IN THE KITCHEN From the time Nora Niemotko and her brother, Marlon Cardona, arrived in the United States from their native Guatemala in 2001, the siblings shared a dream. “We started working in Boston-area restaurants and said, ‘One day, we’ll have our own,’ ” she said.
Thanks to the support of her husband, Wieslaw, Niemotko and Cardona started searching for restaurant space two years ago. “We found this beautiful place and said, ‘This is the time for us,’
THE LOCALE Sangria Restaurante, Tapas & Bar opened in November on Watertown Street in Newton’s Nonantum neighborhood. The interior still bears the vestiges of the space’s previous incarnation as an Italian restaurant, its walls splashed with distinctly Mediterranean frescoes. Service is friendly and eager to please. Festive Latin music plays in the background on the night we visit; the restaurant also features live entertainment some evenings.
ON THE MENU The owners elected to open a tapas restaurant in part because small dishes are easy for families to share, and “you’re happier when you share food, and can try a little bit of every tapa you want,” Niemotko said. At Sangria, tapas doesn’t only mean dishes from Spain, but also from Peru, Italy, Portugal, and other Central and South American and European countries. This diversity is important to Niemotko. “I don’t want people to focus only on one culture,” she said.
Sangria has a full bar, with margaritas, martinis, wine, and beer. A meal here almost necessarily starts with a glass of the restaurant’s eponymous tipple. The red sangria ($9) blends red wine, orange juice, triple sec, and brandy into a pleasantly potent drink; a few orange slices and apple slivers are its fruity enhancements. The white sangria relies on cava, the sparkling Spanish wine. A summer menu will soon roll out sangria flavors including kiwi, peach, and melon.
The restaurant’s tapas menu is compellingly seafood-heavy. A goblet of Peruvian-style ceviche mixto ($11) marinates and “cooks” tilapia, shrimp, and calamari in acidic lime juice and tosses it with ginger, garlic, red onions, cilantro, celery, and a touch of evaporated milk. The preparation was on point, right down to the leche de tigre, or “tiger’s milk, the citrus-based marinade that soaks up all the dish’s flavors. On the side, there’s camote (sweet potato) and cancha, large, toasted Peruvian corn kernels, which offer a welcome crunch. On weekends, the restaurant has been known to prepare a ceviche trio featuring tilapia, tuna, and salmon.
Other seafood standouts include pork and clams ($12) and sautéed shrimp and squid with peppers, onions, white wine, and lemon ($12). In a nod to Argentina, the churrasquito con chimichurri tapas ($12) smothers remarkably tender grilled New York strip steak with vibrant green chimichurri sauce, a blend of olive oil, parsley, garlic, oregano, and lime juice, and mounts it atop two slices of grilled crostini bread.
Our entrée-sized Portuguese-style fish stew ($24) is stocked with seafood: shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels, among others. Served in a tomato-based sofrito of garlic, onions, peppers, cilantro, and scallions and served atop a bed of linguine, it’s alluringly scented, savory, and exceedingly shareable.
The menu dances from Spanish paella ($24) to Italian chicken saltimbocca ($19), and Niemotko frequently prepares items not listed on the menu, such as Colombian-style empanadas. On weekends, she serves soups from Guatemala, including pepián, a traditional, meaty stew. For dessert, consider the Italian tiramisu ($8) or Caribbean coconut flan ($8).
Sangria Restaurante, Tapas & Bar is at 398 Watertown St. in Newton; 617-965-0026, www.sangrianewton.com. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rachjournalist.