Transcendent torrija – Spanish bread pudding that’s crunchy on the edges, custardy in the center and served with a tangy yogurt ice cream drizzled with heavenly honey
  • Satisfying, but not thrilling creamy but rather bland chocolate cremoso
  • A lunch menu of snappy sandwiches and nice salads

What Didn’t Work

  • 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