Diner: Tasty Tapas

Latitudes offers quality food at proper portions

I love the idea of Latitudes. The concept of sharing small dishes over drinks with friends is casually sophisticated and fun. Lately, the typical restaurant meal looks like something out of the Coneheads movie — appetizers, entrées and desserts heaped on oversized platters. I don't want to consume mass quantities, but I also don't want to deprive myself of tasting a little bit of savory, a little bit of crunchy and a little bit of sweet in my supper. That's where Latitudes' tapas-style menu is exactly right.

Tapas, of course, is the Spanish tradition of "small dishes." At Latitudes, the tapas concept doesn't mean Spanish recipes, just a wide variety of unique, flavorful dishes in smaller-than-usual portions. It's a welcome break from the groaning platters I encounter regularly.

The menu is divvied up into dishes that are From the Sea, From the Land, From the Earth (no interplanetary cuisine here!) and Soups & Salads.

We headed straight to sea with the Ahi Tuna Spring Rolls ($6.50). A single roll, actually, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this little bit of fusion cuisine. The tuna was firm and flavorful and held its own in a somewhat heavy presentation. The wasabi was quite mild, and the lime in the soy dipping sauce added a bright note.

Portabella Mushrooms are one of my favorites, and this grilled version, topped with herbed Alouette cheese and crabmeat ($6.50), was excellent. I gobbled up the Sauteed Mussels ($6), while my non-mussel-eating friends dove in to the yummy shallot sauce. There were almost a dozen tender mussels in the dish, with two pieces of crusty French bread to mop up the sauce.

The Crab Cakes ($6) were small but mighty delicious, accented with a garlicky red pepper aioli. And the six Buffalo-style Tiger Shrimp ($6.50) were a nice treat for my guest, who had missed the contrast of spicy Buffalo sauce and creamy Bleu Cheese since she'd stopped eating "greasy wings." I'll definitely steal this idea to try at home.

Our final seafood dish was Spicy Indian Grilled Salmon ($6). The only thing that disappointed me about this fish was the cold, dry pita bread it was served on. The salmon was firm but moist, and I loved the cucumber yogurt raita sauce. The presentation was quite lovely, as it was with most of the dishes we ordered (except for a few bits of cilantro garnish that were seriously wilted).

Three of us shared a lot of dishes at Latitudes, and each had its charms. My favorites were the vegetarian choices. The Grilled Asparagus ($5) was charred to perfection and topped with delectable truffle butter. I could have licked the plate. The handmade Ravioli ($6.50) stuffed with pumpkin and goat cheese had crispy bits of sage that just popped on my taste buds. What a treat!

There are several choices for carnivores, although I didn't sample them on my visit. I'd definitely like to try the Grilled Bison Burger ($5.50) with cheddar cheese and a roasted garlic aioli. And the blue cheese potato cake that comes with the itty-bitty Filet Mignon ($9.50) sounds just fantastic.

Everybody loves a bite of something sweet after dinner, but to me there's nothing worse than ordering a piece of cake that turns out to be the size of a barge hull. It's just over the top. The desserts at Latitudes ($6 each) were exactly the right size. We enjoyed an excellent Crème Brulee, a passable Raspberry Charlotte and a delectable Chocolate Pyramid. The confectionary pyramid was filled with a treasure of chocolate mousse. It was our hands-down favorite.

Quibbles? While I appreciate freshly prepared food, the wait between drinks and dinner was a bit too long on the night of our visit. A little dish of something to nibble on — even pretzels or chips — would have been very welcome.

I understand that Latitudes has nightly specials. Our pleasantly distracted server seemed a little bit new, which might have been why she forgot to mention them. A more significant drawback on the night of our visit: the temperature was absolutely frigid. I guess because "Latitude" made me think "tropics," I was a bit taken by surprise — as an old friend used to say, "You coulda hung meat in there." There is some outdoor seating available, which I'll opt for on my next visit.

On the whole, Latitudes gets kudos for a great idea that I'd like to see more of in our area — variety and quality on the menu and less excess quantity on the plate. ©

Latitudes Café
Go: 18 Main St., Milford

Call: 513-831-9888

Hours: 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Visa, MasterCard and American Express

Red Meat Alternatives: Many

Accessibility: Yes, on the first level, where smoking is allowed. Non-smoking is upstairs, which isn't accessible. The ventilation system is very good, and there's outdoor seating as well.

Grade: A-

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