Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Sangria Tapas Café
401 S. Lafayette, Royal Oak, MI 48067
(248) 543-1964
Review by Rosie & PlazaQueen

Young, picky one was away at camp. TeenWook said "You have to try this place. It's so cool!" She had been here the week before with her Spanish class and was most impressed. It seemed like a good opportunity to try a new place out, so we went.

TeenWook was amazed that the field trip to this place had been sanctioned at all till it was pointed out to her that trying the ethnic cuisine of another culture and learning Salsa dancing could be considered "educational" if it was done right. The Spanish teacher did apparently have to stand over some students to make sure they tried all of the tapas selections offered. With pride, TeenWook noted she was was not one of the reluctant ones. She was willing and happy to try everything and anxious to share the experience.

Sangria Tapas Café is located in Royal Oak, which passes for the artsy community in the metro-Detroit area. Not Greenwich Village by any stretch of the imagination, but a nice area of unusual restaurants and art galleries and home to many local artists, all the same.

In Spain, as in much of Europe and in Central and Latin America, the dinner hour begins quite late because their culture indulges in a large lunch and the siesta. We did not wait for the traditional dinner hour because we knew that even on a week night, this trendy place gets quite busy. On the weekends, you can expect to stand in line for quite a while if you haven't made reservations in advance. We did make a reservation and there was plenty of room when we arrived, but it filled up while we were there.

The restaurant itself was housed in a somewhat industrial-looking space, and the interior was painted in deep colors — dark blue on the ceiling including on the insulation wrapped ventilation ductwork, which were also wound around with miniature white Christmas lights, and deep red on the walls, which also displayed large mural-like paintings in bright colors. The bar area and railings were done in warm oak and the tables were covered with dark red tablecloths topped with sheets of brown paper. That came in handy when writing down our menu choices so we could remember our selections. The waitress just copied what we had written right onto her pad (we half-expected her to simply tear off the piece of tablecloth and were kind of disappointed she didn't!).

And speaking of the menu, the restaurant did offer a number of very delicious sounding entrées and salads as well as several types of paella, the famous rice-based dish of Valencia, Spain. This place is not inexpensive. Entrées range from about $16 to $19, while the paellas are priced from $29 to $75 depending on both the ingredients and the amount: half-pan, three-quarter-pan, or full-pan. The menu also notes that 40 minutes should be allowed for the paella to be prepared.

We didn't have that kind of time, so we opted to try several items from the cold and hot tapas offerings, which ranged from $4 to $9. This may sound remarkably cheap, but remember that "tapas" are more "snacky" in size and concept than a full meal. You're meant to get several per person for a meal. The two cold items were Tortilla de patatas, a traditional Spanish omelet with potatoes and onion and drizzled with a light orange sauce of puréed red pepper. This was one of the items TeenWook had sampled on her previous trip. It was quite tasty and disappeared quickly. The second cold item was Hummus de Alubias Negras, a black bean based hummus with assorted crackers. This one was disappointing. It tasted flat, like black refried beans and none of the zip of hummus, which both of us love; not one I would choose again.

The four hot tapas items we ordered: Champinones Rellenos, mushroom caps filled with shrimp stuffing and served with herb butter; Polloy Setas Exoticos, chicken pieces and wild mushrooms sautéed in garlic and olive oil in a Madeira wine sauce; Pastel de Espinacas y queso, spinach and Asiago cheese in a pool of tomato sauce with aoli and served with crostini; and Pinchitos Morunos, Grilled pork tenderloin kebobs in a spicy pineapple sauce. All four of these items were delicious and in combination with the cold tapas, they made a great-tasting meal. Our favorites were the chicken and mushroom in the Madeira sauce and the pork kebobs. They offered a variety of taste sensations and whetted our appetites to try different ones next time.

The six tapas items were quite filling, but we could not resist trying a dessert, too. The Tiramisu, chocolate cake, cheesecake, crème caramel, and sorbet — could be had at any restaurant (Italian, French, or otherwise), but the Pina Filipe sounded too delicious to resist. It consisted of half a pineapple filled with small pineapple pieces tossed with a sweet egg custard then topped with caramelized sugar (a la crème brulèe) whipped cream and a mixed berry compote. This dessert is intended for two people (and priced accordingly at $9.50), so we split it between us. The sugar was just slightly too caramelized and harder and chewier than expected, but it really was delicious.

Dinner at Sangrias is not an everyday indulgence, but it is a wonderful place to go for a special treat. Must remember to thank the Spanish teacher! Gracias!

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