Zaragoza’s tapas bar opened in New Milford in April 2016. The CTBites crew covered them a few months before their official opening and shared owner Artie Praino’s anticipation of a long-time dream come true after years in the deli business. Now, two and a half years later, they are a much beloved, popular spot for delicious, creative plates and cocktails.
Fully informed by several Zaragoza regulars that I was sure to be delighted, my belly gurgled for a new tapas experience. I’ve had the pleasure of going to Spain a few times, so, admittedly, morsels from those adventures like ceviche, calamari, and chorizo propelled me to the restaurant with little hesitation. I was eager to taste what their twist on the classics would be.
Let’s talk about light fixtures for a minute. Even before sitting down I was mesmerized by them. From elaborate chandeliers to industrial tubes with tiny sprays of light, ones dangling from the ceiling or just sitting on the table, I was astonished by the assortment. So, if you get distracted by sparkly things, here’s a place for you, and the great food is just a bonus! Nevertheless, the mood for a delicious evening meal was set. And, the setting strikes a good balance between sleek and rustic. The brick and wood finishings certainly feel cozy, but the plates and glassware are sleek and modern.
Praino had the menu in mind long before the restaurant came to be, however, he admits his chef, Rupert Cardenas, was a perfect fit for his vision. The two of them built each plate together one by one to bring the dream to life. I asked Praino if it was his original plan to also offer tapas that weren’t necessarily Spanish, like the smokey wings or the gnocchi bolognese. “Yes. That’s why the menu is broken down by traditional and “modern” tapas.” Some of the tapas, like the gnocchi have become so popular that they’ve been added to the menu as entrees.
The tapas. Maybe I should write THE TAPAS!! There’s something inherently festive about a long table filled with tiny plates. Colorful, creative plates dotted the table like holiday packages, and they were good. Very good. The ceviche is crisp and light with just the right amount of tang and served in a martini glass with a generous side of plantain chips, like tostones. The mussels with fresh calamari were plump in a deep, sweet, and savory sauce. If you want spicy, the chorizo was definitely spicy, but thankfully cut by the potatoes and aioli it comes with. For more crispy bites we tried risotto balls and empanadas, both mild, but flavorful. I put my inclination toward the traditional tapas aside in order to try the wings and meatballs from the modern menu. I was happily bowled over by the smoky Ethiopian spice on the wings and just how juicy the meatballs were. I winked from afar at the Cubano sliders that were thoroughly enjoyed by a friend. And pork belly fans, there are tiny crackles just for you: rich enough to be indulgent, but tiny, so they’re gone in a flash. But. The.world.stood.still when we had the short rib with house-made pappardelle. In just the right amount of au jus, the pasta was ultra fresh and wrapped gently around the most succulent short rib EVA.
And, if that is not all, there’s still an extensive selection under Land, Earth, Sea, and Garden. We dug into the Earth just enough to enjoy the taste and lollipop display of the artichokes wrapped in prosciutto.
Now, you have to whet your whistle. In addition to their popular tapas selection, Zaragoza’s not only has one of the most substantial, wild, inventive list of cocktails in the area, but has one of the best bartender to delight you with her libational magic. No, seriously. Christine Short, at time of print, was a finalist for the CRAZIES Awards as Best Bartender in Connecticut, sponsored by the Connecticut Restaurant Association. Short was one of just five in the state nominated. She produced so many concoctions from the menu; it’s like a whimsical magician and mad scientist rolled in one. There were special elixirs from afar in chalices or drinks with flowers and sugar cane jumping out of tikis. You will spin like a top by the creativity, but surely find one that gives you all the feels. I settled on the Alps of Litchfield with a lemon and blueberry twist.
Short, from Patterson, New York, has over fifteen years experience working first as a Sous and Pastry Chef for Gifford’s, formerly in Kent. However, at Zaragoza, she says she loves the creative freedom she has to experiment, especially for regulars who trust her palette and experience. She’s quite fluent in the menu and works with the chefs to create interesting and tasty pairings. When it comes to the elaborate list of drinks, Short remarks, “Many of the ingredients are locally sourced, sometimes organically grown in our regulars gardens. Many of the spirits that we use are not found in other places in CT and beyond, for example our Auva Jequitiba Rosa Cachaca; we are the only restaurant to have it in the US. They’re importing it and we’re getting it first.” Cheers!
The restaurant was pleasantly plump on a Tuesday evening, but, as one would expect, was packed and buzzing on a Saturday night. Zaragoza’s now offers something different nearly every night of the week, from a Tuesday Taco and live music night to Trivia on Mondays, and half-off wine bottles on Wednesdays. The environment is certainly well-suited for a date night, or a “turned-up” evening with friends.
What’s New, Soon, and Around the Corner
Zaragoza’s recently started Take Out and Catering, and, now offering the restaurant Monday through Thursday from Noon to 4pm for professional luncheons or parties.
What’s that? Did someone say party? Zaragoza’s will be hosting Boogie on Bank, a 70s-themed New Year’s Eve Party. Check out their facebook page for details.
In addition to expanding their offerings, Praino is thrilled to be considering a second location as they wrap up their third year. We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for news next Spring. In the meantime, head over to Bank Street in New Milford for a taste of Spain and beyond, in the middle of a quaint New England town.
31 Bank Street, New Milford