La Bodega Tapas Bar
100 East El Roblar Dr., #104, Ojai
The community of Meiners Oaks was historically known for its residential standing more so than its hangouts — with all due respect to the Deer Lodge and The Hut. But that has all changed in recent years, with several new staples sprouting up. The most recent addition to the bourgeoning scene is La Bodega Tapas Bar, an authenticated nod to the cultural aspects of Spain.
It is near impossible for me to look at the word “bodega” without conjuring up a memory from Dave Chapelle’s cult-classic stoner flick Half Baked (“say it with me, BO-DE-GA,”), so I had a little nostalgic chuckle upon entering the establishment. The indoor layout is cozy, with a long cement slab bar and wine barrels that serve as tables. The outdoor patio, however, is an open space primed for snacking with the entire family, providing adequate shade and a respite from the valley’s summer heat waves.
I bellied up to the corner seat at the bar with a great view of the soccer game on the big screen and owner Luis Magana promptly came over to welcome me and take my drink order. Staying true to its Spanish roots, La Bodega serves Estrella beer in the proper logo-graffitied glasses, so I of course had to indulge. In addition to the golden libation, I started my culinary odyssey with some patatas bravas and bombas. The former is a common treat in España, consisting of fried cubed potatoes served with a palatably spicy tomato sauce and rich contrasting aioli. La Bodega did a marvelous rendition of this dish, combining the smoky, salty and spicy accents to highlight the plate. The bombas were a new adventure for me, and an extremely pleasant one at that. Another take on the tuber, this creation boasted salmon-stuffed mashed potato spheres that were breaded and deep fried. Showcasing the same sauce duo as the bravas, the bombas had a dichotomy of textures and piquancies that interfaced marvelously.
Taking the traditional approach to Spanish dining, I prolonged my flavor-fueled voyage by waiting to order my next pairing until the Estrella was closer to half-empty than half-full. Once that occurred I settled on the paella (because why wouldn’t I at a tapas bar?) and a couple of pintxos. The paella at La Bodega is a shape-shifting iteration that varies upon visit, and this particular day it was grilled squid and chorizo sausage. The saffron overtone was on point, and the citrus presence gave it an adequate bite that balanced the salty characteristics of the chorizo. I tend to go heavy on the smoked paprika when I make this dish, so I asked for a side of the bravas tomato sauce and that set the whole party off. The pintxos, which are basically a form of tomato-less bruschetta, provide a creative way to get involved with the meal. Patrons can mix and match toppings, which include a variety of imported meats and cheeses, among other options. I went with manchego cheese and Serrano ham, and both stepped up their game to delicious heights.
The closing order was more-or-less a case study in gluttony, but since I was there for nearly two hours I figured, what the hell? I was greatly rewarded for this over-indulgent behavior with the rich swagger of the house special berenjena sandwich. This featured hearty grilled slices of eggplant and a medley of roasted peppers and onions, all bound by melted manchego and enhanced with a generous spread of first-rate aioli. It was a magnificent way to wrap up my La Bodega experience.
In addition to what I highlighted, there are a bevy of cured meats and cheeses that are featured, as well as the traditional grilled octopus. I will most definitely be returning soon to explore some of those other options that my waistband vetoed on this go-round, in particular the sangria that my neighbor at the bar was enjoying. So head out and say “hola” to Luis and his crew, because lazy summers never tasted so good.