Some restaurants call themselves Cuban or Peruvian or Spanish, but stretching their menus across dishes from other Latin countries, often confuses customers about their identity.
I like the approach of Bolero Latin Tapas, Bar, Cuisine in Midtown, because from the get-go it declares itself home to “all-the-above,” using the “Latin” as part of its name, signifying it does it all.
Bolero’s cleanly divided menu reflects as much.
“We wanted people to enjoy all the Latin cultures and the different foods: Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, Brazil … all of them,” says Executive Chef Willi Linares, himself a Salvadoran by birth.
Linares has cooked in kitchens all around Detroit, most recently at Joe Muer’s, the seafood emporium in the General Motors Renaissance Center downtown.
The food at Bolero is superior to many of its contemporaries and we highly recommend this restaurant. The place is very polished; the service is smooth and good.
The name Bolero comes from the traditional short jacket worn by Spanish men years ago. These days, it has migrated over to womens’ fashion.
The restaurant is a relative newcomer that occupies a large pleasant storefront space on West Forest just off the corner Woodward Avenue. It has an elegant, pleasant, and slightly dark woody décor. The front dining area is washed in street light and highlighted by a dramatic mural of a pair of Flamenco dancers: The man has his female partner bent over backward, her head close to the floor. Her red dress dominates the painting, which on this night, is matched by red roses set in a vase at each table. The dinner and silverware is simple, and there are large bowl wine glasses. Other than that and the neon Bolero sign over the front door, the décor and space are fairly generic and could be just about any other pleasantly designed restaurant.
The wide-plank dark reddish oak flooring and creamy gray faux leather banquettes travel the length of one wall facing the window onto the street, along which are neatly spaced two and four top tables set up with simple crisp tableware. This main dining area has an appealing feel of comfort and simplicity.
Further back in the restaurant, Bolero has a large full bar surrounded by a second equally large dining area. The décor is dark, woody, and warm.
We arrived for a 6:45 p.m. reservation on a Friday to find but a few tables occupied, mostly by large groups settling in for dinner. The room filled up a little more during our near two-plus hours there, but never fully. One person in our group pointed out that our time of arrival for dinner was actually very early in Latin culture, in which most people tend to eat very late. Even a 9 p.m. table would be considered early.
A month spent in Barcelona three years ago, was quite an education on late-night dining. The Spanish really don’t even come to life until 9 or 10, and some restaurants went as late as 4 a.m. Admittedly, most of the others had pretty much finished serving for the night around 2 a.m., but the lovely, treed Las Ramblas — the famous wide pedestrian boulevard of the city — was still busy into the early hours.
Bolero’s food is vibrant and fresh. But what also counts is the atmosphere, good service, and a smart wine list.
The crew that created Bolero is headed by Vicente Vazquez, one of the lead partners who started the Cuban restaurant that bears his first name. (Vicente’s is located next to the little, triangular-shaped library, now home of the National Automotive History Collection, on Library Street downtown.)
As for the food, Bolero’s offerings are all truly authentic; plates served with grilled plantains, salads based on hearts of palm. Lots of citrus and cilantro in sauces, dishes, and dressings. Overall, it’s all wonderfully fresh.
In Latin countries, dinner comes with two options. The first is much as our dinners are here, two or three courses plus dessert. The second is the long, casual evening of tapas dining.
Bolero offers such a tapas dinner option — though I suspect that most Detroiters won’t have the patience for it. Still, tapas dining bears a brief explanation.
Usually, a tapas dinner consists of a sizable gathering of friends who will spend two or three or more hours talking late into the night, as they are served refreshments and dish after dish of nibbles, such as those at Bolero.
They include Empenadas made of shredded duck, peppers, onion, and sofrito sauce; Tequenos — melted cheese in a flaky dough with an orange sauce; Camarones al ajo — spicy shrimp pan-fried in olive oil with garlic and lemon; Picanha, which are slices of rare top sirloin marinated in fresh herbs and served with a Spanish version of polenta and spinach; Choritos — mussels steamed in white wine, chorizo, fennel, shallots, and garlic; and Tostones Bolero — green plantains deep-fried and topped with sautéed chicken, sofrito, tomatoes, and peppers. Sofrito is a sauce that’s usually made of garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes cooked in olive oil.
In Spain, the empty tapas saucers are often stacked on a corner of the table, and counted at the end of the evening, then multiplied by a per plate tapas rate. And presto, that’s the check.
Bolero has just enough to offer a tapas evening, 12 little plates, plus two soups, three ceviches (raw marinated fish) dishes, and three salads.
“With the tapas,” says Executive Chef Linares, “They are going to change almost every day, depending on what we can get.”
At Bolero, that is by no means the only way to dine. The menu also has four paellas, the traditional rice-based Spanish casseroles that come with either fish, chicken, or beef. Each are made to serve a minimum of two people.
And for the more traditional eater, a run of entrees include pan-seared shrimp with spices; branzino or salmon prepared with Spanish flavor accents; a char-grilled chicken breast served with sautéed mushrooms, rice, and vegetables; and an Argentinian steak with chimichurri sauce.
In summary, the food at Bolero is vibrant and fresh. But what also counts is the atmosphere, good service, and a smart wine list. It is a large, snazzy, addition to the Detroit restaurant scene.
51 W. Forest Ave., Detroit; 313 800-5059. D Daily