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Tapas bar brings taste of Spain to Downcity

Flan y Ajo’s authentic atmosphere and varied small plates offer choices for any palate

Upon entering Westminster Street’s Flan y Ajo tapas bar, there is a sense of having joined a world apart from the quiet streets outside. Dim lighting, loud conversation and air replete with the smell of grilling meat fill the tiny room. Bob Dylan croaks over the radio, adding a twist to the otherwise Spanish-influenced restaurant.

Some might need a Spanish-English dictionary to decipher the menu — which includes such items as “patatas bravas” and “gambas al ajillo” written in chalk on a blackboard covering the wall behind the bar. The friendly bartenders or waitresses are happy to describe each dish.

Flan y Ajo leaves the drinks to the patrons, employing an alcohol policy that is exclusively “bring your own.” Its owners are also proprietors of Bodega Malasana, a bar around the corner where patrons waiting on a seat can pass the time. Flan y Ajo is across from student coffee staple Small Point Cafe.

The restaurant does not take reservations, so be prepared for a minimum half-hour wait for a space at the bar — its website advertises only four bar stools — or at the cozy triangular tables for two lining one wall.  There is some standing room along Flan y Ajo’s walls.

Flan y Ajo’s staff is helpful, accommodating and aware of dietary sensitivities. A waitress brought out a plate of olives on the house in apology for the nearly 40-minute wait to be seated.

Authentic Spanish-style tapas dishes with Portuguese influences fill the handwritten menu. Though there are some vegetarian options, seafood dominates. But diners beware: By 8:30 on a weeknight, the restaurant was sold out of half its plates.

Tapas are best when shared. Flan y Ajo offers a variety of hot and cold plates, ranging from assorted cheeses and chorizo, spicy pork sausage, to the smoky and delicious “sardinas,” sardines served on slices of toast. For the simplest of palates, the menu includes crusty white bread with olive oil.

The cheese plate, while tasty, is not particularly balanced. One night’s menu consisted of three semi-soft cheeses — manchego and roncal, two sheep’s milk cheeses, and cabra al vino, a goat cheese also known as “drunken goat” for its wine-soaked outer layer. While the plate can be one-note, the mild flavor of the manchego complements the herbed crackers served alongside it.

Customers can choose between individual cheeses or order all three for a reduced price.

Plates are brought out in groups as they are prepared, and the small tables quickly overflow with the smorgasbord.  The “patatas bravas,” a hot skillet filled with roasted potatoes drenched in spicy aioli, are definitely a highlight.

While not the place for a light, in-and-out meal, Flan y Ajo is perfect for a leisurely night with food and friends that won’t set you back too much — most dishes cost between $3 and $6. Flan y Ajo is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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