Vegan Dining at Tapas y Tintos: Popeye and Olive's Chickpeas and Creamy-Crunchy Paella

There's a perception that the vegan diet, which excludes all animal products, is incompatible with fine dining. In this new series, the Beet Reporter aims to see whether Miami's tastiest restaurants are prepared to feed vegans with something more than boring garden salads.

The menu at Tapas y Tintos in midtown Miami has a lot of promising almost-vegan items on it. There's the vete a freir esparragos: deep-fried asparagus -- with Serrano ham. Berenjenazo: charbroiled eggplant -- topped with cheese. And empedrat: white beans, fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions -- and codfish. With some omissions, all of these items can be made vegan style. But there are a few dishes that are purely plant-based by accident.

Among them is the Popeye y Olivia ($8.25), which consists of chickpeas and spinach in a white wine, garlic, and olive oil sauce. The garbanzos struck a perfect balance between firm and soft, and the spinach was flavorful, but what really made the dish was the garlic and white wine sauce. This stuff was so addictive I had to ask Nick, our kind server, to remove it from the table before I devoured the whole thing and spoiled my appetite for the main course.

For another tapas, we had the verduras ($9.75): grilled zucchini, eggplant, tomato, onion, garlic, red pepper, and asparagus.

The vegetables were cut into large chunks, coated in a generous layer of olive oil, and grilled. The chef let the freshness of the vegetables speak for itself, with great results. The Popeye and verduras played very well side-by-side on a single plate, the flavors -- and the colors -- complementing each other gorgeously.

Then came the entrée: a vegetable paella for two (about $30), which had been baking for 40 minutes from the time we arrived. It's not on the regular menu but can be made upon request.

Its top consisted of a layer of creamy vegetables, including spinach, eggplant, red and green pepper, asparagus, and zucchini over white rice in a tangy tomato sauce. Although completely vegan, the dish was made hearty by the heavy dose of olive oil. The burned bits of rice on the bottom, known as soccarat, made a satisfying crunch as we got to the lower layer of the pan.

Other accidentally vegan options at this Spanish eatery include gazpacho soup and pimientos: roasted red and green pepper in sea salt and olive oil.

For now, there aren't any vegan desserts on the menu, but we couldn't have swallowed another bite even if there had been.

The verdict: Tapas y Tintos is an excellent choice for a scrumptious, nutrient-rich meal with vegan and nonvegan mixed company. Gobble up some succulent vegetable dishes and then learn some new dance moves during the Sunday-night salsa lessons, accompanied by sultry singer Melina Almodovar.

Do you have a restaurant you'd like to see rise to the vegan challenge? Send your suggestions to the Beet Reporter.

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